It only took a few hours of research for me to decide to spend New Year’s Eve with my boyfriend in New Orleans, Louisiana, as a surprise gift for him. He’d mentioned he’d like to go there at some point, I’d always been curious about the city myself, and Google Maps revealed to me that the drive would be shorter than I thought from my relatives’ in Florida. The rest – accommodation, a New Year’s Eve party to go to, other entertainment – fell into place very smoothly, and it turned out to be one of the best New Year’s Eves that I can remember. The occasion wasn’t free of incidents, but we didn’t encounter any; we tried to be vigilant and follow lit-up streets with other pedestrians, and would tell you to do the same, as locals repeatedly advised us to. With that said, here are 10 reasons why I can recommend you the NYE experience in The Big Easy:
1. The Mississippi Riverfront rocks: There is something really special about watching fireworks on the banks of the mighty ol’ Mississippi, following the barge with expectant eyes as it finds its place to launch its colorful little rockets for the 15 minutes of New Year’s magic, then bidding it farewell as its horn signals a salute and parting. The best spot to enjoy the show, for free, seems to be on the rocks below the levee, right in front of the Jax Brewery, and right across from where the barge parks out on the river – you get an unobstructed view of the spectacle, as we were lucky to find. Not advisable if you’re super drunk or have mobility problems, though. Be careful as some of the rocks might be loose or scraggly.
2. The winter weather is mild: You won’t freeze like you would at other popular NYE destinations in the northern hemisphere such as Times Square (although global warming may be changing that scenario). A thin pullover, scarf and leather jacket were enough to keep me warm while sitting on the rocks by the Mississippi River waiting for the “baby” to drop and fireworks to play out.
3. You can drink alcohol out in the street: A rarity in U.S. cities. A necessity for most New Year’s Eve celebrations. Enough said.
View this post on Instagram
Sculpture in honor of Charles "Buddy" Bolden (1877-1931), known as the "First King of Jazz," "Father of Jazz," cornetist, key player in the development of #NewOrleans #ragtime music – later called #jazz – one of the first to improvise #popularmusic with the flavor of African-American hymns and blues. At #LouisArmstrongPark, dedicated to another very famous #musician son of the #BigEasy. #history #music #travel #leipglo #AnaforLeipglo #urlaub #musik #AmericanSouth #reisen #culture #curiosities #kultur #cultura #música
4. You can find affordable parties: We got tickets for a Soul Train-style party – 70’s dancing – at the French Quarter club One Eyed Jacks for $20 a person, close enough to the action at Jackson Square and the riverfront that we could leave the party and return after the fireworks without any hassle. Along the way, we found spontaneous parties breaking out in the streets, musicians playing and people dancing together, and people up above throwing shiny beads to passers-by from the balconies of colonial-era houses lining the quarter.
5. The city is walkable: You need a car in a lot of U.S. cities, but not here, at least not if you’re visiting for a few days. We left our rental car parked the whole time, and used the streetcars only three times or so to get around. It seems you can walk anywhere that’s of interest to tourists in New Orleans as long as you can find accommodation within walking distance as well. We found an Airbnb right by Louis Armstrong Park and the French Quarter for $38 per person per night, which is an excellent rate for New Year’s.
6. The crowds are manageable: Yes, loads of people party in the French Quarter for NYE, but you won’t find yourself stuck in the crowd having to pee in the street as people told me they’ve had to do in NYC. You’re likely to find a spot in a bar even without having paid for a party.
7. The atmosphere is great: New Orleans has the friendliest people I’ve ever met on any trip, anywhere in the world. I will tell you more on this in a future #TravelDiary post, but for now I will say that, while out and about, you’re almost guaranteed to have random conversations, hearty laughter and someone touching your shoulder, giving you advice and calling you “baby.” It was no different over New Year’s for me, and on those days you can especially see how much people in New Orleans like a good party, and playing music. Which brings me to the next item…
8. There’s music all over the French Quarter, since early in the day: We started walking around before noon on New Year’s Eve in New Orleans, and already music was blasting from the bars, bands were playing in the streets, and a brass jam session had broken out at Jackson Square – simultaneously with a magician and psychics lined up along the square. There is just so much life in this city, the mystical cradle of jazz.
View this post on Instagram
Countdown and warmup for #NYE2015 in the #BigEasy: live music breaking out all over the #FrenchQuarter since morning. Here a #jazz #jamsession at #JacksonSquare, where the main public celebration will take place in a few hours. #neworleans #travel #silvester #urlaub #vacation #holidayfun #holidaytravel #leipglo #AnaforLeipglo #ferien #happynewyear #AmericanSouth
9. The party continues on New Year’s Day: We went out for a walk on January 1st without knowing what we’d do for fun, but that soon presented itself to us spontaneously. People crowded into bars in the early afternoon. Everything seemed to be open. We were drawn into little shops with all kinds of arts and crafts and specialty items. We discovered a great rockabilly band by accident, playing in the early evening at Balcony Music Club – it’s called Jon Hatchett Band. We’d planned to stay for one song, but ended up staying for an entire set. Tired from the night before, we finished the first evening of the year early, stopping by the house where Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire and going to a grocery store – also open! – for sweets and breakfast food for today, but…
10. There’s perfect hangover food out in the town: Hot dogs and sandwiches known as po’ boys can be found all over – with accompanying pommes – but there are three places I can recommend, because I actually went to them and ate. There’s Dat Dog for the best hot dog I’ve ever had, made with duck sausage, but they also have an array of other meat and vegetarian options; Fiorella’s for a delicious roastbeef po’ boy; and Mother’s Restaurant for fast, cafeteria-style service that’s long been famous – I had jambalaya there, quite tasty, but the menu has plenty of po’ boys, too, along with supposedly the “world’s best baked ham.”
From the road soon on my way to Pensacola, I leave you with a small taste of New Orleans-based Jon Hatchett Band, a happy discovery for me, and wish you a Happy New Year, wherever you happen to be!