One Day in New Orleans: Visiting the Big Easy
With barely twenty-four hours to spend in New Orleans we were faced with the daunting question, how do we see everything in just one day? Clearly, seeing the French Quarter would appear to require at least a weekend to long weekend to fully appreciate everything that it has to offer. Yet, as we sometimes have limited control over our time, our visit was destined to be a short one. But, as is always the case, we found a way to see quite a bit of this quintessential American landmark by making good use of what little time we had. If you are visiting New Orleans and only have one day to see it all I think I can offer a few suggestions to maximize your experience.
If you are flying into New Orleans, Louis Armstrong International Airport is approximately eleven miles to the west of the city. Shuttles, taxis, and rental vehicles are all available to get you into the city but be forewarned that the shuttles are somewhat expensive. We opted for a rental vehicle, which comes with the issue of parking and you can expect to pay about $40 per night to park at most hotels.
The French Quarter, our destination, is bordered on its western end by Canal Street and once you cross and head down Bourbon Street there is no doubt that you have entered into a whole new world. When the sun sets on the French Quarter the scene quickly transforms from a vibrant downtown area to an outright outdoor party atmosphere with music seemingly emitting from everywhere. My first impression was, "what must this be like during Mardi Gras"? To be honest I’m not sure I want to know. Given that we were visiting on a Monday evening I think it's a fair assumption that the French Quarter is a lively and happening place no matter the day or time of year.
As we strolled down Bourbon Street our goal was to get to Preservation Hall and then find the famous Pat O’Brien’s. Little did we know that they are located right next to one another?
Taking in the sights, sounds and architecture of Bourbon Street is all part of the New Orleans experience so take your time. Bourbon Street will take you to St. Peter Street and taking a right here will lead you to Preservation Hall. This unassuming building is the heart and soul of New Orleans Jazz and was established in 1961 to honor and preserve the traditional music of New Orleans. If you love jazz music there is a show virtually every night and I can’t think of a better setting to take in a little jazz music than this.
Just beyond Preservation Hall is Pat O’Brien’s Restaurant and Bar and after getting a quick history lesson on the place from one of the doormen we strolled through their courtyard and decided this would be the place for dinner. The history of Pat O’Brien’s is actually quite interesting and we learned that the building was originally constructed in 1791. In the early 1940s, Pat O’Brien purchased the historic building, which was at one time the home to New Orleans first French Theater Company. Today you can listen to dueling pianos in the piano bar and enjoy their famous Hurricane Cocktail in the courtyard where the flaming fountain is located.
There are a number of famous and interesting establishments all along Bourbon Street and the Hard Rock Café is certainly one of them. Walking through the Hard Rock Café is more akin to visiting a musical museum and what better place to experience this than New Orleans. The memorabilia they have here is astounding and includes personal items and mementos from such legends as Elvis Presley, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, the Beatles and the great Stevie Ray Vaughn. We spent some time looking at all of the displays and hit the gift shop briefly before continuing on our way. I must admit I actually found the Hard Rock Café quite interesting, a rather pleasant surprise for someone who would not normally venture in such a place.
The French Quarter is definitely one of those "never sleeps" destinations and should certainly be experienced at night. But, another highly recommended activity to do here if you are short on time is to take a walking tour of the French Quarter. We scheduled one for the next morning so the music and night life of the French Quarter would have to carry on without us.
Up early the next day we ate a quick breakfast and headed out to explore the city with a bright sunny day waiting for us. A walk down Canal Street landed will land you on the River Walk by the Aquarium. Although we didn’t ride them it was interesting to see the streetcars making their way around the city, certainly a great idea for getting around and a nostalgic addition to the city. A one way fare will cost you just $1.25 but the more economical choice is one of the Jazzy Passes, which come in 1-day, 3-day, 5-day, and 31-day options. The Jazzy Pass gives you unlimited rides on the RTA buses and the streetcars.
The River Walk hugs the Mississippi River and the section we walked started at the end of Canal Street and took us north to Jackson Square. Along the way we passed the Audubon Aquarium and the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial before coming to the Steamboat Natchez. Billed as the last authentic Steamboat on the Mississippi the Natchez was launched in 1975 and has been a staple along the New Orleans water front since. It’s a beautiful site and I must admit I would have loved to have gone for a ride but alas our walking tour awaited us.
With so little time to spend in the French Quarter we decided to enlist the services of “Free Tours By Foot”. This proved to be a great decision and we were lucky to have Sean Chick as our guide for the morning.
The two hour tour started at the Andrew Jackson Statue in Jackson Square and took us through the heart of the French Quarter to many of its most famous landmarks as well as some of those out of the way lesser known gems. With the stunning St. Louis Cathedral anchoring the park it is truly a beautiful setting and with clear blue skies above us we happily followed Sean through a labyrinth of streets and alleys all while taking in the remarkable architecture of the French Quarter. Sean’s knowledge and love for his home town are clearly evident and it was fascinating to learn about the history and culture of this community that has been preserved almost as a living museum for everyone to experience.
No matter the length of your stay I can highly recommend a walking tour of New Orleans and a number of different tours are available. If you are visiting New Orleans for the first time certainly do the French Quarter Tour to get a feel for the area. Other tours that are available include a Cemetery Tour, Voodoo Tour, Ghost Tour, and a Garden Tour among others. Free Tours by Foot offers free tours, which are tip based and guided by extremely knowledgeable locals. You can check them out and schedule a tour at their website at freetoursbyfoot.com.
Some Scenes From the French Quarter
Some local favorites to sample while visiting New Orleans
Beignets are a deep-fried pastry covered with powered sugar, check them out at Cafe' Du Monde.
A Po-boy is a traditional Louisiana sandwich, which usually contains fried seafood or roast beef.
Muffuletta is another traditional sandwich made with muffuletta bread and containing ham, salami, provolone and olive salad.
Jambalaya is a famous Louisiana dish known for its blend of meat, vegetables and rice in a creole or cajun variety.
Although our time in New Orleans was brief I think I can speak for everyone in our group when I say that we spent our time well and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the experience. Perhaps our travels will someday take us back as we have a long list of things we simply did not have time to do. As I mentioned earlier perhaps a long weekend would be the perfect amount of time to see New Orleans without rushing. Hopefully you enjoyed our journey through the French Quarter and it inspires you to take in the sights and sounds of this vibriant American treasure.