With a history dating back to 1699, it is safe to say Mardi Gras is truly a New Orleans institution. The celebration consists of more than just a big party, it is a cultural experience that champions centuries-old traditions and the unique culture of New Orleans itself.
What many would consider a ‘bucket list’ experience, if you find yourself lucky enough to be visiting New Orleans in the days surrounding February 25, don a mask and visit these special places to make the most of your time in the Big Easy.
Feel at home
Make The Old No. 77 Hotel your base. Every detail at this hotel has been thought through, from the in-room amenities to accommodations for pets, to a perfectly equipped Fitness Room (should you be so inclined). Located a ten-minute walk from the French Quarter, it’s close, but also just outside the action so you can have a bit of a break. Plus, the extra comfy beds—including a pillow menu—are a necessary counterpart to New Orleans’ infamous nightlife.
Eat a lot
New Orleans’ southern cuisine is renowned the world over. For a taste of the old, visit Brennan’s. The traditional Creole menu is made new by using seasonal ingredients that are classically executed. Open from breakfast through dinner, it’s worth visiting more than once; save room for Bananas Foster for dessert—it was invented at Brennan’s.
For a more elevated experience, visit James Beard Award-winning La Petite Grocery. The celebrated restaurant is in a building from the 1800s, and the menu features New Orleans classics executed with an emphasis on their French influence.
Should you need a bit of a breather, The Country Club is an escape within the city. This 40-year-old neighbourhood restaurant focuses on southern seafood; if weather permits perch poolside for lunch and a perfectly-made cocktail.
A trip to New Orleans isn’t complete without a po’ boy sandwich. Served on fluffy New Orleans’ french bread, these savoury sandwiches are piled high with toppings—try the Fried Lobster iteration from Fat Boy Pantry, it’s delicious. Save some space for a dish of their homemade ice cream, as well.
Be wowed by culture
In preparation for Fat Tuesday, visit (early in your trip) the Mask Gallery. Expert mask maker Dalili creates intricate masks out of leather or feathers, and he sells a selection of Venetian masks as well. To really stand out, we recommend choosing one of the lavish designs that pairs Austrian crystals and feathers.
The New Orleans Museum of Art is the city’s oldest fine arts institution, and an excellent, comprehensive museum. Make sure to see the show of quilts from Gee’s Bend, Alabama—incredibly detailed quilts that tell the story of history—and stroll through the sculpture garden.
One thing New Orleans has long been known for is the amazing cemeteries. To learn the importance of them to the city, and the stories behind them, try booking a tour. Save Our Cemeteries offers many tours of the major cemeteries, during both day and night.
Jazz and booze
Two other things New Orleans is oft celebrated for are jazz and booze. Preservation Hall, in the heart of the French Quarter, has been showing the best in local jazz since the 60s. Offering straight-up music—no booze in here—along with warm, community vibes, a concert here is a truly memorable experience.
Another authentic music experience can be found at the Candlelight Lounge. Located in Treme, a part of the city that took a terrible beating by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, this neighbourhood jazz venue has remained unchanged for years. We love to visit on Mondays, when they offer free red beans and rice alongside the intoxicating sounds of local brass bands.
If you wish to imbibe, Bar Marilou in the Warehouse District has vibrant interiors that provide a lively backdrop for expertly made craft cocktails. Make an evening out of it, lounging and enjoying the menu of small plates—the Pommes Marilou are seriously good.
In the centre of the French Quarter, visit Hermes Bar. Annexe of celebrated restaurant Antoine’s, they often have live music to accompany gourmet snacks and cocktails. This busy bar is one of the oldest in the area, and it’s been beautifully preserved.
Technically a gastropub, Bouligny Tavern is the kind of place you dream having in your own neighbourhood. Warm and welcoming, with a cute terrace, the comfortable environs play host to the perfect high-low menu of booze and bar snacks. Start chatting, don't stop—stay a while and take a load off. You’re guaranteed to make some new friends here.