Hell hath no fury like Hurricane Katrina. Ten years after the bitch of a storm ripped through New Orleans, I shuffled down to the Crescent City and fell hopelessly in love with its thriving food scene, history and distinct cultural identity.
This month, (August 29), marks the 10-year anniversary of the devastating storm that upended New Orleans and its residents. A decade on, here’s my top things to do in the city.
Eat a beignet
Like a lot of things in NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana), we have the French to thank for these deep-fried, fritter-style pastries. Queues suck, but square donuts DO NOT. That’s why the quieter Cafe Beignet on Royal Street beats the famous Cafe Du Monde for beignets any day.
Take a selfie at the Mississippi River
New Orleans is below sea level, which means you look up at this muy famosa body of water. It’s a bizarre experience and definitely narcissist-worthy. Locals take pride in the old girl and are quick to explain the Mississippi didn’t break when the storm hit, rather it was the levies of the lake that caused the flooding.
Take a tour through the Garden District
Also known as the plantations, this area is steeped in history. Much like the French Quarter, it’s like stepping into the land that time forgot. Stare in awe at stately, Louisiana antebellum homes now owned by the rich and famous, including Beyonce, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman (below) and gothic fiction author Anne Rice, the first writer to introduce us to the concept of sexy vampires. (Suck it, Twilight.) Racontours does a lively boutique tour that finishes with a four-course meal at the swish Commander’s Palace.
Dine at Commander’s Palace
Don’t miss this. This decadent NOLA institution has been run by the Brennan family for centuries and the culinary game-changers are responsible for most of New Orleans’ top dining spots. The James Beard-awarded restaurant serves up everything from turtle soup to pecan pie in a charming setting. Former US president George W. Bush was said to have made crucial deals here (the muppet) and if you join the Garden District Tour with Racontours, you’ll find out where he sat, as well as learn the fascinating history of the Brennans and visit the incredible wine cellar.
Explore the cemetery from Interview With A Vampire
Gothic author Anne Rice wrote Interview With A Vampire in this very city, so it’s only fitting that scenes from the movie were filmed in Lafayette Cemetery No.1. It’s opposite Commander’s Palace, is all gothic tombs and draped vines, and makes for some awesome photos. Oh and Brad Pitt.
Eat oysters at every meal
If you’re missing the seafood appreciation gene then chances are you’ll starve in New Orleans. Gulf oysters are the shiz. They’re decently priced ($9 for half a dozen), pornographic in size and you’ll eat them for lunch and dinner if you know what’s good for you. The best I tasted were at Desire Oyster Bar in the French Quarter. The choice of toppings are endless, but natural oysters with lemon just get me.
Try the crab mac n cheese
Delicious, creamy, crabby, crunchy. Everything that a mac n cheese should be, but with all the added benefits of delicate crab meat. This dish takes thermidor to a whole new level. Eat it at Desire Oyster Bar also.
Shop for antiques on Royal Street
Easily the prettiest street in the French Quarter, Royal Street is home to a whole host of antique shops, including those selling Simon & Garfunkel vinyls, old copies of Catcher In The Rye, guns, hats and new fancy-pants fashion for young belles with old money.
Stay at a boutique hotel in the French Quarter
Boutique stay Hotel Mazarin is centrally located and has some of the biggest rooms, not to mention beds, I’ve woken up in. The Spanish-style courtyard makes for the perfect breakfast setting and it’s included in the rate. Next door is local wino fave Patrick’s Bar Vin, but for those who prefer a mean cocktail, guests staying at Hotel Mazarin get drink vouchers for 21st Amendment bar round the corner (formerly owned by NOLA mafioso Carlos Marcello).
Visit an authentic santeria and voodoo shop
Skip the tourist traps on Bourbon Street (in fact avoid Bourbon Street altogether if you want to continue your appreciation for cultured human beings) and take an Uber to F&F Botanica Candle Shop in the Treme. It’s owned by a lovely family who were happy to put me in contact with a top voodoo priest for a story. They specialise in Cuban santeria (an Afro-Carribean religion that began during the slave trade in Cuba), but sell all sorts of things from potions to voodoo dolls, wicca candles and more.
Listen to jazz in Jackson Square
St Louis Cathedral is the only basilica in the US and you’ll often see buskers playing live music nearby and in the vicinity of Jackson Square. It’s home to the oldest apartments in the country, the waiting list is 10 years and rents are as high as in Lower Manhattan. Stroll the area, check out the horn players and take some scenic snaps of this iconic area.
The building where the historic Louisiana Purchase was signed, also known as the acquisition of Louisiana by the US from France in 1803.
Top floor, the oldest apartment in the US.
Sip on a French 75 at Arnaud’s
Another NOLA fine-dining great, this place has been going since 1918 and they claim to have invented the French 75 cocktail. It’s a classy mix of champagne with gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup. Book a table in the famous jazz bistro and watch soulful renditions of ‘Wonderful World’ and other classics while you slurp on lobster bisque and this mighty potent fizzy drink.
Avoid Bourbon St and head straight to Frenchmen’s
Walk past the strip clubs of Bourbon St and make a beeline for Frenchmen Street, where you’ll find the best live music in town and pretty decent food. Locals and friends are quick to recommend DBA, The Spotted Cat and Maison as some of the top jazz spots.
What are your top things to do in New Orleans?
What things do you like to recommend to your friends when travelling?
Where was your best meal in NOLA?