In 2018, New Orleans is throwing a glorious, year-long birthday party to mark its Tricentennial – and everyone’s invited.
New Orleans’ reputation as one of the world’s most vibrant cities has been firmly cemented by numerous trustworthy publications time and time again, with Bloomberg, CNN Travel, Condé Nast, Frommer’s and many others recently featuring New Orleans as one of their top recommended destinations for 2018 (receiving The New York Times’ top spot). With a packed schedule of festivities in store for its anniversary year, the Big Easy is getting ready to warmly welcome guests at venues all across the city and beyond.
A Non-Stop Party
To those who haven’t yet had the chance to visit, it’s understandably difficult to grasp just how fun a stroll down one of New Orleans’ lively streets can be. Street parades are a common occurrence and an original tradition New Orleans takes much pride in. So common are these “second line parades” that their season lasts nearly all through the year, pausing only for the massive celebration of Mardi Gras and the hottest days of summer, with most Sundays seeing a music and dance parade frolic through the city accompanied by street food and drinks galore. Impromptu street jazz performances are another New Orleans specialty, with locals and visitors commonly seen spontaneously breaking into dance to the sounds of Dixieland, a uniquely local style of jazz.
While Mardi Gras remains the unbeatable showpiece of New Orleans festivals, there are plenty more occasions to catch the feisty New Orleans spirit in 2018. The best time to do so is in spring, when celebrations like rowdy St. Patrick’s Day, Congo Square New World Rhythms Fest, Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, Hogs for the Cause barbecue competition, and the weekly Wednesdays at the Square concerts take place. For three days in April (12-15), the famous French Quarter and Mississippi Riverfront will host a live music, street food, drinks and crafts celebration (the annual French Quarter Festival) with free attendance and six stages with live music across the two neighborhoods.
Among quirkier festivities are the Spanish Running of the Bulls tradition, when residents dressed in red and white escape from New Orleans’ take on “bulls” – the Big Easy Rollergirls – through the Warehouse District, and the White Linen Night in August, when participants, clad head-to-toe in white, spend the night out in the New Orleans Arts District, attending galleries and enjoying some of the best food and drinks in the city.
Christmas season sees another onset of festivities, dazzling lights illuminating the old oaks of the City Park, and city-wide events, with carols and live jazz resounding in the air (historic St. Louis Cathedral, which overlooks Jackson Square, hosts a number of events throughout December). It all culminates on New Year’s Eve in the French Quarter, where hundreds of locals and guests gather to ring in the coming year in a jovial and festive atmosphere.
A Legendary Musical Legacy
Music is a running theme through all of what makes New Orleans one-of-a-kind. The fabled birthplace of jazz, New Orleans is the city where the legendary Louis Armstrong was born and raised, along with many more exceptional talents. Among the city’s unmissable musical hot spots are the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood and its club and bar-lined Frenchmen Street, whose must-dos include The Spotted Cat, Maison, the numerous street performers found along Royal Street (at the crossing with Conti in particular), and the upscale Davenport Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton. And it isn’t just jazz: blues, R&B, soul, zydeco and more sound from nearly every corner around the clock.
On April 27-29 and May 3-6, New Orleans will host its annual Jazz Fest, a magnificent celebration of the city and state’s musical tradition held at the Fairgrounds, accompanied by abundant offerings of local food and drink. Despite what the name might suggest, the music featured isn’t limited to jazz alone, and includes Cajun music, Afro-Caribbean, zydeco and popular international artists (the likes of Ed Sheeran and Elton John have played at the festival in the past). In honor of the city’s tricentennial, this year’s Jazz Fest promises to be a treat, with a special show planned specifically for the occasion. In addition to that, the ESSENCE Fest, held on the 4th of July weekend, is an annual celebration of African-American music and culture, the largest one of its kind in the USA.
A Hearty Serving of Soul Food
Food is a quintessential part of the uniquely New Orleans joie de vivre. Locals love to eat, and with an offering of superb dining as abundant as that of the Big Easy, amazing sweet and savory treats are never far. Crawfish is a local tradition, boiled to perfection November through August (peak crawfish season runs March through June). Other specialties include charbroiled oysters, gumbo (hearty stew), po’boys (generously filled sandwiches), jambalaya (a flavorful meat, vegetables and rice dish) and more. For dessert, stop by the French Market or the classic Café Du Monde for a coffee and beignets.
To make the most of New Orleans’ culinary offerings, plan your trip for August, when the city-wide COOLinary program sees restaurants from all across town offer special fixed-price lunch and dinner menus throughout the entire month. Another highlight of the year is the Fried Chicken Fest held in September, a glorious outdoor party of the beloved Southern dish that has been celebrated with its own festival since 2016. Two further events to look out for are the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience in May and the Louisiana Seafood Festival in September, the latter spanning three days and featuring live music, celebrity chef appearances, Arts Village fairs, and of course, spectacular cooking.
If the birthday celebrations of 2018 leave you with more energy yet, there is much more to keep you occupied beyond the city limits: there is ample opportunity for outdoor exploration and journeys into the bayou, including activities like golfing, bird-watching, biking, kayaking and fishing within easy reach from New Orleans, and with pleasant temperatures all through the winter, open-air pursuits are readily available year-round.
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