A fusion of French and Creole culture is on the cards on holidays to New Orleans. And its party scene is off the scale.

The Big Easy

Life doesn’t quite pootle along at a snail’s pace in New Orleans, but it’s certainly a place that ticks the laidback box. Its main nickname, The Big Easy, is a nod to just how lackadaisical this Louisiana city is. Visitors float along at the same half-pace as locals, flitting between chilled-out cafés and sedate jazz bars, or moseying along the curvy banks of the Mississippi River. The exception to the rule is the city’s carnival-like nightlife – New Orleans is the undisputed home of Mardi Gras, and there are areas where it feels like the celebrations are happening all year round.

Mixed heritage

Despite being in the Deep South of the USA, huge chunks of New Orleans’ culture are poached from Europe and Africa. Centuries ago, the mix of French settlers and slavery led to the birth of Creole culture in Louisiana. This sad but unique blend gradually became a catalyst for the French Quarter – this part of the city is like walking through the streets of France, but with a twist. Beneath the wrought iron balconies and vine-draped townhouses you’ll see Cajun cooking, to the foot-tapping tune of a trumpet or a saxophone. The most iconic architecture can be found along Bourbon Street, or on Jackson Square, where the St Louis Cathedral stands tall. And in the Garden District the grand houses give off a strong sense of je ne sais quoi.

Pro parade

Once a year, for a few fleeting weeks in February, New Orleans becomes a chaotic flurry of colour and music when Mardi Gras rolls around. This celebration sees huge parades rumble along the streets, while fervorous hordes dance with friends and strangers alike. Strings of beads hang from every person’s neck like a badge of honour, and when the sun goes down the neon signs on Bourbon Street fizz into life. The main throng of partygoers descend here, thanks to its bushel of cabaret joints, jazz lounges and high-tempo bars.

Cajun flavours

Aside from its cultural calling cards and penchant for parties, New Orleans is a big draw for foodies. Not many cities have such a clear culinary identity, and that’s thanks to the quirky European meets Cajun mash-up. Jambalaya has Spanish paella-seekers to thank for its invention – the dish is a spice-and-sausage adapted take on the Valencian classic. Gumbo is a hearty stew with a dash of extra heat, beignets are a puffier, powdered sugar twist on a doughnut, and chargrilled oysters reinvent a luxury dish as a cheesy, smoky, breadcrumb-dusted street food.

At a Glance

  • Explore the lively French Quarter
  • Roam around City Park
  • Try a fluffy beignet pastry