New Orleans is the waif on the waterfront who grew up to be the queen diva of the Mississippi. By night, the city moves to the toe-tapping sounds of Dixieland jazz, Zydeco (Cajun dance music), and intoxicating New Orleans blues. By day, the city offers enchanting nooks to explore and lots to do. The Cajun joie de vivre is extremely contagious. If you come here, loosen your tie -- and your belt -- and laissez les bons temps rouler -- "let the good times roll."
In a Word: Rhythm
Here you can dance and party 'til dawn -- then hit a sunrise happy hour! The driving rhythms of accordion and washboard fill the French Quarter at night; just check out whatever catches your ear, but if you're on a budget leave your bank card at home -- many clubs have ATM machines (handy for Hurricane-soused revelers). Catch a few jazz sets at the Storyville District or blues at the legendary House of Blues, both in the French Quarter. Head to the original Tipitina's (uptown) for a menu of great music or to The Red Room, a chic and ethereal supper club fashioned from a restaurant that was originally part of the Eiffel Tower. Sip a Martini at the swingin' retro bar, then dine and dance to live jazz, swing, or Latin music.
- The French Quarter: This eccentric neighborhood is the site of the original colony founded in 1718 by French Creoles. By day, you can poke around little shops, listen to rollicking street musicians, and peek into courtyards filled with flowers and art galleries. The cover of evening sparks the proliferation of techno-colored drinks in alien glasses (open plastic and paper containers are legal and, dare we say, encouraged) and vampire lore a la New Orleans native Anne Rice.
- Garden District: Climb aboard the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar, the oldest operating streetcar in America, to soak up the peaceful green vistas and Victorian homes along oak-lined St. Charles Avenue, which links the French Quarter, Garden District, and Uptown.
- Creole & Cajun eats: Must-trys include crawfish etoufee, gumbo, shrimp creole, muffulettas (a sinful sandwich invented at Central Grocery), Bananas Foster, and po'boy sandwiches. (Some people swear by the fried shrimp and American cheese po'boy smothered in roast beef gravy, an off-the-menu gut-buster from Domilise's, an uptown neighborhood joint.) Other faves include the renowned jazz brunch at Commander's Palace in the Garden District or the Napoleon House, Mr. B's, Galatoire's, and Nola (one of Emeril's restaurants) in the French Quarter.
- Beignets: Visit the legendary Cafe du Monde in the French Market for a powdery and piping-hot beignet -- the Creole version of a fried doughnut -- and a creamy cafe au lait. Bonus: It's open 24 hours for post-party pickups. Don't forget to take home some coffee with chicory.
- City tours: New Orleans has a rich history best discovered on a walking, steamboat, or bus tour. Themes include the French Quarter, Garden District, architecture, plantations, literary notables, swamps, cemeteries, ghosts, vampires, and voodoo haunts.
- River romance: Hop a paddlewheel steamboat excursion, a bayou cruise that brings alive the Louisiana swampland and its subtropical beauty, or a dinner jazz cruise on the mighty Mississippi.
- Gambling: Harrah's Casino offers a whopping 2,500 slot machines and 100 game tables for your gaming pleasure 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Don't miss the Mardi Gras parades that take place there every day!
Best Place to Kiss
Slippery, icy-cold Gulf oysters are the ultimate aphrodisiac. Shoot and slurp some at Acme's raucous bar, the mellow Felix's across the street, local favorite Casamento's, or nearby Pascal's Manale, a clubby restaurant that serves Italian-Creole concoctions.
When to Go
- Best weather: Spring and fall.
- Best prices: Summer and the Christmas holidays.
- Festival highlights: Put on your beads for Mardi Gras in February or March, depending on the date of Easter; toot your horn during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in late April to early May; fill your stomach at The Great French Market Tomato Festival in early June
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