A Local’s Guide To New Orleans
British Airways has announced that, from March, the airline will fly direct from Heathrow to New Orleans for the first time in 30 years, making this beautiful city infinitely more accessible. We’ve spoken to the locals to get the low-down on this southern star.
Tamara Hinson is a Surrey-based freelance travel journalist who writes for newspapers such as the Telegraph and Guardian, along with in-flight publications and travel websites. She’s especially interested in getting off the beaten track and some of the more unusual destinations she’s visited include North Korea and Benin.
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Off The Beaten Track
To experience the real New Orleans, ditch the guide book and head out of the city centre. “Enjoy some local music at Bacchanal or join a yoga class in Crescent City Park,” suggests Kelly Fields, chef at Willa Jean, an O’Keefe Avenue café which specialises in southern cuisine. “I think it’s important for visitors to break away from the regular tourist spots – visit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, stroll down Frenchmen Street, support our live music scene and spend time at one of our farmers’ markets. Meet the people who make the south what it is!”
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Eat And Drink
New Orleans’ most famous dishes include gumbo (a type of stew), jambalaya (a rice-based dish with French and Spanish influences) and po’ boys (huge sandwiches usually filled with seafood, chicken or beef). “Our most popular version is the seared Gulf shrimp po’ boy,” reveals Chef Cam at Killer Poboys. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, head to Dauphine Street’s Satsuma Café. “We serve giant buttermilk pancakes and the flavours change daily,” says chef Michael Costantini.
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When it’s time for a caffeine fix, try the house special at New Orleans institution Mammoth Espresso. “It’s called Sweet Little Thing and it’s a cold-shaken blend of espresso, made with cream and vanilla syrup and topped with aromatic bitters,” explains veteran barista Jonathan Riethmaier. As for that ultimate New Orleans dish? “I’d recommend New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp toast,” says Willa Jean’s Kelly Fields. “It’s a dish which offers a taste of traditional New Orleans. Or just grab a po’boy and go enjoy it on the bayou!”
New Orleans’ prices are still lower than in many American cities. “For shopping, Royal Street has museum-quality antique stores,” says Evan Hayes, owner of The Delachaise Wine Bar. “Canal Place has a Saks Fifth Avenue, and Magazine Street, which runs from downtown to uptown, has a huge number of eclectic shops.”
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And if you’re looking for a souvenir to take home? “The French Quarter – Royal Street in particular – has so many unique artistic shops,” says Massoud Dalili at the Mask Gallery, which sells traditional handmade masks for events like Mardi Gras. He adds: “another of my favourite places is Gumbo Shop at 630 St Peter Street, where you’ll find a full range of Creole foods.”
Get A Culture Fix
There’s no better place than New Orleans to learn about southern America, and its museums and galleries are some of the best. “I’ve also spent hours touring the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the National World War II Museum,” says Jonathan Riethmaier at Mammoth Espresso. “And I love New Orleans’ City Park – it’s one of America’s oldest urban parks but it’s also where you’ll find New Orleans Museum of Art.” New Orleans is also home to a growing number of artists.
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Local musician Robin Barnes tells us that his favourite gallery is Studio BE. “Local artist and friend BMike has created a breathtaking studio in an old railroad warehouse. You’ll find mural-scale spray-painted portraits of Martin Luther King, Jr. Muhammad Ali and many other local African-American figures and human rights advocates. I’m filled with inspiration every time I visit.”
Live Like A Local
Locals don’t rely on hotel shuttles or retreat to their hotel for bland brunches, so why should you? Ask that friendly waiter or shop assistant where their favourite local spot is, and put it at the top of your itinerary. “Elizabeth’s in the Bywater neighbourhood of New Orleans is a can’t-miss for a local experience,” says singer Robin Barnes. “This brunch spot, located in a residential area filled with colourful homes, is famous for the praline bacon. Cross the street after breakfast and visit Crescent Park, which has stunning views of the New Orleans skyline, or walk down the block to Dr Bob’s Art Studio where you can see a funky local artist at work.” And no visit to New Orleans would be complete without a ride on their famous trams.
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“My top tip? Ride our streetcars,” says Evan Hayes at The Delachaise Wine Bar. “They cost $1.25 per ride and routes have recently been expanded.”
Do The Tourist Thing
In an ideal world, there would be no selfie sticks and no other tourists, but like any other city, New Orleans most popular areas are full of these things. Avoid the most touristy areas and you’ll be missing out on its best bits.
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“My advice? Don’t be afraid of the French Quarter,” says James Weber at the city’s Euclid Records. “Bourbon Street remains the throbbing heart which powers New Orleans’ cultural economy. Embrace it! And a swamp boat tour can change your life. I’d also recommend taking a cab to see the Mardi Gras fountain (built in 1962) on the waterfront.”
Listen To Music
Louis Armstrong once quipped that Jazz seeps up from the streets in New Orleans, and nothing beats a night of local music at one of the city’s many jazz bars. “The New Orleans Jazz Museum’s collection includes over 20,000 items relating to jazz recordings: sheet music, photographs, films, paintings and instruments played by greats like Louis Armstrong and Sidney Béchet,” says Greg Lambousy, the museum’s director.
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Equally authentic is Preservation Hall. “I always tell out-of-towners to go here,” says Mike Costantini at Satsuma Café. “The music is amazing and the atmosphere is totally authentic. Nothing is designed to look old and faux-finished – this is a real deal, New Orleans jazz house.”
Check Out The Neighbourhoods
New Orleans’ neighbourhoods each have their own personality, so don’t be afraid to ask locals for their recommendations. “For me, it’s the Bywater, which has developed into this really cool, artistic area,” says musician Robin Barnes. “You can walk around and enjoy the beautiful New Orleans-style houses and street art, then retreat into a great restaurant or coffee shop, or walk to Crescent Park and work out with a view of the river and the steamboats passing by.”
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For something more historic, try the Oak Street/Maple Street area. “It’s got a lost-in-time feel to it,” says Philipe LaMancusa, co-founder of cookery book store Kitchen Witch Cook Books. ”There are some wonderful small businesses but it’s got a real country feel, with cottages and lush flora.”