The brassy sounds of jazz, R&B and everything in between is as rich and full in the air as the scent of jasmine on a summer’s night, and just strolling around is enough to make sure you come across bands who’ll blow your socks off as casually as you’d see coffee shops in other towns. Even the names of the streets are a must-see on every music fan’s bucket list, from Frenchmen Street with its clubs and curbside symphonies to Bourbon Street with its mix of new and classic jazz joints.
New Orleans is a party town all year round, but it’s at its most intoxicating and energetic on Mardi Gras, the iconic festival held on the last Tuesday before Lent which sees the city transformed into a float-filled boogaloo of wild costumes, parades and airborne beads. To be in New Orleans for “Fat Tuesday” is to witness a carnival and a triumph of spirit all at once, with some of the wackiest and wildest outfits, bedecked in feathers and sequins, that you’ll ever see to boot.
What makes Mardi Gras, and indeed New Orleans, so rich and fascinating is the great mix of history, culture and communities that make up this unique city, and from the blend of French, Spanish, Cuban and African heritage – to name just a handful of the gleeful influx – the city has constructed a creole sound and taste which is recognisable across the globe. It’s as true of the music with its hints of blues, funk and Cajun as it is of the sights and sounds, the French Quarter’s European houses and the Garden District’s quintessentially Southern style. At Mardi Gras the whole of New Orleans comes together to celebrate each other’s history and to dance the city’s future into the present.
It isn’t just Mardi Gras that’s a must-see: the annual Jazz and Heritage festival which – as you’d expect from this mecca of music – attracts the cream of the crop to its bills, but that’s only one of more than 100 festivals which take in everything from art, movies and food to LGBT and literary seasons. And even if – though don’t say it too loud – jazz or R&B aren’t your jam, there’s plenty for the more classical ear as well with world-class opera and symphony orchestras adding to the city’s rich soundtrack.
Foodies are just as well catered for as music fans, and New Orleans’ cuisine has benefitted from the blend of cultures and styles every bit as much as its bands have. With no end to the options for fine dining, street food and traditional dishes available, you’ll go home regretful if you don’t sample some of New Orleans’ home-grown specialities. Chow down on Jambalaya, Gumbo and Po’ boys to your hearts content – you’ll find them in their most gourmet form or as a quick comfort-snack wherever you wander, but for the more adventurous and committed foodie there’s plenty of unique dishes to track down in the bustling, bountiful restaurants which span the city from Downtown to the French Quarter and back again.
You won’t only be listening to great music or chowing down on sumptuous food though, as there’s plenty to discover out of doors. If you fancy burning off some of that good living you can take a bike and head to Audubon Park for some stellar views, and don’t forget this is a city on the water so there’s a whole lot of sightseeing to be done on the Waterfront, or walking along the iconic Mississippi River. The more outdoorsy types can also head into the open water by chartering a boat for a spot of fishing or go sailing on Lake Pontchartrain.
Sports fans aren’t left out either: New Orleans is a hub of great teams, from the Saints at the Superdome to top class basketball and baseball to feast your eyes on. A cool beer at the “Shrine on the Airline”, home to the city’s Baby Cakes baseball team, is a perfect way to unwind after a night of boogying and bourbon.
New Orleans isn’t nicknamed the Big Easy for nothing, and its famously laid-back vibe is as true today as it ever was. Renowned as a cradle for some of the world’s greatest music, you’d be forgiven for thinking that every day is Mardi Gras when you explore this cultural melting pot. From its varied quarters with their unique sights, smells and sounds to its historic architecture, bayous and parks this is an exhilarating carnival of a city.
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