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Experience New Orleans through the senses

Enjoy a sensory tour of the Big Easy, even if you’re just in town for a night

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The flash of Mardi Gras beads, the aroma of beignets and crawfish, notes of the city’s signature jazz on the street, and the vivid pastels of historic homes — these are the sights, smells, and sounds that make New Orleans such a sensory place. The vibrancy is all around you as you walk the streets of NOLA. Just because your trip is short doesn’t mean you have to miss out on soaking up the color of the French Quarter and the surrounding areas. If you packed some reasonably comfortable shoes, consider your tour itinerary handled.

Anne Rippy

Sounds

Jackson Square, originally named "Place d'Armes," and later renamed in honor Andrew Jackson — the battle of New Orleans hero — is the nucleus of the French Quarter. You can’t miss the big statue of Jackson himself, but make sure you also make time for whatever music group is playing in the square. One popular duo is Wael and Anna, a violin-wielding couple with a signature sound. They play “classical improv,” a playful riff on what you’d hear in a symphony hall. They sometimes even play with their baby in tow.

Smells

It’s a tourist trap, sure, but for good reason. Sidle your way up to the counter at Cafe du Monde. Despite the touristy nature of the cafe (or perhaps because of it), Cafe du Monde has preserved a quaint French Market appeal that will remind you the city’s rich history.The crowds move fast, but if you take a moment to inhale deeply, you can practically taste the beignets before your order’s up. If the weather is warm, pair your pastry treat with an iced coffee and people watch while you eat. (Warning: you will surely get powdered sugar on your shirt, so just go ahead and commit to the napkin bib.) For a practical souvenir, grab some Cafe du Monde coffee which they sell in vintage-style tins that you can reuse later.

Sights

Take some time out of your day to see the view from the promenade in the French Quarter. The walkway is called Moonwalk, named for the1970s mayor Maurice “Moon” Landreiu, and fitting given its expansive views of the Mississippi River and sky. Writer Tennessee Williams once said that America “has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.” Obviously a fan of cities overlooking a body of water, Williams wasn’t wrong in identifying a magical quality of Nola. The Port of New Orleans is one of the largest in the country, and you can watch steamers and other vessels make their way in and out, just like Williams likely did in the 1940s — still an impressive sight.

Feels

It’s easy to get lost in a large museum and find yourself wandering for hours, sometimes emerging with sore feet and an aching back from standing and staring. Not so in the New Orleans Historic Collection Museum: Its manageable size and varied exhibits make it the perfect pitstop for a snapshot of deeply local history. An exhibit might include old Jazz posters, a history of the city’s Red District, portraits of the slave trade, in-depth coverage of a local photographer, or other glimpses into life in NOLA through the years. You’ll understand a bit more about the city’s history even if it’s the only museum you have time to visit.

Tastes

The Napoleon House in the French Quarter serves up piping hot po’ boys and a lofty historical legacy. The building's first occupant, Nicholas Girod, was mayor of New Orleans in the early 1800s; he offered his residence to Napoleon in 1821 as a refuge during his exile. You’ll feel right at home surrounded by well-worn walls and mismatched picture frames. Order a Pimm’s Cup — which became the en vogue drink at the Napoleon house in the 1940s — and then choose from an assortment quintessentially New Orleans dishes. Try the muffuletta, a Napoleon House signature sandwich that pays homage to the Italian immigrants who first opened delis along the riverfront of the French Market. It’s loaded with meat, cheese, and an olive salad dressing. Still hungry? Bite into the grilled alligator po’ boy — nothing says New Orleans more than a po’ boy and an alligator.

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