New Orleans is probably not the very first city that pops into your head when you plan your dream road trip around the United States. Of course, we all love New York and San Francisco, but this southern destination is also worth your attention.
Traveling by car is the best way to get to know the city. Whether it’s a family trip or a journey with friends, pick up a roomy 12 seater van rental and drive to New Orleans. In turn, we have prepared several important reasons to visit it:
Stunning urban areas
Like any city, New Orleans has very different neighborhoods with different moods. The most famous is the French Quarter, the city’s visiting card. Drive there in your rental car and then walk around the area on foot. Look at every beautiful house in lace-lined balconies, the freaks and musicians on Bourbon Street, which turns into one big club at the beginning of the evening, and admire the windows of art shops on Royal Street.
When you get hungry, head to the French Market (700-1010 Decatur St.) for traditional street food, fresh fruit and delicacies like an alligator on a stick. There you can also sit in a cafe, listen to musicians or buy souvenirs. Visit the legendary Café du Monde (800 Decatur St.) – it has been selling coffee and donuts since 1862, closing only on Christmas Day.
Museums are another reason to enjoy car rental trip to New Orleans. Most of the museums in the city are concentrated in the Arts/Warehouse District. If you come there with children, don’t skip Louisiana Children’s Museum (420 Julia St), which consistently occupies the first lines in all ratings of US children’s museums.
For the fans of contemporary art, the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp St) is a great destination. Visit not only exhibitions, but the souvenir shop where you can drink coffee and choose cool books about the history of the city, feminism, photography and cinema. Directly opposite it there’s the Odgen Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp St) for those who want to feel the spirit of the American South.
For an American take on WWII history, head to the giant National World War II Museum (945 Magazine St), hosting many educational events and interactive exhibits.
Jazz was born in New Orleans. Music is perhaps one of the main reasons to go to this city. Jazz will sound there everywhere – in shops, restaurants and just on the streets. Street musicians are the most charming, so don’t spare them a couple of dollars per show.
If you want to not only listen to live jazz, but also dance – go to parties at Allways Lounge (2240 St Claude Ave) or Dragon’s Den (435 Esplanade Ave). Grab a cocktail and take a dance lesson with the locals.
The region’s cuisine is the same wild mix as the local architecture. It’s influenced by culinary traditions from Paris to Cadiz and Congo. Look for places with traditional Cajun and Creole food – initially, it was most often the food of the poor, but now these are popular dishes, including in very noble varieties. Here’s what to try:
- Gumbo – a thick seafood soup with red peppers, onions, rice, okra and sausages in different variations.
- Jambalaya – an attempt by the Spanish settlers to recreate their native paella from local ingredients, which eventually turned into a separate dish.
- Rice with red beans – a traditional Creole dish that can be quite spicy.
- Po-boy sandwich with French bread, salad, local sauce and shrimp, oysters or meat. The name comes from a ‘poor boy’, because it was a snack of poor local workers.
Swamps and plantations
If the city itself is not enough for you, grab your car rental vehicle and try out two more ideas for exploring the surrounding area. Historically, cotton and sugarcane were grown on huge plantations near New Orleans. Now the excursion to the plantations is practically a trip to the museum, where you explore the old exquisite estates, the history of slavery and its abolition, and walk along the huge alleys of old oak trees. This citty is full of surprising places to discover during a road trip with your family or friends.
The second option is for nature lovers – these are swamp tours. The Mississippi Delta and the wetlands around it have created ideal conditions for crazy biodiversity and fun kayaking or big boat trips: there are real chances of gazing at alligators and pelicans.
The Mississippi River
The main river of the United States flows into the Gulf of Mexico a hundred kilometers from the city and has always been an important part of it. The first steamer to sail the Mississippi in 1811 was the New Orleans. In the 19th century, up to five thousand passenger and cargo steamers passed along the river a year.
Now you can still watch the ships sailing through the murky waters of the river – or you can even wake up at night from their whistles spreading through the city. If you want to feel the atmosphere of the heyday of the steamship era, go boating on the Creole Queen and Steamboat Natchez pleasure steamers (prices – $36-70 depending on the time of the walk and the music).
If you don’t want to spend so much, you can hop in your rental car, drive along the coast and find a great spot overlooking the river.