14 Reasons Why You Should Visit New Orleans At Least Once in Your Lifetime

New Orleans Garden District (c) Jordan Haro
New Orleans Garden District (c) Jordan Haro
Photo of Sarah Ravits
10 April 2018

There are probably a thousand reasons to visit New Orleans, as it’s one of the most eccentric, vibrant cities in the world. It’s filled with friendly people, amazing food, awesome live music and memorable attractions. It’s a city where anyone can find something to enjoy, and adventures are constantly underway. Here are 14 reasons why you should put New Orleans at the top of your “must-visit” list.

It’s one of the most international cities in the U.S.

The city was founded by the French and also spent a few years under Spanish rule before falling back into France’s possession prior to the Louisiana Purchase (many of the city’s street names are French words or last names). It also has strong African, Caribbean, Irish, German and Sicilian influences, and it is often referred to as a “melting pot” of America. In the 1800s, it was the biggest port city in the American South, which contributed to its international appeal. The blend of influences that contributed to its development over the years are still reflected in its cuisine, music, architecture, art and general attitudes and ways of life. As in many European cities, there’s less of a need to feel like you’re in a hurry here – you’re encouraged to sit back and enjoy yourself.

It’s a haven for live music

Whether you favor brass bands, jazz, rock-n-roll, funk or pop, there’s live music all over the city at all hours of the day. Known as “the birthplace of jazz,” the city is home to a number of intimate concert venues (that generally charge cheap admission fees), plus there’s almost always a festival of some sort happening. It’s a go-to city for musicians and/or those who want to get out and dance.

Boiled crawfish will tantalize your taste buds

Of course, New Orleans is rightfully known for its flavorful, no-holding-back spicy food, and one of the best things about springtime (a.k.a. crawfish season) is the abundance of crawfish boils happening in both residences, restaurants and bars. Things can get a little heated (no pun intended) when it comes to discussions about who serves the best in town, and the methodology can be a close-guarded secret, but the truth is that it’s hard to find bad crawfish in New Orleans. Ask a local to teach you how to efficiently “pinch the tails and suck the heads” and you’ll be rewarded with a mouthful of flavor.

© andhij / Flickr

Mardi Gras is the greatest free show on earth

Accurately dubbed “The Greatest Free Show On Earth,” New Orleans’ Mardi Gras is a citywide celebration like no other. For at least two weeks, you’re free to wear costumes, drink as much as humanly possible, stay out all night, chat up strangers, watch or participate in parades and generally feel unified with the human spirit.

© Derek Bridges | Flickr

Jazz Fest is a world-class music and arts festival

Every year, New Orleans attracts thousands of visitors for its New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival during the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. Held at the New Orleans Fair Grounds, the fest hosts thousands of local bands, artists, cultural displays and performances as well as a slew of international headliners in a vibrant, friendly, mostly outdoor atmosphere. When the festival ends in the early evening, the rest of the city’s music clubs fling open their doors for late-night after-shows.

Dr John with the Blind Boys of Alabama at Jazz Fest | © Sarah Ravits

To-go cups are a way of life

Do you ever get bored of drinking in one location? Maybe you’re not as efficient as your friends at throwing back drinks, or maybe you just want to enjoy your cocktail while you walk. Enter the beauty of a legal drink “to-go.” As long as it’s plastic and not glass (and you’re of age), it’s perfectly legal in most parts of town to imbibe outside of designated drinking establishments. So if you like to sip while you amble about town, you’re in the right place.

It can be a little spooky

There’s a lot of folklore and mystery surrounding the city’s early days, when pirates roamed and a sense of lawlessness permeated the atmosphere. There are a number of buildings and establishments that are rumored to be haunted by restless souls of the past, and even skeptics and non-believers will likely find some amusement in the haunted history and ghost tours that are offered throughout the French Quarter and beyond. It’s also captured the imagination of a number of authors, including Anne Rice, whose famous vampires lurked around the city, and it frequently serves as the backdrop for spooky films and television shows.

The architecture

You need not have an architecture degree to appreciate the gorgeous, historic buildings all across the city. There have also been major efforts to preserve the integrity of many of the older buildings, and while you can find a blend of styles across town (including contemporary and mid-century modern), one of the most charming aspects of the city is that you can admire structures (often brightly colored, with intricate iron and woodwork) that have been around for hundreds of years.

© Olivier Bruchez | Flickr

The nightlife

The Crescent City is known for its vibrant nightlife. On any given night, there are a number of live music performances, theater shows, places that serve food until all hours, cabarets, dance clubs and bars that are open 24 hours a day.

The world-class restaurants

In a city that’s known for its love of indulgence, the bar is set high for local restaurants to consistently produce excellent cuisine. The culinary landscape is vast, and many of the city’s most celebrated chefs honor both traditional methods of cooking while incorporating new, contemporary methods and flavors. It’s hard to get a bad meal in the city, but if you need some recommendations, check out this list.

There’s almost always a free festival happening

New Orleans will throw a party or a parade for almost any occasion or reason. Whether it’s to honor a local type of produce (the Creole Tomato Festival, or the Mirliton Festival, for examples), its neighborhoods (French Quarter Festival and the Bayou Boogaloo come to mind), a quirky type of performance art (the Giant Puppet Festival) or a local icon (such as Satchmo SummerFest), there’s likely going to be an event filled with music, food and plenty of other entertainment.

© Derek Bridges | Flickr

The museums

New Orleans might be commonly thought of as a party town, but it’s also full of interesting museums that are nationally known. Among the biggest and best are the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the World War II Museum. There are also a number of smaller but important venues that house historic objects and offer exciting information, including the Pharmacy Museum and the Backstreet Cultural Museum.

Ogden Museum of Southern Art © Ed Bierman | Flickr

Swamp adventures await just outside the city

New Orleans is below sea-level and technically in the swamps, and just outside the city limits are a number of swamp tours, guided boat rides, fishing spots and kayak or canoe adventures. So despite the fact that New Orleans is a major metropolis, nature enthusiasts find it interesting as it’s in such close proximity to alligators, exotic plants, birds and other outdoor attractions.

© Flavio~ | Flickr

The Southern hospitality is real

Not to stereotype, but New Orleanians are probably among the friendliest, most welcoming people in the world. Residents are united generally by their goodnatured humor, eccentricities, fondness for all of the aforementioned attractions and a sense of pride in the unique, eccentric city.

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