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If you’re thinking about planning your next trip with the goal to have a great time while keeping safety in mind as the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, New Orleans should really be at the top of your list. Not only is it a city that everyone should visit at least once with its incredible cuisine, music, diverse culture, magnificent architecture, but its beloved festivals are returning, attractions are open with social distancing in mind, and there is lots to do in the beautiful outdoors. If you need more reasons to start booking, here are more than a dozen of them.
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While they were canceled in 2020, as mentioned, New Orleans’ popular festivals are back. That includes the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, held June 9-13 and highlights dozens of local restaurants, top chefs, and fine wines from across the globe, all in the name of charity. It’s the perfect way to sample a wide range of the city’s best culinary offerings. Others worth planning a trip around include Satchmo SummerFest over the weekend of July 30, the Beignet Festival on September 25, the French Quarter Festival from September 30 to October 3, and the always popular Jazz Fest, October 8-17.
The French Quarter offers plenty of mouthwatering restaurants, and the even betters news is that many of them provide options for courtyard dining. Galatoire’s Restaurant, a Bourbon Street landmark, is now taking reservations too, making it easier to get a table without a long wait time. Others to consider include Cafe Amelie, which offers mostly courtyard dining and a fantastic menu in a beautiful Royal Street setting, and Court of Two Sisters, renowned for its daily jazz brunches and Creole cuisine, enjoyed in a tree-covered courtyard.
Many of the city’s popular museums have reopened for visitors to enjoy with enhanced safety measures as a priority. That includes the Sazerac House, The National WWII Museum, New Orleans Jazz Museum, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). Ranked among the very best museums in the country, NOMA is located in City Park. It includes over 40,000 objects that span 5,000 years of art, most notable for its French and American art, photography, glass, and African and Japanese works.
A new museum opens on May 27, the Museum of Southern Jewish Experience. It will feature the diverse experiences of Jews in the southern United States via over 7,000 artifacts that range from topics like anti-Semitism and racism to food culture.
New Orleans is renowned for its music and you’ll find many places to enjoy it live outdoors, including Longue Vue House and Gardens’ outdoor music series, Twilight at Longue Vue. It features local artists who perform on Spanish Court the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., with social distancing and other safety measures enforced. Bacchanal, described as part wine bar, part restaurant, part backyard party, offers live outdoor music on select days that can be enjoyed with a tasty meal (reservations highly recommended). Faubourg Brewing Co. hosts concerts in its outdoor beer garden on the weekends, and visitors can also enjoy jazz cruises on the Steamboat Natchez.
New Orleans is home to many picturesque parks that are ideal for a picnic, like City Park where you can find your own perfect spot beneath the shade of a live oak or along the Big Lake. Audubon Park in Uptown offers enticing places for outdoor dining as does Coliseum Square Park with its grand oak trees in the Lower Garden District surrounded by historic homes. Want to picnic with a view of the Mississippi? Crescent Park is where you should go – you’ll be able to dine while watching the ships pass or the sun dip below the horizon.
Ghost tours in New Orleans aren’t relegated to the Halloween season, they can be enjoyed all year-round, and many start right from the French Quarter. They’ll bring you into the city’s uniquely eerie cemeteries and delve into vampire legends and voodoo rituals too. Hear the stories of legendary urban apparitions like Queen of Voodoo Marie Laveau, the Armory Ghost and the Creole Lady of Faubourg-Marigny. New Orleans Ghost Tours is one of the most popular with unique options like ghost tour pub crawls and haunted food tours.
The city’s streetcars offer a fun and unique way to explore its many different areas, with the four distinct lines all originating downtown. They’ll take you through the French Quarter and beyond to places you might not otherwise experience. The St. Charles Avenue Streetcar is one of the most notable and oldest lines, traveling from Uptown to the Central Business District, passing classic New Orleans stops under live oaks. Masks are required and social distancing is encouraged to reduce the safety risk. As the windows raise and lower, you can easily bring in fresh air to keep it better ventilated too.
JAMNOLA is the city’s first experiential pop-up, ideal for all ages who want to stroll through its cultural gems. It’s the collective result of over 20 artists who went “a little wild” creating a 12-room immersive art exhibit. You can pose for a selfie in front of technicolor walls or even step inside a huge pot and get boiled by giant crawfish. This is a definite must-experience for anyone trying to fill their Instagram feed.
The Barataria Preserve in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park is the best place for spotting alligators near New Orleans. Located just outside of Marrero, about a 15-minute drive from the French Quarter, you can stroll the beautiful boardwalks and trails on your own, or take a free guided tour with a park ranger at 10 a.m. , Wednesday through Sunday. Either way, face masks are required when physical distancing cannot be maintained. You’re just about guaranteed to see at least one of the toothy creatures in the wild and can also spot over 200 bird species, armadillos, white-tailed deer, and more.
The Audubon Zoo in historic uptown New Orleans Audubon Park is open for masked visitors with timed tickets to reduce the safety risk. Be sure to book your tickets well in advance, and as there is so much to see and experience, allow plenty of time to explore the grounds. There is a wide range of exhibits from the African Savanna with its giraffes, zebras, and African painted dogs to Asia, inhabited by elephants, orangutans, tigers, sun bears, and more. After exploring on a hot day, you’ll appreciate the Cool Zoo Splash Park, one of the most popular water parks in New Orleans. It features water slides, attractions like the Gator Run, and other fun water-based activities.
Taking a swamp tour is really a must when visiting New Orleans and it’s a great excuse to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown. Enjoy an active outdoor adventure that typically lasts between two and three hours, paddling a canoe or kayak with an expert guide through the bayous of the Manchac Swamp and its incredible moss-covered cypress groves. It brings endless photo-ops, including the chance to capture all sorts of wildlife like alligators, snakes, turtles, egrets, eagles, and owls.
Visiting a plantation is another activity that should be at the top of your list and one of Louisiana’s most significant historical landmarks, Oak Alley Plantation, is just an hour away. Named for its quarter-mile entrance canopy of 300-year-old oak trees, visitors can experience a bygone era with magnificent oaks and Cypress trees that rise from the swamps that border the Mississippi River. A tour reveals fascinating tales of the home, “Big House,” with a guide in period dress. One of the most photographed plantations in the entire country, it’s served as the setting for a number of films like “Interview with a Vampire” and television shows such as “Ghosthunters” and “Nightrider.”
New Orleans Restaurant Week, an event that will take place between June 21 and June 27 in 2021, offers the chance to sample all sorts of tasty fare, with weeklong deals and exclusive prix-fixe menus at more than 35 restaurants across the city. If you can’t be here for that, COOLinary is held in July, August and September (July 14-September 5, 2021), offering a summertime culinary extravaganza with exclusively curated menus and special pricing.
The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is open with COVID safety measures in place with masks required when social distancing isn’t possible. Located on the riverfront, it features more than 10,000 aquatic animals from across the Americas. Visitors can touch stingrays, feed exotic birds and even stare into the eyes of sharks in the 40,000-gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit. Watch the adorable penguins, playful sea otters, and so much more.