New Orleans is back on its feet in a big way. Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, but the following decade saw investment and repairs, and a renewed focus on tourism. The city remains one of the most culturally intriguing and visually arresting places in the US. The streets of the French Quarter have retained a unique blend of influences stemming from its French, Spanish and African roots.
The St Louis Cathedral – or the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, to give it its full name – is the standout. The oldest cathedral in the US and the third building on the site, following earlier churches dating back to 1718, it was rebuilt in 1850. It is beautiful both inside and out, with the galleried interior featuring Rococo decoration. The cathedral is flanked by the Cabildo and the Presbytère, which now form part of the Louisiana State Museum. Visit stlouiscathedral.org and louisianastatemuseum.org.
2 Jackson Square
St Louis Cathedral stands on Jackson Square, the highest ground above the river (even during Katrina, it didn’t flood, although it suffered damage from the winds and power cuts). Under first the Spanish and then the French armies, it was called the Place d’Armes/Plaza de Armas, as well as being a parade ground where criminals – and slaves – were executed. The square is named for Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans and seventh President of the US, whose face can be found on the $20 bill.
Elegant iron railings surround the square, and the Pontalba Buildings on either side house lovely boutiques and tourist shops dating back to the 1850s. They were built by Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba, who had a life story so unbelievable you’ll need a guide to recount it. You can wander around with a travel book or app, but a guide is great for answering questions – we used nosecretstours.com
3 French Market
The French market originated as a Native American trading post, and is the reason for New Orleans existing on this site – it’s a good portage between the river and Lake Pontchartrain behind. It was the home of the oldest meat market in the US, and then a fresh food market before being turned into a place for tourist boutiques, restaurants and cafés.
If you like jazz, walk along to Frenchman Street and visit the Louisiana Music Factory record shop (number 421) and clubs such as Bamboula’s (516), Maison (508), DBA’s (618) and the Spotted Cat Music Club (623). Visit frenchmarket.org or louisianamusicfactory.com
4 The Mississippi
You may have encountered the Mississippi elsewhere in the US – after all, it is 2,000 miles long and passes through ten states – but it’s here that it is at its mightiest. Whether ogling the huge cruise ships or the barges crawling along the river, this is the Big Muddy as it enters its final miles before the Gulf of Mexico, and the reason (along with Lake Pontchartrain) that the native Americans had their trading post here.
You get a great view from the bank by the French Market right over to Algiers Point. The river is nearly 200 feet deep at this spot, and it’s definitely not a place for swimming, although you can go down to the riverbank and relax in hot weather.
5 Royal Street
Less well known than the bars of Bourbon Street is the infinitely more lovely Royal Street. Here, you’ll find restaurants, art galleries, antique shops and beautiful architecture, beginning at Canal Street and running through the French Quarter across to the Lower Ninth Ward. It’s in the French Quarter part that you’ll spend your time, and while you won’t find bargains, mementos of your trip are likely to be of better quality and design. You could spend a couple of hours browsing here – check out Windsor Fine Art, the Angela King Gallery, Sutton Galleries and Naghi’s.
Try to make time for a meal at 176-year old Antoine’s, the oldest French-Creole fine-dining restaurant in the city. It’s owned and operated by fifth-generation relatives of founder Antoine Alciatore. Be sure to try masterpiece dishes like Oysters Rockefeller or Eggs Sardou. There are 14 dining rooms, each of which has its own history. Ask to see the Rex Room, with its walls adorned with photos of royalty and Mardi Gras memorabilia.
713 St Louis Street; tel +1 504 581 4422; antoines.com