What is New Orleans’ cultural scene like?

The Big Easy is known worldwide for its culture, from Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest to the New Orleans Saints and Emeril Lagasse. With upwards of 50 museums showcasing its gems, New Orleans is more than just wild parties and unique food; it’s the Museum City. But if you want to experience the Crescent City rather than just learning about it in a museum, the real culture lies within its music and festivities. We all heard about the devastating Hurricane Katrina that plowed through the city, leaving New Oleanians to pick up the pieces. Though much of the country was unsure if the Big Easy would ever recover, the city is back and in full force.

What might be the most famous aspect of New Orleans hits the town every year without fail, you guess it, Mardi Gras. Courtesy of the French history that Louisiana fully encompasses, a ranting and raving tradition has been born. Mardi Gras is both a carnival and a holiday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the Lent, the season of fasting and repentance. And contrary to what is commonly believed, Fat Tuesday is more than the salacious frat-boy party you might imagine. It is a bash — a huge bash — but there are plenty of different ways to celebrate in New Orleans, especially when the party is as big as Mardi Gras. January 6 usually marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas, a time when the winter holiday season traditionally ends, but in New Orleans, Twelfth Night kicks off a season of merriment. Festivities reach fever pitch 12 days before Mardi Gras and peak on the Saturday prior to Fat Tuesday, when the city celebrates with four days of nonstop jazz, food, drink and masquerade balls. Perhaps most closely associated with the celebrations — aside from mayhem in the French Quarter — are the colorful parades where marchers in elaborate costumes toss plastic purple, green and gold beads to onlookers. Be sure to taste a king cake (a large circular cake coated with purple, green and gold sugar with a tiny plastic baby hidden inside). Traditionally, whoever gets the slice with the baby provides the king cake for the next party.

And what is most likely the second most famous festivity in New Orleans boogies into the Crescent City every spring. You can’t mention New Orleans without mentioning jazz and you can’t mention jazz without bringing up Jazz Fest. As the soul of the Big Easy, it’s no wonder that jazz has sparked a festival that has been grooving for more than 40 years. Truly a celebration of the city and Louisiana culture, the festival showcases local talent, arts and crafts, parades and food. With 12 music tents and two food stages lined up next to each other. You can catch the melodies of everything from gospel to headliners like Lionel Richie. Of course to fully represent soul, you’ll need some homecookin’ and trust us, Jazz Fest has plenty of that. It’s a great way to sample local culinary delights such as crawfish, mango freezes, gator sticks (alligator meat covered in fried dough) and cochon de lait po-boy (the Cajun term for a roast suckling pig sandwich).

As the city came back in full force, so did the beloved New Orleans Saints — so much so that the NFL team captured the title of 2010 Super Bowl Champions. Whether you are at a game in the Superdome or watching the game at one of the local dives, you’ll be surrounded with Saints pride. From cheering for quarterback Drew Brees to yelling “WHO DAT,” a New Orleans Saints game is a cultural experience to be had.

  • On June 26, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best antique shops in New Orleans?

    M.S. Rau is an antique shop which could double as a fine art gallery where all the items on display are for sale. The shop, at 630 Royal Street, hosts steampunk style rarities, art from world-renowned masters, exquisite jewelry and now and then a wild-card like a stuffed wooly mammoth.

    Royal Antiques has been offering fine art finds since 1899 at 309 Royal Street. Featuring more than 20,000 square feet of showrooms, Royal Antiques was founded by Hermina Keil, whose customers included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

    Wander down Royal for even more hidden treasures, and you'll find more charming antique shops than on any other promenade in the United States.
  • On June 26, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best places to see a play in New Orleans?

    The best place to see a play in New Orleans is the Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts. Its Broadway in New Orleans series has brought Wicked and other hit plays to the city's arts scene. 

    The Marigny Opera House most recently housed a celebrity wedding as a non-denominational, neighborhood church of the arts. It hosts the Nineth Ward Opera Company in late July.

    Le Petit Theatre is one of the oldest theaters in America. Its upcoming season includes classic theater offerings from “Hair” to “Death of a Salesman.”

    The historic Saenger Theater reopening is hotly anticipated and is slated for fall of 2013 as an additional home for the performing arts in New Orleans.
  • On June 26, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the hottest upcoming concerts in New Orleans?

    The two hottest tickets for upcoming concerts in New Orleans are thanks to a festival and a rescheduling. Beyonce Knowles is headlining Essence Festival Fourth of July weekend, along with the empowerment seminars that Essence brings to New Orleans every year. Friday, July 5, includes Maxwell, Jill Scott, LL Cool J and Brandy. On Saturday, July 6, New Edition, Trey Songz, and Solange will entertain. And on Sunday, July 7, Beyonce and Janelle Monae headline at the festival's final night.

    Mumford and Sons, for fans of the Grammy-winning folkies will appear September 16 at Mardi Gras World, a rescheduled date after the band's bass player Ted Dwane's illness earlier in the year.
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  • On June 26, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best family hotels in New Orleans?

    The most family-friendly hotels in New Orleans are desirable as much for their comfort as for their proximity to family activities. The Hilton Riverfront is centrally located near the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, the Insectarium, Parakeet Point, and an Imax Theater to keep the kids entertained no matter how high their energy level.

    For families that want to soak in culture as well as soak in the rooftop pool, the cozy and historic Hotel Monteleone is located in the heart of the French Quarter. Head out on foot and the family can enjoy cafes, toy shops, street music and more depending on where the day takes you.
  • On June 26, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best boutique hotels in New Orleans?

    Two of the best boutique hotels in New Orleans are both Forbes Travel Four-Star rated for good reason. Windsor Court offers old-world charm with completely renovated rooms and upgraded spa facilities at 300 Gravier Street. The $22 million renovation made Windsor Court more than ever the location of choice for luminaries passing through the Hollywood of the South.

    The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, 921 Canal Street, earned its Four-Star designation with special touches from entertainment at the Davenport Lounge where musician Jeremy Davenport holds court, to amenities in the Ritz' 25,000-square-foot spa complete with 22 treatment rooms.
  • On June 25, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What new hotels are in New Orleans?

    Hotel Mazarin, formerly the Saint Louis Hotel, opened after a complete renovation including high-end appointments in each suite. Facing a courtyard which is very popular for weddings and special celebrations, The Mazarin boasts lavish European style fixtures. Its lounge, Patrick's Bar Vin, is an upscale Irish pub with one of the most stunning wine lists in all of New Orleans.

    The Saint boutique hotel on Canal Street opened to much fanfare for its artistic lobby with its oversized art chair, whimsical blue pool table and a Louis Armstrong print that reaches to the ceiling of its bordello-themed watering hole, The Burgundy Bar.

    The new W French Quarter boasts rooms with either a voodoo or a music theme. With the hip fixtures you would expect from a W, the hotel offers SoBou Restaurant with liquor-themed surprises from taps in the table to a high end wine-by-the-glass dispenser.
  • On June 25, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best free museums in New Orleans?

    The Historic New Orleans Collection at 533 Royal Street is one of the best collections of New Orleans historical lore open to the public, and gallery exhibits are free at all times. “Pipe Dreams: Louisiana under the French Company of the Indies, 1717–1731,” exhibit is on display through September 15, 2013.

    Check out the Bestoff Sculpture Garden in Mid-City's City Park, located behind the New Orleans Museum of Art, free of charge. It's a perfect afternoon stroll with sculptures from widely diverse regions and eras represented in the collection.

    Attendence at the New Orleans Museum of Art is free on Wednesdays; and enjoy the Ogden Museum of Southern Art at no charge on Thursdays, as well as the Contemporary Art Center which is also in the Central Business District. Plan ahead and you can fill a week in New Orleans with art exhibits that won't lighten your wallet.
  • On June 25, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best free museums in New Orleans?

    The Historic New Orleans Collection Tours at 533 Royal Street is one of the best collections of New Orleans historical lore, and gallery exhibits are free at all times. “Pipe Dreams: Louisiana under the French Company of the Indies, 1717–1731,” exhibit is on display through September 15, 2013.

    Check out the Bestoff Sculpture Garden in Mid-City's City Park, located behind the New Orleans Museum of Art, free of charge. It's a perfect afternoon stroll with sculptures from widely diverse regions and eras represented in the collection.

    Attendence at the New Orleans Museum of Art is free on Wednesdays; and enjoy the Ogden Museum of Southern Art at no charge on Thursdays, as well as the Contemporary Art Center which is also in the Central Business District. Plan ahead and you can fill a week in New Orleans with art exhibits that won't lighten your wallet.
  • On June 25, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What should I pack for a trip to New Orleans?

    For a trip to New Orleans, pack for the seasons. It's Not the Heat it's the Stupidity is an old New Orleans saying meaning keep the weather in mind at all times. May through August pack loose, light colored clothing in linen or cotton. Go from Point A to Point B in a leisurely manner and pack a water bottle to stay hydrated througout your travels.

    Pack your camera and phone chargers, because New Orleans is an Instagrammer's dream. A travel charger with rechargable batteries can save you from the end-of-the-day crisis of a dying camera just as dusk descends on a plantation or swamp tour.

    Comfortable shoes are key, as stylish as you can manage. New Orleans' French Quarter is best traveled by foot from window shopping to concert-hopping. Save those feet and remember that properly taking in the Crescent City is not a sprint, it's a marathon.
  • On June 25, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What is public transportation like in New Orleans?

    Public transportation in New Orleans is historic, with one of the finest working streetcar systems in the United States. No one takes the streetcar if they're in a rush, but from the rumble of the tracks to the clanging of the bell upon stopping it's a sensory experience. Enjoy a ride through the historic Garden District and bring along a guidebook for mansion-spotting.

    The New Orleans bus system is back on track post-Katrina. It's one of the better ways to attend the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival if you're staying in the French Quarter and need to make it to Mid-City without breaking the bank.

    Pedicabs, horse and carriage tours, double decker tour busses, taxis and hotel shuttles round out your NOLA transporation options.
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