New Orleans Diversions: Five Places to Be and See in the Big Easy

By any name – the Crescent City, the Big Easy, Nawlins – New Orleans is a magical place. You’re likely to feel as though you’ve been transported to Europe or the Caribbean, or perhaps back in time about 100 years, as you wander through the French Quarter. If you love jazz music, food, art, a laid-back, friendly pace or the colorful energy of Mardi Gras season, this is your city. Here are the top five places that should be on your New Orleans agenda.

5 The Garden District

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Many visitors to New Orleans never seem to make it off Bourbon Street, and it’s really their loss, especially if they miss the Garden District. It’s a very visitor-friendly, intriguing section of the city and should be a stop on every traveler’s itinerary. You have to take a ride on the historic St. Charles Streetcar to get there, and once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by street after street of gorgeous mansions. The cozy Garden District Book Shop at the Rink offers any and every book by local authors you could ever hope to find, too.

4 Jackson Square

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You could spend an entire day visiting the attractions that line Jackson Square. To start, you have the 1850 House, a restored 1850s home; the amazing Cabildo and Presbytere, both part of the Louisiana State Museum; and the ornate, stunning St. Louis Cathedral. Even if none of these catch your fancy, you can spend all day sitting in the lush tropical park, listening to the various street musicians that hang out around the square, checking out the interesting shops and people watching.

3 St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

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Yes, I know you have cemeteries back home, but I’m guessing that you don’t have ones like this. St. Louis No. 1, just outside the French Quarter, is the oldest extant cemetery in New Orleans, dating back to 1789. The cemetery and the nearby church, known colloquially as the Mortuary Chapel, served many yellow fever victims during outbreaks in the 1800s. These days the cemetery is a maze of narrow corridors, stark white marble and evocative crypts. New Orleans cemeteries are said to be unsafe – and the sign outside St. Louis No. 1 warns visitors that they enter at their own risk – so you might want to visit with a guide. The best ones, such as the docents who lead Save Our Cemeteries’ tours, will avoid sensationalism, fill you in on the history, and teach you to decode the elaborate symbolism on the crypts.

2 Gallier House

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There are several French Quarter homes that have been restored to their 19th century splendor. Fans of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles tend to seek out the Gallier House because it’s supposed to be the place where Lestat, Louis and Claudia lived together. Regardless if you’ve read the books or seen the Interview with the Vampire film, you might want to check it out because it’s interesting, it’s easy to navigate, it’s truly beautiful, and it will give you an excellent idea of life in the French quarter in the 1850s. The decorations in the house change with the seasons, which provide glimpses into New Orleans’s historic holiday traditions.

1 Cafédu Monde

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In a city that is a gastronomic nirvana, am I really recommending the place that serves a limited menu of beignets, coffee and a few other non-alcoholic drinks?! Why yes, I am. The beignets – fried donuts with powdered sugar — are beyond description, the chicory coffee will wake you up and the friendly servers will make you smile. Café du Monde’s original location in the French Market is also open 24 hours a day, 364 days a year – it’s closed on Christmas – so if you have a desperate need for beignets at 4 a.m., you can go for it. The prices are extremely reasonable, as well, and if you’re going to be hitting any of New Orleans’s other eateries, you’ll appreciate saving every penny possible.

There’s a lot to see and do in New Orleans. Get to it.

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