We love exploring a new place neighbourhood by neighbourhood. Well-defined neighbourhoods can transform a city from overwhelming into more easily consumed experiences. Not to mention, they provide good starting points when planning a trip itinerary. Whether you've visited New Orleans or not, you're likely familiar with at least a few of her districts. The famed French Quarter and Garden District live up to their hype, and great news, they are just two of many vibrant and well-established neighbourhoods. If you want to find authentic, multi-faceted New Orleans, we suggest exploring some of the lesser known pockets by foot. Whether they're characterized as charming, haunted, historic or all of the above, each of them are begging to be explored. Here are the simply unmissable ones.
The Garden District is primarily an upscale residential area. So why all the fuss? It's simple: the neighbourhood is historical and the houses are opulent. In fact, it's erroneous to even describe them as houses; they're Southern mansions by all accounts. With colourful exteriors and Greek Revival facades, it's easy to imagine yourself in a neighbourhood of dollhouses. Naturally this makes the Garden District incredibly photogenic. And yes, the gardens the manors sit upon are impressive. Properties are characterized by lush foliage, artfully trimmed hedges and carefully manicured gardens. Actress Sandra Bullock reportedly calls the Garden District her zip code.
The area now occupied by the Garden District was originally developed between 1832 and 1900. It had originally been the site of some plantations, but eventually parcels of land were snapped up by wealthy newcomers. These were people who had benefited from the prosperity of New Orleans, preferring its uptown zip code to the French Quarter. In the early years of the district there were just a few mansions dotting each block, each skirted by sprawling gardens. Some were later subdivided, the result of which can be seen today. The historic roots of the Garden District are well preserved and many of the mansions are still known by the names of the families who built them.
Dining & Drinks
For those with a generous budget, this is the district to enjoy it in. The famous Commander's Palace restaurant hosts an esteemed menu in an iconic building. You'd be hard pressed to pass up the chicory coffee lacquered quail or a wild Louisiana white shrimp dinner. Alternatively, you could leave it up to professional recommendation and opt for the five-course Chef’s Playground Tasting Menu. (We tend to trust James Beard recognized chefs!) Visiting Canadians should know that a martini is just $0.25 with the purchase of any lunch entrée. Wet your beak (or grab a liquid lunch - we won't judge) at the Lower Garden District'sBarrel Proof. Not only can visitors sample 50 different types of beer, but they also pour whiskey from all over the world. There's even a few with origins where one wouldn't think they made whiskey. Sample the good stuff from Ireland and Scotland, or be daring and see what Japan or India has to offer.
See & Do
After you're satiated and hydrated, it's time to visit the dead. Immortalized in film, literature and photography, Lafayette Cemetery #1 is the best maintained and most famous cemetery in the United States. Its popularity has skyrocketed among NOLA visitors. So much so, the cemetery operates a guided tour which you'll need to book just to get in. (Well there's one other way to gain entry but if we told you...we'd have to kill you.)
New Orleans CVB
The famed French Quarter, or Vieux Carre, is the oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans. Not unlike the Garden District, visitors will be struck by the architecture, ivy-laden lattices, wrought iron galleries* and stunning fountains. The French Quarter is the beating heart of New Orleans, where one finds pure distilled NOLA. It would be criminal visit the city without strolling rowdy Bourbon Street or a digging into a sugar-heaped beignet.
*Don't reveal yourself as a tourist: galleries differ from balconies in that they stand as a building's facade and are self-supported by poles. Alternatively, balconies are structural, built into the design.
Established by the French in 1718, the Quarter is actually a blend of cultural influences: French, Spanish, Sicilian, Italian, African, Irish and more. A fire in the late 1700s destroyed most of the neighbourhood's French architecture. During the period of rebuild, the city was overseen by the Spanish. Consequently, the style of the architecture closer reflects a Spanish aesthetic than French. (Stucco construction, flat roofs, pastel coloured facades and ornate ironwork.) By the early 1800s the neighbourhood was largely inhabited by immigrants, and it became less fashionable for the French Creoles to live there. They moved uptown to the Garden District. By the 1920s low rent and neglect attracted bohemians and artists. The preservation of the French Quarter is largely credited to this community. WWII brought many military servicemen through the city, which served to compound New Orleans as a destination for risqué vices.
Dining & Drinking
Cheers on Bourbon Street at famous institutions Pat O'Brien's, Johnny White's, the Famous Door and Spirits on Bourbon. Visitors dining in the French Quarter will have limitless options, but there are some New Orleans food experiences that should not be missed. Experience your first po-boy at Johnny's, muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery, and beignet at Cafe du Monde (served 24 hours a day). And then there's the Creole. 2015 marks the 175th anniversary of Antoine's, which means the restaurant pre-dates Canada itself. Tujagues and Arnaud’s are also longstanding neighbourhood favourites serving fine French-Creole cuisine.
The French Quarter centres around Jackson Square, which is ensconced by the iconic St. Louis Cathedral, and historic Presbytere and Cabildo. As you explore the gardens of Jackson Square, don't forget to toss a coin in the fountain. After all, it's tradition! The Quarter contains a few famed streets, which all visitors should know about. Bourbon Street is the famous home of Mardi Gras celebrations. Stroll through it during the morning when it's eerily quiet and then again in the evening once it's come alive. Bourbon Street is one of the world's party destinations and its reputation precedes it. Despite sharing a name with a libation, it was actually named for 18-century ruling French Royalty. The rowdy attitude has more to do with burlesque than bourbon. Gentlemen's clubs, jazz and vaudeville all lend to the party atmosphere. One block over lies Royal Street. Here you'll find a concentration of the city's talented street performers in a pedestrian-friendly zone. Linger longer while admiring magicians, puppeteers and jazz musicians. Seek out unique finds in the boutiques, from thrift to antique. After perusing the shops on Royal Street, make your way to the French Market in the Lower French Quarter. This riverside market sprawls over six blocks and dates back to 1791, making it America's oldest public market.
The Downtown District, or Central Business District, is the centre of economic activity in New Orleans. As is common in most urban centres, the Downtown District used to transform into a ghost town following quitin' time. Alas, this is no longer the case in New Orleans. Instead, its historic musical venues, bars and theatres breathe life into this commercial hub come nightfall.
Dining & Drinking
It's only natural that the Downtown District should cater to the office worker crowd, serving up a variety of good lunch spots. Make like the locals and enjoy some affordable Argentine steak at La Boca. Alternatively, sample traditional Cajun fare atMulate's. Those who can afford it should go to high tea at the Grill Room house in the Windsor Court Hotel.
The heart of the neighbourhood lies in Lafayette Square. It's here you'll find the charming 19th century architecture of Gallier Hall and St. Patrick's Church. The square's popularity has risen in recent years as it has become home to 'Wednesdays in the Square'. The weekly event hosts free concerts, showcasing top New Orleans talent. Nearby is the hulking Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It's one of the largest stadiums in the country and home to the New Orleans Saints football team. Watch as the crowd brings the party to the field.
Unlike its name suggests, the Warehouse District isn't filled with the city's derelict factories. Rather, it remains the thriving centre of the city's art scene. Filled with galleries and some of New Orlean's best museums, admirers can easily spend a day in this district.
Dining & Drinking
One may not have expected it, but the growth and popularity of the Warehouse District is due in no small part to the original Emeril's restaurant. It has called the district home for ten years. Although the famous TV chef only makes occasional visits to his flagship restaurant, diners can still enjoy trademark dishes like duck milanese or whole truffle fried chicken.
Although many come to shop the contemporary art dealers on Julia Street, art aficionados can enjoy glass making, print making and silvery alchemy demonstrations. Pop by the New Orleans School of Glassworks and Printmaking Studio for an up-close-and-personal experience with the city's art. You're sure to find a souvenir (or two) here. If you happen to be in New Orleans on the first Saturday of the month, stretch your legs on an Art Walk. Tour galleries and studios from 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., meeting the artisans behind the original works.
The Warehouse District is well known for the National World War II Museum. It attracts over two million visitors a year and showcases Louisiana's proud contributions to the war effort. Other popular museums include Louisiana's Confederate Memorial Hall Museum (civil war), The Children's Museum and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art; all worth a visit.
Where the French Quarter and Garden District are historic, Bywater is hip and modern boheme. Characterized by bright, colourful houses and known as an artistic stronghold, this is the neighbourhood where visitors will find a mix of urban and gentrification. Although the residents of the Bywater may be a younger, edgier crowd, many of the buildings trace their roots back to the earliest days of the city. Naturally, this makes it a haven for preservationists.
Dining & Drinking
Come dinnertime you'll find New Orleans locals dining in the Bywater neighbourhood. We tend to take the recommendations of locals as gospel, so that's where you'll find us too. The Bywater houses some of the city's trendiest restaurants and bars, many of which host live music. Booty's Street Food remains a neighbourhood favourite, serving up street food from all around the world. Bacchanal Wine continuously makes waves around the city for its superb wine pairings and artisan small plates. Did we mention live music on the patio?
While in the Bywater, don't miss out on one of the best views of the city in Crescent Park. It affords impressive views of downtown New Orleans and the Mississippi River. Pass time in this district by strolling the galleries and thrift shops lining St. Claude Avenue. Keep your eye out for pieces of object art scattered throughout the district. Take in the cafe culture in the morning and tune in to Vaughn's Lounge for evening entertainment.
Inspiring the hit HBO show of the same name, Tremé is one of the oldest African-American neighbourhoods in the country. It's historic for being the city's first free people of color neighbourhood. Tremé is a cultural hub and remains a landmark to both the Creole and Africa-American communities. It's also a cradle of modern brass band music. Oh, and there's one other little fabled event that transpired in this neighbourhood, etching it forever in the annals of music history. Tremé was where the jazz genre was created and perfected.
Dining & Drinking
The Tremé is the ideal neighbourhood to fill up on real soul food. It is home to two of the most famous fried chicken houses in the United States: Willie Mae's Scotch House and Dookie Chase Restaurant. Both have achieved countless culinary accolades. The two share some friendly competition, but it's the diner who samples both who will be the sure winner.
Tremé is a neighbourhood that celebrates African American achievement. To get a sense of it all, tour the Backstreet Cultural Museum and the New Orleans African American Museum. Music lovers shouldn't miss the memorial of a great: Armstrong Park. This 32 acre park dedicated to jazz legend Louis Armstrong dominates Tremé.
Which neighbourhood intrigues you the most?
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