Flexibility, a strong sense of adventure and a costume on Fat Tuesday will help Mardi Gras visitors make the most of it.
While the Crescent City is never entirely predictable — and a good dose of whimsy is always the best preparation for a trip to New Orleans — the following must-do list could serve as a guide for visitors arriving after the final Carnival parade rolls down St. Charles Avenue.
While we could write an encyclopedia on the city’s food and music options alone, these 15 suggestions will help you start to experience the heart of this low, lovely, lyrical place.
Eat with your hands
Among the benefits of dining in a shellfish culture is that silverware is frequently optional.
Eating with your hands is the only way to get through a bowl of buttery, pepper-spiked BBQ shrimp at Pascal’s Manale Restaurant, where the iconic dish was first conceived.
Boiled crawfish is the seasonal delicacy from roughly January through May, and it’s arguably best eaten on a park bench with a cold one. Big Fisherman in Uptown and KJean in Mid-City are reliable crawfish takeout spots.
And locals tend to tip oysters on the half-shell up to their lips rather than mess with those awkward, tiny forks. At Bourbon House Restaurant in the French Quarter and Casamento’s Restaurant in Uptown, no one expects you to use those forks for anything besides squeezing the juice from lemon wedges over your catch.
World’s most colorful carnivals
Especially in the spring, around Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, it’s nearly impossible to walk down a New Orleans sidewalk without eavesdropping on some school kid practicing his trumpet or her trombone. Music begins in the schools and in the neighborhoods.
Second line parades, which include brass bands, roll every Sunday during the cooler months. And in-between the beads and masks in Carnival parades are junior high and high school marching bands high-stepping and getting the crowds moving.
For nighttime brass sounds year-round, you can count on clubs like Blue Nile, Hi Ho Lounge and Maple Leaf Bar, where the Rebirth Brass Band raises the roof every Tuesday night.
See some art, and eat some too
New Orleans has a centrally located arts district, commonly called the Warehouse District, which is a little-known relative to the city’s more historic and heavily toured neighborhoods. The Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) is the district’s anchor, though it’s no longer the only attraction.
Additionally, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the National World War II Museum, the Louisiana Children’s Museum and numerous galleries and art spaces have built a neighborhood where you could easily spend a couple of days.
To sweeten the pot, the Warehouse District happens to be a culinary hotbed, with top-tier restaurants like the Link Restaurant Group’s Cochon and Peche, Emeril Lagasse’s flagship restaurant Emeril’s New Orleans, Adolfo Garcia’s steakhouse La Boca and John Besh’s American Sector at the World War II Museum.
New Orleans transplant Sara Roahen is the author of “Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table.” This story was first published in 2014 and updated in February 2015.