Things to do in New Orleans

Good morning. Thank you for coming back and reading my blog; I appreciate it.

Last January, I travelled for a 5-day trip to check out New Orleans. This is a place I had been longing to go ever since I watched American Horror Story: Coven, and I’m sure many fans of that particular show felt the same way. I desperately wanted to be one of the young witches in New Orleans. When Red Dead Redemption II came out, I once again became obsessed – perhaps bewitched!? – by the mystique of that beautiful and dangerous city, so different from the rest of that state and so steeped in mythical history in spite of its young age. This is a city that feels like no other you’ll ever visit, and it should be a rite of passage for any witch, goth, or spook-enthusiast.

I fell in love with this place and I hope I’ll be going back sometime soon. To give you an idea of what I got up to, I’ve compiled a helpful list of must-dos and things to avoid, based entirely on my preferences. If you want to find out your own preferences, then there’s only one way, and that is to go there.

Things you must do in New Orleans

Learn the mantra
Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say they gonna beat them Saints? Who dat?” This is a chant you will become acquainted with whenever the New Orleans Saints are playing a big game. As it happened, they were playing when I visited, and – despite not being a lover of sports – I found myself throwing an accusing finger at the big screen and chanting with the rest of the NOLA Saints supporters. A nice guy and his step-father taught me how to chant this, and expressed that you absolutely must say “who dat”, not “who’s that”. It’s the only way.

Listen to the locals
You’ll find that everybody has a story about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that followed, how it affected so many people there, and how it ruined businesses and entire lives. Many people moved away after the 2005 disaster, and many residents were still haunted by it. The least you can do is listen and understand when they share their pain, because plenty of people will want to tell the story.

Take the tram everywhere
You can get around New Orleans (which is actually quite a small place, not at all unlike my home town of Southend-on-Sea in England) all day long for something like $3 on a Jazzy Pass. The trams are a wonderful way to see the city, and so easy to hop on and off at your leisure – even late at night. I would also advise you to catch a cab from the airport too, and not to pay for transfers. They cost a fortune and rip you off for what is actually a fairly short journey.

Stay at 1896 O’Malley House
I loved this hotel. You’ll stay in a grand Colonial house with beautiful paintings, high ceilings, and antique furniture – including a high, four-poster bed. The owner was lovely and lives there with his two gorgeous Golden Retrievers. The manager is incredibly helpful and knowledgeable about New Orleans. The house was bedecked in Mardis Gras decorations, which really got me in the festive spirit (which is lovely post-Christmas in late January!) and the place had a haunted feel, with lights on and soft, eerie music playing, even late at night when everybody is asleep. The kitchen is open and you are welcome to coffee, soft drinks, and snacks which are available to guests for free. This place was incredibly reasonable in price – I booked my flights and stay with, and I’ve got some great deals this way before. It helps that I chose to go in Winter, because I for one could not stand that Louisiana heat! Off-season is a great time to go anywhere on a budget.

Have a night out at Pat O’Brien’s Irish Piano Bar
I had a gorgeous time here on every visit. It’s a beautifully set-up piano bar which feels safe and secure, away from Bourbon Street. I was here for the big football game (where I got immediately drunk on a $9 Hurricane cocktail and ended up spending the entire night), and again on my final night for a sing-song. Here you can sit in the bar or the piano lounge, request songs, and sing along with all the merry people. Hurricanes are a gorgeous drink, and it’s their famous cocktail. Drink it all in! I highly recommend this bar. Songs I requested included Can’t Help Falling in Love by Elvis Presley and The Seven Wonders by Fleetwood Mac, which they gladly performed for me. AHS Coven fans will understand the latter!

Go to a Jazz bar for live music
This is what New Orleans is all about – their beautiful music. Louis Armstrong was from New Orleans, and you can see his statue in the Louis Armstrong park nearby one of their largest and most famous cemeteries. Pick just about any bar and you’ll be happy, though I’m told Frenchman is the place to go for authentic Jazz. I found myself in the Mahogany Lounge on a quiet night, so I went back to Pat O’Briens for more atmosphere – this was mid-week however, so don’t blame them.

Go on a plantation tour
This was a fantastic outing, going deeper inland of Louisiana on a coach. It cost about $50 each, and not only will the chatty bus driver regale you with ghost stories and Louisiana tales, but you’ll visit an actual plantation, with real or replica slave dwellings, and tour the manor. I visited Oak Alley plantation for the gorgeous archways of oak trees, and naturally because it features in Red Dead Redemption II as the inspiration for parts of the story. I spent a long time here just moving around the impressive oak trees and taking photos. It was a foreboding and yet beautiful place, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Eat everything
Indulge in a massive deep-fried seafood platter at just about any restaurant in the French Quarter and you will not be disappointed. You should also try a soft shell crab Po-Boy (shell, legs, the lot!) and the famous Cajun ‘Gumbo’ in the marketplace. Food in NOLA is very expensive, though, so take about double what you think you’ll need, and then some. I would recommend buying your Cajun spices in the marketplace too, and a Louisiana cookbook. When you run out of money, I recommend Subway. You can get by pretty easily as a vegetarian in New Orleans, but I can’t vouch for their Vegan choices.

Visit the AHS Coven mansion
Of course, you need to visit Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Women. I visited the place on the one day that it absolutely poured down with rain, but I am so glad I did. You will be amazed to see the real thing; it’s every bit as beautiful as it was on screen. You can get there by tram, and it is located in the Garden district. Be prepared to see mansions more beautiful than you could ever afford to live in, and enjoy the verdant grandeur of the garden district.

Tour the tombs
You absolutely must tour the above-ground cemeteries and learn about the marshy, swampy earth that caused the people of New Orleans to be laid to rest in these haunting dwellings. You must also learn about Marie Laveau – the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, and (I bet you didn’t know this) also a practising Catholic who went to church every Sunday – and see her final resting place. Nearby, you will see the monstrosity that is Nicholas Cage’s tomb; a huge white Toblerone-style pyramid, which he chose to be nearby the magical Marie Laveau, before he got himself banned from New Orleans (until he dies and goes back there, anyway). I forget the story in its entirety, but apparently the only thing you cannot have stripped from you in the monetary sense in New Orleans is your resting place. So while he lost Anne Rice’s home, he didn’t lose his Toblerone. It is pretty ghastly and not at all in-keeping with the tombs in St. Louis Cemetery No.1, but it’s certainly a sight to behold.

Visit the boutique shops
There are countless oddball shops in New Orleans, including witchy holes with spellbooks and voodoo dolls, Vampyric gift shops, and even a bakery for dogs, where I bought my Scottish Terrier Sputnik a “frosted” bone. He gobbled it in seconds when I returned home, thousands of miles later.

Celebrate Mardis Gras
I didn’t get to do this, because the actual carnival takes place in March I believe (or did this year), but Mardis Gras season starts in January. You’ll see purple, gold and green beads, masks, and decorations hanging from every tree and building for months before the actual carnival, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. Take a piece of this back with you and you’ll be celebrating it in your heart. This is the celebration season before Lent, so there’s no reason why you couldn’t celebrate back home. Once you see the colours, you’ll want to.

Buy gifts in the marketplace
Your last stop should totally be the marketplace for quirky New Orleans gifts. I bought mugs, a Mardis Gras mask, and some voodoo well-wishing poppets as gifts for people here. It’s situated near lots of other shops, including witchypoo and voodoo places where you can get your fortune told and palm read. I didn’t get around to this, but I’ve been kicking myself since – who goes to New Orleans and doesn’t get told something terrifying from a Voodoo Priestess? I ask you.

Things you should avoid

Bourbon Street at night
Unless you enjoy clubbing, extremely loud thumping music and those sugary slushy cocktail drinks from a slush machine, then Bourbon Street at night is probably not for you. It’s the classic place to party and get drunk which, personally, did not appeal to me (unless it’s Pat O’Brien’s). It’s incredibly loud all night long, especially at the weekend, so avoid hotels in this area if you plan on sleeping.

Street hawkers/ the homeless
This sounds harsh, but you will be stopped every 10 feet if you aren’t careful. The street hawkers lure you in easily with innocent questions and, before you know it, they’re casually asking you to hand over $40. The homeless of New Orleans are very good at this too, and in general, anyone out to make money is incredibly savvy with the old charm offensive. Whilst I don’t blame anyone for giving to charity or donating in someone’s cup, I cannot stand being hassled or scammed in any way, by anyone. If someone sidles up to you, politely move on (or be prepared for it to cost you).

Swamps tours in the winter
In summer, go for it – there will be alligators and crocodiles galore. In the winter, however, this was a bad idea – they hadn’t even hatched our their little dino eggs yet. People selling the tours will tell you that you’ll see baby alligators (and you will – our tour guide brought out his pet for us to cuddle, which was nice), but the truth is, this is totally the wrong season to go. I wish I could say the bayous and swamps were impressive (to make up for a lack of dinosaurs!), but they weren’t all that – or at least, not for the price. You won’t be going down creepy, winding swamp paths – just relatively open water. In the summer, the experience will be much better.

– Bring loads of money. New Orleans is incredibly expensive, even just to buy food.
– Go to New Orleans for 2 – 3 days, and you can easily have seen enough to get a taste. I would suggest leaving some time to view other cities or places along your way. However, if you do want to immerse yourself for your whole trip away, I can guarantee you will love it here. If I went again, I would go as part of a longer trip, visiting several places.

I hope you enjoyed that post and got some feel for what it’s like to visit New Orleans. I certainly hope it inspires you to visit there yourself someday, or that it helps you to plan your trip. It’s a truly gorgeous part of the world and I, myself, loved it there.

Best wishes,