(UPDATED APRIL 2022) Visiting Louisiana’s oldest and largest city, New Orleans, or The Big Easy, is a must in one’s lifetime. A city rich in history, cultural influences, and landmarks, it can’t be missed or compared to any other US city. New Orleans is merely original with a capital O. Nestled in the bend of the majestic Mississippi River and offering up a heaping helping of fun and memories, and in partnership with Hotels.com, here things you should do to complete your New Orleans bucket list.
1. Have a Psychic Reading in Jackson Square
There are dozens of psychics, mediums, astrological readers, and people of the metaphysical culture to choose from around Jackson Square, each set up at card tables, decorated with crystals and all sorts of spiritual-inspired trinkets. My family has had readings multiple times, and the ones in NOLA were spot-on. Psychic Dr. Joy Spaulding summed up the four of our lives within the first two sentences.
Whether you are a believer or not, it is fun and something memorable from your trip to New Orleans.
2. Feast on Beignets
Chicory coffee, the local flavor of NOLA, pairs beautifully with beignets, billowy puffs of fried yeast dough intensely dusted with powdered sugar. Cafe du Monde French Market has been the choice for beignets since 1862. At $1 apiece, it is no wonder why beignets are so popular and loved by everyone. It is rumored that the iconic Cafe du Monde sells between 30 and 35 thousand beignets per day.
Need a Place to Stay in New Orleans?
When I visit New Orleans, I want to stay near the action, aka Bourbon Street. All of the big chain hotels are in town, such as Omni, Marriott, and Hyatt Regency. My favorite places to stay are the Royal Sonesta New Orleans, where I can be pampered and indulge in luxury, as well as enjoy the spa features and a gorgeous swimming pool, and Hotel Monteleone, a historic hotel dating back to 1886 with sophisticated spaces, luxury accommodations, and a fabulous carousel bar and lounge.
A new place in New Orleans I’m interested in staying at is the Edgar Degas House Historic Home and Museum, a bed and breakfast with special touches, free parking, and Wifi.
3. Enjoy Live Music
Live music is a way of life in New Orleans, and a place that should be on your bucket list due to it being the birthplace of jazz. The New Orleans music scene can’t be beat. Sounds of trumpets, saxophones, trombones, clarinets, guitars, tuba, and drums produce the jazz, blues, and brass bands sound people come to NOLA to hear.
Some of the most popular places to hear live music in New Orleans are The Spotted Cat, Tipitinas, Snug Harbor, Preservation Hall, and the Three Muses, though all are not on Bourbon Street. If you haven’t heard the sounds of Trombone Shorty, Dr. John, or Louie Armstrong, have a listen before you visit New Orleans so you can get a feel of the city’s flavor.
4. Try a Famous Hurricane
Pat O’Brien’s is one of the most recognized names in the world for the famous Hurricane rum drink, created here during World War II. The fruity recipe calls for rum (light, dark, and 151), lemon juice, and passion fruit syrup. Since 1933, Pat O’Brien’s has been a staple in New Orleans and one of the world’s best-known nightclubs; definitely a place to check off your bucket list. Heed caution with how many hurricanes you drink at Pat O’Brien’s as they sneak up on you, or so I’ve heard. The dueling piano concept was invented here.
Fun fact: The signature drink got its name from the glass shaped like a hurricane lamp it is served in.
5. Watch a Drag Show
You’ll find some of New Orleans’s best entertainment in the form of drag shows. Often, the performers at a drag show either sing or lip-sync. Rest-assured the queen’s costumes and make-up are on masterfully done, making it hard to tell the real sex of the performers, which is just as they intend it. Drag shows are also an excellent activity for a large group and much fun for everyone. Oz, Cru, and Golden Lantern are popular venues for the shows.
6. Eat Where the Locals Eat
Skip the fly-by-night eateries around NOLA and stick to the ones that have been true city staples for years. Bayona is one of my favorites, with Chef Susan Spicer at the helm. The Court of Two Sisters, Commander’s Palace (James Beard award-winning), Brennan’s (decadent Bananas Foster), Mr. B’s Bistro (best Jazz brunch in town), and Broussard’s are other tried and true restaurants which have withstood the food phases over the years and are still packing people in by the hundreds.
You’ll find the classics such as Gulf oysters, Gumbo, red beans & rice, and Étoufée here, as well as more popular dishes and fine-dining options. You can find a plate with the three most popular NOLA favorites—red beans & rice, shrimp creole, and jambalaya— at The Gumbo Shop.
7. Play a High Dollar Slot Machine
Harrah’s is a vibrant and highly visited casino in the heart of downtown NOLA. With 2100 slot machines and 90 table games to choose from, it is easy to “fall down the rabbit hole” and lose track of time and how much money you’ve spent once you enter. Harrah’s Casino New Orleans is entertaining, and one of my favorite casinos to visit in the whole country.
If you happen to win a significant amount of money, try this. Feed a single $100 into a slot machine in the high roller section and take your chances. If you win, it is sure to be huge, and if you lose, you’ll still have the memory. Yes, I did this once, and it was much more memorable than the other times I’ve lost money at a casino.
8. Visit the Oldest Bar in NOLA
Situated at the quiet end of Bourbon Street (yes, there is one), is the oldest pub in the country, a creole cottage by the name of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop in the French Quarter. (Jean) Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop was built between 1722 and 1732. The bar is lit by candlelight and stresses that no electricity is present in the nearly three-hundred-year-old bar, but that blenders do aid in making drinks.
There are great legends that Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is haunted with ghosts of the 1788 and 1794 New Orleans fires. A visit to this colorful watering hole should most definitely be on your New Orleans bucket list.
9. Photograph Beautiful St. Louis Cathedral
Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, otherwise known as the St. Louis Cathedral, is the oldest Roman Catholic Cathedral in continuous use in the US. It was built in 1727, but that structure burned in the 1790s. The cathedral was rebuilt to its present structure and completed in the 1850s. It has been used in dozens of films and is the most recognized building in New Orleans, as well as being the seat of the Roman Catholic archbishop.
A statue of Andrew Jackson sits in the foreground of the St. Louis Cathedral. Self-guided free tours are open to the public when it is not holding a mass, wedding, or funeral.
10. Find the Best Po-Boy
A Po-Boy is one of the most notorious New Orleans dishes around. Typically, meat or fried seafood is found between billowy New Orleans French bread and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayo, or “dressed” as they call it. Some of the most popular po-boys are shrimp, oyster, crawfish, and roast beef.
While you can find these desirable sandwiches all over NOLA, it will be hard to top Johnny’s Po-Boys (511 Saint Louis St), the place I award as having the best po-boy sandwiches. Order the half po’-boy and half gumbo for the best meal in the house. Johnny’s accepts cash only.
11. Admire the Architecture
It’s hard to do anything besides take pictures in a city as stunning as New Orleans. The city’s multicultural heritage and rich history helped shape the skyline and buildings of Crescent City, as New Orleans is often called. The French Quarter has romantic balconies, while the US Customs building has a Moorish influence.
Throughout town, you can see beautiful architectural treasures from the homey cottages next to The Pontalba Apartments (one of the most recognized buildings in NOLA) to the antebellum mansions around town, and the Curtis & Davis designed New Orleans Public Library.
12. Ride a Streetcar
New Orleans is best seen from the vintage streetcars that run throughout the city along five routes. The New Orleans Streetcar Line is the oldest continually operating streetcar in the entire world, running since 1835. Sights you can reach via the streetcar are the National WWII Museum (St. Charles Avenue line), cemeteries (Canal Street line), Aquarium of the Americas (Riverfront and Canal Street lines), and French Market (Riverfront line). A standard one-way fare will cost you $1.25, which you will need in exact change.
Note: Make sure to call it by its real name, a streetcar. The word trolley is frowned upon around the city.
13. See a Saints Game
Football comes alive in NOLA, with the ultimate group of fans tailgating and cheering on the New Orleans Saints inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Don’t worry about the weather cooperating, as the football games are played in a dome, which opens weather-permitting. You’ll see all walks of life and a plethora of costumed game-goers in this party city proudly boasting the loudest stadium in the NFL, which holds around 75,000. The black and gold New Orleans Saints, led by quarterback Drew Brees, were Super Bowl champs in 2010 when they defeated the Colts.
Other events are held at the Superdome, too, such as concerts, band festivals, sportsman shows, and much more.
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