Some world–renowned destinations cultivate an air of mysteriousness, as if you could spend weeks there and still not fully understand their essence. New Orleans, by contrast, is easy to get to know. With its rich history, top–notch cultural attractions and homey southern food, the Big Easy wears its heart on its sleeve.
The best of the city’s music, museums and melting–pot cuisine is found at a mix of iconic stops and lesser–known gems.
Catch the bus or streetcar to the scenic Garden District and join a bike tour with Flambeaux Tours. A ride is the best opportunity to admire the brightly painted historic architecture, especially along St. Charles Avenue and Prytania Street. Be sure to stop and admire the area’s stunning landscaped estates (some belonging to A–list celebrities).
Make your way to the French Quarter and stroll Woldenberg Riverfront Park, a sculpture–punctuated green space along the Mississippi River. Exit the park to the northeast, and you’re steps away from the French Market, an open–air arcade for dining and shopping. It’s home to the city’s most famous coffee spot, 160–year–old Café du Monde. Savour a cup of chicory–enhanced café au lait and an order of beignets (our advice: grab an extra to go) while you listen to live street musicians.
The visitor centre, at the nearby New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, gives an excellent overview of the city’s most heralded invention. Depending on the day, you may also find live performances and hands–on musical demonstrations.
The Crescent City has no shortage of culture, even beyond music. The National World War II Museum, in the Warehouse District, is one of the country’s top–rated. Among its 250,000 artifacts and dozens of exhibits, you will find everything from military aircraft to wartime photography and love letters. In November, the museum will debut a brand new nighttime light and sound experience, Expressions of America.
About a kilometre away, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum presents a deep dive into food and drink products and traditions in the South. It also offers cooking classes on Creole cuisine — a uniquely New Orleans blend of French, Spanish, Italian, African and Caribbean influences. Don’t miss the chance to place an order for a fanciful confection from resident chef Bronwen Wyatt of Bayou Saint Cake.
In the Bywater District, JamNola is a vibrant experiential pop–up celebrating the city’s art, music, food, and theatrical performance. Nearby, Studio Be is the brainchild of local artist Brandan “bmike” Odums, who tells the stories of heroic and everyday New Orleanians through murals, sculpture and multimedia.
The New Orleans Museum of Art might be farther afield, but it’s well worth the trip. In addition to their permanent collection and rotating exhibitions on everything from ancient Egypt to contemporary photography, the venue’s adjacent Besthoff Sculpture Garden is a blooming, 11–acre delight containing more than 90 sculptures.
Stay for lunch at Café NOMA, owned by the team behind the iconic Brennan’s, a New Orleans dining institution that continually tops best–of lists (we recommend the blackened gulf shrimp Caesar salad). NOMA executive chef Chris Montero is a master of menus that add new interpretive layers to the museum’s exhibits.
Evening, when the street lamps glow and bars and music clubs spring to life, is one of the best times to stroll the French Quarter. You would be hard–pressed to find a corner that doesn’t have great live music, but Preservation Hall, a rustic, unamplified space on St. Peter Street, has been showcasing seminal jazz talents since 1961. Other worthy choices include Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub and Mahogany Jazz Hall.
Give in to the aromas of a bubbling gumbo spiced with sassafras, or buttery, lemon–spiked crawfish étouffée. Superb spots for a refined meal include Galatoire’s, one of the city’s longstanding fine–dining restaurants; the contemporary cottage–like Jewel of the South; and Bayona, a foodie reverie from multi–award–winning chef Susan Spicer.
In the Central Business District, Chemin à La Mer, in the new Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans, is the latest outpost from star chef Donald Link. Between the and the spectacular views of the Mississippi, it’s an unforgettable experience.
Make it a weekend
New and freshly renovated accommodations include the stylish the Frenchmen Hotel. Easygoing Mint House New Orleans Riverside occupies a repurposed warehouse building within walking distance of the Garden District, while One11 is the first new French Quarter hotel in half a century. Next door to the Four Seasons, Vue Orleans has a unique indoor/outdoor observation deck featuring 360–degree views of the river and the city.
International House, the city’s first boutique hotel, underwent a design refresh in 2020. Visit the gallery chronicling the restoration of the on–site Banksy mural, or have a nightcap at the hotel bar, Loa, where mixologists interpret the story of the city’s most important rituals through cocktails. (Try the mezcal and hibiscus tea Storm Warning, named after legendary local “voodoo funk” musician Dr. John.)