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New Orleans cheatsheet

New Orleans isn't a city. It's a Petrarchan sonnet. There's no other place on the planet like it. I think it was sawed loose from South America and blown by trade winds across the Caribbean until it affixed itself to the southern rim of the United States.
– James Lee Burke

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Getting In/Getting Out

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is about 30 minutes from downtown New Orleans. A taxi from the airport to the city is about $35, while an Uber Black will set you back about $75 (per city law, UberX cannot pick up at the airport). An UberX to the airport, however, is a flat rate $33 from anywhere in NOLA Parish.

Airport shuttles are available 24-hours a day for $24 per person one way ($44 roundtrip). A public bus, the JeT E2 Airport Route is also available for only $2, but beware: drop-off locations and times are limited.

Getting Around

Streetcars are the picture-perfect way to experience New Orleans, and at a pretty cost-effective $1.25 per trip (they also offer unlimited one day passes for $3, and three days for $9). Operation hours vary depending on the streetcar line. Insider tip: download the RTA GoMobile app on your iPhone or Android to view schedules and avoid the hassle of exact change — pay using your phone!

The bus is also $1.25 per trip. Schedules and fares can also be accessed on the RTA GoMobile app.

It's easy to hail a taxi from the street, though this can be tricky during high season (Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, etc.) UberX service is also easily available, though surge pricing will be in effect during high season.

Lay of the Land

The city of New Orleans is shaped like a crescent around the Mississippi River. Within each district, it's very easy to walk around, particularly within the French Quarter (the oldest part of the city), Faubourg Marigny, The Central Business District, The Arts District, and the Garden District (Uptown).

Best Time to Visit

Plan to visit New Orleans during February - May, when the city is relatively cool, comfortable, and most lively (think Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras madness). Many hotels can be booked up to a year in advance, so plan early.

Summer in New Orleans is hot, humid, and host to hurricanes. Bring an umbrella.

Fall and Winter are also great times to visit NOLA, as the city has cooled off and great hotel rates abound. If you're still looking to get your festival fix, pack pants with elastic waistbands for the Louisiana Seafood Festival and the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival.

Know Before You Go

New Orleans is one of those rare cities where usual open container laws do not apply. Yup, that means if you leave a restaurant without finishing your wine, you can take it to go. And you should. During parades, spectators stand on the sidewalks with coolers, and you can order drinks from a nearby bar and carry them out to the street corner. Remember: Just because you can drink on the street does not mean you should act like a jerk. Handle your liquor and keep it (semi) classy.

New Orleans loves a celebration. Parties and parades and costume bacchanals happen all the time right on the street. Often with marching bands. Be spontaneous and roll with it.

Many restaurants, museums, and federal buildings are closed on Sundays and Mondays. Keep that in mind as you plan your agenda.

Local Language

American English is the official language, but with a distinct New Orleans twist. French and Creole have had their influence here, as demonstrated by words such as lagniappe, which occurs when a merchant gives you a little something more than what you have purchased (like an extra oyster with your dozen).

Local Delicacies

New Orleans kills the food game: fresh seafood at Felix's, alligator at Cochon, muffaletta sandwiches at Central Grocery, and Creole dishes like red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo, and étouffée. The city is known for po' boys — sub sandwiches filled with roast beef, fried seafood, or sometimes chicken or ham — and has an annual Oak Street Po-Boy Festival. When you've tired of indigenous Creole flavors, hit up Café du Monde, which is world-famous for their beignets — square slabs of dough fried and covered in powdered sugar. Sure, it's a tourist trap, but it's good, messy fun. The frozen cafe au lait is seriously underrated.

Souvenirs

Don't be seduced by Mardi Gras beads — New Orleans is full of niche curiosities to take home. We love Faulkner House Books for rare first editions of Southern literature and Avery Fine Perfumery for spritzing hard-to-find fragrances and colognes onto feathers. Candy (including New Orleans' finest pralines) is found at Sucre, while furniture and antiques abound at Perch.

Time

New Orleans is GMT-06:00.

Money Matters

Most places accept credit cards. Bring small change for tipping street performers, fortune tellers, oyster shuckers, and the like.

Tipping

New Orleans is a service-oriented town. From the jazz musician serenading you streetside to that swanky bartender making you a Sazerac, tips are appreciated and will serve you well.

Medical

Walgreen's (1801 Saint Charles Ave.) is open 24/7. New Orleans Urgent Care has locations in the Warehouse District and French Quarter.

Electricity

Two or three prongs.

Reading List and Netflix Queue

The Big Easy is known for good food, great music, and lots of partying. For a more literary dose of Crescent City culture, pick up A Confederacy of Dunces, Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Moviegoer, or Zeitoun.

For a cinematic bayou experience, press play on Beasts of the Southern Wild. To reflect on post-Katrina New Orleans, load up Spike Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke and HBO drama Treme, both of which depict the city's resilience and joie de vivre.

To whet your appetite (literally!), turn the pages of Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans, and Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table.

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