Last Updated on August 2, 2018
This year marks the 300th anniversary of the multicultural melting pot that is New Orleans. Known the world over for being a hotbed of creativity and eccentricity, it has also been named the top place to visit in 2018. So in this year of celebration for the Big Easy, we catch up with Jayride.com customer Keith Grayson to find out why this is a city not to miss.
It’s a big year for the Big Easy. Not only is the city playing host to its usual array of fantastic annual events such as Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, but the Crescent City is marking its 300th anniversary. Plus, as a cherry on the NOLA crown, the New York Times has named New Orleans the top place in the world to visit in 2018.
When explaining how they picked the winner of the top spot, the Times wrote: ‘In a year that seemed particularly traumatic for many around the world, we look to a place where centuries of trauma have yielded something magical. New Orleans is unlike any other city in the world, largely thanks to its ability to synthesize that history — and the myriad populations that participated in it — into a place full of joy and wonder.’
We’d have to agree with the choice of the top spot.
Anne Rice, Tennessee Williams, Kate Chopin, Truman Capote. Streetcars, mint juleps, Sazerac cocktails, Shrimp Creole, po’ boys. Townhouses with cast-iron scrollwork, brightly painted shotgun houses. The French Quarter. Louis Armstrong and his Dixieland Jazz. There are so many elements that make this city unique, and so many reasons to put it on your 2018 bucket list. So get packing!
Intoxicating New Orleans
People the world over have long been fascinated with New Orleans. Set on swampy lands near the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, this port city is a mecca for creativity, a place of intoxicating energy and personality that holds visitors and inhabitants under its spell.
But it goes without saying that music is really what makes this city go round. ‘Every guide book you read about New Orleans emphasises how the city has music everywhere’, says Jayride.com customer Keith Grayson, when talking about his first impressions of the city on his recent visit there.
‘They aren’t exaggerating. I nip into the toilet at the airport when we first arrive and there is quality jazz being broadcast. We grab a coffee in the airport before we leave and there is a live musician playing to about 10 people in a coffee shop. And everywhere else in between, it seems like there’s music at all times of the day and night.’
New Orleans is widely regarded as the birthplace of jazz, and celebrates this every year with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, this year running from 27 April to 6 May and welcoming a wide range of internationally renowned musicians including Aretha Franklin, Sting and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. Stroll through the streets and you’ll hear Dixieland and other styles of homegrown jazz live in the many clubs that dot the city.
’A great pick for traditional jazz is the Palm Court Jazz Café, complete with gnarly, genial veteran musicians and an engagingly convivial, not quite sober, maitre d’!’ says Keith. ‘The night we were there, someone from the audience stepped up and played with the band – so take your own instrument if you fancy your chances! But it’s not just about jazz. It’s an eclectic music scene throughout the city. For variety, stroll along St Claude Avenue in Faubourg Marigny, or around the edges of the French Quarter.’
A city for strolling
Walk through the city – not only can you get a true feeling for it, but as Keith says, ‘the French Quarter is a maze without parking, which nobody would drive into except the locals.’ Admire the architecture, absorb the electric buzz of the city. As evening descends, Bourbon Street comes alive. There will be music, street performers, and in the peak of tourist season, people absolutely everywhere enjoying the atmosphere, like one big street party.
And when you don’t feel like walking anymore, jump on a streetcar. ‘Tram rides are a must. Not only the much-touted St Charles Ave line through the grand mansions, but also up Canal Street to City Park,’ says Keith. ‘This ride lets you see the grungy fringe of the city, away from the historic and touristy spots. Jump off at City Park, which is huge and varied. Within it sits the Museum of Art – small enough to get around in one go and nicely varied – and the excellent Besthoff Sculpture Garden, a must see.’
Art, along with music, is another must-experience of the city. ‘Galleries and workshops are scattered around the Warehouse District, as well as the French Quarter and Faubourg,’ says Keith. ‘Among the touristy junk there are some genuinely novel things. For standout prints of body art, go to the Craig Tracy Gallery on Royal Street in the French Quarter. The street art around Jackson Square is better than expected for a tourist hot-spot, too.’
300 years and counting
To celebrate the tricentennial, there are a variety of special events, concerts and major infrastructure projects (including a US$6 million makeover of Bourbon Street, and a new 35-gate, US$993.7 million airport terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport, set to open in February 2019) taking place in New Orleans to commemorate the city and everything that is special about it. It’s also about recognising its rich history and culture, its strength and resilience – something especially poignant in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the regeneration the city has encountered since – and celebrating as the New Orleanians do.
So for 2018, in the true New Orleans spirit (and often used as the city’s unofficial motto), ‘laissez les bon temps rouler’; let the good times roll.