While there are many things to do in New Orleans besides eat, drink and be merry, I'm hard pressed to do anything else when I'm there. I love the touristy heart of New Orleans, the French Quarter.
The architecture of the French Quarter is unique. All the wrought iron work and Spanish influence lend it a very European feel. Walking around I can't help but admire the beautiful wrought iron railings and the balconies which are so evocative of this place. As you wend your way through the streets peek into the charming courtyards that lie just beyond the many intricately detailed wrought iron gates. Idyllic gardens, babbling fountains and secluded spaces make for a peaceful retreat in the middle of all the hustle and bustle that surrounds them. You can experience the courtyards for yourself at a few places around the quarter, Brennan's and the Court of Two Sisters come to mind. The courtyard at Pat O'Brien's is another famous landmark and worth a stop for a first time visitor.
When I visit New Orleans I always stay right in the middle of the French Quarter. Now, some may argue that the city is so much more than the Vieux Carre and they are absolutely right. For me though, there is no better place to spend my time in New Orleans than the French Quarter. It's very easy to get a taxi to whatever part of the city you care to see so staying in the quarter in no way limits your options.
My favorite hotel is the Inn on Bourbon Street. It's where I stay whenever I'm lucky enough to be in New Orleans. There are many, many nice places to stay but this one is my personal favorite. Be warned, it can get loud. The hotel faces Bourbon St. and is right in the middle of the action. That's one of the reason I love it. If you need a bit more quiet ask for a courtyard room towards the back. You may get a view of the parking lot but it'll be quiet enough to sleep. However, if it's your first time visiting the Crescent City let me suggest a balcony room overlooking Bourbon Street. A perfect place from which to view the throngs of people that are part of the ever-changing tapestry of the city. Sit back, relax and listen to the mix of music and voices that rise up out of the quarter. You'll be surrounded by jazz, Dixieland, street musicians and the buzz of many voices from all over the world. There is no other experience quite like it.
My favorite part of any New Orleans stay is the eating. New Orleans is one of the best food cities. This is no time to count calories people. You can worry about all of that once you're back home. No, now is the time to eat and enjoy all of the fine things that this city has to offer.
Where to begin? Breakfast is a good place to start. A must do for any first time visitor is the Cafe du Monde. Located in the French Market, the Cafe du Monde is famous for their beignets (squares of light, sweet fried dough covered with powdered sugar) and cafe au lait. The coffee they brew contains chicory, a practice that started during the Civil War when coffee was scarce, and continues to this day. It's different than your usual brew but is a great cup of coffee. Perfect way to start the day.
Next up, lunch. Head over to the Central Grocery for lunch which can only be a muffuletta sandwich. This is an Italian style cold cut sandwich served with an olive salad topping on a round loaf of bread. Its as New Orleans as it gets. No words can truly describe it so just give one a try. You won't be sorry you did.
At this point in the day it's a good time to do some exploring and walk off some of that fabulous lunch. Head to Jackson Square. Many artist are located there, painting and selling their art. You can walk around to all of the artists exhibits and pick something to take home with you. What better souvenir to take home than an original piece of art. You can also take a walk through the French Market. The market starts at Jackson Square and stretches out from there. There's a flea market, shops, food vendors, a great way to while away time until dinner. If you'd rather not walk you can take a buggy ride around the quarter. You'll be entertained and learn something at the same time. Another good way to kill some time until dinner. (Being in NOLA for me involves a lot of waiting to eat, eating and thinking about where to eat. You laugh, but you'll see.)
Finally, it's dinner time and here there are just too many options to contemplate. But, if you're in the city for the first time, I suggest that you find your way to K. Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. Order a lot and eat some of everything you can. It's all good. All of the creole and Cajun classics are here. Whatever you have is sure to please. And whatever you do, don't skip dessert.
I don't want to leave out other things I think are can't miss so here's a short list to get you started:
Po' boy sandwiches (fried shrimp is my favorite)
Gumbo (try the Gumbo Shop's chicken and andouille)
Crawfish Étouffée (try it!)
Jambalaya (K Paul's does a nice one)
And last but not least the Shrimp YaYa at La Bayou. I ate this everyday the last time I was in New Orleans. Just go there and have it. Ask for extra bread. I would go back to New Orleans just to have this dish. My personal favorite food in the whole city. Wash it all down with one of the local Abita beers. Heaven.
If you're like us, you'll be planning lunch while eating breakfast and planning dinner while eating lunch. It's that kind of place. In between those great meals there's plenty of time for sipping on a frozen daiquiri and noshing on a po'boy or some fried oysters or beignets. And don't forget the Shrimp Ya-Ya, it makes a great midday snack.
You have to love a city with such great opportunities to eat, drink and just let your hair down and have a good time. When you're planning your next vacation or long weekend, think about New Orleans. You really can't go wrong with a place whose motto is "Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler"! Let the good times roll!
Inn On Bourbon