New Orleans, LA

Destination Location

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New Orleans is a city like no other in the United States. Known for its French Creole architecture, multicultural history, delectable cuisine and famous annual celebrations, New Orleans is often described as the most unique city in America. The city's popular nickname, the Big Easy, nicely sums up its relaxed and hospitable attitude.

When visiting New Orleans for the first time, you will quickly notice the energy of the city through the live music being played, well, just about everywhere. You'll hear music in the bars that never close in the French Quarter and enjoy the vibrant urban folk culture spread around town.

New Orleans' most popular celebration is, of course, Mardi Gras, but this city also hosts many large music festivals such as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. This festival is the largest of its kind in the U.S., and it gathers crowds of people from all over the world to experience the city's culture, food, art and jazz music.

Love to shop? Don't miss the four big shopping areas: the French Quarter, Royal Street, Magazine Street and Oak Street. The more adventurous can take in the fishing and boating in the bayous and swampland only 24 miles (or about 39 kilometres) from the French Quarter. Land lovers will find that New Orleans is also a great place for family travel, and it has enough attractions and activities to entertain people from all walks of life.

Culture and cuisine, architecture and arts, music and Mardi Gras, festivals and the French Quarter – after a holiday in New Orleans, you're sure to be a big fan of the Big Easy.

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Destination basics

The people of New Orleans are passionate about eating. Any visitor to the city should experience the regional flavor, but there are important differences between the countrified Cajun, refined Creole, and classic Southern styles of cooking that make up New Orleans cuisine.

Downtown/French Quarter
Tourists are always at risk of getting an expensive, average-tasting meal in the Quarter. The tourist industry spawned many mediocre restaurants that prioritize location over taste. On the plus side, a truly bad meal is difficult to find anywhere in New Orleans. Avoid the handful of chain restaurants in favor of the little holes in the wall.

To start your morning off, how about an order of pipping hot beignets loaded with powdered sugar from Cafe Du Monde, a New Orleans institution.

Quality service usually comes at a high price in the Quarter, but you are also paying for a slice of history - a seat in some of the oldest fine dining establishments in the country. In any of the classic Creole-French restaurants, like Arnaud's and Brennan's, you will have a satisfying experience laden with such traditional delicacies as Oysters Rockefeller, Trout Meuniere, Turtle Soup, and Banana's Foster. For the full-on Southern buffet, check out Court of the Two Sisters. Locals like to put this granddaddy of buffets down, but it has its merits, including solid bread pudding, Dixieland jazz, and a beautiful view of the Quarter.

For those in search of something more nouveau and intimate, the Quarter also offers the acclaimed Bayona (a four-star bargain), the gorgeous Gamay and the romantic Bella Luna, which overlooks the Mississippi River. 

There are many places to have a casual lunch. Briny oyster shooters can be had at ACME Oyster House, or a mixed-meat Muffeletta sandwich from the Central Grocery always hits the spot. After lunch, or even better for breakfast, move on to the sticky French pastry at La Marquise.

A scattering of miscellaneous downtown restaurants represent just about everything that New Orleans has to offer. The downtown area has everything from old-school grease joints to cutting-edge bistros. For old-time favorites that never cease to please, New Orleanians go to the no-nonsense Mandina's or the BBQ shrimp palace, Pascal's Manale.

Many people flock to New Orleans for the simple truth that alcohol is everywhere: in the bars, on the sidewalks, in the streets. From the impressive wine lists a restaurants to the many to-go Daiquiri shops on festive Bourbon Street, folks in New Orleans like to drink and they don't like to wait until the weekend to partake of the spirits. Whether it's to kick off your evening or to wrap it up, no trip to the French Quater is complete without a Pat O'Brien's cocktail. Try the house special, the "hurricane."

Central Business District
For a sampling of a New Orleans staple, stop by Mother's for a good ol' fashioned po' boy sandwich. If all the Southern cooking has you hurting, the Apple Seed Shoppe, is an excellent, tasty and healthy lunch spot to keep your day going. When the time comes to quench your thirst, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant serves up quality beers with quality food.

Garden District
The Garden District is full of all kinds of good eats. For classic cuisine and service, Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico Restaurant & Bar is a Big Easy favorite. Cafe Atchafalaya is another classic Creole eatery where you can sample goods from the Bayou. 

Sundays can be difficult for dining as many of New Orleans' better restaurants close for the day. Fortunately, glorious options still exist, most especially the Brennan family's famous Commander's Palace, the former stomping-ground of celebrity chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme.

If you're hankering for a taste of the far east down south, Five Happiness Restaurant can satisty, while The Delachaise serves up a variety of tapas and wines.

The heart and soul of the city's drinking culture lies in its low-key bars. Laid-back hang-outs with names like Le Bon Temps Roule attract an interesting mix of students, celebrities, faded intellectuals, and serious barflies. In short, these are marvelous places to blend in and be entertained.

Warehouse District/Arts District
For an evening of sophistication, try the eponymous Emeril's New Orleans or 7 On Fulton for a fancy, filling meal.

No visit to the south would be complete without some down-home barbeque, so head to Ugly Dog Saloon and Bar-B-Que for brisket or ribs and a game of pool. Cochon serves up spicy Cajun cuisine and the requisite glass of Bourbon.

The Warehouse District offers up quite a bit in the way of ethnic foods as well, such as Rock-n-Sake for sushi and sake bombs.

Locals say that the South ends fifty miles north of New Orleans. In many ways, this is true. This city is home to a diverse music culture, world-renowned cuisine, voodoo, and Mardi Gras, one of the world's largest parties. New Orleans is a relatively small city which had little concern for what went on outside of it until Hurricane Katrina devastated the city 2005. Parts of New Orleans are still recovering from this disaster but the city's vibrant culture is back in full swing.

French Quarter
The French Quarter, or Vieux Carre in French, is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. It lies in the crescent of the Mississippi River and consists of fairly narrow streets, reminiscent of European city planning, that reveal hidden courtyards and look up to wrought iron balconies. The architecture in the Quarter typically dates to the late 18th- and early 19th-centuries, and draws on French and Spanish influences. In the daytime, the French Quarter, especially the area around Jackson Square, is filled with tourists, street performers, and the occasional conman. At night, the French Quarter transforms into the stereotypical party scene. Barhopping college students, adventurous suburbanites, tourists, and others all populate the area until the wee hours.

Lower Canal Street
Once the main shopping district of New Orleans lined with popular department stores and theaters, Canal Street lost much of its grandeur to a sluggish economy in the 70s and 80s. Today, Harrah's New Orleans and an expanded convention center have helped this part of Canal Street to develop into a ten block strip of hotels, T-shirt shops and electronics stores. The Riverwalk Market Place, which is near the Aquarium of the Americas and the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center, also makes this a popular stop for tourists.

Central Business District
The scattered, mismatched skyscrapers and superbly odd-shaped Superdome of the Central Business District form the recognizable skyline of New Orleans. Several modern hotels, as well as older and established hotels are in the heart of the CBD and the New Orleans' business community. Bustling during the day with local businesspeople, this area lulls at night. Since the district is relatively empty at night, many of the guests from the hotels in the neighborhood head for the Quarter.

Garden District
This is the premier New Orleans residential neighborhood, boasting the tremendous oak tree lined Saint Charles Avenue as its most-famed street, and home after home epitomizing the antebellum's Greek Revival architecture. Only a walking tour will do this dazzling district the justice it deserves. If you visit the city, you must see the lush, overgrown gardens and grand mansions that line these streets. The Garden District has many well-known residents, including Trent Reznor, Archie Manning, and Anne Rice, the famous author of many vampire novels.

Mid-City usually goes unnoticed by the average tourist until Jazz Fest, when thousands of eager visitors, bedecked in shorts and tank tops, crowd onto the Esplanade bus to reach the New Orleans Fairgrounds. Quiet and verdant with trees, Mid-City attracts locals to its wide offering of moderately priced restaurants, New Orleans City Park, and the New Orleans Museum of Art. For tourists, Mid-City is home to impressive aboveground cemeteries, including Metairie Cemetery, Oddfellow's Rest, and St. Louis Cemetery #3.

Oak lined streets, Victorian mansions, and college cafes are staples of New Orleans' thriving Uptown neighborhood. St. Charles Avenue and Pyrtania Street offer examples of Colonial Revival architecture. The neighborhood is also home to Tulane and Loyola Universities. In addition to the mansions and universities, many pleasant coffee shops, antique stores, and restaurants crowd the small spaces between the fantastic homes of New Orleans' upper class. Residents and visitors alike jog the two miles through Uptown's gorgeous, Spanish moss-filled Audubon Park each morning.

Warehouse District
Having outgrown the once-appropriate title, this historic New Orleans' neighborhood is no longer frequented by blue-collar factory workers. Instead, it is now a vibrant arts district populated by the city's young professionals. Some of the best art galleries in the city sit beside restaurants that offer excellent cuisine. In addition, locals and tourists crowd into the streets of the district during festivals such as Art for Art's Sake, when plenty of wine, cheese, gumbo, and art clutter the sidewalks and the shops.

New Orleanians love to throw a good party - keep in mind this is a city that dances in the street after a funeral. So don't fret if you miss the big money draws Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. There are still plenty of festivals to go around, including Southern Decadence with the ultimate drag parade down Royal Street; the French Quarter Festival in April that attracts local and international bands as well as some of Jazz Fest's favorite food vendors; and the Creole Tomato Festival, a smaller affair, but just as delicious.

A ton of musical history and a citywide penchant for "shakin' it" make New Orleans ground zero for catching great music all year long. Even more good news: if you go local and hit clubs outside the French Quarter you'll find yourself rarely paying more than a $5 cover charge with standard bar prices.

New Orleans is most famous for jazz. This is where the national art form was born, and the natives haven't forgotten it. You can capture the various evolutionary forms of this African/European musical merger throughout the city. Fans of Dixieland should stick with the Quarter's top venues: Fritzel's and Preservation Hall - understandably touristy, but undeniably soul satisfying. Modern Jazz buffs will enjoy the omnipresence of Ellis Marsalis, father of Wynton and Branford, as he appears in various combos at Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street. 

The next most popular New Orleans musical requests? Cajun and Zydeco, additional examples of the melding of European and African stylings. Both genres fall under the "unapologetic dance" heading and draw on their strong regional country roots (accordions, washboards and smatterings of French). Tipatina's Uptown hosts a Fais-Do-Do every Sunday night featuring the traditional selections of Bruce Daigrepont. The sessions serve as a weekly reunion of Cajun aficionados from around the city , but beginners are welcomed whole heartedly. At Mid-City Lanes Rock and Bowl, the pine floor boards creak as Zydeco bands play to enthusiastic throngs every Thursday night. Finally, check out Mulate's on Julia Street, a great place to brush up on your waltz and get some good grub.

Speaking of dancing, international enthusiasts can get their tango/reggae/salsa groove on at Frenchmen Street's Cafe Brasil. And don't go forgetting the funk! Look for acts like former Meters man George Porter Jr. and Walter "Wolfman" Washington at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street Uptown or the French Quarter's House of Blues.

It's back into the Quarter and the House of Blues for bigger name out-of-town acts. Other night life attractions to be found in the area include full-tilt silly karaoke at Cat's Meow on Bourbon Street, and bass bumping house and disco tunes at neighboring Bourbon Pub and Oz, two of the more integrated gay clubs in the city.

Wind things down with a visit to Kerry Irish Pub on Decatur Street. This spot preserves the integrity of Irish pub culture: quiet conversation, respect for local musicians and relaxed service.

Museums range from the nationally significant D-Day Museum and Confederate Museum to the more obscure Pharmacy Museum, a celebration of the 19th century apothecary.

Most political, sociological and architectural exhibitions of interest can be found in the French Quarter, home of the Louisiana State Museum and it's various branches, as well as the Historic New Orleans Collection and important historical residences.

Art lovers will enjoy the huge collection of international art work and archaeological finds at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). A small showcase of African American art is viewable at the Villa Meilleur on Gov. Nicholls Street in the Faubourg Treme District.

On the line between museum and art gallery lies the Contemporary Art Center (CAC), a spectacularly renovated warehouse on Camp Street that offers two floors of touring art work. The upper level gallery is usually a national show and the lower level gallery is a showcase for local artists working in the medium represented on the second floor. The CAC also stages a variety of art appreciation events, concerts and cutting-edge theater productions.

For more mainstream performing arts events the place to be is downtown. Theater lovers have a variety of options: contemporary drama at The Southern Repertory Theater on the third floor of Canal Place; the Saenger Theatre on Rampart Street at Canal, host to national touring companies and A-list comedians; and the cozy Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre in the Quarter, where old-school chestnuts are performed by local acting vets. Ballet and opera lovers can view local and touring ensembles at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre Of Performing Arts in Louis Armstrong Park, while the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra plays various venues around the city.

All manifestations of material goods are yours for purchasing. Try Magazine Street, lower Garden District to Uptown, for funky, used and questionably French items; Royal Street, for classic antiques; and the Central Business District's New Orleans Shopping Center, Canal Place and sprawling Riverwalk for all your mall needs. Music buffs take note of the Louisiana Music Factory across from the House of Blues, as well as the GHB Jazz Foundation at the French Market, stocked with Dixieland, traditional and classic jazz recordings.

It was only a matter of time before the ultimate addition was made to the Quarter's increasingly adult playground atmosphere. Located at the corner of St. Peter and Canal Streets, the newest link in the Harrah's Casino chain houses 100,000 square-feet of slots and table games, dining and entertainment.

Children's Activities
The Audubon Zoo, at the rear of Audubon Park , and its sister site, the Aquarium of the Americas, at the Riverfront, are excellent family diversions. Both facilities are impressive showcases of creatures found regionally and across the world, including such rarities as white tigers and 450-pound sharks. The Aquarium of the Americas is also home to New Orleans' IMAX theater.

Outdoor enthusiasts can choose between two gorgeous oak-filled parks: Audubon Uptown or New Orleans City Park in Mid-City, the nation's fifth largest urban park. Both public greens offer golf courses, play areas and horseback riding.

New Orleans

State: Louisiana

Country: United States of America

New Orleans by the Numbers
Population: 389,600 (city); 1,262,900 (metropolitan)
Elevation: 13 feet / 4 meters
Average Annual Precipitation: 62 inches / 157 centimeters 
Average January Temperature: 52°F/ 11°C
Average July Temperature: 82°F / 28°C

Quick Facts

Electricity: 110 volts, 60Hz, standard two pin plugs

Time Zone: GMT-6, Central Daylight Time (CDT)

Country Dialing Code: +1

Area Code: 504

Did You Know?

New Orleans is called the Crescent city because the city proper is shaped like a crescent.

The nickname "The Big Easy" comes from the city's history of jazz and was the name of a dance hall in the early 1900s.


New Orleans is in southern Louisiana along the Mississippi River. The city is about 80 miles (129 kilometers) from Baton Rouge, LA.

Rene Cavelier Sieur de la Salle, a French explorer, was the first European to explore the lower Mississippi River and he claimed the entire river and its basin, a substantially larger plot than the modern state of Louisiana, for France. The immense area was named in honor of King Louis XIV and his wife Anne. Phillipe, Duc d'Orleans, then Regent of France, gave his name to New Orleans, but it was Sieur d'Iberville who founded the actual city some 20 years later. A port city uniting the Mississippi River with the Gulf of Mexico had long been a strategic dream, but the site's physical landscape, an improbable 15 feet below sea level, was a nightmare. Most of the lands surrounding the river were swamps, wetlands intermittently covered by water, and dense woody vegetation. In addition, malaria, spread by Louisiana's most prolific resident, the mosquito, presented a lethal risk to any worker.

It turned out to be a Scotsman, royal counselor John Law, who stimulated interest in France's newest colonial addition. Law mounted an 18th-century PR campaign complete with phony eyewitness accounts of gold-rich lands. When hopeful and oftentimes poor immigrants arrived and saw none of the promised gold prospects, they had little choice other than to stay and make the best of it. The deceived immigrants also found New Orleans a deadly place with its humid and unsanitary conditions. Those who died were buried in the swampy land, but residents soon discovered that coffins had the unpleasant propensity to pop out of the ground with every hard rain. Aboveground tombs and mausoleums were the only recourse.

Most residents built houses in a square-like grid, now called the Vieux Carre (French Quarter), centered around an open area known as the Place d'Armes, today known as Jackson Square. The societal make-up of this Creole society was a mix of French aristocrats, merchants, farmers, soldiers, indentured servants, and both slaves and free people of color. It soon became fashionable for male Creole aristocrats to have black or mulatto mistresses. Children sired from these unions were often treated well and sometimes given valuable property and a European education. This generous attitude towards minorities set New Orleans apart from all other major North American colonial cities.

In the 1760s, New Orleans underwent its first major social transformation with the arrival of two new groups: the Acadians and the Spanish. The Acadian immigrants, or Cajuns, who were ousted from their native Nova Scotia by the British, traversed the entire United States and settled in the bayous west of New Orleans. The Spanish arrived in the city prodded by the transfer of the Louisiana Territory to Spanish King Charles III, royal cousin to King Louis XV of France. The Spanish reign however, was short and most notable for the building codes enacted to spare the Vieux Carre from the devastating fires that swept the city in 1788 and 1794. Much of the architecture of the area that has been attributed to the French, including rear courtyards and elaborate wrought iron balconies, is actually a Spanish contribution.

Despite the prosperity that developed during Spanish occupation, New Orleans remained predisposed to its French heritage. The city happily reunited with its original founders in 1800, when the Louisiana Territory was returned to France. However, the reunion was short-lived. War debts forced Napoleon to sell the territory to the United States for a mere $15 million in the famous Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Louisiana later achieved statehood in 1812.

Once Louisiana was officially named an American state, American settlers and Irish and Italian immigrants rushed into the city of New Orleans. Rebuffed by the city's Creole society, the Americans settled upriver from the Vieux Carre in what are now the Central Business District and the Irish Channel. Skirmishes between the old and new residents occurred frequently. The dividing line, an empty canal, between the French Quarter and the American sector, became known as "the neutral ground" and then, Canal Street.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, New Orleans became a prosperous port city. Cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane plantations produced goods at full throttle. Steamboats along the Mississippi transferred the goods to the rest of country. During this economically comfortable period, New Orleans developed its festive reputation. By 1823, costume balls commemorated Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday," the celebration that precedes Lent. Secret aristocratic groups, known as Mardi Gras Krewes, offered structure to the loose, sometimes violent, holiday season. In 1857, the first established Krewe, the Mystick Krewe of Comus, debuted a horse-drawn, decorated float, which soon became a prominent constituent of the annual festivities. Some years later, the Comus Krewe introduced the role of Mardi Gras Queen, bestowing the premier honor on Mildred Lee, daughter of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

New Orleans, loyal to the Confederacy, fell quickly to Union forces in the early years of the Civil War. City morale suffered, but the French Quarter continued to thrive because of saloons, gambling parlors, and bordellos. The party atmosphere became somewhat regulated toward the turn of the century when alderman Sidney Story proposed setting up a red-light district along Basin Street, just to the north of the French Quarter. The district soon became known as Storyville. Resident entertainers there, most notably "King" Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton, would later contribute to the birth of the national musical art form known as jazz.

The beginning of the 20th century was a difficult period for New Orleans. A series of natural disasters, including a hurricane in 1915, a flu epidemic in 1918, and a flood in 1927, devastated the city. Legendary governor and beloved scoundrel Huey P. Long rescued the Crescent City with successful bids to the state legislature for the expansion of public works and services. Long's legally questionable, but ultimately successful methods also put a corrupt stamp on both city and state politics. The famous line, "Folks have a certain way of doing things 'round here," from the movie The Big Easy, is a fairly accurate assessment of the local bureaucratic mindset over the past century.

Oil, natural gas and tourism have become New Orleans' largest post-Depression industries. In 1969, the first Jazz Fest, a 10-day festival and one of the world's largest musical celebrations, attracted the biggest names in jazz and blues to its outdoor stages. The festival continues to draw impossibly large numbers of visitors to the city each year. The 1984 World's Fair Exhibit was a less successful commercial venture, but lead to the development of the Warehouse District wharves.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans causing one of the United States' most devastating natural disasters. Many of the city's levees were breached and over 80 percent of the city was covered in water. A forced evacuation saved many lives but over a thousand people were killed. Though the city was was ravaged, the city is rebuilding and its spirit is stronger than ever.

Points of interest in New Orleans, LA

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