Our main reason for visiting New Orleans was the French Quarter Festival—a four-day extravaganza of music and food that takes place in mid-April. We arrived on Saturday, just in time for the final day of the festival on Sunday. This was the best of New Orleans—the music, the food, the fun, the color, and the festivities—without the sleaze factor. Well, except for Bourbon Street—it’s always sordid, but that’s its job, right?
The French Quarter Festival
Twenty-one stages of incredible talent (blues, jazz, Cajun, gypsy, samba, zydeco) were scattered throughout the French Quarter, with music from more than 280 groups. Despite the fact that we were given a beautiful fold-out map of the stages and a detailed line-up of the performers, we quickly gave up trying to be anywhere at any particular time, and just wandered the French Quarter from 10:00 in the morning when the festival opened until 6:00 that evening, just in time to catch the last ferry back to Algiers. It was all good. We realized that it wasn’t possible to make a mistake, because every bit of music that was happening was amazing.
The French Quarter Festival is free—the only thing you pay for is food and beverages. And believe me, you don’t want to be carrying in a picnic, not when your choices are offerings from the finest restaurants in New Orleans—Antoine’s, Brennan’s, Court of Two Sisters, Galatoire’s, Muriel’s…more than 60 food and beverage vendors set up tents throughout the French Quarter. It was tough to choose, but we settled on crawfish and goat cheese crepes, crab and artichoke salad, and a savory crawfish and alligator sausage cheesecake, a New Orleans specialty that we both agreed is one of the best things we’ve ever eaten. Our beverage of choice was locally brewed IPA from Abita.
Surprisingly, the festival didn’t feel crowded at all, despite the fact that 700,000 people attended over four days. I know that sounds like a scary number, but it was remarkably low-key and relaxing. The only time we felt crowded (and it was seriously wall-to-wall bodies) was along the riverfront at the main stages late in the day. We bailed on those venues, wormed our way through the crowd, and made our way back to the smaller stages, which continued to have a relaxed vibe. We enjoyed the festival so much that we’re planning to do it again—next time for more than one day.
Exploring More Of New Orleans
Two days after the festival, we returned to New Orleans—it’s such an easy trip from Bayou Segnette, and we couldn’t resist. If there’s any place that’s a melting pot, this is it. The French moved in and established New Orleans in 1718, and since that time people from nearly every country, ethnic group, and religion have migrated to the area. The resulting mix has created a culture of music, food, and tradition unlike any other.
We started our morning with a wonderful breakfast in Algiers at a funky little neighborhood café (delicious crawfish etouffee, grits, and perfectly poached eggs), and again caught the ferry to New Orleans. We wandered the French Quarter, explored the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park/French Quarter Visitor’s Center for a quick overview of the history of New Orleans, and visited the Jazz National Historic Park—how cool is that, to have a National Park dedicated to jazz?
Even on an ordinary weekday, there are musicians on every other street corner, and the sounds of saxophones, trumpets, accordions, and violins accompanied us as we strolled the neighborhoods.
Late afternoon, we ended up at Herbsaint on St. Charles Avenue for a delicious meal of shrimp, artichoke, and maitake mushroom risotto.
Once again, we caught the last ferry back to Algiers—the only downside of the ferry is that it doesn’t run into the evening. But apparently, that will be changing soon.
Our only regret is that we didn’t make arrangements for a tour of the city. We usually avoid tours, because we like to explore on our own and do things at our own pace, but we both agreed that a couple of hours spent with a tour guide would have enriched our experience. There are plenty of options for free or low-cost tours of the French Quarter and the Garden District (I’m especially intrigued by the highly-rated tours offered by Free Tours By Foot), but it’s something you need to plan for in advance. It gives us something to look forward to on a future visit. That, along with the music on every street corner and the fabulous food!
WOW! Through these wonderful photos and text,
I feel like I have been to New Orleans. Thank
I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Peggy — we had a great time. There is so much to do in New Orleans — we have a long list of desires for our next visit (or two) there.
Thanks for the information. One day we will get to New Orleans but it won’t be soon I am afraid. Your photos don’t give the impression that it was ever crowded which is nice. Sounds like you had a lovely time.
We usually don’t do tours either but learned after we did a tour in Savannah that it was a great decision. We knew so much more when we went out to tour on our own afterward.
Love your hat:)
We had SO much fun, Pam — we were actually surprised at how laid-back the festival was. This was the first time that we’ve ever felt as though we wished we had taken a tour, but after trying to do our own tour of the French Quarter with a guidebook, we gave up and just wandered around. Which was fine. Next time, though, we’ll do as you did in Savannah. Tour first, then do our own thing. (Thanks for the nice comment about my hat — it’s a great sun protector and I end up wearing it a lot.)
Well, you’ve done it again. I really don’t like big cities and I don’t go there and that includes New Orleans especially at Mardi Gras. TOO many people. But this post and this festival really looks like fun and you make it seem so easy. Can I book you as my tour guide?? You have such an eye for great little close-ups that bring out the spirit of the place. Smile Eric, you are having a great time remember? LOL
Hahaha, where to start?? For some reason Eric never looks like he’s smiling in photos, even when he’s smiling. I think it has something to do with his moustache. We don’t like big cities, we’ll probably never go to Mardis Gras, and we don’t like crowds. But the music was a big attraction for us at this festival, and it was totally worth it. It was amazing how mellow it was as long as we stayed away from the waterfront in the afternoon. And it was incredibly easy staying at Bayou Segnette and taking the ferry. Let’s go together sometime!
Wow, it sure is another world down there. Might as well be another country anyway. Looks so vibrant. You two look great!
You’re right, Amanda — it’s definitely like another country. The architecture, the music, the food, the colors — you would enjoy it! xo
I had always dreamed of going to Mardi Gras someday but as I have gotten older my desire to be a part of the craziness has faded. This sounds like the perfect festival to experience New Orleans, her food and musicians. I told Terry I wish we could have taken a sharp turn to the west when we left Florida instead of heading north this year. Oh well, that is the beauty of this lifestyle. We can always come back another time. Thanks for a great post Laurel!
We’re with you, LuAnn — we have absolutely no desire to be part of the insanity of Mardis Gras. But the French Festival felt more like a neighborhood festival, and except for our brief foray onto Bourbon Street, there was no drunken craziness. Just people enjoying great music and good food. I know you’ve had some challenges with the weather this spring, but I’m enjoying your stories of your travels up the east coast. And you’re giving us lots of great ideas for our journey next summer!
That’s one place we Must visit! Your posts are an inspiration. Thanks for the tour!
I’m not sure that we would have made the effort if we hadn’t been able to stay across the river in such a beautiful and peaceful campground. Everything worked out perfectly, though — and we’ll definitely return!
Thank you for taking us with you. Laurel your pictures brought back our fun times while there. Like you we rarely go when there are crowds but unlike you, you seem to get into fun festivals and have a good time.
We did not take a tour here and relied more on the map, nevertheless we spent one whole day exploring. But as we travelled to more cities last year, a tour is a must. For after it you can look at a city in a different and personal perspective .
I agree, MonaLiza. We’ve definitely decided that for certain places, a tour is a good idea. Next time we’re in New Orleans, we’ll do tours of the French Quarter and the Garden District. There are even food and music tours, which would be fun! We’ve been thinking a lot about you two, and hoping that all is well as you make your way to the midwest.
My son and I visited NOLA 2 years ago on business and had a fabulous time. The food is amazing and the history abundant. He and I would’ve loved a few more days to explore. Guess I’ll just have to return :-)
That must have been a fun trip with your son! We want to return, too — there’s so much to explore it’s not possible to do it all in one visit.
That all sounds wonderful. I regret that we never went to New Orleans. I guess you can’t do everything!
btw – Is there any way I can comment without having to sign every time?
We probably can’t do everything, but we’re giving it our best shot! :-) I’m going to see what I can figure out about the comments — thanks for letting me know, Carol.