For most of the millions of tourists who flock to the Big Easy each year, their first question when they get to the airport is how do I get to Bourbon Street? Once you’ve been there once, however, you’ll realize that this most famous avenue is not the be all and end all of the Magic City.
Located in the geographic center of the French Quarter, Bourbon Street is one of the most famous avenues in the world. It is one of the few streets in the United States where topless clubs, bars (including one owned by notorious pirate Jean Lafitte), tourist shops, and elementary schools all exist within a few feet of each other. It has numerous street performers, many of which are amazing, as well as a chance to get your drink on virtually everywhere you turn. It’s historic buildings, most of which date from the 1780s or before, are a sight to behold, and the smell is one you won’t soon forget (no matter how hard you try!)
Wander just a few blocks from Bourbon and you will arrive at Decatur, the front street of the city. Here, you’ll find the French Market, a collection of shops, restaurants, and vendors where you can eat a beignet, buy a cheap t-shirt, and invest in local art, all while sipping a hurricane! You’re also only a few feet from world renowned Café Du Monde, where the menu consists of the aforementioned beignet, plus Café Au Lait, a coffee and cream concoction that also has a strange root beer type undertone.
Nearby is Jackson Square, a public square dedicated to the memory of Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. From here, you can take a mule drawn carriage on a tour of the Quarter. It is one of the best ways to get a lay of the land, an idea of history, and tips on where to find the best food and drinks during your stay.
Of course, you can also travel across the street to gaze at the majesty of the Mighty Mississippi. The Moonwalk, as it is known, allows visitors and locals the chance to watch the power of nature zoom by, as well as the large vessels carrying all manner of supplies to ports upriver.
Located on the opposite end of the French Quarter lies Rampart Street. Here, you can tour one of the most famous cemeteries in the city; St. Louis No. 1. In this expansive graveyard, you will find the graves of some of the cities first inhabitants, as well as some of the newest. Highlights of the tour include the final resting place of Marie Laveau, the so-called Voodoo Queen, as well as the future home of Nicolas Cage. Since May of 2015, visitors must be part of an organized tour to enter this cemetery. Virtually every walking tour company offers tours of this facility, but if you want to help preserve a part of it’s history, check out Save Our Cemeteries. This group is dedicated to the upkeep of the graveyards of the Crescent City, and every dollar you pay goes towards supporting their cause.
When night begins to fall on the French Quarter, the spirits come out to play. Of course, in New Orleans, with bars on every corner and alcohol available in almost every store, the spirits are always flowing!
Ghosts, voodoo, zombies, and even the occasional werewolf have been known to inhabit New Orleans, and the French Quarter is arguably the hotbed for paranormal activity in the city. Numerous companies offer to be your guide through the spiritual wonderland, including Haunted History Tours and French Quarter Phantoms. By taking part in these tours, you can get a history lesson, and get a glimpse into what strange and mysterious events helped to shape the Big Easy. You might even capture some spirits on film, though none materialized during our recent visit.
In the years since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has been forced to adapt to a changing economic climate, as well as to take a hard look at how they prepare for natural, and man-made disasters. If you want to visit one of the oldest cities in the United States, and get a taste of culture, cuisine, and hospitality unparalleled in the country, you should plan a trip to the Big Easy. Laissez les bon temps rouler!