5 to-do’s in New Orleans

5 to-do’s in New Orleans
July 16, 2009
By Stephanie Davis

To get the feel for a place, it is wise to do what the Aborigines call a walkabout. When you first arrive at a new destination, take to the streets.

After all, the root word of “tourist” is “tour.” Perhaps that is because there is no better way to get acclimated to a vacation spot than to join a guided excursion. The walking tours around the Crescent City are a terrific way to explore a town that offers much more than the usual Bourbon Street antics of Mardi Gras revelers.

From voodoo to vampires, the locals love to share their gothic history with visitors. In fact, it’s now a cottage industry for New Orleans. The sidewalk historians and tall tale-tellers give tourists insight into the food, architecture and even superstitions that have shaped the culture of this corner of the South.

Don’t fret; if walking isn’t your thing, there are plenty of streetcar and bus tours to get you out and around as well. Here are five tours not to miss when in NOLA:

1. Vampire Tour

New Orleans is long mythicized to harbor the restless undead. With creepy guides who immerse themselves in the city’s past, the Haunted History Vampire Tour features the most theatrical, knowledgeable escorts — who look, alarmingly, a lot like night creatures themselves. Shocking stories of the infamous vampire Ramon, who buried his prey in his brother-in-law’s backyard, to accounts of vampires being stored in coffins in the attics of the Catholic churches will have you looking over your shoulder. 8:30 pm daily. $20.

com, 504-861-2727

2. Garden District Tour

Architecture buffs and gazers alike can stroll through oak tree-lined streets oohing and awing at some of the most attractive abodes in the nation. Of course, you can go it alone, but to hear the stories of who (and what) dwells behind closed doors, you have to join a Garden District Tour. See the homes (and hear the tales) of author Anne Rice, Nine Inch Nails’ frontman Trent Reznor, football stars Archie and Peyton Manning, actors Nicolas Cage and John Goodman, all of whom make The Big Easy their home base. Other don’t-miss attractions: The ornate cornstalk fence, the death site of Jefferson Davis and film location of Brad Pitt’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” 11 a.m, and
1:45 p.m. daily. $20. $7 for children. www.tourneworleans.com, $20.

3. Katrina Tour

The most touching of all tours, the Gray Line Katrina Tour is told from a qualified, eyewitness perspective. For three hours you’ll follow the storm’s path through the damaged neighborhoods of Gentilly, New Orleans East, St. Bernard and the Ninth Ward. The guide gives you the city’s early history and then, like a Danielle Steel novel, delves into a little bit of local scandal, talking about the city’s notorious businessmen, strange parish laws that date back centuries, smarmy oil and gas companies, levee protection and the Army Corps of Engineers — all factors that contributed to the damage from Katrina in some way. While it’s all fascinating, it’s the stories of survival and heroics in the days following the storm that will leave the biggest impact. www.graylineneworleans.com, 1-800-535-7786. $35 adult and $28 child

4. Voodoo Tour

In this economy, it might not be a bad idea to beef up your personal good fortune by making an offering at the tomb of the infamous and revered Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. It’s said to give you great blessings. Don’t just leave 3 pennies at her final resting place (as some other tours will advise) but something substantial, and legend says you’ll reap the rewards for years to come. Full-time voodoo priestess Severina, steeped in New Orleans voodoo culture and herself a practitioner, is your guide on this peek into the present and past of New Orleans Voodoo believers. Either a half-day or full- day tour will get you a visit with other voodoo faithfuls around town. www.neworleansvoodoocrossroads.com

5. French Quarter Culinary History and Tasting Tour

Brains meet belly as a Xavier University professor takes you on a historical culinary-come-to-life trip through N’awlins. This walk and taste tour of the French Quarter’s historic restaurants gives you the chance to discuss the culinary contributions of distinguished restaurants like Antoine’s and Tujague’s (established in 1840 and 1856, respectively). Gobble up (and then walk off) the calories from seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, beef brisket with Creole sauce, Muffulettas, and New Orleans Rum Cake. www.zerve.com/culinary/tour1030, $43. 2 p.m. daily.

If you go

Where to Stay:

Soniat House

A boutique hotel composed of three historic townhouses, where each room is decorated uniquely in period antiques and furnishings and guests can lay their heads on goosedown pillows. The Soniat House’s elegant courtyards and balconies provide the authentic French Quarter feel travelers seek.

A 25 percent discount special is available with rates starting at $149. $199 for superior room or $235 for a premier room. www.soniathouse.com, 800-544-8808, 1133 Chartres St.

New Orleans Marriott

This towering hotel has panoramic views of the mighty Mississippi and the city proper. A recent
$38 million overhaul means modern updates for all rooms, amenities and lobbies. Ask for the Big Easy Spirit to Serve program where part of your room rate will be donated to Habitat for Humanity and receive other voluntourism perks. From $99 a night. 555 Canal St., www.neworleans.marriott.com, 1.866.530.3763

Where to Eat:


Husband and wife chefs, Allison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing, named MiLa for the first and last letter of their home states. At this special restaurant, the chefs fuse the tastes of Mississippi and Louisiana Southern Delta fare, buying mostly from regional farmers. The spirit of the South influences everything in this quaint bistro, from the décor to the dishes to the hospitality. Sample signature dishes like Oyster Rockefeller “Deconstructed,” Pig Cheeks & Langoustines, and New Orleans Style Barbeque Lobster. Sit at the bar for small bites like Blue Crab Fondue and Hushpuppies and Caviar.

817 Common St. www.milaneworleans.com, 504-412-2580

ACME Oyster Bar

No trip to NOLA is complete without a trip to ACME. Sure, it’s overrun with tourists, but that’s because all the shuckers and waitresses treat you like a local. And what out-of-towner can resist that? A seat at this beloved oyster bar promises an authentic Louisiana meal. You can’t go wrong with a half-dozen oysters, Softshell Crab Po’ Boy, some Boo Fries and a cold Abita to wash it all down. Try to get a seat near the Poet’s Corner in the back for free (and highly opinionated) entertainment.

724 Iberville St., www.acmeoyster.com

How to Get There:

- New Orleans is 480 miles from Atlanta. An average eight hours by car.

- Direct flights from Atlanta to New Orleans on Delta and AirTran (with 30-day notice) are $209. With 60-day advance, AirTran’s price drops to $167.

- The New Orleans Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, 1-800-672-6124 or www.neworleanscvb.com

- A train ticket is $131 roundtrip for coach or $210 for a viewliner roomette upgrade. Around 12-hour trip time. AAA discount saves 10 percent. www.amtrak.com
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