by Chris Coplans, The Telegraph, March 6, 2018
However you arrive in New Orleans, you’ll find yourself plunged into a gumbo of Caribbean, West African, catholic French and Anglo cultures.
The music is ubiquitous and the food spicy, every local has their favourite cocktail and jazz bar, and no one seems to agree completely on the precise definition of Creole and Cajun.
Since British Airways launched four weekly non-stop flights from London last March, the city has become even more attractive as a starting point for Mississippi sailings. The cruise terminal is close to the French Quarter and other major attractions.
New Orleans is renowned for its walking tours, mainly in the French Quarter – from literary and jazz to voodoo, movie, garden and cocktail crawls.
1. Follow a streetcar named St Charles
The Desire streetcar made famous by Tennessee Williams no longer exists, but the St Charles (Route 12), running since 1835, is the world’s oldest continuously operating streetcar line and will take you to the beguiling Garden District and beyond. It starts at the corner of Cardondelet and Canal streets.
As the tram clicks and clunks along St Charles Avenue, it passes the Columns Hotel, which doubled as a brothel in Louis Malle’s 1978 movie Pretty Baby. The Garden District is awash with antebellum mansions in sleepy, oak-tree-lined streets. Mosey around quirky little shops and quiet restaurants and bars. Magazine Street is more lively, with a plethora of oddball shopping opportunities.
2. Take a bike tour
One reason hurricane Katrina caused such devastation in 2005 is that New Orleans is flat as a pancake. The upside (if there is one) is that it’s ideal for cycling. The French Quarter is best explored on foot, but it’s fun to tour the neighbourhoods by bike. Several excellent rides are offered by Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours (neworleansbiketour.com; from US$50 for three hours). Once away from the French Quarter and Central Business District, many of the most alluring neighbourhoods are remarkably peaceful.
3. Venture beyond Bourbon
Visitors gravitate towards Bourbon Street, but jazz has latterly been replaced by hard rock, and at night it can feel more like a combined stag and hen party. Mosey on down a street; graceful Royal Street has antiques shops, galleries and more relaxing bars and restaurants. The rear view of St Louis Cathedral is hauntingly surreal. Stop for a Pimm’s Cup at Napoleon House on Chartres Street. After Chartres crosses lively Jackson Square in front of the cathedral, it becomes a wonderland of hidden courtyards and wrought-iron balconies festooned with flowers and tropical plants.
4. Try New Orleans' official cocktail
N’awlins is famed for its cocktails, from the traditional daiquiri to the Hurricane and lethal-sounding Zombie and Hand Grenade. Not until you have drunk a cocktail before breakfast, followed by café au lait and beignets at Café Du Monde, and eaten a po’ boy (baguette-style sandwich crammed with sloppy beef or fried seafood) for lunch can you be accepted as “a local”. If common sense prevails, order New Orleans’ official cocktail, the Sazerac (rye whiskey, bitters and absinthe) at Swizzle Stick Bar in Loews Hotel.
For a pick-me-up, hightail it to the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt for a Ramos Gin Fizz, the city’s classic “morning after” drink served since the 1880s. Another great spot is the aforementioned Columns Hotel, resonant with past indiscretions; relax in the Victorian Lounge or order a mint julep on the patio.
5. Get stuck in the Jazz Age
Jazz is as much a part of New Orleans life as ever and its street musicians are in a class of their own. You’ll find them all over the French Quarter – rising out of a steamy courtyard or Preservation Hall – on Frenchmen Street and in Jackson Square where some of the best play. If you’re lucky, you may be hijacked into a boisterous jazz funeral.
Anyone who watched David Simon’s anthem to New Orleans, TV series Treme, should take a guided tour of this edgy neighbourhood to see the show’s locations (if you visit Tremé at night, take a cab).
6. See where Hollywood films were made
If you have time, take a trip out of town; plantation excursions and boat tours of the swamps and bayous are the most popular (graylineneworleans.com; from $51). Many movies have been shot at the plantations, most notably Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave.
If renting a car, get one with a GPS as Louisiana’s road signage is elusive to non-existent. Hertz does a life-saving NeverLost GPS. Pick-ups and drop-offs are from both the airport and downtown.
The River Road follows the Mississippi on both sides and most of the best plantations are on the west bank. At least two – Oak Alley, with its majestic live oak trees, and Nottoway, with the largest antebellum plantation house in the South – have fine restaurants. Other must-see plantations include Whitney, Evergreen, Laura and Houmas House on the east bank.
For more information see neworleans.com.