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New Orleans is one of those rare U.S. destinations where, if you landed in a plane without having any idea where you were going, you might think you were in another country for a second. Its exotic food, vibrant music and art, lush landscape, and locals full of joie de vivre make it feel several steps removed from another skyscraper-littered, chrome-and-glass modern city.
One of the best things you’ll notice about NOLA is how ready people seem to enjoy life, even in the wake of the earth-shattering tragedy of Katrina. With traditions like Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras, celebrating, drinking, and dancing in the streets is a reality, not just a figure of speech.
To make the most of your visit to this incredible place, follow our guide to the 10 things everyone should experience and Instagram while in NOLA.
Bike around the French Quarter.
The oldest neighborhood in New Orleans, the French Quarter (a.k.a. “The Quarter) was founded in 1718 and is now a National Historic Landmark. The area was relatively undamaged after Katrina because of its location, and is now home to tons of squares, restaurants, hotels, and bars that are big destinations for locals and tourists alike—and renting a bike is a great way to see it all for yourself.
Treat yourself to a beignet.
Beignets are Louisiana’s official state donut, and are basically fried dough fritters topped with plenty of powdered sugar. The ones at Café du Monde are rumored to be some of the best in the city and state. Order yours with a coffee and be sure to get an aerial shot before you dig in.
Wander Bourbon Street.
The most famous street in the French Quarter—and one of the most famous in the world—Bourbon Street abides by its own laws, which means that anyone over 21 can drink in the street (and up until the 90s, that included anyone over 18). As a result, it’s no shock that it’s legendary for its boisterous bars, live music, and raucous dance parties.
Grab some gumbo.
St0p by St. Louis Cathedral.
This gorgeous cathedral was founded in the 18th century and is the oldest cathedral in the country. Located on the bank of the Mississippi River and in a popular area called Jackson Square, you won’t regret going for a tour to hear the cathedral’s history, or just stopping buy to snap epic photos of the towering facade.
Enjoy some oysters and Bloody Marys.
If you didn’t get your fill of fresh seafood with shrimp gumbo, swing by the Royal House, which serves up oysters on the half shell, fried, or charbroiled, along with delicious cocktails, and more. On a nice day, be sure to ask for a table on the balcony, which has a great view.
Take the trolley to the Garden District.
The Garden District is a beautiful neighborhood that’s packed with stately homes flanked by verdant gardens and trees, high-end shopping and dining, and a sprawling, beautiful graveyard called The Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (worth snapping some spooky, otherworldly photos in).
Have a proper Southern meal at Commander’s.
Throw on your seersucker and hit Commander’s Palace, a landmark restaurant that features an upscale Creole menu and 25-cent martinis with lunch on weekdays.
Listen to live jazz.
While live music is ubiquitous throughout NOLA and the Quarter, The Spotted Cat Music Club is serious business, featuring up to four bands per night. It’s cozy, with a small stage and standing room for drinking and dancing—but worth it for the authentic experience (and equally cool-looking Instagrams).
Explore Magazine Street.
This six-mile stretch from the Garden District to uptown NOLA has tons of antique stores, art galleries, and boutiques to pop in and out of while sipping a coffee and supporting the local economy!