In 2016, I did a trip across the US with three friends. Starting in Los Angeles, I travelled all the way to New Orleans with Contiki on their Grand Southern Tour, stopping off at The Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Cadillac Ranch in Texas and pretty much everything else in between. New Orleans was such a crazy experience and definitely a highlight: I would consider it a must-see city. Here, my top tips for a visit to New Orleans.
It's no big secret that New Orleans is one of the only cities in America where you can drink liquor legally on the street. It is a city full of smiles and festivities, where people come to have a good time.
Chances are you will be staying close to downtown, that's where most of the action is, so if gets so hot that not even your drink cools you down, just five blocks back from Bourbon Street there is a rooftop pool bar at the famous Ace Hotel. If you want to start your day with great food, a cold drink, an awesome atmosphere and a pool that overlooks the city, this is the place. Just make sure you get in before 2pm because they limit the amount of people allowed in.
One of the most overlooked ways to see New Orleans is simply by strolling around town. There are parks scattered throughout the city, filled with hipster cafés, traditional creole restaurants and a stretch of the Mississippi river big enough to really stop you in your tracks. Take a morning stroll to find a new café and explore some of the city's beauty.
If you're after a more traditional Nola (New Orleans, Louisiana) experience you have to hit the French Quarter. Hit up the oldest neighbourhood in the city to check out the architecture and stop at any bar or restaurant along the way. The vibe is a lot of fun, with locals and out of towners all coming together for one common theme, to have a great time.
FOOD & DRINK
Look out foodies, New Orleans is a city where people pride themselves on their Southern and Creole roots, so you can expect to find an amazing mix of cuisines, always served in a unique or traditional way.
As a coffee lover from Australia, it's always challenging to find a good espresso overseas - especially in the US. After several café stops, I discovered Mojo Coffee House in New Orleans. It not only had some of the best coffee I have ever had, they even serve a flat White. If you're craving a coffee in a typical New Orleans environment, this is the place to head.
If it's a drink you're after, Bourbon Street is an experience you have to try: this is where all of the craziness happens. So while it might not be the place you want to spend your entire night, a stroll through the street is certainly recommended. If you're coming around Mardi Gras time, be sure to stock up on beads and keep your eyes glued to the balconies above. Just educate yourself first what a bead necklace exchange usually stands for...
New Orleans is known for its food and there are a lot of meals you need to try while you are in town such as Po'Boy, Gumbo and Crawfish... the list goes on. If you're after a place where you can find everything New Orleans has to offer, in a traditional environment, Mother's Restaurant (mothersrestaurant.net) has you covered. Opening in the 1930s, Mother's Restaurant provides a true sense of history: once you walk through the doors you'll be taken back in time. The service is amazing, with all of the waitstaff quick to share historical moments of where certain presidents and celebrities have sat to eat.
But be warned: there is a high chance you'll have to get in line whether you're arriving for breakfast, lunch or dinner; this place is pretty popular. But don't worry if you do, there is a bar set up outside just for people standing in line.
While many know Nola as a place to come and have a good time, there is a lot of history that makes this city special.
New Orleans street car
The New Orleans street car or trolley (as the locals call it), has been an integral means of transport for the locals since the first half of the 19th Century. Even with Uber and a modern public transport infrastructure, this line is still one of the most commonly used by locals. If you're after a cheap, local experience, here is your chance to see how drastically the architecture of New Orleans can change.
Swamp boat tour
Where else in the world can you jump on a fan powered swamp boat and go looking for alligators? The Louisiana Swamps are full of amazing wildlife that you don't see in other parts of America and a swamp boat is not only cool to drive, but built so it can get you to places that normal boats can't. The tour lasts for about two hours and you can expect to see a lot of alligators and colonial houses via a Louisiana local. (I kind of felt like The Water Boy at times.)
New Orleans is a city that you have to experience first-hand to understand its pull. No matter what the occasion, it's a city that will make you feel alive and happy. The people are friendly, the food is great and the drinks ice-cold. My biggest advice is don't be afraid to spend some time away from the bars and learn more about the history. It's filled with a lot of very passionate creole-proud people, who will be more then happy to share their city with you. The blend of Southern hospitality and positive energy from everyone around is a guarantee that you can expect to meet a lot of friendly faces and have an amazing time. Enjoy!