I was lucky enough to have spent about a month living in New Orleans last year, working for a nonprofit that organizes volunteer spring break trips around the US. The city is nothing short of magical: it feels so alive all the time, and infuses that feeling into its visitors. Once you’ve hit up Cafe du Monde and have beignet there, done that, check out my NoLa Top 5.
1. Wednesdays at the Square.
When you come to New Orleans, it’s mandatory that you eat delicious food and hear some good live music. And if you can do it on the cheap – even better! From March through May each year, check out Wednesdays at the Square (Lafayette Square, to be exact). There’s no admission fee, so you can just chill out in a lawn chair and listen to live music for a couple hours without spending a dime. There are also booths selling all kinds of tasty regional specialties, from dark chocolate Irish whiskey bread pudding(!) to crawfish con queso. They also sell beer and wine if you’ve got drankin’ on the mind.
I really like Wednesdays at the Square because it’s a nice mix of tourists and locals, and it feels a little more authentic than say, eating beignets at Cafe du Monde (although you should totally do that too).
Wednesdays in the Square takes place in Lafayette Square every Wednesday from March 1 – May 17, 2017. It starts around 5:00 and goes until 7:00 or so.
2. Lower 9th Ward Living Museum.
When people think of New Orleans, often the first thing that they think of is Hurricane Katrina. And while that terrible event has had an enormous impact on the city, the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum teaches us to look beyond that single event and into the deeper racial and economic problems that New Orleans had been experiencing long before Katrina. Because so many people were unable to return to their homes after the hurricane, this museum is dedicated to ensuring that the history of the Lower Ninth Ward isn’t lost. I’m not much of a museum person, but this one is particularly impactful.
This might be a bit of a shameless plug, but the reason I came to New Orleans was to lead alternative spring break trips for college kids. New Orleans is a vibrant city that has been deeply hurt both by natural disasters and extreme poverty. If you come to love the city as much as I have, you’ll definitely want to give back. There are so many places you can do it, too – from packing food at Second Harvest Food Bank to sorting Mardi Gras beads for recycling at Arc of Greater New Orleans. One of my personal favorites was cleaning and restoring headstones at Chalmette National Cemetery with HOPE Crew.
4. New Orleans Voodoo Tour.
The New Orleans Voodoo Tour by Free Tours by Foot was hands down one of my favorite things that I did in New Orleans. All you have to do is sign up online, meet at the designated spot, and tip your tour guide at the end. Rob led my Voodoo tour, and he was absolutely fantastic. It was a deep dive into the history of New Orleans, with a strong focus on how blacks slaves brought their religion to the city, and ultimately used it to break free. Some might be disappointed that it’s not all about poking dolls and hexing people, but I think the real history of voodoo was much more intriguing.
5. Wall of Peace Mural.
I can think of no better way to wrap up a trip to New Orleans than by visiting Brandan Odums’ “Wall of Peace,” located in New Orleans East. I’ve never been to a city so focused on community and helping one another than this one, and this impressive piece of art sums up that feeling nicely. I highly recommend coming here at the end of your trip and taking a few moments for quiet reflection.
Directions: Take I-10 to Read Blvd exit and turn right onto service road. You literally can’t miss it.