There’s always a celebration in New Orleans. Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest are headliners, but dozens of other festivals populate the calendar. Even if your visit falls between big events, you’ll find plenty to celebrate—unique food, live music, a multicultural heritage and beautiful architecture. No wonder the city is a favorite location for business meetings and events.
New Orleans and the surrounding area account for a large portion of the nation’s oil refining and petrochemical production. And the city has one of the largest ports in the United States. Health care and, of course, tourism also drive the economy.
Getting to and from the airport
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is 11 miles west of downtown. A taxi to the Central Business District will cost about US$35. An airport shuttle service goes to hotels in the downtown core for $24 one way or $44 round trip. Ticket booths are on the lower level in the baggage claim area. Public transport is also an option. The Airport-Downtown Express Bus stops outside airport entrance No. 7 on the upper level. The fare is $2. For detailed schedule and route information visit the Regional Transit Authority website.
Getting around New Orleans
One of the best ways to discover the city is on foot. If you’re staying in the French Quarter or Central Business District, you can walk to many main attractions with ease. Many streets are closed to vehicles, making them friendly to pedestrians.
The iconic New Orleans streetcars are an attraction in their own right. They run on four lines: St. Charles Avenue, Canal Street, the Riverfront and Loyola Avenue. A one-way ticket is $1.25, and a day pass is $3.
Taxis can be hailed from the street; you shouldn’t have to wait long for one in the French Quarter or Central Business District. In quieter areas you’ll need to call ahead; expect to wait around 15 minutes. Larger hotels often have taxi stands. Taxis are metered. The price starts at about $3.50 and increases by $2.40 per mile.
Where to stay
If you’re looking for luxury and upscale hotel options, try the Hyatt French Quarter (800 Iberville St.; Ph: 1-504-586-0800), Omni Royal Orleans (621 St. Louis St.; Ph:1-504-529-5333) Wyndham New Orleans French Quarter (124 Rue Royale; Ph:1-504-529-7211), Hotel Indigo New Orleans Garden District (2203 St. Charles Ave.; Ph:1-504-522-3650), Clarion Inn & Suites New Orleans (1300 Canal St.; Ph: 1-504-042-9999), Four Points by Sheraton French Quarter (541 Bourbon St.; Ph: 1-504-524-7611), Courtyard New Orleans Downtown near the French Quarter (124 St. Charles Ave.; Ph: 1-504-581-9005) or Springhill Suites New Orleans Downtown (301 St. Joseph St.; Ph: 1-504-522-3100).
Midscale options include Baymont Inn & Suites New Orleans (12340 I-10 Service Road; Ph: 1-504-355-0200) and Best Western Plus French Quarter Landmark Hotel (920 North Rampart St.; Ph: 1-504-524-3333.
Things to see and do
Don’t leave New Orleans without taking a walk through the French Quarter, the city’s oldest neighborhood. It extends 13 blocks from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue. Homes, shops and galleries feature colorful walls and ornate ironwork balconies; some of the building date back to the 1700s. Legendary Bourbon Street is a party scene—not just during annual Mardi Gras, but year round. On any given evening you can listen to jazz bands, watch talented street performers, hit the dance floor at a club or order a cocktail in a “go cup” (drinking is legal on the streets of New Orleans) and people-watch as you stroll.
But the history-rich French Quarter offers more than just a party. Visit Jackson Square and check out St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously active cathedral in North America, founded in 1720. Admission is free, and it’s open daily 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Next door is The Cabildo. Once home to the Spanish municipal government, the building now serves as a museum of Louisiana history and culture with four floors of artifacts. One floor is dedicated to Louisiana music. Another houses a haunting exhibit that educates visitors about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Cabildo is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and closed on Mondays. Admission is $6.
An unexpected treat for history lovers is the World War II Museum. Originally founded in 2000 as the D-Day Museum, it’s among top museum picks on TripAdvisor. It’s a moving, educational way to experience the history of World War II—from industrial efforts at home to combat experience of American soldiers abroad. Open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission starts at $24.
The New Orleans Museum of Art will require a drive away from the Central Business District, but it’s worth it. The museum, which opened in 1911, features over 40,000 works of art. More than 60 sculptures fill the lovely Sydney and Walda Besthoff Garden. Opening hours vary by day of the week; admission is $10.
The Garden District also is worth exploring. Its stately homes, tree canopy and green spaces offer a serene break from the French Quarter’s tourist crowds. Most of the historic and extravagant homes are closed to the public, but viewing them through ornate wrought-iron fences is enough to impress.
Where to eat
New Orleans is a food mecca. The city’s Cajun, Creole, Spanish and French roots have inspired an eclectic culinary scene. Recipes have been passed on (and perfected) for generations, but the city is filled with innovative chefs trying to put a new twist on tradition.
Breakfast connoisseurs should visit Brennan’s restaurant. The popular eggs hussarde is worth getting up early for—even after a late night. You’ll want reservations; brunch is usually packed. Find it at 417 Royal St.; Ph: 1-504-525-9711.
Pêche Seafood Grill, in the city’s Warehouse District, serves coastal seafood with a modern approach to old world cooking. It has received two coveted James Beard Awards for its excellent, innovative cuisine. The oyster bar showcases gulf seafood including oysters, crab and fresh fish. Find it at 800 Magazine St.; Ph: 1-504-522-1744. You’ll need reservations, and note that Pêche is closed on Sundays.
Palace Café is known for classic Louisiana cuisine. Everything on the menu, from sauces to desserts, is made in house. Try alligator sausage or a Creole-seasoned filet. The service will make you feel like royalty. Find it at 605 Canal St.; Ph: 1-504-523-1661.
It’s a crime not to try gumbo when you’re in New Orleans, and Mr. B’s Bistro is the spot to do it. After sampling the gumbo ya-ya, try a catfish plate or pasta jambalaya. Chef Michelle McRaney’s dishes feature local ingredients. The restaurant holds a jazz brunch every Sunday. Find it at 201 Royal St.; Ph: 1-504-523-2078.
Antoine’s is perfect for a special occasion or important business dinner. The French-Creole restaurant has been serving guests since 1840, making it the oldest fine-dining restaurant in New Orleans. There are 15 dining rooms, each decorated with mementos from famous diners, including Pope John Paul II. Antoine’s is the birthplace of oysters Rockefeller, so be sure to add the dish to your order. Find it at 713 St Louis St; Ph: 1-504-581-4422.