mardi gras by paul broussard

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler New Orleans: How to Explore the Big Easy

Welcome to New Orleans, where the spirit of jazz floats through the air like a sultry melody, and the aroma of Creole spices and Cajun cooking dance on every breeze.


Feb. 2 2024, Published 8:50 a.m. ET

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This Louisiana city is unlike any other in America; it’s a vibrant and resilient place with a soul as deep and rich as its historic legacy that includes French, African, and Spanish influences.

Nestled on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, the Big Easy is a place where they “laissez les bon temps rouler” (let the good times) roll with year-round parties, including one of the biggest celebrations of all, Mardi Gras. It is also one of the only cities in the U.S. where you can legally walk down the street with an open container and sip on cocktails.

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There is so much more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras beads and endless nights out on Bourbon Street. The food scene is equally out of this world as this is the city that made gumbo, jambalaya, po’boys, étouffée, char-broiled oysters, and beignets famous across the country. Let’s not forget the live music scene, ghost tours, riverboat cruises, vintage shopping, and so much more.

Check out our guide on how to explore this captivating city in depth.

What to Do

The most famous neighborhood in New Orleans is the French Quarter, home to its famed Bourbon Street and numerous other cobbled streets. You will find some of the city’s top restaurants, nightlife venues, and unique shops amid its cobblestone streets and historic buildings with colorful facades.

The French Market, which is an open-air market and food hall with permanent stalls cooking up all sorts of local Creole fare, is also located in this neighborhood. Cooking demonstrations and cultural events also take place here throughout the year.

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South and inland of the French Quarter is the Garden District, which is also worth exploring. Wander down streets lined with stately old oaks and past opulent 19th-century mansions that exude old Southern charm. Magazine Street is the main shopping center with several eateries to choose from.

For organized excursions, travelers can book one of the many tours in the vibrant city. One of the most popular tour options is the New Orleans Ghost Adventures Tour. The city has a reputation for being haunted, and this company runs several tours, including haunted pub craws, Garden District ghost tours, and cemetery tours.

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If you’d rather explore the bayous, folks can check out the famed New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours. The most popular adventure is the Manchac Swamp Kayak Tour, which takes you paddling through swamps for about two-and-a-half hours with an enigmatic guide who tells great tales and points out all the wildlife that call the swamplands home from alligators, snakes, wading birds, wild boar and more.

Where to Stay

One of the most vibe-filled places to sleep is the Virgin Hotel New Orleans. The playful property in the CBD is within walking distance from Bourbon Street and has an elegant, eclectic interior design. Opened in 2021, the hotel attracts a hip, fun crowd that adds to the ambiance of the city.. The rooftop pool area is a scene-stealer that has everything from DJs spinning dance tunes to themed quiz nights when it comes to entertainment. The rooms are design-forward with an Art Deco aesthetic that meets contemporary Southern style. Make sure to grab a bite, or even better, Sunday Brunch, at the Commons Club. The hotel bar and restaurant also offer excellent food and drink.

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The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, is a completely different style, but it is the place to go to find timeless luxury. It’s located on Canal Street in the French Quarter and housed in a building that dates back to 1908, constructed in the Beaux Arts style. The lobby is a grand affair, with the rooms and suites equaling in elegance. The M Bistro restaurant serves up yummy Louisiana cooking, while the Davenport Lounge is where to go for a cocktail and live Jazz music.

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Where to Eat

New Orleans is famous for its oysters, and Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar is our favorite place to find them in the city. The oysters are served in several different options, including raw, char-grilled, Buffalo, and Rockefeller. The restaurant also has an excellent Po’boy, which can be made fried or blackened. There is usually a line out the door to get in, but it’s worth the wait.

Competitor Acme Oyster House is another solid option. People can grab a seat at the counter to watch the oysters shucked while drinking a cold beer. There is a full menu beyond oysters, including a “10 Napkin” roast beef sandwich.

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Muriel’s Jackson Square is one of the city’s most famous and haunted restaurants. Located in a 19th-century building on Jackson Square, Muriel’s has old-world elegance, delicious classic Creole fare, and a Sunday jazz brunch that is straight-up heavenly. Ask for a ghostly history tour if you want to know more about its famous residents.

Café du Monde is a New Orleans institution. It has been serving powdered sugar beignets, chicory, and coffee for more than 150 years. You can’t visit NOLA without stopping by this popular location situated on the Mississippi Riverfront.

If you’re not in the mood for Cajun cooking, check out Osteria Lupo on Magazine Street. The restaurant showcases Northern Italian cuisine with a variety of house-made pasta, roasted meats, and vegetables from the wood-fired oven, seafood, and other regional specialties.

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Where to Drink and Dance

New Orleans is considered the birthplace of jazz, and legendary musician Louis Armstrong was born here. Today, the city is home to numerous bars and clubs playing all genres of music, including plenty of jazz.

You can just wander around the French Quarter or Bourbon Street and find dozens upon dozens of watering holes.

Head to the Blue Nile on Frenchman Street, which is one of the city’s top live music streets. The venue showcases everything from jazz to brass bands, funk, and blues. Also, on Frenchman Street is D.B.A, which is a more intimate bar and music venue.

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Tipitina’s is another landmark live music venue in Uptown, New Orleans. The rustic, black-and-white tiled warehouse space has been hosting acts since 1977 and is a great place to dance. For something different, check out the Carousel Bar and Lounge in the Hotel Monteleone. The bar is New Orleans’ only rotating bar and has an old-fashioned, merry-go-round design and a creative cocktail menu.

The highly favored Peacock Room, a staple on TikTok, evokes a fun and fanciful, opulent socialite vibe in the Central Business District with plenty of visual eye candy in the form of rich textures and materials. It serves shareable plates, well-crafted cocktails, and there is often live music.

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