New Orleans needs little introduction. It has become a Mecca for jazz and Blues lovers, and as well as some great museums and unusually appealing cemeteries you can explore the atmospheric French Quarter and visit interesting old plantation houses. New Orleans is always a lively city but in February the Mardi Gras explodes onto the streets and transforms the place into one wild celebration of song and dance from around the world.
It’s also the most comfortable time of year in terms of the weather, which is cold in winter and can get a bit clammy in the summer. You don’t have to be into jazz to appreciate New Orleans but it certainly helps, and you’d have to walk around its streets wearing a pair of industrial headphones to escape the omnipresent rhythms that pulse through them like blood through the city’s veins.
Mardi Gras capital
The epicentre of the Mardi Gras cyclone is St Charles Avenue. It falls on Shrove Tuesday, also called Fat Tuesday which somehow seems more appropriate in the context of all the burger bars and all manner of ethnic food spilling onto the streets during carnival time here. The Mardi Gras has been rocking New Orleans since way back in 1885 in a relatively small way, and then in 1909 the outrageously colourful floats started appearing. It was all about the Creoles lambasting the white Krewes at first but has developed into a general celebration and free-for-all with a significant gay contingent doing its best to take flamboyance to new extremes each year.
- Find out more about the Mardi Gras
Vampires and old cemeteries
It’s not surprising that Ann Rice set her vampire novels in this decaying old city with its elegance, charm and sense of brooding on the past. You can just imagine one of her un-dead heroes stalking its midnight streets, and cemeteries like St Louis Cemetery near the atmospheric French Quarter would make the perfect scene for his eventual staking. This must be one of the few ‘cities of the dead’ in the world that has become a major tourist attraction.
- Location: Treme
- Open: Mon-Sat 9.00am-3.00pm, Sun 9.00am-12.00pm
- Admission: Free for the living
Historic New Orleans Collection
This great museum was founded in 1966 and is dedicated to saving the unique cultural heritage of the old French Quarter of the city, the part most visitors come to see. It has a Royal Street Complex with seven different examples of colonial architecture, and numerous other interesting displays that delve into the rich history and culture of New Orleans.
- Location: 533 Royal Street in the French Quarter
- Open: Tue-Sat 9.30am-4.30pm
- Admission: Free
- Website: http://www.hnoc.org/
The French Quarter is the cultural hub of the city and has a unique and distinctive charm of its own. There’s a mix of French, Spanish, American and Creole styles in the cuisine, architecture and music here, and the cast iron balconies and lace curtains are a reminder of old colonial days. The French Quarter positively drips charm and is the perfect place for an evening stroll and a few drinks. There are loads of small shops, a couple of museums and a French Market to check out as well.