Bourbon Street and Beyond – Memorable Excursions and Activities to Experience in New Orleans
Lounging along the Mississippi River is the festive and culturally rich town nicknamed The Big Easy. New Orleans (aka NOLA) is an electric city filled with music on every corner, flavorful local dishes, and sizzling nightlife. The home of music icon Louis Armstrong, Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, and writer Truman Capote, NOLA is more than just a port city, and at Shore Excursions Group we offer excursions and activities to do before and/or after your cruise. From spooky nighttime cemetery tours to private culinary excursions we help transform your cruise trip into two vacations!
Meet New Orleans!
The city that brought you Mardi Gras, jazz, voodoo, and jambalaya was founded in the 1700s, welcoming a blend of settlers from all over the world. Most newcomers were from France, Spain, and Africa, resulting in a rich Creole heritage with a strong French influence.
Today New Orleans is a favorite tourist destination as well as a great jumping off point for travel; it is the 6th largest US port with cruises sailing to Key West, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean as well as river trips up to Memphis, Vicksburg, and even St. Paul.
The city’s motto, “Laissez les bons temps rouler” (Cajun for “let the good times roll”) is evident in everything from the Mardi Gras parades to the lively jazz music New Orleans is famous for.
Some Fun Facts:
- The city’s first Mardi Gras celebration was reportedly held in February 1857
- New Orleans was originally Louisiana’s state capital, before it shifted to Baton Rouge
- Many of the cemeteries feature above ground house-like tombs, and it is common for several family members to be buried in the same one
- At 38 km (23 mi), the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is the world’s longest bridge
- New Orleans was home to the nation’s first Mafia family (the Mantrangas), in the late 19th century
- Local pirates, headed by Jean Lafitte, helped defend the city from the British invasion of 1814-1815
- Bourbon Street was named after the royal house (family) of Bourbon, not after the liquor
- Speaking of alcohol, drive-thru daiquiris were a thing in the 1980s and 1990s before the government cracked down on open containers in cars
- Parts of New Orleans, especially the lower Ninth Ward, were devastated when the dam walls broke in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 1995, making it the US’s costliest natural disaster
How to Make the Most Out of Your Time in New Orleans Before and/or After Your Cruise
As with many tourist-friendly cities, New Orleans is walkable (with many great walking tours) but has bus tour options, including a fun hop on/hop off version that brings you to many of the city’s highlights. The famous trolley cars will take you to various New Orleans hotspots and are a fun, cost-effective way to get a great overview of this marvelous city.
The French Quarter has a lot of cobblestone streets, so wear comfortable shoes or sandals. Light, airy clothing is best as it can get hot and humid, and some venues don’t have air conditioning. From Bourbon Street to Frenchman Street, the tone is casual and relaxed — just like the city!
Best Time of Year to Visit
The best time to go to New Orleans depends on what you want to experience while you’re there.
Mardi Gras is typically New Orleans’ busiest time of year; its Carnival season is a weeks-long period of celebration, with main parades and partying leading up to Fat Tuesday. In the days around Fat Tuesday you can expect a lot of crowds and rowdy people, along with street parades, showers of Mardi Gras beads, flashy costumes, and king cakes at every turn.
If crowds are not your scene, plan for a December or January visit to get ahead of Carnival season; you will enjoy quicker service, smaller tours, and lower humidity.
Mid-April is a great time for jazz enthusiasts to visit the French Quarter Festival showcasing new artists, jazz legends and, of course, delicious food.
Broadway in New Orleans? Yes! Between January to June, and again from October to December, you can take in Broadway hits at the Saenger Theater.
Celebrate LGBTQ pride with New Orleans’ annual Pride event in early June, as well as during Southern Decadence over Labor Day Weekend; both events feature parades, parties, and community activities.
True foodies will enjoy New Orleans’ many food festivals, starting with Crawfish season in February, Soul Fest in March, and the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival in November. There’s also a National Fried Chicken Fest and even a festival dedicated to beignets!
Regarding the weather, it is fairly mild between February to May; the summer months bring a lot of heat, humidity, and fog, and fall is the most active time for hurricanes. Summer temps can get into the 90s (32 degrees C) while winter visitors experience nighttime temps in the 40s (4 degrees C).
There is no shortage of things to do and see while in New Orleans! Here are some of the must-do’s and must-sees while you are exploring the city:
The French Quarter
No trip to New Orleans would be complete without a visit to the renowned French Quarter, New Orleans’ oldest — and most sassy!— neighborhood. Established in 1718 by the French, it is known for its ironwork balconies, beautiful fountains, Voodoo arts, and live jazz music. The French Quarter is also the city’s #1 tourist attraction.
Start at Jackson Square, a small park in the heart of the French Quarter that has been the backdrop in many movies and weddings. This National Landmark is also a great place to take a break and observe the painters, tarot readers, and buskers who entertain visitors.
The French Market is a shoppers paradise, with 6 blocks of stores brimming with local art, crafts, jewelry, antiques, plus a farmer’s market and flea market.
Along the riverfront you will find more retail therapy at The Outlet Connection, in addition to parks, cafes, and a brewhouse. Other things to do on the Riverwalk include watching the sea life at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and enjoying a lunch or dinner cruise aboard the Steamboat Natchez.
Take a walk along the iconic 13 block-long Bourbon Street with its eateries, music bars, and funky shops, and feel the non-stop party vibes thanks to the city’s open-container laws. The later in the day, the wilder the street gets; it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed!
The breathtaking St. Louis Cathedral will mesmerize you with its Spanish Colonial architecture, three towering spires, and elaborate stained glass windows. A walk inside the 16th century sanctuary gives you a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle around you as you light a candle or just sit in peace.
New Orleans is synonymous with jazz, and you will see this with a stop at the historic Preservation Hall. This small music venue was born out of an art gallery in 1961 to help protect and preserve jazz music during the rising days of rock and roll.
At the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum you’ll feel like you’re stepping into a centuries-old apothecary shop as you get a history lesson in Louisiana’s pharmaceutical industry. This museum, neatly tucked inside a historical building, is also the unique setting for weddings and other social events.
Not to be missed is the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum! Learn how this religion was brought over by the slaves, influenced by Catholicism, and blossomed under Marie Laveau, the famous Queen of Voodoo. While here, see the Gris-gris (small spell bags with things like charms, spices, bone, and grave dirt) and discover how they are used to ward off evil spirits.
Afterward, join in on one of the most popular New Orleans tours as you head to St. Louis Cemetery #1. This burial site is the oldest in the city, and contains the remains of Laveau and other city notables. Many of Laveau’s followers flock to her tomb with offerings, and the three red X’s on her tomb are from those hoping she would grant their wishes.
Also popular are the ghost tours available throughout the city. Many of the buildings and mansions are believed to be haunted, most notably the LaLaurie Mansion on Royal Street. Legend has it that Madame Delphine LaLaurie tortured and starved her slaves, whose spirits roam about the mansion to this day.
Beyond the French Quarter
Just outside the French Quarter you will find Frenchman Street with its live music venues. From Igor’s Checkpoint Charlie to the Spotted Cat Music Club, you can enjoy jazz, blues, rock, soul, and reggae until the wee hours of the morning.
History buffs will appreciate the WWII Museum in the Warehouse District where you can learn the history of the Second World War through immersive exhibits, various artifacts, special first-person accounts, and an unforgettable 4-D film experience.
Nature lovers will enjoy venturing into the Louisiana Bayou. Board a flat bottom swamp boat to observe the alligators, tree frogs, swamp rabbits, and other wetland animals as your guide shares the history and future of these mysterious waters.
Looking for something different? Join in on an Amazing Race-style city scavenger hunt to experience a new way of touring the city of New Orleans! You and your friends will solve clues and complete challenges that will take you to many hotspots and hidden gems around the city. This hunt is self-directed and self-timed, freeing you up to stop anywhere for a beer or beignet.
Take a trip back in time by visiting Laura Plantation, one of the oldest mansions in the city. Here you can tour the main house and slave quarters, and see the sugar fields run by four generations of women in the Duparc-Loucol family.
You can also spend some time in the Uptown area with its leafy Garden District, the French Quarter’s quieter, upscale “sister.” While the famous gardens around the homes are gone, you can still admire the grand 19th century white Neoclassical mansions graced by massive oak trees. Other things to do in Uptown New Orleans include shopping on Magazine Street, strolling through Audubon Park, and marveling at the exotic animals in the Audubon Zoo.
Things to do for free (or nearly free) in New Orleans:
- Head to Crescent Park to enjoy a picnic lunch or grab pictures of the city’s skyline
- Hop one of the iconic streetcars for an overall tour of the city (usually $1.25 per ride)
- Enjoy a walking history tour at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
- Savor scrumptious oysters and live music every Friday at Le Bon Temps Roule
- Go to the Fairgrounds Race Course and Slots where admission is waived between November and March (note: this does not apply to special events such as Louisiana Derby Day)
You can also snag some Attraction Passes to visit the city highlights at significantly reduced rates.
Local Iconic Dishes and Haunts
Typical New Orleans cuisine can be described in two words: rich and spicy.
The city is home to many James Beard award-winning chefs whipping up masterful dishes full of Cajun, Creole, and French flavors. Seafood is big here, with Crawfish Etouffee, jambalaya, and gumbo taking center stage on many plates (and in bowls) around town.
A private tasting tour is a great way to immerse yourself in all the tastes and flavors of New Orleans as your tour guide whisks you around to his (or her) favorite eating spots. Sample mouthwatering dishes as you discover the history behind famous fare such as Louisiana gumbo.
No trip to New Orleans would be complete without a visit to one of the many Cafe Du Monde coffee shops for a cup of Cafe au Lait and one of their legendary fluffy beignets (a type of donut) dusted in powdered-sugar goodness!
Down in the Warehouse District you can try some alligator sausage at the unassuming but crowd pleasing Ugly Dog Saloon. From their lip-smacking barbecue ribs to the “I Like Pig Butts And I Cannot Lie” souvenir tees, you and your belly will leave happy.
Fans of fine dining can visit one of the city’s 34 Michelin Star restaurants around town including Commander’s Palace and Herbsaint.
Are you ready? Come laissez les bons temps rouler as you experience all the fun and flavor that New Orleans has to offer!
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