There’s nowhere in the United States quite like New Orleans. This small city with a big personality has its very own homegrown culture, where Creole and Cajun cuisine take center stage and local traditions are celebrated. Many travelers come here to soak up the unapologetically hedonistic atmosphere – Bourbon Street, the famous French Quarter, and the Mardi Gras festivities attract travelers from all over the world. But what about the New Orleans known only to locals? Step off the tourist trail and you’ll soon realize that the Big Easy has plenty of hidden gems and secret sights that make the city even more amazing.
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All clear? Then let’s get to it! From bohemian districts to local markets, here are the top hidden gems in New Orleans according to NOLA locals.
Neighborhoods don’t get much quainter than quirky Marigny, a bohemian borough tucked away in the heart of New Orleans. Forget the crowded French Quarter – Marigny is one of the top hidden gems in New Orleans because it has a little of everything that makes the city a must-visit destination. Colorful French Colonial architecture, trendy bars, Cajun bistros, cozy jazz clubs, art markets – Marigny has it all. Throw in sidewalk musicians and a seriously festive nightlife scene, and you’ve officially found a place you won’t want to leave. Spend a day exploring the entertainment-packed streets and take a moment to relax in Washington Square, under the shade of an old oak tree.
Saint Louis Cemetery
At almost three centuries old, the Saint Louis Cemetery has earned its eerie reputation. Crumbling graves, built above the ground, house the remains of the city’s fascinating past. Buried here are famous figures like the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and aristocrats from hundreds of years ago – and the actor, Nicolas Cage, has already purchased a (slightly odd) pyramid mausoleum. Explore the oldest cemetery in the city to get a taste of New Orleans’ slightly creepy side.
Jean Lafitte National Historical ParkJean Lafitte National Historical Park
You don’t only need to stay in the city. Some of the top hidden gems in New Orleans lie a little further afield. One of them is the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, a popular local hangout for a lazy Saturday spent outdoors. The preserve protects the precious resources of the Mississippi River Delta region, and consists of wetlands, marshes, swamps, and even a wealth of historic sites. You could easily spend a full day in the park, soaking up the spectacular natural beauty of the region.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/infrogmation/2748565624
Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl
Can you keep a secret? It’s called Mid-City Lanes Rock ’n’ Bowl and it’s a local institution many visitors wouldn’t even know exists. New Orleans aren’t just cooking Cajun in the kitchen – they’re also two-stepping the night away at Cajun dance halls hidden off the tourist trail. The Cajun dance style has been passed down through generations, and today the city’s French community gathers every weekend to dance to traditional French music and grab a bite to eat. As if dancing and eating and experiencing Cajun culture to its fullest isn’t enough, the local Rock ‘n’ Bowl also features a bowling alley!
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Napoleon_
Blink and you’ll miss this unassuming building on the corner of Chartres and St. Louis in the city center. Napoleon House is a local landmark that, 200 years ago, was constructed to be the home of Napoleon Bonaparte (though it never quite reached this goal). Today, the building is one of the most charming restaurants in all of New Orleans – but you’d never be able to tell from the outside. Step through the door and you’ll be greeted by a buzzing, wood-built bar and portraits of Napoleon adorning the walls. Another door leads to a quaint, palm-fringed courtyard – the ideal place to sip one of the famous Pimm’s Cup cocktails and chow down on some Creole bites.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/128269164@N05/184980131
The Singing Oak
City Park is the gorgeous 1300-acre expanse of natural beauty in the heart of New Orleans and one of the most unmissable attractions in the city. As a park that’s famous across the United States, it can’t be called a “hidden gem” by any stretch of the imagination – but one of its trees can. In the center of City Park stands a lonely oak tree, its branches stretched across a couple of park benches. Don’t simply walk past, because this tree has a secret: it sings. Several wind chimes of varying sizes, hung by a local artist and all but hidden from view, play a harmonious tune that further cements NOLA’s reputation as the most musical city on earth.
Looking for an excuse to shop up a storm (and see one of the best hidden gems in New Orleans in the process)? Duck into Trashy Diva, a vintage clothing boutique tucked away in the city center and a popular hangout for New Orleans’ well-heeled. But make no mistake: These are not your average clothes. The colorful, eye-catching designs, inspired by a collection of 30 years’ worth of textiles and patterns, are exactly what’s needed for one of those raucous New Orleans celebrations (and what better memento to take home with you than a wearable one?). Browse through the racks of one-of-a-kind garments, shoes and accessories – and why not wear it out for a drink at a local jazz bar a bit later?
End any day on a sweet note at one of the best hidden gems in New Orleans: Southern Candymakers, the home of multi-award-winning confections and the best pralines on earth. Don’t believe it? You will. Every rich toffee and caramel tortue (that’s French for “turtle”) is crafted in small batches by hand every day, and the result is out of this world. Seriously, you’ve never tasted candy quite like this. Pop in and sample some of the local favorites and to see candy being done the right way.
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