New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, the sometimes wild, sometimes smooth music that reflects the city’s eclectic mix of French, Spanish and Caribbean culture.
After dark, every bar and street corner reverberates to the sounds of horns and Louis Armstrong – a New Orleans native.
But what else is on offer if you’re not that kind of cool cat?
Streetcars of desire
All aboard the nostalgia line: Trams head along Canal Street
Trams, or streetcars, are 150 years old and connect downtown New Orleans with the rest of the city via four lines, and they are a gorgeously nostalgic way to see the sights.
Day passes cost $3 (£2.30). Hop on the St Charles Streetcar Line starting at Canal Street and travel west on St Charles Avenue through a tunnel of oak trees, passing lovely antebellum mansions and end at Audubon Park, the city’s second-largest open space. See snapping turtles and exotic birds at the lakes.
Colourful Bywater by bike
The Bywater neighbourhood is filled with colourful murals, organic cafes and hip restaurants. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, artists and creative types unable to meet rent prices in the unscathed French Quarter migrated here.
The long, one-way streets are best explored by bike, which you can hire via the city’s Blue Bike hire scheme (bluebikesnola.com). For dinner, visit the beautifully renovated The Country Club (thecountryclubneworleans.com).
Fall under the voodoo spell
New Orleans has become synonymous with voodoo and various tourist shops sell trinkets and dolls
Voodoo is a very real – and culturally important – religion in these parts, with its own mythologies, saints and rituals. Its roots can be traced back to West African tribes who, in the 18th Century, were kidnapped, enslaved, and taken to Brazil, Haiti and Louisiana. Many were forced to practise Catholicism and so voodoo is something of a melting pot.
New Orleans has become synonymous with voodoo and various tourist shops sell trinkets and dolls. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum (voodoomuseum.com) offers a good introduction ($7, £5.50).
Walk arty Warehouse District
Dubbed the New Orleans Arts District due to its abundance of galleries and studios, this chilled-out neighbourhood is at the heart of downtown. Yoga fans can take a class at Reyn Studios (reynstudios.com), in a converted warehouse that is illuminated by huge windows. After all the goodness, try a cupcake at Bittersweet Confections (bittersweetconfections.com) downstairs.
Go mad at Mardi Gras Museum
Party time: The city’s famous Mardi Gras festival
Arnaud’s restaurant has been serving classic Louisiana Creole cuisine for more than a century. But the real reason to go? Diners are given access to the Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum (arnaudsrestaurant.com). Mardi Gras or ‘fat Tuesday’, the day before Ash Wednesday, is the huge carnival that takes over the French Quarter for a week.
Explore the carnival’s glamorous history at the mini-museum, named after the daughter of a local landowner who ‘reigned as queen of over 22 Mardi Gras balls from 1937 to 1968, more than any other women in the history of Carnival’. Two dozen fabulously lavish costumes are displayed alongside memorabilia.
Momentous garden art
Stunning gardens open daily in the Museum Of Modern Art (moma.org) and house more than 90 works of modern sculpture. Best of all, they’re free.
Dig the cemetery
New Orleans is said to be one of the most haunted cities in the world – or at least that’s what you’ll be told if you join a walking tour in the French Quarter. Stories of the ‘walking dead’ may come from the fact that it’s impossible to bury bodies in the swampy ground – and during hurricanes and high winds, corpses resurfaced and ‘flew’ through the air.
The solution? Entombing the dead in cemeteries that resemble small marble villages. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (saveourcemeteries.org) – in the Garden District, away from guided tours – is one of the most hauntingly beautiful.
Get snappy in the swamps
Pictured is an alligator swimming through the bayou in Jean Lafitte National Historic Park
About half of New Orleans sits below sea level but the region began to sink only as a result of 18th Century settlers building on the marshy land.
Get a flavour of what they must have faced then by taking a 40-minute drive to Barataria Preserve, a swampland within the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park (nps.gov). If you’re lucky (we were), you’ll glimpse alligators basking in the sun.
A fabulous feast
Tucking into a plate of pillowy, square doughnuts called beignets, washed down with a cafe au lait, is a New Orleans tradition. Many places serve them, but the 24-hour Cafe du Monde (cafedumonde.com) wins the taste test.
Another New Orleans classic is the po boy. These sandwiches are said to have been invented in makeshift kitchens during a streetcar drivers’ strike in the 1920s. When a worker came to get one, the cry would go up in the kitchen: ‘Here comes another poor boy!’ And the name stuck, eventually becoming ‘po boy’. Branches of Killer Po Boys, (killerpoboys.com) serve everything from traditional beef and dripping to shrimp and avocado.
British Airways (ba.com) offers return flights from Heathrow from £758.