New Orleans Review

If you are looking for a city break where you can just relax rather than dashing about everywhere, New Orleans is the place to go. Choosing our holiday dates based purely on the availability of cheap flights, we accidentally booked to arrive on the final day of Mardi Gras, the big “Fat Tuesday” itself. This was a fantastic mistake to make, and one that we would highly recommend to anyone. We arrived right into the middle of the big parades and spent a good hour or two enjoying the floats. Once we’d checked into our hotel we then joined the mad fancy dressed crowds of revelers in Bourbon Street for the rest of the night. Mardi Gras really is one huge party and not one that you want to miss.

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We spent another three days in the city, all a lot quieter than our first day, which gave us a chance to properly enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer. We travelled in February which is great weather-wise, as it is fairly warm (around 15 – 20c for most of the days we were there) but with none of the humidity of the summer months. As the majority of Mardi Gras crowds had gone home, we were free to do everything we wanted without having to worry about any places being too busy.

New Orleans is really all about taking it easy and you don’t have to try too hard to enjoy yourself. We spent most of our time lounging around in the French Quarter where you can hear buskers on every corner knocking out a few jazz standards. The quality varies from the average to the outstanding, but they were all special in their own way! We were also lucky enough to catch a free performance by the Grammy award-winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, which was a treat. Just follow your ears and you will have a good time. We were told that the bars and clubs of Frenchmen Street are the place to go for the most authentic music, but we didn’t quite make it that far ourselves. This is apparently where the locals go so it’s a little outside of the normal tourist areas.

We did manage a couple of activities that I would recommend. First we took the free ferry across the Mississippi to Algiers, which gives great photo opportunities of the New Orleans skyline on the short journey. Algiers is a really picturesque village if you fancy a quiet potter about the streets. It also has a British pub, the Crown and Anchor, if you are missing home! I can’t vouch for its authenticity as it was closed when we passed by, but apparently it holds a pub quiz on a Thursday night. Also we took a trip on the Steamboat Natchez which is an authentic paddlewheel steamboat that sails for a couple of hours along the Mississippi. They offer afternoon or evening cruises, with or without food (it looked a bit “school canteen” so we were glad we didn’t take the food option) and they have a jazz band on board too. Quite a pleasant way to spend an afternoon with a cocktail or two.

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Talking of cocktails, there are many watering holes to choose from so you won’t go thirsty. The iconic place to go is Pat O’Brien’s on Bourbon Street, which invented the Hurricane cocktail. We spent a great afternoon propping up the bar here; I can vouch for the strength of the cocktails – you certainly get your value for money here – but I can’t tell you much about the rest of that day! All the bars on Bourbon Street are allowed to sell drinks to go, so I would highly recommend grabbing a cocktail and just wandering along the street and soaking up the atmosphere. It’s also nice to find a seat on one of the balconies and watch the world go by. Food wise, again there is no shortage of places to eat. Being a difficult vegetarian I didn’t get to sample any of the local fare but I can recommend Attiki on Decatur Street for Greek food and also the Italian Barrel and the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen which are both next to the French Market.

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We took a trip on one of the iconic streetcars along St Charles Avenue – which is well worth the $1.25 fare as you get to see some fantastic houses along the way. You can get to the zoo on this streetcar too. We spent some time in Jackson Square which is home to St Louis Cathedral and also to the many street performers and artists so it’s a nice place to sit and people watch on a sunny afternoon. Also worth a visit is Armstrong Park just to see the statues (including of course Louis Armstrong) and the lakes. There are plenty of other activities you can do in New Orleans – swamp tours looking for alligators, cemetery tours (because the city is built below the water level, all graves are above ground so they have some really picturesque cemeteries), tours to see the rebuilding of the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina (you should pay to go on an organised trip – not only do the profits go towards the rebuilding but it is apparently not advised to visit these areas alone), the zoo and the aquarium, guided tours of the city by horse and carriage or even by Segway, etc. We don’t have kids but there were lots of families around and there seems to be plenty for families to do.

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The city does get a bad press for being a bit dangerous and it’s true that we did hear about a lot of crime on the news while we were there but this was mainly contained within some notorious residential areas rather than the tourist areas. The “safe” areas are well publicised so you just need to use your common sense, don’t stray too far into non-tourist zones, keep your wits about you when out after dark etc. On this note I would recommend staying in one of the nicer hotels in the central areas. We stayed in the Sheraton on Canal Street which was excellent (and pet friendly if you feel like taking your dog) and incredibly close to all the action on Bourbon and Royal Streets. There are many other similar hotels on the same street and also some smaller boutique hotels within the French Quarter. It is not worth going for a cheaper motel further out; not only is it likely to be less safe but you would spend any money you had saved on the hotel on taxi fares instead.

So, all in all, New Orleans is a vibrant city where you can do as much or as little as you like, but you will be guaranteed a great time.

Suzi Jones, Feb 13