The largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana, New Orleans is equally rich in history and culture. Known for its distinct French Creole architecture, as well as its cross-cultural and multilingual heritage, New Orleans is also famous for its cuisine, music - particularly as the birthplace of jazz - and its annual celebrations and festivals, most notably Mardi Gras. All this makes the Crescent City one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country and if you are planning a vacation to New Orleans, here are some places you should not miss.
For all visitors to New Orleans, the French Quarter is a must see and with good reason too since it is a living history museum. The the oldest area of the city, the French Quarter is more properly known as the Vieux Carre, because although founded by the French in 1718, it also reflects the art and architecture of the Spanish era. The French Quarter is bounded by Rampart Street, Esplanade Avenue, Canal Street, and the Mississippi River. Although certain areas are well-known to tourists, there are actually several distinct neighborhoods. However the best known area is the entertainment section, with its famous restaurants, bars, jazz clubs and hotels, mostly concentrated on Bourbon Street. There are many other things to see beyond Bourbon Street too – for one you cannot miss The “Ladies in Red,” or the streetcars that traverse the streets along the banks of the Mississippi, on the edge of the Quarter. Beyond the floodwalls, is Woldenberg Park, a relaxing green space to watch the busy river and feel the music wafting from the Quarter.
The above-ground cemeteries in New Orleans are yet another attraction that has intrigued visitors for the past 100 years. Called the "Cities of the Dead," their hauntingly beautiful tree-lined streets and incredible architecture provides a unique experience. The above-ground vaults are as much a product of its European and Caribbean influence as it is of the topography. Because the city is entirely below sea level, the water tables are high, and frequent flooding, especially prior to the establishment of the protective levee system, made in-ground burials a difficult proposition. The most visited of these are Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District, New Orleans Cemetery No. 2 and 3. One of the more unusual cemeteries is St. Roch’s where plaster casts of body parts, braces, crutches, and the like, are placed the relic room of the chapel in recognition of cures affected through the intercession of St. Roch. Dramatic and fascinating type of burial is the “society tomb.” In the 19th century, benevolent societies started to appear, and one of their functions was to erect large tombs for their members, who might otherwise not be able to afford a funeral. The Confederate Monument in Metairie Cemetery for instance holds the remains of hundreds of Confederate soldiers while the Greenwood Cemetery is the burial ground of members of the Order of Elks.
City Park in New Orleans is a 1300 acre park in the heart of the city. A natural bayou runs through it and at its edge. With an antique carousel and miniature train, it makes for a great family destination. The City Park also encompasses the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Bestoff Sculpture Garden, the Botanical Gardens and one of the largest stands of live oak trees in the world. Your kids will love it if you can time your New Orleans visit with the Celebration in the Oaks – a unique month-long festival of lights when lights too numerous to count are lit under the century old oaks and turns the place into a magical world. Apart from these there are games, rides and food galore and around Christmas time, Santa is sure to make an appearance.
Audubon Park and Zoo
Yet another favorite family destination in New Orleans is the Audubon Park and Zoo which is conveniently located in Uptown New Orleans and accessible on the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar. With its lagoons, live oak trees, world class golf course, running course, Audubon Park is now an oasis in the middle of a densely populated area of New Orleans. The Audubon Insectarium in on Canal Street at the edge of the French Quarter, and the Aquarium of the Americas is a short walk away on the Mississippi River.
The Garden District
Though only ten minutes away from the French Quarter, the Garden District offers an experience that is worlds apart. After the Louisiana purchase, wealthy American merchants Continued to move upriver, and built grandiose mansions with large gardens on the subdivided Livaudais Plantation, which has now come to known as the District. Walking through the Garden District with its gracious mansions and Magnolia trees is a great way to spend a spring day. However if you have time, don’t forget to take a ride on The St. Charles Streetcar, which begins its run at the American side of Canal Street, goes around a landscaped circular park called Lee Circle and in the, named in honor of the Southern general. In the course of the ride, you will get to see some of the most impressive mansions “Wedding Cake” mansion, named because of its layers of intricate plaster decorating the facade; the Van Benthuysen-Elms Mansion, built in 1869 for Confederate officer Capt. Watson Van Benthuysen, a relative of Jefferson Davis; a replica of Tara; and the elegant Columns Hotel, to name just a few.
The Arts District
Art lovers would not like to return from New Orleans without making a short visit to the Warehouse or The Arts District which is in the American Sector of town. The boundaries are roughly Poydras Street to Howard Avenue, and St. Charles Avenue to Tchoupitoulas. The majority of galleries are along Julia Street block which again has an interesting history. Built in the American Federal style with which northeasterners were familiar, the "Julia Row" this accommodated a row of townhouses which was uncharacteristic of the local architecture. Eventually the New Orleans weather and its natural geological features were unsuitable for these homes, designed for a colder, drier climate and over time the houses on Julia Row fell into disrepair. In recent years though these townhomes have been restored to their original beauty and become the center of the Arts District in New Orleans.