Our first experience of Southern Hospitality was when we pulled off the Interstate and strolled into the Louisiana welcome centre.
Each state has its own welcome centre, which makes me laugh when I imagine each county back home having one. The Florida welcome centre gave out free orange juice, Georgia offered peaches and Louisiana offered “Louisiana smiles” (I’d tell you what you get in the Mississippi centre but I slept the whole way through Mississippi (we were only there for about 30 minutes) and, as such, Thom didn’t stop there). Maybe the county of Warwickshire would read you an act from a Shakespeare play and Kent would give you some shavings from the White Cliffs of Dover?
Anywhere that promises smiles though can’t be too bad a place. Can it? As we continued down through Louisiana, it’s swamps and bayous and past plantations to New Orleans I pictured a happy, smiling place and that’s what we got.
New Orleans is one of those places, like Savannah, that stands out. When you mention it to someone they reply with either; “I loved it there” or, “I’ve always wanted to go there”. I was the latter, and now I can reply with the former.
The old town part of New Orleans is full of houses with charming iron balconies, there are buskers (but good ones) on every street corner. There are men offering to write you a poem for a small fee, bands playing in restaurants, Mardi Gras beads in trees and on houses, good food, drinks, and a party atmosphere no matter what time of year.
If you’re visiting New Orleans here are a few things not to miss.
Faulkner House Books
Faulkner House Books in New Orleans is not only the only bookshop I have come across in America (seriously, where do you guys buy books from? Waterstones take note there’s a serious gap in the market), but one of the coolest bookshops I’ve come across.
It’s inside an author’s house and he’s effectively turned the front room and the hallway into a bookshop. You’ll find books dedicated to Louisiana itself as well as from all genres. It’s a small shop but it’s well worth a browse.
This is where the buskers and artists hang out. You can get tarot and palm readings here and browse some good (and some not so good art). It’s a picturesque area right in the heart of New Orleans. The St Louis Cathedral backs on to the square and it’s free to enter and have a wander round.
Café du Monde
Whilst we didn’t bother hanging about in the queue for Café du Monde, it’s often said to do the best beignets (doughnuts) in New Orleans. Don’t go before 11am as you’ll have to join a queue that’s several blocks long. Instead, go in the mid afternoon when it seemed much quieter (although still had a queue), or go at 2am – it is open 24hours a day anyway.
Eat a Muffuletta at Central Grocery & Deli
This little deli is an extremely popular stop thanks to the fact it serves Muffuletta sandwiches; something of a speciality. Central Grocery and Deli claim to be the inventors of this sandwich and nowadays you can find it on the menu in a lot of restaurants throughout New Orleans.
A Muffuletta is a huge round sandwich with salami, ham, Emmental, Swiss cheese and Provolone cheese and an olive salad. I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t like olives as it’s pretty olive heavy (even for me who does like olives). But you can always scrape some out and trying a Muffuletta is a must while in New Orleans.
Cane and Table
We ate at Cane and Table while in New Orleans and absolutely loved the food. Book a table, or go early, and ask to be sat outside as it’s a very nice spot to eat. The menu is southern inspired with a Tiki aspect to it too. We ate yucca chips with a three bean hoummous for starters which was so good and the cocktails are delicious too!
Walk around the French Quarter
You can’t go wrong here. Wherever you walk you’ll stumble upon beautiful buildings, live music and cool shops selling all kinds of New Orleans souvenirs.
Drink chicory coffee
New Orleans has become famous for its coffee thanks to the addition of chicory. This was a style developed by the French during the civil war when coffee was scarce. Adding chicory meant more body and flavour to their cup of coffee and this tradition has carried on in New Orleans. It certainly was one of the stronger and flavoursome coffees I’ve had whilst in America.
Chill out in Louis Armstrong Park
This park, just outside of downtown, is a great place to lie down and relax after a full day’s sightseeing.
Visit a vampire shop
As you wander New Orleans you can fail to miss the city’s connection to vampires and voodoo. Revel in this whatever your beliefs and pop into Boutique du Vampyre which is full of vampire accessories, fags, books and incense.
Party on Bourbon Street
When the sun begins to set Bourbon Street in New Orleans French Quarter turns into party central. It’s not exactly the most cultural, or nicest, part to New Orleans but if you want to party this is the place to go.
You’ll see bars selling “huge ass beers” (because beer is served out of a cup in the shape of a bum) and plenty of drunk people stumbling about late into the night.
Explore the Garden District
The Garden District of New Orleans is home to numerous antebellum mansions, pristine gardens and southern charm. It’s an excellent place to stroll around and marvel at the huge houses. Although it’s getting more popular with tourists, it’s far quieter than the French District making it a nice place to get away from it all for a while.
Eat doughnuts at District Donut
The best doughnut I’ve ever had. Their speciality doughnuts are light and fluffy with so much flavour.
Visit a New Orleans cemetery
New Orleans’ cemeteries aren’t like all the other cemeteries you’re used to seeing. Due to the high water levels in New Orleans people aren’t buried underground but rather in tombs on top of it. If you were to dig a few feet down in the city, the grave becomes soggy as it fills with water. Therefore, tombs were the only answer to keep the dead buried!
There are plenty of famous people in New Orleans’ cemeteries and many companies offer tours. You can also do a self guided tour of Lafayette cemetery by picking up a map from the information point.
Eat a Po’Boy
As you walk around the city you’ll notice signs everywhere advertising Po’Boys. A po’ boy is a traditional sandwich from the state of Louisiana and almost always consists of meat or some sort of fried seafood (sorry veggies!). It’s basically just another name for a sandwich but you can’t leave Louisiana without saying you’ve eaten a Po’Boy!