Plus some handy tips for Baton Rouge and Plantation Country
Planning a trip to Louisiana? Scroll down for the only New Orleans travel guide you need if you’re exploring NOLA, Baton Rouge and Plantation Country for the first time.
Where to stay in New Orleans
Where? Henry Howard Hotel, the Garden District
Best for: A boutique stay in a traditional 1867 double gallery townhouse. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more authentic and charming hotel. The beautiful Greek-revival building features a huge porch with rocking chairs, where you can sip your coffee or cocktail while watching the world go by. Inside, the rooms are an homage to New Orlean’s rich musical history, with a curated mix of vintage and modern furniture, complete with old instruments decorating the walls.
If you don’t feel like heading out just yet, enjoy a drink and jazz music in The Parlour, a pretty room with high ceilings, crown moulding and red pine floors worthy of Henry Howard himself. It’s ideally located in the calm haven of the Garden District, where you can easily spend an hour or three admiring the gorgeous houses and leafy streets, and nearMagazine Street with its independent shops and colourful bars and restaurants (rooms from around £123, book here).
Where? International House, Art District
Best for: Chic modern luxury. This classic Beaux Arts building offers eclectic mix of objects – old, new, bought, found and bequeathed – which reflects contemporary New Orleans style. If you can, try booking a room on the top floor, where you can enjoy spectacular views of the Art District as well as the Mississippi river. The rooms themselves are luxury at its best. Think huge bed with baby-soft sheets, lounge area and a marble bathroom Mariah Carey would be proud of.
Sip a cocktail with the trendy crowd at the Loa Bar (inspired by Voodoo faith), before heading out to the French Quarter just a couple blocks away for some live music (rooms from around £115 per night, book here).
Where to eat and drink in New Orleans
Where? Commander’s Palace, Garden District
Best for: Upmarket Southern cuisine. Nestled in the Garden District next to Lafayette cemetery, Commander’s Palace is a New Orleans institution, and crowds come from miles around to feast on the refined Creole fare. The brunch in particular is what it’s known for, and you can enjoy such treats as turtle soup (despite its name, not turtle but veal), pecan crusted gulf fish and Creole bread pudding soufflé while being serenaded by a live jazz band (brunch menu from around £35, reservations here).
Where? Cavan, Garden District
Best for: A twist on Southern classics. You’ll fall in love with the setting first: a ‘beautifully deteriorating mansion built in 1883’ which is like stepping back in time. Next, you’ll fall in love with the food, which is an exploration of the cuisine of the regions along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. Think salmon poke tacos, crawfish and goat cheese bread, jerk spiced fish, shrimp & grits and strawberry pound cake (dishes from around £8 for a starter and £18 for a main, reservations here).
Where? SoBou, French Quarter
Best for: Burlesque brunch. Part of the same group as Commander’s Palace, this modern Creole saloon offers quite a different experience. Sleek cocktails will get you going before you tuck into tasty small plates like buttermilk biscuit donuts with smoky and cream cheese frosting (a house speciality), crispy fried quail and waffles and a modern twist on pecan pie. As the name suggests, you’ll also be treated to an incredible burlesque dance performance and jazz band (dishes from around £21 for a main, reservations here).
Where? Café Du Monde, French Quarter
Best for: World-renown beignets and chicory coffee since 1862. The original French market coffee stand is a must if you’re visiting NOLA – the beignets are so good even Kim Kardashian queues for them.
Where? Seaworthy, Art District
Best for: Oysters and seafood. Opened by the Ace Hotel, this traditional Creole Cottage serves up oysters, cocktails and fresh seafood dishes such as Amberjack rillette with smoked chili oil and seared yellowfish tuna with soy brown butter (dishes from around £10 for a starter and £18 for a main, reservations here).
Where? Compère Lapin, Art District
Best for: Sophisticated New Orleans dishes with Caribbean and European influences. This stylish restaurant is situated in the Art District, so naturally it houses its own gallery, exhibiting the work of local artists. Paintings aside, the food is worth the detour, with such quirky dishes as conch croquettes with pickled pineapple tartar sauce, crispy dirty rice arancini and curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi (dishes from around £11 for a starter and £92 for a main, reservations here).
Where? Steamboat Natchez, French Quarter
Best for: A fun steamboat experience. A cliché perhaps, but you won’t regret embarking on this traditional steamboat journey on the Mississippi. Sit on the top deck to sip on chilled wine while watching the sun set on the river, all to the tune of a live jazz band, before heading into the restaurant for a traditional buffet dinner (evening jazz cruise with dinner around £60 per person, reservations here).
What to do in New Orleans
Go on a cemetery tour. As morbid as it sounds, New Orleans and death are interlinked, with many cemeteries pre-dating the districts they are in. As such, visiting one of the famous above-ground cemeteries is a fascinating way to find out more about ancient burial practices and the city’s history. Two Chicks Walking tours offers small-group in small groups so you can really make the most of your guide’s knowledge (from around £18, book here).
Go shopping. If you want to buy a ‘non-touristy’ souvenir, then Magazine Street is the place to go. You’ll be able to find everything from local art to vintage treasures, antique furniture and beauty products. And while the French Quarter also has its fair share of antiques, you’ll also be able to find the more obvious gifts like beignet mix and speciality Creole praline (it’s delicious, we bought several boxes). The real hidden gem though is United Apparel Liquidators, or UAL, just off Bourbon Street, which is where those in the know go for designer garbs at 70% of the retail price. We’re talking Dior, Jacquemus, Balmain, Céline and much, much more. Be warned, you will want to buy everything.
Visit the Garden District. Prepare to fall in love with this leafy district, where street upon street features typical Southern mansions with Greek style columns and colourful paintwork. Many celebrities have set up home (or at least one of them) here, with Sandra Bullock, Beyonce and Brad Pitt all rumoured to own properties here. You can get a guide tour of the area, though we loved just wandering about aimlessly, and a quick Google told us the key attractions, such as the house from American Horror Story.
Listen to live music in the French Quarter. You’ll of course know that listening to live music in the French Quarter is a must, but even we weren’t prepared for how lively it is, there is always a party going on. Top tip: Steer clear of Bourbon Street which is a little on the touristy side, and head to Frenchman Street instead. Even if live music isn’t your think, you’ll love the colourful buildings with Hispanic influences.
If you’ve got an extra day or two to spare, then it’s really worth visiting the surrounding areas, including the state capital, Baton Rouge, then drive back via Plantation Country. Here’s a quick guide for you.
Where to stay in Baton Rouge
Hotel Indigo, a charming hotel where you’ll experience that classic Southern hospitality. Situated in historic downtown Baton Rouge, home to trendy cafes, it’s perfectly situated just a short stroll away from the city’s landmarks, or you can take advantage of the hotel’s bikes and cycle there instead (rooms from £98 per night, book here).
Where to eat in Baton Rouge
If you’re ready for a break from Southern cuisine, then Tsunami Sushi is the answer to your prayers. It has gorgeous river views and even better sushi.
Things to do in Baton Rouge
The city is famous for its two capitols. There is the new State Capitol Building, which is the tallest capitol building in the US. If you’re not afraid of heights, go straight up to the 34th floor for 360 degree panoramic views of the area. Meanwhile, a short walk away is the Old State Capitol Building, which has been transformed into a museum where you can learn more about the town’s history. It also houses a spectacular stained glass ceiling.
What to do in Plantation Country
A swamp tour. A short drive out of Baton Rouge and you’ll hit swamp territory. Go on a narrated private swamp tour to experience the nature and local wildlife including alligators and turtles. A bit like being on the set of True Detective if you will (Cajun Pride Swamp Tours, around £36 per person).
Plantation tours. As the name suggests, Plantation Country was once home to lavish estates built on sugar plantations (sugar was best grown in Louisiana because of the humid climate, where Georgia plantations typically grew cotton). Now you can visit 10 of these properties, a truly unique experience for learning about the living conditions of both slaves and their rich owners. If you don’t have time to do all of them, we recommend the San Francisco Plantation, one of the only typically colourful Creole abodes, and the famous Oak Alley Plantation.
Where to stay in Plantation Country
You can also spend the night and dine at Oak Alley Plantation, perhaps the most famous of them all, as it’s been used in many films and series, including Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Déjà Vu video. You’ll fall in love with the majestic oak-line alley (hence the name), which you can enjoy past visiting hours if you’re staying the night, and what a treat at sunset! While you can’t stay in the actual mansion (it’s a museum after all), you can book one of the charming cottages on the grounds instead (one bedroom cottage from around £127 per night, book here).