It seems like every big city in America has its own flavor of festivity. New York has the fancy fireworks and confetti of the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, Los Angeles has the glamour of its exclusive Hollywood nightclubs, while Las Vegas is a sinners’ paradise where everything is unraveled – and eventually forgotten.
Yet New Orleans has a completely different charm all on its own. If anything, I would describe it as a city with an insatiable appetite for life. The Big Easy, as it is famously called, is celebrated for its mouthwatering Creole cuisine, beautiful French colonial architecture, lively jazz clubs, as well as the massively colorful Mari Gras.
As the holiday season nears, New Orleans is a place I’d also recommend spending your Christmas and New Year in – I’m talking to you, grown-ups! Where else would be a great place to sit back and sip on a Cocktail á la Louisiane or Brandy Milk Punch? Or go out on the town for a visit to its classy yet sensual clubs? Indeed, every moment here becomes an unforgettable memory – discover how I made mine as you read on in my latest travel blog.
On this trip, I invited two of my closest friends Annie and Rolando to join me. Both of them were conveniently staying in New York at the time – making it easy for us to head to New Orleans together. From The Big Apple, off to The Big Easy we go!
From the plane, one could immediately sense the difference between the 2 cities. While New York impresses visitors with its towering skyscrapers, New Orleans has this cozy, inviting vibe that welcomes you right into the party.
After disembarking from the plane, we drove to our hotel, the J.W Marriott, to unpack our bags – and then jumped into the downtown action! For our first stop, my friends and I visited Bourbon Street, located right at the heart of the city’s world-famous French Quarter.
Here, intimate dive bars and restricted adult clubs line the streets, with the cozy neon lights giving the district an alluring, almost seductive character. We just couldn’t wait to see what sorts of experiences laid beyond the door. So we walked, took a few photos here and there, and went on the hunt for a place to satisfy whatever it is we were craving.
At last, we found some respite from what was already becoming a hectic first night. Tired as our feet were from all the walking, we were glad to stop by Cafe Du Monde, a renowned open-air coffee shop on the nearby Decatur Street. Opened in 1862, the joint is known for its delicious French confectioneries. These include chocolate-flavored café au lait (a coffee variant brought to Louisiana by settlers in the 1700s), as well as beignets, squared pieces of dough covered in powdered sugar – both recipes are said to be unchanged from the café’s establishment. This place is indeed heaven for the discerning sweet tooth.
Right after, we headed back to our hotel to recover from our long flight. More adventures await – but for now, it’s time to sneak in some more shut-eye.
As morning arrived, I got to see a splendid view of the city right from my balcony. It’s interesting to see the contrast of elegant French structures and modern American buildings – New Orleans’ melting pot of cultures is apparent, right from the architecture.
After a hearty breakfast and a nice warm bath, I was once again off to another sightseeing escapade with my friends.
We first visited the notorious Pepper Palace, a shop that carries hundreds of variants of hot sauce – all of them made from scratch, ranging from mild chicken wing sauces to what is known to spicy food enthusiasts as The Hottest Hot Sauce In The Universe. While none of us were brave enough to sample the latter, we were happy to bring home a few bottles of spicy salsas and smoky barbecue sauces instead.
Afterwards, we continued our city tour at Jackson Square, a historic park situated right within the French Quarter. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, the area was designed after the famous Place des Vosges in Paris, infusing charming elements such as iron fences, walkways, and benches – which all remain intact today.
On the surface, the experience here may seem like Montreal or a small town in France, but soon as one hears the lively music playing – the place becomes undoubtedly American.
Shopping is another unmissable experience here in New Orleans, particularly at the stunning French Market. Spanning six blocks over the entire French Quarter, it houses plenty of fresh and cooked culinary offerings – including the famous New Orleans crawfish, Cajun (French-American fusion) cuisine, Creole (African-European) cooking, as well as a range of intricate pastries and locally sourced fruits and vegetables. There were a great number of artistic crafts on display too! On occasion, one can also stumble into free musical events playing on the street. I’d personally recommend visiting should one want to discover the latest in the jazz genre.
As with any sort of retail therapy, there’s a little bit of heavy lifting involved with the bags one has to carry. Still, we weren’t done with touring downtown New Orleans, so we decided to stop by our hotel to drop off our shopping finds.
We were a little bit curious in what New Orleans art scene has to offer too – after all, its French influence should certainly make a profound impact on the city’s artistic character. With our visit to the Modernist Cuisine Gallery, we were thankfully proven right.
As we stepped inside, we were treated to a truly spectacular view. The gallery hallways were lined with some of the finest food paintings and photographs I’ve seen in quite some time – spanning from elegant cocktails to completely avant-garde dessert creations. Definitely a feast for the eyes!
It seemed like only minutes earlier that the morning sun was rising, but now we were in the middle of a humid Louisiana afternoon! Time flies when you’re having fun. As we wanted to see even more of the French Quarter, we spent the rest of our day exploring its beautiful streets, getting to know the storied history of its most well-known structures. This included a stop at the foliage-covered Pontalba Buildings, built in the late 1840s by an accomplished businesswoman named Baroness Micaela Pontalba. It’s rather amazing that such a building could blend striking French iron railings with industrial red bricks and subtropical greenery. More than an Instagram-worthy photo op, I found this downtown sightseeing tour to be an artistically inspiring experience too. These photos are going straight to my inspiration moodboard for sure!
My friends and I then wrapped up our second day with a filling dinner at NOLA Restaurant, a casual eatery owned by renowned chef Emeril Lagasse. Seafood lovers would have the time of their lives here, as the menu fuses local favorites such as barbecued shrimp, jambalaya, and grilled octopus with a touch of modern Mexican and American offerings too. If you’re into adding a little crunch to your dinner, a serving of pork crackling nachos would do the trick too.
With the sun finally down, and our stomachs completely full, we all headed back to our suites for some much-needed rest.
Day 3 begins! While our first 2 days here were all about experiencing its exquisite culture and fiery flavours more privately, we decided to change things up and mingle more with the locals fro the duration of our stay. But first things first – I just could not miss a good shopping deal – so we headed straight to The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk from our hotel. The best items are said to be at the Neiman Marcus Last Call boutique – so I’d suggest plotting it on your bucket list right away.
From there, my friends and I hopped onto a little historical tour at Canal Street, a boulevard-like lane that divides New Orleans into 2 contrasting districts: its colonial-era city, and the much newer Central Business District. The area gets its name from a planned canal that was supposed to connect the Mississippi River to the nearby Lake Pontchartrain.
While never actually dug, the street instead became the city’s main passageway, welcoming everything from the horse-drawn carriages of well-to-do families, to the striking red trams of the Canal Streetcar Line. Historically, Canal Street also a notable demarcation line, separating the neighborhoods of original Creole residents from the homes of newer immigrants. Today however, Canal Street stands as New Orleans’ trendy epicenter, home to top-rated hotels such as the Ritz Carlton, chic New American restaurants, and fabulous shopping at the Rubenstein’s department store.
We then immersed ourselves further into the city nightlife, listening to the soothing guitar and trombone tunes at Frenchmen Street, New Orleans’ self-proclaimed live music hub. What better way to experience the New Orleans sound too, than with platters of delectable food. This was why for dinner, we decided to head into Adolfo’s, an acclaimed Italian restaurant that cooks up dishes with a Cajun-Creole flair. The ambience was rather intimate, with the set-up designed to fit only a small number of guests, and the lights and décor deliberately cozy.
We certainly felt inspired by the live band’s creative medley of songs. The food was also worth mentioning too, as it was such a joy to dig into the cheese-covered mushrooms, mussels, and buttered vegetable pastas.
With enough energy to continue exploring, we then headed outside to see the vibrant Frenchmen Art District, where one could turn and witness either blaring Creole music or colorful wall murals at every corner. Stay a little too long and you’ll likely experience a sensory overload – it’s that dynamic.
It seemed like only a few moments ago that the sun was still up! My friends and I were really enjoying our stay here at lively New Orleans. But the day isn’t over for us yet. For the latest stop on our itinerary, we walked to the Frenchmen Art Market, already buzzing with travellers and locals looking to see the latest in handicraft art. If authentic, diverse shopping is what you’re searching for, you can find it all here – Frenchmen Art Market is completely open air, and hosts a rotating collection of illustrators, painters, jewelers, and sculptors. No two visits will ever be the same – plus, it’s conveniently open seven nights a week!
Still, we couldn’t just end our stay without a trip to what they call the quintessential New Orleans jazz experience, here at the Spotted Cat Music Club. Situated just steps away from the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter, the venue remains the local favorite for the city’s live bands – spanning jazz genres such as Traditional, Modern, Blues, and Funk. One could instantly feel the passion of each musician onstage, playing their hearts out while they belt out great tunes from their instrument of choice.
After each performance, I was convinced: this is the place to be if you’re not just looking for a good time – it’s a venue to discover the heartwarming soul of New Orleans culture, one that preserves its beloved musical heritage for all the world to listen to.
Like every other art form, jazz ranges from the highly commercialized (cue the blaring hits of Bruno Mars), to the artistically pure (which is what New Orleans is known for). For people who would prefer the latter, Preservation Hall would be your venue of choice. Opened in 1961, the place was established to honor traditional New Orleans Jazz, through the showcasing of acoustic concerts over 350 nights a year through their collective of 100+ master practitioners.
So, on almost any given night, you can simply head on over here and witness a vibrant symphony of authentic New Orleans Jazz. But what exactly distinguishes this style of music from all other variants of jazz? Curious to know, we decided to ask the live band after their performance. According to them, New Orleans Jazz is created when one instrument plays a recognizable melody, with all the others improvising around it. The result is a more playful tune compared to the arranged ensemble sounds of big band or straightforward melodies of bebop.
We then left Preservation Hall to get a little whiff of fresh air outside. While we expected the same revelry we experienced indoors, there was an odd group demonstrating the exact opposite. Yes – I’m talking about a notoriously hateful religious group protesting in the middle of vibrant Bourbon Street – a historic corner of New Orleans dotted with fun jazz clubs as well as ehem, adult entertainment venues. But hey, the no-nonsense locals didn’t seem to mind, and just went on with their night. America does champion freedom of speech after all.
Likewise, our group partied on too, going on from one stage to the next, singing along to everything from now-familiar jazz sounds to chart-topping pop and rock hits. In New Orleans, you name it, they’ve got it. There’s no shortage of great places to enjoy yourself, no matter what you love to listen to.
Another great upside? All of these live shows are completely accessible to the public, so there’s no need to pay up any show charges.
Now that’s a fabulous way to cap off our day – and unfortunately, the remainder of our festive stay here in New Orleans. Indeed, it is festivity that defines the character of this colorful city, heralded for the aromas of its Cajun and Creole cuisine, the depth and diversity of its fine art and jazz music culture, as well as the glittering revelry of the annual Mardi Gras. To put it simply, celebrating isn’t just limited to occassions here at the Big Easy – for it’s people, it’s become a way of life.
While we knew that our experience was just scratching the surface, we also realized that the party never really stops here in New Orleans. As we packed our bags, we all talked about how we would surely come back for another good time.
So the following morning, we were again up and running, this time to the airport to fly back to our beloved New York City.
‘Till next time, New Orleans!
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