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New Orleans City Trip

Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Where to Stay Where to Eat What to See & Do

72 Hours in New Orleans

By Ian McNulty

With its eclectic roots and colorful history, New Orleans is without a doubt one of the world's most unique cities, and a must-visit travel destination for fun-loving adventurers. Founded by the French three centuries ago, later bought by the Spanish and even later reclaimed by France, the city retains its rich mix of European influences. Germans, Italians and Irish all have contributed their special flavors to its culture and cuisine, as have Africans and Native Americans. More recent arrivals are also adding to the mix, as Asians of various nations find homes in the Big Easy.

The aged structures in the French Quarter really reflect Spanish style more than French. But that is the heart of New Orleans' allure — an indefinable gumbo pot of peoples, cultures, styles and survival. It is that last element that truly characterizes the city that has survived devastating fires, floods and hurricanes. Through it all, the people of New Orleans carry on the most important tradition: joie de vive.

Those who have only read about the city often believe New Orleans is made up only of the streets of the French Quarter. But one visit to the "city that care forgot" reveals so much more. The century-old streetcar line rumbles up elegant St. Charles Avenue through the picturesque Garden District, with its grand mansions and fine shops and boutiques. Further along, the ride takes you through Uptown, where Audubon Park sits just across the street from Tulane and Loyola Universities. Further still is the heavily-populated Carrollton area, with its enviable collection of ethnic restaurants, neighborhood bars and Bohemian coffee houses.

The French Quarter in New Orleans

The quiet bedroom community of Lakeview rests just on the edge of the massive Lake Pontchartrain, featuring the world’s longest bridge of its kind in the U.S., a 24-mile span that connects the city proper to the North Shore communities.

New Orleans is truly defined by its homegrown jazz and blues, its thriving arts community, its 24-hour rhythm of life and its world-famous restaurants and chefs, all heavily influenced by the city’s European heritage.

First, you need a place to stay, and the choice is difficult because top-notch options are endless. The beau monde loves The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans with its elegant French Quarter-style courtyard, rooftop penthouse and panoramic views of the Crescent City. Few hotels can compete with such specialized guest services as the Ritz-Carlton's "oyster butler" or "crawfish concierge," who help guests access these distinctive New Orleans delights.

The W New Orleans French Quarter, with cozy and boutique-like rooms, hums with an overall hip, ultra-luxe vibe. Equally chic is the restaurant at lobby level, SouBou, for small plates and craft cocktails. The pomp and splendor of the old French Quarter is dramatically showcased at the Hotel Monteleone, also well positioned for exploring the Quarter. For more understated elegance, consider the Soniat House. Located on a quiet, residential street in the French Quarter, this gorgeous, small hotel was originally built in 1829 by prosperous plantation owner Joseph Soniat Dufossat as a town house for his family; a hint of romance and Creole history endures today. Enjoy fresh-squeezed orange juice and homemade biscuits in its lush tropical courtyard.

However, if you want the full French Quarter experience, consider the Royal Sonesta Hotel, located on one of the busiest sections of Bourbon Street. The Royal Sonesta combines history, sheer elegance and one of the top fine dining restaurants in the Quarter, R'evolution. This is also one of the most in-demand destinations for those attending Mardi Gras.

NEW ORLEANS DAY 1: The French Quarter, the Herman-Grimma Historic House, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and the Garden District

Walk the ghostly aisles of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Morning is the perfect time to explore the historic Vieux Carré, the French Quarter. Start by savoring a cup of chicory coffee and a beignet at the French Market early in the morning as the city begins to stir. The best way to become acquainted with the French Quarter is through a walking tour; if you're really adventurous, consider the ghost tour. Although the French who founded New Orleans in 1718 get much of the historical credit for the city, most of the architecture of the French Quarter dates from the 40-year period of Spanish rule (1763-1803). To spare your feet and enjoy the tour in style, hire a mule-drawn carriage at Jackson Square and have the coach driver explain the city and its unique history to you.

A visit to the Herman-Grimma Historic House and its companion, Gallier House, will provide a good opportunity to learn about the individuals who worked on the property and the women who maintained it. Then there's Faulkner House, where the great writer and Nobel Laureate William Faulkner lived from 1925 to 1926 while writing his first novel, Soldiers' Pay. Inside is the Faulkner House bookstore, the actual space he occupied, which houses a literary treasure trove for collectors, especially rare tomes and first editions.

New Orleans — with its glowing literary history — has a plethora of bookstores. Our favorite is the Garden District Book Shop where signed copies and publishers' promotional materials attest to the many author events held under its roof. The store is half a block from Commander's Palace restaurant — the grande dame of Southern fine dining — and across the corner from Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, the historic graveyard featured in novels by Garden District Book Shop regular and horror novelist Anne Rice.

Surely lunch must beckon after all that morning activity. For a relatively light bite, dig into po' boys at Johnny's Po-Boys restaurant. The place is iconic, and the sandwiches are top of the heap. Or pop over to Central Grocery across from the French Market, and line-up for a muffuletta, another legendary New Orleans sandwich made with layers of Italian meats, cheeses and the de rigueur olive salad. This is a meal for two hands, and a half sandwich is large enough to sate most appetites. If you desire a longer, more leisurely lunch, consider the Palace Café on Canal Street, located in the historic Werlein Music building. If you have never enjoyed crab meat cheesecake, or white chocolate bread pudding, this needs to be on your agenda.

Check out the wildlife at Audubon Zoo

To walk off a bit of the indulgence, stroll down St. Charles Avenue and admire its elegant houses, magnolias and old, proud oak trees draped in Spanish moss. See if you can spot the remnants of Mardi Gras beads tangled in the low-hanging branches from parades past. Continue to Washington Avenue where you'll find the Victorian mansions of the Garden District. Farther uptown at Audubon Park, quiet paths and the Audubon Zoo await.

A top recommendation for dinner is Restaurant August, where Chef John Besh’s imaginative menu changes frequently, but always stays true to its Louisiana roots. A typical meal begins with horseradish-encrusted Louisiana oysters, followed by a roasted duck entrée with stone ground grits and foie gras. To sample Besh's craft in-depth, the Chef's Tasting Room accommodates up to 12 people and features a customized four-course menu. If you desire a world-class steak dinner, consider Ruth's Chris Steak House in the Harrah's Hotel on Poydras Street, or Chop House Restaurant on Magazine Street.

The city comes alive after sundown with smoky jazz and pleasure-seekers. A stroll through the touristy but genuinely rollicking Bourbon Street scene is a necessity for any visitor. Get a drink at the ancient-looking Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop or check out such jazz joints as Palm Court Jazz Café. Among other bars we recommend: The Polo Club Lounge inside the Windsor Court Hotel and Old Absinthe House.

Continue to Day 2

* Images courtesy of the New Orleans official website


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