Ed Leahy says it's easy to fall in love with the Big Easy.

The front door of the Hotel de Ville was an acquisition from the 1915 hurricane-destroyed St Louis Hotel.

It is no wonder that this elaborately carved wooden door survived, such is its weight - as you discover upon leaving the boutique French Quarter hotel.

The force of the closing door gives you a good nudge as you exit into the busy streets of New Orleans, as if to say "be prepared".

For the hotel is located just yards from the world famous Bourbon Street, which runs through the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter and is a one-stop shop for the city's party-seeking tourists.

Neon-clad bars, restaurants, music venues and live shows (of all varieties) run the length of the street – 13 blocks of non-stop 24-hour party people.

Despite the early evening hour, the street was already in full effect as I soberly ventured from the hotel. While the Bourbon strip certainly looked like a great place to finish the night, it was way too early in my blossoming courtship with the city to partake in such antics.

A quick detour away from the madness, down St Ann Street, and I stumbled upon a laid-back bar, 801 Royal, where I made my first acquaintance with the famous New Orleans Po' Boy.

The origins of the name of this must-try sandwich remain vague as it falls somewhere between the French word for 'tip' ('pourboire') and a reference to the New Orleans workers ('poor boys').

However, its credentials are bona fide, as the sandwich arrives on the freshest New Orleans French baguette, packed with meat or fried fish of choice, all the salads and stuffed with fried green tomatoes.

The local Abita beer proved the perfect companion to this monster feed and this was a much better place to start my visit to the Big Easy as I chatted with waiters and bar staff about recommendations for the rest of the evening.

Bourbon Street was, as anticipated, to be avoided and I was pointed in the direction of Frenchman Street, off Decatur, at the other end of the French Quarter.

The entire French Quarter is easy to navigate but the grid system is simply not needed in this town - you just have to follow the music to get where you're going.

The Frenchman Street strip is a far cry from the Bourbon alternative as live, quality New Orleans music is in abundance throughout.

This was the New Orleans I was looking for. Trumpets, trombones, guitars, drums; the beat, the ambience, the energy; those first 20 minutes at Bar Maison were enough to make me fall in love with this infectious city.

The nightlife takes care of itself in New Orleans, but your days will also be busy, such is the diversity of this incredibly interesting Louisiana town.

New Orleans is vast and sprawls for miles along the meandering Mississippi and while a tour bus will get you around in a few air-conditioned hours, a much more interesting way to discover the city centre is by foot, taking one neighbourhood at a time.

Top of my list was a visit to the historic Tremé.

The area is the setting for an acclaimed HBO drama series that documents the city's recovery following the horrific Hurricane Katrina of 2005 that tore through New Orleans.

Far from a plot-based series, Tremé concentrates on the city's most valuable assets, the people and, of course, the music, while New Orleans itself is the main character.

Tremé is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city and is famous for its brass band traditions and often referred to as the birthplace of Jazz.

Louis Armstrong Park sits between Tremé and the French Quarter and boasts a larger-than life statue of the town's most famous son, Satchmo, as well as the Mahalia Jackson Theatre, which was named after the famous New Orleans gospel singer.

A great way to explore the neighbourhood is to download the free GO NOLA app for a walking tour hosted by Tremé actor Wendell Pierce, while a visit to the St Louis Cemetery is also recommended. They bury their dead above ground in these parts, including the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage has apparently purchased a plot.

The French Quarter is the city's most famous neighbourhood as it is the cultural centre of New Orleans, home to many historic landmarks with stunning architecture on every corner and side-street.

Wandering the streets of the French Quarter - from Jackson Square to the French Market and back around to St Louis Cathedral - allows you to get a real feel for the city.

Boutique shops, art galleries, street musicians; cafés, bars and restaurants aplenty - the entire French Quarter should be enjoyed, slowly, as the sounds and the scents of this magical neighbourhood will soothe the senses.

Unfortunately, you will also have to remember that you are a tourist and time can easily be lost amidst the daundering and daydreaming.

So a swamp trip was booked for the afternoon, but not before stopping off at the landmark Stanley restaurant for a quite spectacular lunch – and yes, the Po' Boy is to be recommended here as well.

So, onto the coach – reluctantly leaving the city limits – and 45 minutes later we arrived at the Honey Island Swamp.

The two-hour swamp tour takes you deep into the preserved Louisiana wetlands. Here you are guaranteed to encounter a wide range of wildlife, including alligators, raccoons, owls, wild boars and bald eagles.

Just as impressive is the spooky setting as you encounter the almost life-like, horse-haired trees with overhanging branches and tree roots that grow up out of the water, while the Cajun villages that remain on the river bank are also fascinating.

The tour is thoroughly enjoyable, educational and proved to be more than worth the lost afternoon away from the Crescent City.

The timing of the swamp return was suspiciously synced with the start of happy hour, just yards from the drop-off point, near Pat O'Brien's Bar – another New Orleans landmark.

The house special was the thirst-quenching, yet potent, Hurricane cocktail, while the ice cold beer was a measly $2 per bottle for the local Abita Amber. Needless to say, the evening's entertainment kicked off a little bit earlier than planned – it's that type of city so be prepared.

The music theme continued as a taxi took us out to the famous New Orleans venue Tipitina's, which was hosting free gigs every Friday.

All the great New Orleans musicians have played Tipitina's from Kermit Ruffins to Dr John to the famous Batiste family, while Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs, a fine fusion of hip-hop, guitars and lots of trumpets, rocked the stage for my visit.

New Orleans is not just associated with jazz music but famous for a range of styles including Brass, Dixieland, Ragtime, Cajun, Gypsy Jazz and the folksy, American roots Zydeco, all of which are easily accessible about the city's nightlife scene.

Needless to say, the evening finished back in town bar-hopping along the now very familiar setting of Frenchman Street.

Another day and more neighbourhoods and New Orleans attractions to explore, but not before another New Orleans tradition was experienced.

Brunch is a big deal in these parts, especially at the weekend. The House of Blues enjoys a gospel brunch every Sunday, while I took the short stroll around the corner from the hotel to The Court of Two Sisters.

An all-you-can-eat feast at this historic New Orleans venue will set you up for another day in the Big Easy with every local delicacy available, including Creole Jambalaya, Veal Grillades, Crawfish Louise and a fine bread pudding to finish.

A three-piece jazz outfit provided the noontime soundtrack for my multiple visits to the sumptuous buffet station.

The St Charles Avenue streetcar takes you across and along several neighbourhoods towards uptown New Orleans.

Both a tourist attraction as well as a mode of transport for commuters, you will find a rare mix of folk on this jaunt through the city.

The locals are well used to the rowdy tourists who swarm the streetcars - many of whom are already in party mode - but a window seat will allow you to enjoy the open-air experience, with excellent views of several city monuments, buildings and the spectacular southern mansions along the route.

The Warehouse and Garden Districts can also be explored as you hop on and hop off these most desirable streetcars, while Magazine Street runs adjacent and is the perfect place for an afternoon of shopping, coffee drinking and a spot of people watching.

Another night in New Orleans and a slower pace was enjoyed at the stylish SoBou restaurant. The menu takes traditional New Orleans food and spins a contemporary twist, resulting in a most interesting collection of dishes from Cajun queso to butternut squash beignets.

A range of 'small bites' and 'snacky things' were procured, including a surprisingly tasty gumbo, served with potato, although the alligator sausage was avoided, despite its no-nonsense menu description. "It is what it is!" reads the menu, in case you were wondering.

One final saunter down Frenchman Street would bring the curtain down on a thoroughly entertaining three days in New Orleans.

The Big Easy really does provide you with everything you could want or imagine from a city break, yet you still depart wanting more.

What date is Mardi Gras?

Ed Leahy

Where to Stay in New Orleans
Hotel Maison de Ville is a three-storey boutique townhouse, located in the heart of the New Orleans French Quarter just minutes from the city's lively nightlife scene and many tourist attractions.

The hotel offers a wide range of accommodation options, including the former carriage house, just off the courtyard, which is now a two-storey suite, referred to as The Cottage. You will certainly be hard pushed to find a more friendly hotel anywhere in the world, as the genial hosts are always on hand to help out with city information, travel arrangement or printing requirements.

The hotel also offers a range of complimentary food and beverage options, including free breakfast (coffee and fresh pastries) - as well as light treats left out for the guests throughout the day and night. A well-stocked fridge offers water and a range of soft drinks, also free of charge. www.maisondeville.com

Getting There
Aer Lingus, in partnership with JetBlue, flies from Dublin to New Orleans via New York JFK or Boston or with United Airlines via Chicago. Fares start from €285 each way. www.aerlingus.com

For more information on New Orleans, visit: www.neworleanscvb.com.

RTÉ is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Travel News

The latest holidays deals - August 21

The latest travel offers - August 14

The latest travel offers - July 24

The latest travel offers - July 17

More »

X
Join

Use your RTE ID to Join

  • Upload your style photos
  • Create and save recipes
  • Review and Comment
  • Have your say
help Whats this?
Don't have an RTE ID? register