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The Big Easy. Crescent City. N’awlins. Birthplace of Jazz. NOLA. It seems that the more nicknames a city has, the more stories there are behind them and New Orleans has never been in short supply of alternative monikers—or tales so far-fetched that they’re usually (almost) entirely true. That’s because there’s really no place like New Orleans anywhere in the United States, or the world for that matter.

New Orleans is a city first and foremost defined by its people, followed closely by centuries of history—both good and bad—that have made it the very representation of strength in the face of adversity. Brimming with culture, friendly faces, and the possibility that fun can be found 24/7, it’s one of the top tourist destinations in the nation, welcoming close to 20 million visitors during any given year. But New Orleans is also a quirky, wildly colorful, often affordable place to live. A mixture of lifelong residents descending from multiple generations of New Orleanians, pre-Katrina transplants, and a more recent influx of new settlers to the area, the city is constantly morphing without ever losing its core identity or most famous attributes. The city is home to a population that’s nearly 60% Black or African American, 30% white, 5.5% Hispanic or Latino, and 3% Asian.

Apartments in New Orleans can be found to fit nearly any budget or lifestyle, with the famous French Quarter being home mostly to single units in 200-plus-year-old buildings, but a few larger, new-construction complexes have begun popping up on the outskirts of the district. Spreading out in any direction from the Quarter, neighborhoods such as Uptown, Central Business District, Garden District, City Park, Carrollton, Tremé, Bayou St. John, Mid-City, and Marigny offer residents a lot more rental options with larger and larger apartment communities serving the growing population, which is approaching 400,000 as of the 2020 census. That’s small for a town with big-city vibes in parts, but it’s also a place built around community, where it’s not uncommon to run into friends—and people you haven’t seen in years—hanging out in a bar on Burgundy Street or a courtyard café on Rampart. Even the super-touristy Bourbon Street has enclaves often known only to locals where they can soak up the energy without compromising authenticity.

Weather in New Orleans can be as unpredictable as a night on the town with no set agenda, but expect wet, humid conditions much of the year with extremely long, hot summers. On average, it rains more than 100 days per year (much of that between June and mid-September), with partly cloudy days more common than cloudless blue skies and sunshine, though you’ll get that at least a portion of several days. Hurricanes pose a threat of damage and temporary evacuation nearly every year, but they’re something residents get used to over time, learning how to prepare. Plus, several measures and infrastructure improvements have been made in recent years to minimize flooding. On the plus side, snow and freezing temperatures are rare, and severe weather is often short-lived. One minute you could be seeking cover inside a bar or voodoo shop, the next, you could be enjoying the fresh air from a park overlooking the Mississippi River.

Getting Around

Like most major cities, motor vehicles play a big role when traveling long distances across the city, but within the major neighborhoods and entertainment districts of New Orleans, walking and cycling are extremely popular, especially with more and more bike lanes sprouting up in high-traffic areas. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) operates buses, ferries, and charming street cars that are extremely affordable, especially when a day, week, or month pass is purchased (and also accessible via a mobile app). On-demand, app-based electric bikes and scooters have also grown in popularity, with kiosks stationed throughout the city for easy pickup and drop-off at different locations.

The recently opened Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport represents a major upgrade from their last one—it’s a gorgeous, state-of-the-art facility offering multiple nonstop flights to more than 50 destinations across the United States and seven seasonal international destinations. Cruise ships dock daily at the Port of New Orleans, bringing in thousands of passengers to explore the city, but this also makes it easy for locals to catch a ship to some exotic place without ever having to board a plane.

Food & Drink

Entire books have been written on the topic of the culinary and cocktail scenes in New Orleans, but this is a city where you can seek out nearly any type of cuisine you’re craving, thanks to more than 1,000 restaurants in the city limits. Or leave things to chance and simply see what you can discover on the menu when you sit down at a table or step up to the counter at any number of quaint neighborhood joints.

Seafood is a big part of the city’s identity and can be found in all varieties of iconic New Orleans dishes, including po’boys, gumbo, etoufée, and jambalaya. Get messy eating with your fingers at a traditional boil when crawfish are in season. Or skip the seafood and fill up on the cheap with a big bowl of red beans and rice. Fried chicken, burgers, Italian, and every type of Asian and Latin American food also can be found in abundance, with late-night joints and 24-hour eateries in nearly every neighborhood. World-famous celebrity chefs operate high-end, fine-dining restaurants for an alternative to the ubiquitous hot dog carts lining the streets of the French Quarter. As for sweets, beignets, pecan pralines, bread pudding, and French pastries are popular go-to’s.

New Orleans has a long history with bars, too. One of its major claims to fame is being the birthplace of the cocktail. New Orleans is also home to a bar that’s been in operation since 1772. Sip on classic cocktails, including the boozy Sazerac or a fruity Hurricane, or simply grab an ice-cold beer or glass of your favorite wine. Best of all, wherever you are, you don’t have to finish your drink on-site. Request a “go cup” and take your drink out on the street and right to the next bar or restaurant to order something new.

The French Quarter has a large number of LGBTQ bars, too, representative of the city as a popular destination for queer travelers and a welcoming place to live as well. Several distilleries and craft breweries also offer a different taste of New Orleans, especially good for stocking up the home bar. Coffee lovers also have plenty of options, with local roasters and boutique coffee shops pouring some of the best cups of java anywhere.

Shopping

Though you’ll stumble upon a number of souvenir shops in and around the French Quarter, New Orleans is home to some fantastic retail boutiques, and it’s also one of the best places to add to (or start) your art collection, from street vendors to high-end galleries. Across the street from the Harrah’s Casino, Canal Place offers a variety of luxury retail experiences, including Sax Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany & Co.

For more everyday types of purchases, strip shopping centers can be found outside the city center with big-box retailers and local shops mixed in. When you’re ready for home meal prep, some neighborhoods are more bodega-driven with limited fresh selections. But supermarkets in New Orleans’ neighborhoods also include chains such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, in addition to full-service grocers, including Louisiana-based Rouses and regional Winn-Dixie.

Things to Do

Similar to the culinary scene, there’s almost too much to do in New Orleans, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from checking off everything one item at a time. Tours are a great way to get to know the city and its rich history, whether it’s hopping aboard a riverboat or airboat on a swamp or walking, cycling, or Seguay-ing your way through the streets to learn about ghosts, vampires, and cemetery residents. Test your luck with gambling (at big casinos and tiny bars alike), visit a number of world-class museums and historic sites, catch live jazz and other bands at local hangouts, cheer on a major sports team including the New Orleans Saints (NFL) and the New Orleans Pelicans (NBA). A river walk along the Mississippi, New Orleans City Park, Lake Pontchartrain, and various bayous and walking paths throughout the city are among the top outdoor attractions. The city also boasts several local theaters and theater troupes, plus its own philharmonic orchestra and ballet. New Orleans is also home to several festivals throughout the year, ranging from world-famous Mardi Gras to Tales of the Cocktail, the French Quarter Festival, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Colleges & Universities

Several major universities and smaller colleges have their headquarters in New Orleans, including Tulane University, Loyola University, The University of New Orleans, Dillard University, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans, University of Holy Cross, Xavier University of Louisiana, Herzing University-New Orleans, Southern University at New Orleans, Nunez Community College, and Delgado Community College.

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