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I want to share with you my personally curated Insider’s itinerary and Guide to New Orleans!
It’s a compiled list of the most amazing places and best experiences to have in New Orleans as shared with me by a young musician based out of New Orleans as we travelled on a Greyhound Bus together by chance. We struck up conversation and I asked him where I should go in New Orleans as a first time visitor and he recommended to me a list of places he said could offer us the ultimate experiences and very best of New Orleans!
I grabbed my notebook to jot down his recommendations as I fully intended to use this personally curated ‘insider’s list’ as our tour guide and travel itinerary when we got to The Big Easy.
I’m here to tell you that the end result of having this insider’s list and travel guide was that we were able to straight away find the best places in New Orleans and experience some of the very best music and food and cultural experiences in the home of jazz, blues, mardi-gras, oyster-bars and Cajun cuisine.
This is my Insider’s Itinerary and Travel Guide to New Orleans and I’m happy to share it with you!
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- An Insider’s Itinerary and Travel Guide to New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS – JAZZ, BLUES, OYSTER BARS, AND VOODOO!
Armed with our insider’s itinerary as provided to us by our young musician friend from the Greyhound Bus (you can read more about that road trip adventure HERE) we’d booked our flight to New Orleans and chose to stay for four nights in the gorgeous Chateau Hotel on Chartres Street, which looked to be in the centre of all the action in the historic French Quarter.
I booked our four night stay at The Chateau Hotel with Booking Dotcom.
As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we were excited to get checked into our atmospheric and spooky-looking room with its dark oak furniture and four-poster bed and keen to drop off our luggage and immediately explore the surrounding old neighbourhood. As it turns out, the famous Bourbon Street – Rue Bourbon – was just one street away and apparently named after the French royal family ‘The House of Bourbon’ rather than the backpacking husband’s favourite tipple!
Bourbon Street is a famous and historic street in the heart of the French Quarter. It’s the focal point for festivals in New Orleans including the famous Mardi Gras celebration when the street is filled with parades, colourful costumes, and lively crowds. Bourbon Street can be crowded and noisy as it’s a popular destination for both locals and tourists.
Bourbon Street is known for its vibrant nightlife, lively atmosphere, mix of bars, clubs, restaurants, and shops. It’s home to numerous eateries serving a variety of local and international cuisines. New Orleans is particularly known for its Creole and Cajun dishes, and you can find many places to enjoy the unique culinary offerings. It’s a place with a unique blend of history, culture, and entertainment, making it a must-visit for exploring New Orleans.
To be honest, Bourbon Street was a bit of a shock to us. While the crowds held onto their ‘go cups’ we strolled the length of it holding our noses against the stench of urine and sidestepping vomit while averting our eyes from the scantily clad ladies calling out to prospective clients from shady-looking doorways.
We did stop off for a couple of drinks in a bar and we did witness a passing ‘jazz funeral’ but decided the action as far as we were concerned (and also according to our inside’s itinerary and guide for visiting New Orleans) was elsewhere.
Jackson Square. Luckily, we soon discovered the delightfully picturesque Jackson Square, just a block away in the opposite direction, with its artists and street jazz bands and its ragtag collection of colourful entertainers and tarot readers.
I’d never been to New Orleans before but this part of the city I felt I already knew something about because of a lot of online research I’d done for a novel I’d written entitled NOLA. In my story, my fictional heroine travels to New Orleans to meet her fiancé’s family who lived in the French Quarter.
Also, as part of the plot of the book involves a 1920’s painting of Marie Laveau – the famous witch-queen of New Orleans – that’s on view to the public in the Louisiana State Museum in Jackson Square.
I’d done a lot of meticulous research on the painting but had never actually seen it for myself in real life. So, of course, viewing the painting had been added to our itinerary.
And it was here, in Jackson Square, at the Louisiana State Museum – a one-time courthouse and city hall where the Louisiana Purchase was signed that I came face to face with the so-called Witch Queen of New Orleans – or rather the 1920’s painting of Marie Laveau by Frank Schneider.
This very famous 1920s portrait of Marie Laveau is based on an 1835 painting (now lost) by George Catlin.
It was a fabulous and rather surreal experience to walk in the footsteps of my fictional heroine and stand in front of the masterpiece myself! You can find out more about my novel NOLA or my other books on my Book Page.
Frenchmen Street. After freshening up back at our hotel – we went out to find Frenchmen Street – just a short walk away.
We had drinks in a bar listening to a traditional washboard blues band and then following our Insider’s Itinerary and Travel Guide to New Orleans provided to us by the young musician we went on to the famous Snug Harbour Jazz Club at 626 Frenchmen Street that he’d recommended to us.
Well wow – what can I tell you about that night – our first night and our first experience of jazz and blues in New Orleans!
The music in New Orleans was everything I’d dreamed and hoped it would be and we had a truly unforgettable evening.
Snug Harbour Jazz Club is a music ‘hot spot’ and is easily located in an old and unassuming doorway between shop doors on Frenchmen Street. We paid a cover charge and went downstairs into a small cellar called The Music Room at The Snug, where there was a small cabaret-style stage and the atmosphere was intimate and old and wonderful.
We were glad we arrived early to grab a couple of seats and a table and we ordered some drinks.
Soon the band came on and we were treated to an amazing cultural experience and live top-quality jazz and blues incorporating the sounds of gospel and soul. It was a fabulous evening and we felt we truly experienced the true and timeless essence of New Orleans.
The next morning we did some sightseeing and took a leisurely walk through the streets of the French Quarter, stopping to tip back our heads and admire amazingly authentic 19th-century mansions and beautifully decorated balcony apartments adored with draping greenery and flowers.
We strolled along the banks of the Mississippi River to admire the riverboats before stopping off for beignets (pronounced ‘Ben Yeah’) and coffee. Beignets are a New Orleans signature sweet pastry made from deep-fried dough sprinkled with sugar.
Back in Jackson Square, in the lively heart of New Orleans, we joined the throngs of tourists to hear the street musicians and to see the tarot readers and fortune tellers and portraits artists who were all touting their talents and their wares.
French Market on 1001 Decatur Street. Later, for lunch, just two blocks from Jackson Square, we found French Market restaurant and bar and had baked Creole Char-Grilled Oysters. I still dream about that fabulous lunch!
After our our delicious lunch of oysters, we headed back to explore Frenchmen Street by day and found enchanting and spooky-looking voodoo shops selling broomsticks and voodoo dolls and cubby holes where practising witches would do a psychic reading for you and where the witchcraft shops were filled with candles and potions and strange ingredients for making magic spells to either enrich your life or to exact revenge on your enemies.
Feeling bewitched and compelled by the scent of a heady incense, in a shop called HEX that claims to be a witchery and actually has an ‘Altar of the Dead’ for people to leave notes to their dearly departed, I felt compelled to buy some tarot cards.
I’ve actually always been a bit curious about the tarot and I suppose my thinking was, that in buying tarot cards in the spookiest shop in New Orleans, they must be extra special and even more magical than those you might buy elsewhere.
To this day, I still consult my tarot cards for myself or for friends and I still believe that my cards – bought in that incredibly spooky shop in New Orleans – to be very special and magik!
The Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street in the ‘Uptown’ part of New Orleans was next on our Insider’s Itinerary and Travel Guide to New Orleans was to attend The Maple Leaf Bar for a ‘Crawfish Boil’.
That evening we took a taxi downtown to ‘The Leaf’ as our young musician friend on the Greyhound bus had called it.
The Maple Leaf is a world-renowned music venue as well as hosting the best crawfish boil in town. It sounded fantastic and not to be missed. But I was also impressed to hear that Bruce Springsteen iss often seen popping into The Leaf to ‘jam’ and that many of the bands who regularly played there were Grammy Awards winners.
We got out of our taxi on Oak Street and we were a little nervous, wondering if we’d found the right bar, as we couldn’t hear any music. It turned out that we were a little early. So we again paid a cover charge and we bought a drink at the bar while eyeing the curiously long narrow trestle table that was covered in a plastic tablecloth along the middle of the adjacent room.
Soon lots of people started to arrive, buying drinks and congregating along the length of the table. Then the musicians arrived and climbed up on stage to do a tune-up. In no time at all the place was packed out. Not long after there was a commotion starting at the top of the table and the feeling of something was about to happen.
Everyone had lined up to stand along the length of the table but there were no chairs and no plates and no cutlery.
I was then amazed to see a huge steaming tin bathtub full of food – the Crawfish Boil – was being tossed onto the table.
Several steaming bathtubs later and the table was totally filled with crawfish, potatoes, corn cobs, and sausages, and a feeding frenzy ensued. If, like me, you are not quite sure what a crawfish is: well it looks and tastes something like a small lobster.
A crawfish boil is a coveted traditional southern meal and an important social event throughout Louisiana USA. The crawfish – lots of them – are boiled in a giant pot along with potatoes and corn and garlic and sausage and then everything is literally thrown onto the table for people to eat with their hands and with absolute gusto.
Once the seasoned water comes to a boil in a large tin bath, add the potatoes, corn, garlic, and sausage. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add the crawfish, cover, and cook for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the pot to sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Serve to the hungry masses by tipping the meal onto a scrubbed clean wooden table. No cutlery is necessary!
It was all kinds of crazy to eat standing up and with your hands but it also looked fun! Especially after a fellow diner had seen my confused expression and kindly demonstrated the correct and the quickest way to eat the crawfish.
First, you pull off the head and discard it (on this occasion that’s onto the floor!) and then you suck on the headless body to extract the juicy stock then you quickly peel the shell and pop the crawfish meat straight into your mouth.
I can tell you it’s a sticky and messy business!
After the food frenzy was over, the mess quickly cleaned up and the floor brushed and wet mopped while we had more drinks at the bar, the band started up and we danced the night away in true Maple Leaf style. It was fantastic.
We had booked a taxi at the bar to take us back to our hotel around 10.30 pm.
We usually like to walk around to get a great feel for places and because we enjoy walking, but to be honest, New Orleans at night especially is not the safest of places for tourists. I would suggest that you ask your hotel to tell you the safest routes for walking in the area so you don’t end up getting lost. It’s usually about keeping to the main roads and the busiest well-lit streets. Also, do ask your hotel receptionist for some local taxi numbers that they would recommend to you.
Irene’s Place is a highly regarded ‘secret’ little Italian/French restaurant just a short walk from our hotel at 529 Bienville Street and it was here that we finished off our wonderful stay in New Orleans. On the outside, with a small swinging sign and modest canopy, Irene’s looks unpretentious – but don’t be fooled – it’s the hottest ticket in town.
Inside the atmosphere is of old-world decadence, the food is delicious, and the wine list is fabulous.
The restaurant opens at 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday but do be warned that it’s so popular that’s almost impossible to get a table. I’d recommend booking in advance and you can do so easily via Irene’s website. We went early on spec and we were lucky to get a table. If you arrive and find it busy, you can always choose to wait, and enjoy having a glass of wine at the bar.
New Orleans is known as the home of jazz, blues, oyster bars, and voodoo, as well as mardi gras and cajun cuisine.
It was the fabulous recommendations given to us by a young musician during a chance meeting on a bus that led to us having a fantastic Insider’s Itinerary and Travel Guide to New Orleans. This personally curated list led us to places that we might not have found in the four days we were in New Orleans like Snug Harbour for legendary jazz and blues music and The Maple Leaf Bar for the experience of an authentic crawfish boil and a unique musical mix of local legends, Grammy Award winners, musical heroes, and up-and-coming talent AND our fabulous last night in NOLA dinner at Irene’s Restaurant.
We chose to stay in the French Quarter because of the old-town atmosphere and the proximity to the places we planned to experience without having to hire a car. We found the city diverse. It really is a melting pot of culture and hedonism!
Bourbon Street was quite a shock but the rest of our New Orleans experience was just as I’d imagined if not even better.
We stayed a total of four nights in The Big Easy and made the most of our time there – so this was a long enough stay for us – but you may have other reasons to visit New Orleans: The Carnival referred to as Mardi Gras, The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival commonly known as ‘Jazz Fest’, the Voodoo Experience aka ‘Voodoo Fest’, The Essence Music Festival or the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival.
New Orleans is like nowhere else I’ve ever been.
Have you ever been to New Orleans or are you planning to go?
Leave a comment and let me know!
You can comment on this post or email me through my Contact Page here on my website. Or get in touch through my social media channels. Find out about my book NOLA set in new Orleans or my other bestselling romantic adventure novels on my Books Page. And, if you listen to podcasts, do also travel with me on Travel With The Backpacking Housewife Podcast
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