“N’awlins.” That’s how locals pronounce it with accents thicker than roux (flour and fat cooked together to thicken sauces). But their singular speaking style isn’t the only thing you’ll notice when you visit this culturally rich Southern city.
There’s also the architecture, the Creole and Cajun cuisine, and the contagious desire to “pass a good time” in the French Quarter or any of New Orleans’ other historic neighborhoods. And let’s not forget the jazz. Afterall, New Orleans is where the world-famous music genre was born.
A mixture of French, Spanish, and uniquely American South influences have created an eclectic, historic city like no other.
Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville founded New Orleans in 1718 and named it for Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, the regent of France. New Orleans was a French colony until 1763 when it was transferred to Spain, which then transferred it back to France in 1800. Three years later, Napoleon Bonaparte sold it to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
Out of this history were born the eclectic and colorful neighborhoods of Faubourg Marigny, the French Quarter, the Warehouse and Arts District, the Garden District, and Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue.
New Orleans has survived wars and storms and emerged as unique and beautiful as ever. The city played a prominent role in the War of 1812, serving as the site of a major battle in 1815. In 1862, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut captured New Orleans from Confederate forces, allowing Union troops to occupy the city until the end of the American Civil War. More recently, the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but has bounced back with its historic charm intact.
The local population is a mix of many backgrounds, though a large portion of it is Cajun and Creole. Cajuns are of Acadian descent. Their lineage is from French settlers who moved to Canada, where they were eventually exiled from before returning to lower Louisiana in the late 1700s. They have unique Cajun-French accents and are known for their vibrant music (including Zydeco), lively dancing, and cuisine, which is known for being spicy, rustic, and hearty. Crawfish, shrimp, and andouille sausage are staples of many Cajun dishes.
Creole is a bit harder to define and the meaning of the term is often debated. Historians typically define Creoles as either individuals with European and African, Caribbean, or Hispanic roots; or as individuals born in New Orleans with French or Spanish ancestry. Creole culture and heritage has had a big impact on New Orleans history and culture, including its art and food.
A lot of New Orleans’ charm comes from the thousands of live oak trees that line its streets and boulevards, dating back to before the Civil War, and its streetcar line, which is the oldest continuously operating rail system in the world.
New Orleans is known as the “Crescent City” because it curves around the bend of the Mississippi River. Its streets are not a grid system like most other large cities, so even locals get turned around at times. Visitors are strongly encouraged to use maps.