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New Orleans Attractions

In a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding what to do or where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”

Make Jackson Square Your First Destination

From its early days as a parade ground and public market, Jackson Square has been the heart of the city, and it's still one of the most fun places to go. The 18th-century grid design of the French Quarter began with this grassy commons along the river, and the metropolitan area spread north, east and west from here. Artists hang their paintings on the iron fences along St. Peter and St. Ann streets, sharing the sidewalks with fortunetellers and tarot card readers. Jugglers and magicians entertain crowds along the steps on Decatur, across from the sightseeing queue of horse-drawn carriages. Most buses drop off their tour groups at Café Du Monde to join the line waiting for a patio table. From here, you can watch the human parade, listen to jazz, get your bearings before venturing into the Quarter—and devour a few orders of sugar-dusted beignets.

One of the oldest and most photographed churches in the country, the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis King of France , a AAA GEM attraction, was completed in 1794 after the second great fire. The interior of this Renaissance-style basilica features beautiful stained glass windows, hand-painted frescoes and an ornate Baroque altar. Behind the cathedral on Royal Street is St. Anthony's Garden, a quiet park shaded by oak and magnolia trees.

To the left of the cathedral as you face the hat-waving statue of Gen. Andrew Jackson is The Cabildo . This stately building, now a Louisiana State Museum site, was the Spanish seat of government; the Louisiana Purchase transfer ceremonies took place here in 1803. With three floors of engaging and well-organized exhibits, the museum provides an excellent overview of the state's history from pre-European colonization to the present. Highlights range from Native American baskets to antique weapons to Napoleon's death mask.

The Presbytère to the right of the cathedral was designed to match The Cabildo on the left. Though it never served as a church, it was a monastery residence and later a courthouse. Also a Louisiana State Museum site, the building houses a Mardi Gras collection and changing exhibits about Louisiana history and culture.

The red-brick galleries of shops and local restaurants flanking Jackson Square belong to the handsome Pontalba Buildings . Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba commissioned these four-story apartments in 1849, transforming the shabby square into the 19th-century equivalent of Central Park. In the Lower Pontalba, the block-long building on the right, the 1850 House preserves an original townhouse, complete with period furnishings and decorative arts reflecting the lives of a typical upper-middle-class Creole family. (The baroness's life itself is fascinating: Daughter of a wealthy New Orleans magistrate, Micaela Almonester married into the Pontalba family and moved to Paris, where she endured 20 years of legal battles over control of her fortune. After she filed for separation, her father-in-law shot her with a pair of dueling pistols. She survived four bullet wounds; the baron later killed himself. Micaela won her financial independence and came home to build the Pontalbas on property she inherited from her father—though curiously, she never received a divorce.)

To draw up the plans for her grand European townhouses—and it's said she supervised every detail, down to the cast iron railings that would become a New Orleans trademark—Baroness Pontalba hired architect James Gallier Sr. He and his son helped shape the downtown landscape, supervising dozens of private and public projects, including the first city hall, St. Patrick's Church and the French Opera House. James Gallier Jr. built his family residence on Royal Street. The Gallier House remains one of the finest historical preservations in the Quarter. Painstakingly restored and furnished with family antiques, each room—from the elegant double parlor to the slave quarters—provides a snapshot of Victorian life in the South.

Explore Victorian Mansions

Owned by a prominent Creole family, the Hermann-Grima House is another jewel, boasting the only horse stable and working outdoor kitchen in the French Quarter. This 1831 Federal mansion on Saint Louis Street features a lovely courtyard garden. Buy a combination ticket and tour both the Gallier and Hermann-Grima houses, where white slip covers and grass rugs come out for “summer dress,” and 19th-century Christmas decorations mark the holidays. Living-history demonstrations—cooking, fabric dyeing, woodworking—take place at both locations November through April.

The Williams Residence, home of philanthropists Kemper and Leila Williams, reflects 20th-century life in the Vieux Carré. The Williamses bought and restored a group of historic buildings on Royale and Toulouse streets, including the 1889 Trapolin House, where they lived and entertained. In her will, Mrs. Williams stipulated that the house and its contents be open to the public. The Historic New Orleans Collection displays the Williams's antiques, artwork and memorabilia, and guided tours of the residence offer a rare glimpse into the world of New Orleans society.

Millionaire sugar broker Isaac Delgado funded construction of the Beaux Arts-style temple that houses the New Orleans Museum of Art . This AAA GEM attraction in City Park features 46 rotating galleries and more than 40,000 objects, from pre-Columbian artifacts to European and American masterworks by Copley, O'Keeffe, Degas, Monet, Renoir and Picasso. The 5-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden is a landscaped paradise with more than 60 signature pieces surrounding a tranquil lily pond. Though it was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Botanical Garden is making a comeback, and one of its highlights is back on display; the 14,000-square-foot New Orleans Historic Train Garden features a delightful scale model of the city, crisscrossed by a working network of streetcars and trains.

Family Fun Things to do in the Warehouse District

Developers are quickly converting the old mills and factories of the Warehouse District into upscale lofts, galleries and cultural sites, and the centerpiece of this burgeoning neighborhood is The National World War II Museum . Perhaps no other museum in the country presents a more personal narrative of this global conflict. Presentations in two venues provide insights into the era, but it's the belongings of soldiers—helmets, bibles, diaries, letters—and stories told in their own voices that bring home the realities of war. New Orleans was chosen as the site of the museum (formerly known as the National D-Day Museum) in honor of local boatbuilder Andrew Higgins, whose amphibious landing craft became synonymous with D-Day. A Higgins Boat is on display in the main hall of this AAA GEM attraction.

A block away, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art is drawing attention to the New Orleans art scene. Entrepreneur Roger Ogden amassed an extensive collection of paintings, sculpture, ceramics, crafts and glass, and new acquisitions at this AAA GEM attraction continue to expand the focus on the American South. Highlights include sculptures by Nene Humphrey, modernist paintings by Will Henry Stevens and landscapes by Walter Anderson. (Sadly, dozens of Anderson's watercolors at his family home in Mississippi were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.)

Master glass artists practice their craft at the New Orleans Artworks at New Orleans Glassworks and Printmaking Studio , just down the street from the World War II Museum. Visitors are welcome to enter the “hot shop” to watch traditional blowing and casting. The studio is one of the largest of its kind in the South; other areas of study include stained glass, mosaics, copper enameling, printmaking, paper sculpture and bookbinding. The ArtWorks Gallery is a visual delight, filled with whimsical and distinctive glass sculptures.

Artistry of another kind is demonstrated at the New Orleans School of Cooking . In an old molasses warehouse in the French Quarter, you can learn how to make gumbo, jambalaya and pralines while discovering the history of Cajun and Creole culture. Lunch and recipes come with the class, and you can buy all the ingredients at the school's Louisiana General Store. The 2.5-hour class fills up fast, so make your reservations early.

Celebrating another local tradition, Mardi Gras World displays illuminated floats and giant sculptures from the city's pre-Lenten extravaganza. Get a behind-the-scenes look with a guided tour through this massive complex of workshops and warehouses—the next best thing to seeing a Mardi Gras parade. You'll even get a slice of king cake and beads to take home.

New Orleans has been called one of the most walkable cities in the country—you can stroll the streets of the French Quarter and explore hundreds of eclectic shops, art galleries, unique places to eat and historic sites. One of the best ways to see the high points is with a guided walking tour. These tours give you a more intimate look at the city. Learn local history and discover new fun things to do with friends. A block west of Jackson Square on Decatur Street, the French Quarter Visitor Center offers ranger-led walks through the Vieux Carré. The free 90-minute tour leaves Tues.-Sat. at 9:30 and fills up quickly; get there 30-45 minutes early to save a spot in line.

With its long and colorful history, the city has more than its share of ghost stories. Its lavish cemeteries—the Cities of the Dead—are legendary, and tales of voodoo queens, vampires and murderous pirates give a delicious shiver. The costumed guides of Haunted History Tours lead groups on an eerie nighttime stroll through the streets and alleys of the French Quarter, a tour bound to give you a new perspective on Nouvelle-Orléans. Along with its more ghoulish themes—ghosts, cemeteries, voodoo and vampires—the company also offers Garden District tours with transportation from the Quarter. Tours are offered daily, rain or shine; reservations are recommended.

French and Spanish history and architecture, the legacy of slavery and secrets of Creole society are all part of the authentic narrative of Historic New Orleans Tours . You don't need reservations for these tours, which depart from various locations. Among the highlights: day and evening strolls through the French Quarter and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 , walks through the Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (participants provide their own transportation to Prytania Street) and a tour of haunted sites, including places featured in Anne Rice's vampire novels.

See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.

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New Orleans, LA

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Travel Information

City Population

343,829

Elevation

11 ft.

Sales Tax

Louisiana's statewide sales tax is 5 percent; an additional 5 percent is levied in the New Orleans metro area, and Orleans Parish has a .5 percent tax on food and beverages. The city has a 14 percent lodging tax, plus an occupancy tax of $1-$3 per night. The state's car rental tax is 3 percent.

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

(504) 821-2222

Fire (non-emergency)

(504) 658-4700

Time and Temperature

(318) 324-8808

Hospitals

Ochsner Medical Center, (504) 842-3000; Touro Infirmary, (504) 897-7011; Tulane Medical Center, (504) 988-5263; University Medical Center New Orleans, (504) 702-3000.

Visitor Information

1221 Elmwood Park Blvd. Suite 411 New Orleans, LA 70123. Phone:(504)731-7083 or (877)572-7474

Air Travel

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is about 21 miles west of downtown New Orleans in Kenner and is served by nearly all major domestic and foreign carriers.

Rental Cars

New Orleans is served by several major car rental agencies. Arrangements should be made before you leave on your trip. Your local AAA club can provide this service or additional information. Hertz, (504) 568-1645 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.

Rail Service

Amtrak uses the Union Passenger Terminal at 1001 Loyola Ave. Daily service is offered. Phone (800) 872-7245 for further information.

Buses

The Greyhound Lines Inc. bus terminal is at 1001 Loyola Ave.; phone (504) 525-6075 or (800) 231-2222 for schedule and fares.

Taxis

Cabs are plentiful in the main business and tourist areas. Average fare is $3.50 initially and $2.40 for each additional mile and $1 for each additional person. The largest companies are Carriage/Yellow/Checker, (504) 207-7777; Metry, (504) 835-4242; and United, (504) 522-9771. Information about taxi service also can be obtained from the Taxicab & For Hire Bureau at (504) 658-7176.

Public Transportation

Transportation by bus, streetcar and ferry is available in New Orleans.

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