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8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences | CosmosMariners.com

I love doing off-the-beaten-path type travel. But even I will admit that there are some times that call for the tried-and-true experiences in a place. After all, you don't want to be like my husband, who went all the way to London and never saw Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, or Parliament. I was so busy focusing on the unusual stuff in London that we completely forgot to do the normal stuff. Oops.

Like London, New Orleans has some of those places and experiences that you just have to do--or risk people saying, "Wait. You went on a trip there and didn't do ________??" Lest you make the same mistakes that I do and try to skip over the most popular sites, I'm here to guide you to 8 quintessential New Orleans experiences.

Yes, pretty much everyone does at least a few of these when they go to the Big Easy, and for good reason. Not only will you avoid those "well, what did you do there?" stares when you get back home, these sites will also help you scratch the surface of the culture of this great city.

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences | CosmosMariners.com

Visit Jackson Square. Those spires of the St. Louis Cathedral are some of the most photographed architectural elements in all of New Orleans! The Square has served many purposes over the years, including an execution area, an arsenal, a painters' hangout, and (more recently) a place to have your fortune told. Today, it's a great place to start your exploration of the French Quarter or see a few street performers.

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences | CosmosMariners.com
My sister anxiously awaiting her first taste of deep fried deliciousness.

Eat a beignet (or ten) at Cafe du Monde. If you choose the latter, don't worry--I won't judge. They're just that good. If you like coffee, try a cup of their brew; it's mixed with chicory in a throwback to when the French Revolution occurred. Coffee was scarce, so people mixed in chicory to make it go further. Turns out, it adds a unique taste to the coffee, and French settlers loved it so much that they continued to make the blend well after they'd made their home in New Orleans.

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences | CosmosMariners.com
Stay classy, Bourbon Street!
Wander down Bourbon Street. Despite popular opinion, you don't have to drink your way down Bourbon Street to have a great time. I could've spent days just people watching on this boulevard of bars, shops, restaurants, and hotels (but mostly bars). While you'd be mistaken to think that Bourbon Street is all that New Orleans has to offer, skipping this part of town all together would leave your trip with a serious gap.

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences | CosmosMariners.com
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Explore the mausoleums at one of the cemeteries. While many people think that the mausoleums are used because of New Orleans' high water table, they're more likely used because of tradition and space issues. Above ground burials date back to the Old World and the idea came to Louisiana with the first French and Spanish settlers. Interestingly enough, the first burials in New Orleans were in-ground, but a huge fire in 1788 that left so many people dead that burials had to take place in a swamp. This lack of space led city officials to build the St. Louis cemeteries--and the mausoleums which we now associate with New Orleans. Entire families could be buried in a space just larger than an in-ground grave. What was once old was new again!

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences | CosmosMariners.com
Benjamin's house/ the nursing home his mom runs from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button movie. Sadly, Brad Pitt didn't show up while I was there.

Take a Garden District Tour. While the French Quarter has intricate metal work and romantic balconies, the Garden District has charming columned homes set amid centuries-old oak trees. Hop on the streetcar (below) and make the short trek from the French Quarter to wander these streets. Take an organized tour if you want to see where sports stars (Eli and Peyton Manning), authors (Anne Rice's former house), and movie stars live. While I was there, I saw John Goodman at his house there, and he waved at our group.

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences | CosmosMariners.com
Muffaletta action shot. Also, I have no clue what my mom is doing to my wrist--keep me from my beloved sandwich?

Try a muffaletta or (if you're not allergic to shellfish) a po' boy. Before visiting New Orleans, I'd never tried a muffaletta (also spelled muffuletta)--or even heard of it. But then I read a small line in our guidebook about the tastiness that awaited me at the Corner Grocery, and I was a fan for life. This cold sandwich has an olive tapenade, salami, Provolone, mozzarella, mortadella, and prosciutto piled high on a crispy piece of french bread. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

I'm horribly allergic to shrimp, so I had to skip that time-honored New Orleans favorite, the shrimp po' boy. However, I have it on good authority (my sister) that they are delicious.

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences | CosmosMariners.com

Ride the St. Charles streetcar. Need a little inspiration? Then, jump on the St. Charles line, and you'll be screaming, "STELLA!" before you know it. This streetcar is identical to the one that used to run on the now-defunct Desire line--which was the inspiration behind Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. If you want more literary fun in New Orleans, I've got some great suggestions.

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences | CosmosMariners.com

Take a ghost tour. There's just something about New Orleans that makes you think about the darker side of life--and not in a bad way. There's an incredible atmosphere throughout the city that makes you think anything could be possible, which is probably why we have shows like The Originals and books like Interview with the Vampire set here.

The city definitely capitalizes on this spooky side, and several tour companies offer jaunts around the French Quarter at night. There are some seriously creepy tales and legends associated with that area from Marie Leveau (an actual Voodoo priestess) to Delphine LaLaurie (a high society woman who supposedly performed horrible experiments on her slaves). You'll also learn fun tidbits like the fact that Nicholas Cage used to own the LaLaurie mansion, but spent exactly one night in it before he sold it (purportedly because he was terrified).

Honorable mentions: shopping on Royal Street, attending a jazz concert, visiting the Voodoo Museum, eating at Commander's Palace, and, of course, going to Mardi Gras. I stuck Mardi Gras down here because it doesn't happen year round, and thus, is a part of New Orleans culture that can't be experienced continually. Still, if you happen to be in the Crescent City when the hoopla starts, dive right in with the best of them! And if you want some Mardi Gras when it's not going on, you can take a tour of Mardi Gras World to get a small taste of the floats, costuming, and traditions.

What do you think is a quintessential New Orleans activity?