Few places rank as high on the American travel bucket list as New Orleans (NOLA). Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest lead the way, but NOLA also hosts over 130 yearly festivals influenced by the city’s African, French and American roots dating back to the 1700s.
Christmas in NOLA still seems to get the short end of the stick so what better way to get the insider track on visiting NOLA during the holidays than from the people who live and breath New Orleans as their livelihood?
We reached out to three different historic hotels and inns to find out what every traveler should put on their “Must Do” list on their next NOLA visit, whether it’s a last minute Christmas or New Years Eve escape or the next check off your bucket list trip.
La Belle Esplanade
Located in the Treme neighborhood and housed in an 1863 Italianate building, La Belle Esplanade is a boutique bed and breakfast located within walking distance from the French Quarter and surrounded by landmark NOLA restaurants such as Café Degas, Willie Mae’s Scotch House, and Dookie Chase. The inn has an eclectic interior design incorporating antique and contemporary furniture with original art. The owners, Matthew King and Melanie Schmitt, are all about delivering the authentic NOLA experience to their guests, which during Christmas, they suggest seeing the Celebration in the Oaks.
Must Visit: Most cities have a public display of Christmas lights in their biggest park but in New Orleans people don’t drive in their cars while listening to carols on the radio. At Celebration in the Oaks, people get out and walk with their neighbors and fellow citizens through the Botanical Gardens that are strung with light displays, the most stunning of which are the 500-year old oak trees in the center that drip with star shine. School children set up a forest of decorated Christmas trees in the Carousel Gardens amusement park adjoining the Botanical Gardens, and in the carousel building itself is a display of wreaths featuring New Orleans’ own holiday icon: Mr. Bingle. Celebration in the Oaks runs from the day after Thanksgiving to the day after New Year’s. It is a magical setting where good memories are made every year.
Built in 1880 and originally used as a carriage and dry goods sales and storage facility, Lofts 523 lies in the center of NOLA’s Central Business District and offers sixteen lofts and two penthouses artfully blending NOLA’s historic architecture with modern luxuries. Twelve-foot ceilings and full-height windows flood every room with airy, natural light. Modern interior design elements like Agape’s sleek “spoon” soaking tubs are well chosen modern elements that blend seamlessly with the historic hand-hewn beams and exposed brick walls.
Amy Reimer, the General Manager of Loft 523, has no shortage of “Must Do” recommendations for the first-time (or returning) NOLA visitor at any time of year.
Must Eat: Mariza (the new, hip establishment in the Bywater), Jacques Imo’s (Funky Uptown spot with traditional tastes of LA), Clancy’s (A New O classic uptown for your traditional fare)
Must Enjoy Cafe Culture: Hivolt (great coffee and food, hipster vibe, tucked away from tourists), Faubourg Wines (wine shop in the Bywater great for people watching)
Must Visit: Bacchanal is a tucked away wine and cheese joint that feels more like a backyard party. Swirl Wine bar in the Bayou St. John neighborhood.
Must Explore: Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods have tons of great treats
Must-See View: Crescent Park hands down.
Image © 2014 Neil Alexander/neilphoto.com.
Grand Victorian Bed & Breakfast
The c. 1893 Grand Victorian Bed & Breakfast is located on St. Charles Avenue which is home to one of the most superb collections of downtown mansions in the South and is known as, “The Jewel of American Grand Avenues”.
Plush and impeccably-restored inn doesn’t even begin to do this B & B justice. Custom-made mattresses with feather beds and period antiques honor every room. The inn’s porte-cochere balcony overlooking St. Charles Avenue has cocktail people-watching written all over it, and visitors can explore St. Charles Avenue either by foot or ride on the famous St. Charles streetcar to the French Quarter. Owner and innkeeper Bonnie Rabe’s favorite part of Christmas in NOLA is the music.
Must Experience: One of my most favorite things to do in New Orleans that I recommend to all of my guests during the holidays is to attend the free musical events happening all through December, with styles ranging from traditional to zydeco and everything in between. There are concerts scheduled in our Gothic-style St. Louis Cathedral weekly, caroling in Jackson Square, concerts in St. Augustine Church (the oldest African-American Catholic church in America), as well as evening concerts in Jackson Square where folks can ring in the New Year.
Photo by: Elizabeth Campbell