New Orleans has undeniable soul, tangible in her bustling jazz bars, hearty eateries, and sluggish swamps:
The beating heart of New Orleans is her jazz scene. From the bustling live performance spots dotted throughout the French Quarter, to the numerous festivals that fill the city with parades and party-goers on a regular basis, visitors will find jazz riffs spilling out onto the streets and into their tapping toes and snapping fingers.
This historic city, also known as 'The Big Easy' or simply 'NOLA', is located in the southeast of Louisiana, straddling the Mississippi River. At times in its history, New Orleans has been occupied by both the French and the Spanish, a legacy that has trickled down into the distinct Creole architecture and delectable Cajun food offered by many restaurants in the city.
New Orleans' reputation as a top-notch holiday destination took a strong blow from the devastating hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which swept through in 2005, flooding almost 80 percent of the city.
But the people of New Orleans rallied together and the city is back to its former glory. Still, some evidence of the disaster remains, which travellers can see on one of the specifically tailored Katrina Tours which traverse the less-touristy areas of the city.
NOLA is world-renowned for her hectic festival schedule, most famous of which is, of course, Mardi Gras. Other festivals, which celebrate everything from St Patrick's Day to Gay Easter, occur throughout the year.
Fans of the more macabre will enjoy taking in some of the Voodoo culture of New Orleans, whether at the Voodoo Museum or on a cemetery tour. If you thought New Orleans was just about the nightlife, consider again. This is a place that offers something for everyone, all done with its very own special style and flair.
Best time to visit New Orleans
Spring time, which falls between March and May, is a great time to pay a visit to The Big Easy. Temperatures are moderate, and comfortable enough to walk around in shorts and a t-shirt, and it is also one of the least humid times of year. Several festivals also fall over this period, including St Patrick's Day, The Gay Easter Parade, and the French Quarter Festival, making it a fun time to visit.
GMT -6 (GMT -5 from March to November).
Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Plugs are mainly the type with two flat pins, though three-pin plugs (two flat parallel pins and a rounded pin) are also widely used. European appliances without dual-voltage capabilities will require an adapter.
English is the most common language spoken but Spanish is often heard in the south-western states.
There are no specific health risks associated with travel within the USA. Medical facilities are excellent, but expensive. Only emergencies are treated without prior payment and treatment can be refused without evidence of insurance or proof of funds. Good medical insurance is essential.
A 15 percent tip is expected by taxi drivers, bartenders, hairdressers and waiters, but don't tip in fast-food or self-service restaurants. In expensive restaurants or for large parties, tip 20 percent of the bill. It is normal to tip staff such as valets and porters in hotels; this is discretionary, although a minimum of $5 is expected. Most services are customarily tipped if the service is good.
Travel within the United States is generally trouble-free, however, travellers should be aware that the US shares with the rest of the world, an increased threat from terrorist incidents. Security has been heightened, particularly at airports. Restrictions on hand luggage apply and travellers are advised to check on the latest situation with airlines in advance. Travellers should also be alert to the dangers of car and street crime in cities and should use common sense and take basic precautions. Hurricanes are common between June and November, putting the southern USA, including the Gulf Coast and the eastern US at risk. There is a risk of wildfires in many dry areas in the US, particularly on the West Coast from March to November.
Laws vary from state to state, including speed limit, fines and punishment. The age at which you may legally buy and consume alcohol is 21 years.
Home to one of the world's largest street parties, New Orleans isn't short on attractions and the place to start is without a doubt the world-renowned French Quarter. Take a stroll along the legendary Bourbon Street to lap up the sights, sounds and smells of the Big Easy.
To gain more perspective into the city's history, visiting D-Day National World War II Museum is a number one destinations. The New Orleans Voodoo Museum shows off the city's underbelly while tourists can marvel at Mardi Gras floats at Mardi Gras World.
The city has many marvellous parks, not least of all the City Park which is ideal for a picnic and bring a book for a bit of fresh air and relaxation. Areas of the city are navigable on bike, with a favourite route taking riders through Garden District, a suburb favoured by several celebrities.
If one is a sports fan, they should see if there are any football games on at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Regardless, it's worth checking out anyway as its 680 ft (210m) diameter makes it one of the largest dome structures in the world.
Visitors will do well to purchase the New Orleans Power Pass. Available in one, two, three or five consecutive day options and includes discounted admission to about 27 of New Orleans' top attractions, offering cheaper admission and the opportunity to skip the queue at many locations.
Known for its use of Cajun pepper, tropical fruits, and spices, dining out in New Orleans is an exciting sensory experience. Creole cuisine is a melting pot, incorporating French, Spanish, Mediterranean, Caribbean and African flavours, as well as hearty comfort food from the Deep South.
Travellers will find the world-famous French Quarter, mostly geared towards tourists, is where just about any and every kind of Creole restaurant is found, particularly on the famous Bourbon Street. Restaurants serve mouth-watering arrays of jambalaya, red beans and rice, gumbo and Cajun crawfish, amongst other local favourites.
Those with a sweet tooth are in for a treat in New Orleans, where the desserts are as sticky as they come. Favourites include pecan pie, while pralines and Bananas Foster are staples on most restaurant menus.
Don't forget an order of deep-fried beignets with your coffee. Nor should you miss the cocktail menus in New Orleans, particularly as they sport the trademark, notorious cocktail called the 'Hurricane'.
New Orleans has its own special take on the sandwich, which comes in two varieties. Po'boys, served on a round French loaf and packed to the rafters with beef, oysters, shrimp, gravy and all the trimmings. Muffalettas are huge Italian loaves stuffed with cold meats and olive salad.
New Orleans is a city of music and rhythm, most famous for jazz, Cajun and zydeco music, and its nightlife reflects this with enthusiasm. Publications like Gambit, Offbeat and WhereY'at, as well as local radio stations, are useful for discovering upcoming gigs and events.
There are countless bars along Bourbon Street, and the party invariably pours out onto the sidewalks. While most places have a cover charge, it's not always necessary to actually go inside! Some of the best clubs and bars are in the neighbourhoods of the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny.
Preservation Hall is a must for jazz fans, while Maple Leaf Bar is another popular spot for live music. Molly's is said to be the best bar in the French Quarter and Napoleon House offers a fantastic Pimm's Cup Cocktail. Nightclubs come and go but the best nightlife districts are lively and fun almost every night of the year.
New Orleans has a humid subtropical climate with very hot and humid summers and mild, short-lived winters. Summers in New Orleans are relatively long with high temperatures hovering around 90°F (32°C) from May to September.
In winter, from December to February, temperatures average between 44°F (7°C) and a comfortable 62°F (17°C). New Orleans experiences high annual rainfall, most of it falling in mid-late summer, often as a spin-off from tropical storms.
Heavy rain during the June to September Gulf Coast hurricane season has occasionally caused flooding in the city. Snow and ice are rarities in New Orleans, but there have been incidences of light snowfall causing a 'White Christmas'.
The US is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people differ hugely across the country.
Details of vaccination recommendations and requirements are provided below.