Listen to jazz at its best, eat spicy Creole food and dress in costume for parades and festivities during Mardi Gras in this fascinating southern U.S. city.
What other city in America, or even the world, has such a distinct heritage as New Orleans, with its multicultural blend of Creoles, African Americans and French-speaking locals?
Ever since the city was founded in 1718, people have wanted La Nouvelle Orleans, as it was called. The French founded the port city because of its location near the juncture of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, before the Spanish briefly took control. In 1801 Louisiana ceded back to France, but only two years later the territory was sold back to the United States for US$15 million, effectively doubling the size of the new country in what is considered one of the biggest real estate bargains in history.
From this point on, the city grew rapidly with influxes of Americans, French, Creoles, Irish, Haitians, Germans and Africans all calling the city home, and New Orleans became the leading urban centre in the south. These immigrants gave New Orleans the heritage and soul that the city is famous for today.
New Orleans' location on the banks of the Mississippi has been its biggest strength and also its major weakness. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the city's flood protection system failed and 80% of the city was swamped with water and thousands died. Post-Katrina, people slowly returned to the city and as the place was cleared up, tourism bounced back and now the city has more visitors than ever before.
These visitors flock to the French Quarter, the oldest and most bohemian part of one of the oldest cities in the country. Just as much Spanish as French, the beautiful and elegantly faded pastel coloured houses are stunning. Jackson Square is the place to head for prime people-watching, with brass bands and artists vying for attention in one of the country's oldest parks.
The party never stops on Bourbon Street, one of the most famous or infamous, districts for boozing and carousing. It might not be for everyone, but it's one of those places you need to see to believe.
For a taste of New Orleans' ghostly side, a visit toLafayette Cemeteryfor a stroll around the beautifully decaying tombs will not be forgotten. Come during the day unless you enjoy being spooked!
Tourism is one of New Orleans' biggest industries, and the city makes it easy for the crowds to get around. The town, being flat, is made for walking, but for public transportation, the famous streetcars are the best way of getting round. Less romantically, cabs are always available. Driving is not recommended.