New Orleans at 300 – A quick guide to the Big Easy

New Orleans at 300 – A quick guide to the Big Easy

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It isn’t often a city in America celebrates its 300th birthday, but that’s exactly what New Orleans is doing this year. This city along the Mississippi River has defied the odds to become a true American treasure.   The French, Spanish, and Americans have all laid claim to the city and the British even tried to gain control of the city during the War of 1812.  All these cultures along with the influence of African-American culture have turned New Orleans into a melting pot like no other

 

New Orleans is one of my favorite places to visit and while I could come up with 300 reasons to visit “The Big Easy”, I’ll narrow it down to just five (in no particular order). So here goes!

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St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square is one of the most iconic structures in New Orleans.

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This home in the French Quarter is a great example of the amazing architecture you'll find throughout the city.

Architecture

Having never traveled out of the country, I have always felt like New Orleans was about as close to visiting a “foreign” country that I could get.  Sure, it’s an American city, and there’s a lot that’s familiar, but when it comes to the city’s architecture, I could spend days just walking around in awe of how unique this city truly is.  The French Quarter is fabulous (even without going to the heart of Bourbon Street).  Brightly colored homes with wooden shutters and wrought iron railings abound in the historic heart of the Big Easy, but they don’t end there.  The Garden District in Uptown is another great place to wander as you become surrounded by historic mansions and smaller homes exuding with Southern charm.  And then there are the city’s cathedrals and churches including the most famous, St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, just a few hundred yards from the Mississippi River.

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The mansions and other homes in the Garden District are definitely worth a visit if you are in NOLA.

Scenery

Entering New Orleans on I-10 from the east, you get a real sense of how much water surrounds New Orleans.   The bridge between Slidell on the north side of Lake Ponchartrain and New Orleans East takes you over five miles of water before heading through the Bayou Savage National Wildlife Refuge.

 

A bend in the Mississippi River is the reason for New Orleans nickname, “The Crescent City.” There are many places to enjoy views of the river including the walk in front of the French Quarter, called the Moonwalk in honor of a former mayor.

 

Lake Ponchartrain is the other must see spot when it comes to scenery.  Head over to Lakeshore Drive on the south side where palm trees and a step down “sea wall” line the lakefront.  You can also take a drive across the lake via the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway, the longest bridge in the world running continuously over water for  23 miles.

A sunset view on I-10 over Lake Ponchartrain .
A sunset view on I-10 over Lake Ponchartrain .
Lakeshore Park on the Northside of NOLA.
Lakeshore Park on the Northside of NOLA.
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A walk along the Mississippi River in NOLA brings you up close to sternwheel riverboats, ferries, cruise ships and large cargo ships.

Food

It’s hard to go to New Orleans without gaining a few pounds.  This melting pot offers up a smorgasbord of culinary choices.  One hot spot is Café Du Monde, a place that’s been serving up great coffee and beignets (French doughnuts) since 1862.   New Orleans is home to the Muffaletta, a savory Italian inspired sandwich with a heaping helping of olive salad.  Crawfish are big here, served up in etoufee’, deep fried and served on Po’ Boys, or just eaten fresh out of the boiling water.  Jambalya, gumbo, red beans and rice, the list just goes on and on.  Spice up your visit by grabbing something good to eat and wash it down with a daiquiri or a Hurricane.

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Beignets are french doughnuts that have been a staple in NOLA for more than a hundred years.

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Crawfish are served up in many ways including deep fried on a Po Boy sandwich.

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Music

It is difficult to visit New Orleans without hearing music.  Whether it’s a festival like Jazz Fest or just a strolling through the French Quarter, this city comes with its own soundtrack.  And while Jazz is generally at the top of the list, chances are you will hear many other genres as well including zydeco, gospel and perhaps even a little hip-hop.  Street performers are a common sight and there are clubs all over the city where you can tune in to the city’s musical magic.

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Festivals

New Orleans doesn’t need a reason to throw a party. In fact, they do it year round.  Of course, the biggest celebration is Carnival, which begins on January 6th (King’s Day) and runs through Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).  Contrary to what many people think, this big party is a family affair filled with dozens and dozens of parades, fun events and music.   If Mardi Gras isn’t enough, there’s a French Quarter Festival, Jazz Fest, St. Patrick’s Day, Oktoberfest, the Essence Festival and even a Voodoo Music and Arts Experience.  And of course, the city is celebrating its tricentennial this year, so there are bound to be even more parties added to the mix.

 

For more information on festivals, food and all the Big Easy has to offer vist http://neworleans.com .  Also be sure and check out @visitneworleans on Instagram, a place to get a “tour” of the city, every day of the week. You can also learn more about Mardi Gras on my blog, http://knoxdaytripper.squarespace.com .

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My name is Clayton Hensley (a.k.a. the knoxdaytripper). Born and raised in East Tennessee (with a few years in SW Virginia), I have been traveling the backroads and hiking in the mountains for as long as I can remember. Through my writing and photography, I hope to inspire people to experience places they might not have heard about before or look at familiar places in a new light.

For more than 20-years now, my wife and I have called Clinton, TN home. We have two children who (for the most part) love to travel with us. My “real” job is working as a communications director for a large church and in what little spare time I have, I like to garden, take lots of pictures, collect Coca-Cola stuff and catch up on all those shows I miss because I’m always doing something else.

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