Come for the music, stay for everything else
New Orleans was one of the first cities we visited on our epic road trip around the US, and one of the places that had the biggest impact on us.
We arrived in the Big Easy in late March, on our way from Florida to Texas. Even if you’ve never been there, New Orleans has given us so many cultural reference points that you surely would know what to expect: Mardi Gras; famous Cajun and Creole dishes like gumbo and jambalaya; voodoo legends; Bourbon Street; incredible live music in the streets, bars and club; A Streetcar Named Desire!
So when we rolled into town we had high expectations, and New Orleans rose to meet them in style. We had to stay out of town in a motel, because hotel and AirBnB prices were so high, meaning the drive in every morning through the traffic was a hassle. But that just encouraged us to stay in the city as long as possible every day and make the most of every moment.
All three of us loved our time in New Orleans, but perhaps my son, still only 3 at that time, loved it most of all. Here’s why New Orleans is such a fab place to take a family holiday…
In the city centre, and especially around Bourbon Street, you will encounter street musicians performing on pretty much every corner. We saw big bands of young men playing funky rhythms with trombones, trumpets and tubas, solo guitarists, veteran jazz musicians playing the piano in open-sided restaurants. I think the most memorable though was a young woman tap-dancing to music on the pavement – my son was entranced and we couldn’t tear him away. He kept talking about her for weeks afterwards.
Oh, the food in New Orleans. We ate so well there it’s ridiculous. We did the touristy essentials, like the Cafe du Monde for a beignet and cafe au lait, and of course we spent a hungry morning wandering around the exciting French Market where there are dozens of stalls selling foods you’ll dream about afterwards. We ate shrimp po’boys, bowls of gumbo and catfish. I will never forget our very first lunch in New Orleans though – where we ate fried alligator tail! New Orleans was where my son really started getting adventurous with food which is something I’ve always been grateful for.
Naturally you see incredible old buildings all around New Orleans, from grand mansions with elegant balconies and courtyards to traditional Creole cottages. I could easily spend a week just happily traipsing around with my camera photographing the architecture. One area we really loved was the Garden District. There are many beautiful stately homes here, and it’s a good place to find shade and a break from the madness of the city centre, especially if you have young children. We also picked up a couple of kids’ books at the Garden District Bookshop and had a coffee in a nice cafe nearby. I recommend coming here to relax on a hot day.
Kid-friendly activities in New Orleans
Of course there’s plenty of attractions in New Orleans that are aimed squarely at kids. We went to Children’s Museums all over the US, but the one in New Orleans was definitely among the best. The focus in on learning through play and there is a raft of fun and fascinating interactive exhibits. Perfect for a rainy day, a birthday treat, or a reward for being dragged around the city by Mum and Dad all week! Find out prices and opening times for the Louisiana Children’s Museum.
If you have younger children, or if like me you just fondly remember the fairytales of your youth, then visit Story Land in the City Park. This little themed playground is full of storybook characters and scenes, and we spent a very happy few hours here. Kids can run around Captain Hook’s pirate ship, slide down a dragon, or sit in the Three Little Pigs’ houses. The sculptures are wonderfully lifelike and will bring back many happy memories, as well as inspiring your own children.
Story Land Entrance: USD$4 – children under 36” enter free.
There is a lot of history in New Orleans, a lot. And also much that even young children will be fascinated by. You’ve got haunted houses, steamboats on the Mississippi, magnificent plantation homes and their often dark past, handsome wooden streetcars, vast and spookily beautiful cemeteries and voodoo. Then there’s the literature of New Orleans to discover – some of which your children may have already read if they’re older: Tennessee Williams, Anne Rice, John Kennedy Toole, and of course Mark Twain.
It’s a thrilling madhouse at any time of year, but New Orleans really goes off during Mardi Gras and Carnival season, when you have the epic, colourful parades, the floats, the street parties, festivals and wild costumes. Halloween is also a major event in New Orleans every year. You’d need to book ahead to get good accommodation at reasonable prices, and be prepared to get very little sleep if you stay in the city centre (I suggest avoiding Bourbon Street with kids!). There are always many kid-friendly events going on that will provide plenty of memorable moments.
And yes, this is barely scratching the surface of what makes New Orleans so amazing with children. I could go on and on. So expect another article at some point – I promise it won’t take so long next time!