Welcome back to New Orleans

This isn’t a New Orleans story about disaster. It’s a story about rebirth. Despite all that has happened to New Orleans in the last five years – the damage, the loss of life, the oil spills – the fact remains: New Orleans is still one of the most musically rich, culturally vibrant and historically important cities in the world. This is not a city that gives up easily. In fact, we’re here to tell you that despite all you hear on the news, New Orleans is as good as ever, and it’s about time you came down to pay it a visit.

New Orleans is also much more than just throwing beads at Mardi Gras – there’s plenty to discover and celebrate about this amazing city year-round. From the genteel colonnade-lined mansions of the Garden District, the wide avenues shielded by shady canopies of old-growth trees, to the raucous nocturnal playground of Frenchmen Street, where funky brass bands and “go cups” of Abita Amber flow freely, to sinful culinary delights like Beignets and Muffuletta sandwiches, New Orleans is jam-packed with enough one-of-a-kind pleasures to please even the most jaded of travelers.

New Orleans is back, baby. Are you ready to take a whirlwind tour? Keep reading below to discover all this great city has to offer…Getting Around
Most New Orleans visitors arrive at Louis Armstrong International Airport, located about 15 minutes from downtown. The most convenient way into town is by taxi, which costs $33 for 1 or 2 passengers and $14/person for 3 or more. Many hotels in the French Quarter also offer their guests free shuttle service. If you’re doing New Orleans on the super cheap, the Jefferson Transit Airport Express is only $2.

Once you arrive in New Orleans, getting around by foot or public transport is relatively easy. Unless you need to get out of town, don’t bother with renting a car. Many of New Orleans’ attractions are either in the French Quarter or within walking distance. The city’s vintage street cars also offer connections to visitors hoping to get away from the French Quarter madness, all for just $1.25 per ride.

City Layout
The cultural heart of New Orleans lies along a series of bends in the Mississippi River, earning the town the nickname of “Crescent City.” The beating tourist heart of New Orleans is clearly the French Quarter, which has lots to do even if you don’t want to be drinking hand grenades all day on Bourbon Street. To the Northeast of the French Quarter is Faubourg Marigny, an up-and-coming neighborhood with a killer nightlife and live music scene. To the South and West of the French Quarter is the skyscraper-filled Central Business District (also home to a growing arts scene) and the southern-mansion-lined streets of the Garden District.

What to Do
You’ll never run out of activities in New Orleans. Simply walking the atmospheric streets, stumbling upon street musicians and the city’s beautiful architecture, is a joy in and of itself. Make sure to leave plenty of time to simply wander and take it all in. Here’s a few of our favorite highlights:

  • The food – if you haven’t eaten proper New Orleans cuisine, you simply haven’t visited New Orleans. Wondering where to start your Big Easy culinary tour? Try Central Grocery for a spicy Italian Muffuletta, Johnny’s or Mother’s for a Po’ Boy sandwich and Jacques-imo’s for Creole and Cajun specialties. And don’t forget a beignet and Cafe au Lait at Cafe du Monde (preferably late at night when it’s less crowded).
  • Garden District tour – spend an afternoon getting a dose of old-school Southern charm by hopping on a street car to this historic New Orleans district of stately mansions and intriguing shopping. Grab a green line street car from the French Quarter and sit back as you’re transported back in time, past enormous Antebellum-style mansions fringed by gardens of lush greenery. Take a break on Magazine Street to find top-notch shopping.
  • French Quarter Wandering – most New Orleans visitors are already familiar with this quintessential neighborhood. But there’s much more to the French Quarter than Bourbon Street. Start your French Quarter wander with brunch at Stanley, where you can dig into Bananas Foster French Toast. Just across the street is the picturesque Jackson Square – make sure to check out the statue of U.S. President and commander of the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson and take a peek at St. Louis Cathedral. From there it’s time to get lost, admiring the intricate wrought iron balconies, numerous thrift stores, record shops and art galleries that dot this historic neighborhood.
  • The music – New Orleans music is unrivaled in its influence, diversity and quality. For a burst of musical energy head to Frenchmen Street, where you’ll find concert venues like Snug Harbor and d.b.a. as well as streets packed with revelers bouncing along to street corner brass bands, banjo players and cellists. The music is just as good outside as it is inside. Make sure to keep your eyes and ears open for Second Lines, brass band street parades that unexpectedly fill the air with music and joyous dancing.
  • Volunteering – though “tourist New Orleans” is in great shape, many parts of the city outside the tourist areas are still in recovery mode. Looking to do your part to help rebuild? Check out the “voluntourism” page on the Official Tourism site of New Orleans

Where to Sleep
Staying in New Orleans can get downright expensive. Before you spring for a hotel, consider one of the city’s numerous private apartment options on sites like VRBO. You’ll not only save money, you’ll also get a more authentic neighborhood feel during your visit. If you simply must stay in a hotel, consider spots like the Iberville Suites, the Queen & Crescent or The Chines Bed & Breakfast as starting points.

[Photos courtesy Mike Lee and Jonathan Rodrigues]

Undiscovered New York: Staten Island’s Snug Harbor

Welcome to Undiscovered New York. This week we’re returning to one of New York City’s least-visited tourist spots: Staten Island. Despite its reputation as the “Forgotten Borough,” Staten Island is home to some of New York’s most delicious food, unique sites and friendly residents. Not least of these sites is Snug Harbor.

Originally founded as a residence for aging sailors, the sprawling 83 acre grounds of Snug Harbor are host to a majestic collection of 19th Century Greek Revival buildings, interesting art museums and serene botanical gardens. What’s perhaps most amazing about this fascinating site is just how easy (and cheap) it is to get here from Lower Manhattan. A scenic (free) ride on the Staten Island Ferry plus a quick 10 minute bus trip and you’re there.

Want to get lost in a hedge maze and an authentic Chinese garden? How about some panoramic views of New York Harbor and the city’s skyscrapers? Click below to go inside Staten Island’s Snug Harbor.
Snug Harbor Grounds

The centerpiece of Snug Harbor is the site’s beautiful 19th Century architecture. A complex of five buildings comprise the area’s main focal point, with the huge Randall Memorial Chapel as the anchor. Each building presents a front of soaring columns and a spacious portico in a style similar to that of the ancient Greek temples. On all sides the buildings are surrounded by other unique landmarks: an original wrought-iron fence, an 1890’s zinc water fountain and some beautifully manicured grounds.

The careful placement of each building along with the landscaping have led many visitors to describe the site as reminiscent of a college quad. The whole scene, taken together, represents a surprising oasis of calm in the typical hustle and bustle of New York City.

Staten Island Botanical Garden
Also on the site of the Snug Harbor complex are the Staten Island Botanical Gardens, one of the more interesting landmarks in the area. Kids will be easily entertained by the Connie Gretz Secret Garden, one of only a handful of European style hedge mazes in the United States, and one that is modeled on the well known children’s book, The Secret Garden. The maze winds its way to a miniature castle, complete with its own drawbridge and moat.

The gardens are also home to The New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, a unique Chinese-style space modeled on the famous green spaces of the Chinese city of Suzhou. The beautifully landscaped courtyard with pond, terraced rocks and authentic Chinese pavilions was constructed by 40 artisans brought in from Suzhou to ensure accuracy and authenticity.

Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art
With all the beautifully preserved architecture and authentic gardens, one could be forgiven for thinking Snug Harbor is purely a historical sight. But in fact, Snug Harbor is also home to one of New York’s many galleries of contemporary art. The Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that is home to around 15,000 square feet of gallery space. Depending on when you pop in, you’ll be treated to exhbitions by a diverse range of artists, ranging from both the international to the local.