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Side Trips from New Orleans Travel Guide

  • Photo: Anne Power/Shutterstock

Plan Your Side Trips from New Orleans Vacation

New Orleans has never been a typical old Southern city. But look away to the west of town, and you can find that antebellum world evoked by the term "Dixieland," which was coined here in the early 19th century. Anyone with an interest in the history of the Old South or a penchant for picturesque drives along country roads should spend at least half a day along the winding Great River Road, which

the romantic ruins of plantation homes share with the occasional restored manor.

Popular day trips include tours of the swamps and brackish, slow-moving bayous that surround New Orleans—once the highways of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Chitimacha, and Houma. Two centuries ago Jean Lafitte and his freebooters easily hid in murky reaches of swamp, covered with thick canopies of subtropical vegetation; it's said that pirate gold is still buried here. The state has a wild alligator population of about 1.5 million, and most of them laze around in these meandering tributaries and secluded backwaters of south Louisiana.

A variety of tour companies take groups to swampy sites a half hour to two hours away from the city center. Guides steer you by boat through still waters, past ancient gnarled cypresses with gray shawls of Spanish moss, explaining the state's flora and fauna and the swamp traditions of the trappers who settled here.

South Louisiana, the center of the Cajun population, is decidedly French in flavor. In small communities along the coast and in the upland prairie, Cajun French is still spoken, though just about everyone also speaks English. After a hard day's work fishing or working crawfish ponds, rural residents of Cajun Country often live up to the motto "Laissez les bons temps rouler!," or "Let the good times roll!"

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Take a swamp tour Get to know the wetlands surrounding New Orleans and Baton Rouge on a boat ride. The area is home to alligators, snakes, nutrias, and more.
  2. Visit quirky Abita Springs Head to the home of the Abita brewery for an afternoon day trip, and check out the Abita Mystery House museum.
  3. Jam to Cajun and zydeco music Ensembles of fiddles, accordions, and guitars produce eminently danceable folk music, with songs sung in a mélange of English and Cajun French. Zydeco, closely related to Cajun music, adds washboard and drums to the mix to create an R&B-infused jumping rhythm.
  4. Marvel at plantation homes Stately homes will have you re-enacting your favorite scenes from Gone with the Wind; some are beautifully preserved, others lie in ruin alongside bayous, testifying to the clash between old and new.

When To Go

When To Go

Spring and fall are especially full of small-town, family-friendly festivals celebrating local food and culture. Cooler temperatures make late...

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