If you’re in a celebratory mood, you and a million of your closest friends can party day and night at Mardi Gras. The annual carnival famously culminates in “Fat Tuesday,” before the Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday. Get your masks and beads in the traditional purple, gold, and green, and watch the colorful floats stream by in a multitude of extravagant parades. Lafayette Square provides a perfect viewing spot. Then let loose in the French Quarter.
But if you don’t want to fight the crowds, the great thing about New Orleans is nearly every day can feel like Mardi Gras. Bourbon Street and the rest of the French Quarter, nestled on the northern bank of the Mississippi, party year-round. Get there early in the morning and grab a beignet at the famous Café du Monde, but prepare to wait. From there, enjoy a relaxing stroll on Decatur Street to Jackson Square. A statue of President Andrew Jackson astride his horse provides the perfect foreground to the Saint Louis Cathedral for the amateur photographer. Peruse the street art, enjoy crowd-pleasing shows at the steps of the cathedral, and listen to the ambient music from a wide array of street musicians. At lunchtime, head over to the Central Grocery, the birthplace of the muffuletta sandwich.
Afterward, amble around the oldest section of the city and admire the Mardi Gras-decorated balconies and iconic Creole townhouses. From Rampart Street to Chartres, you’ll have no trouble finding art galleries, boutiques, souvenir shops and afternoon daiquiris. When the sun sets, Bourbon Street truly comes to life with revelers ready to drink and sing until the sun comes up. Numerous bars dot the French Quarter, but Pat O’Brien’s is a go-to. Check out the dueling pianos while sipping on a Hurricane cocktail at a landmark that has been operating since 1933.
New Orleans is the lively melding of European and African cultures, and nowhere is that truer than in its music. Jazz was born here in the early part of the 20th century, giving music lovers such luminaries as Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino and Ellis, Branford and Wynton Marsalis. Lil Wayne, Aaron Neville and Harry Connick Jr. also hail from this sonic hotbed. Catch some smooth tunes at the Spotted Cat, Snug Harbor and Maison Bourbon, among many other iconic venues. Sample classic New Orleans drinks like the Sazerac and Vieux Carré while taking in a show from the Treme Brass Band and other legendary local acts.
There’s more to do than party. The National WWII Museum is one of the city’s best attractions and an essential visit. Learn about our nation’s role in World War II in this immersive facility featuring artifacts, short films, news reels and much more detailing the European and Pacific theaters as well as the American home front.
Looking for a day trip? Take the streetcar to the Garden District and gawk at the magnificent 19th-century homes. Admire the somber beauty of the tombs at the Lafayette Cemetery and take a trip through time as you pass by the Joseph Carroll House, where Mark Twain used to regale party-goers, and the Brevard House, former home to New Orleans-born novelist Anne Rice. Jefferson Davis, the ex-president of the Confederacy, died in one of these homes back in 1889. Head to the campus of Tulane University and picnic, bike, jog or simply relax at nearby Audubon Park, home of Audubon Zoo. If you’re hungry, Magazine Street offers plenty of delicious po’ boy options.
Take advantage of a sunny day and hop on any number of riverboats to cruise up and down the Mississippi. Many companies offer bayou tours of the famous Louisiana swamps where you might catch a glimpse of the teeming wildlife, ranging from alligators to bald eagles.
There’s something for everyone in New Orleans, and only 24 hours in a day to enjoy it all. Jambalaya, crawfish, gumbo, and a king cake are all local specialties that will fill the belly while the horns, drums and guitars guide you through the night. Distinctive architecture, music and art tell the vivid history of this great Southern metropolis. Your trip will have to end at some point, but the party never stops here. In the Big Easy, it’s a way of life.