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Zulu Mardi Gras Parade
Zulu Mardi Gras Parade

New Orleans People & Culture

New Orleans is offbeat, unusual, loud and proud - all part of the gumbo that has simmered for 300 years

A city in a class of its own, New Orleans offers endless opportunities for fun and entertainment, casting a global allure that brings more than 17 million visitors to the city a year. 

From its world-class gastronomy and eclectic art scene to its distinctive architecture and neighborhoods, New Orleans is like no other city.  Add in its jazzy soundtrack and tropical climate, this is a destination everyone can enjoy. 


Essentially an island between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans is a city defined and shaped by waterways. Nicknamed the Crescent City because of its quarter-moon shape, New Orleans was isolated from the mainland for close to 250 years. 

Sorena Briley
Mississippi River Sunset

Because of that isolation, the city was a hotbed of cultural innovation, distinctive developments including jazz, Creole cuisine, gospel music, jazz funerals and a sassy stew of cultures that are uniquely its own. 

Until the first major bridge was built linking the city to the mainland in 1958, New Orleans was dominated by more canals than Venice. Locals got around by boat and by hopping on one of the historic streetcars that traveled more than 200 miles of lines, including the infamous streetcar named Desire that ran along Desire Street.

History and Culture 

Culturally, New Orleans boasts an eclectic hybrid of African-American, French and Spanish influences. Both the French and the Spanish ruled the city before the United States snatched it up, along with the rest of Louisiana in the $15 million Louisiana Purchases in 1803. The forced settlement of slaves from Africa and the West Indies introduced those cultures to the Creole residents. 

In the 18th century, Creoles were defined as French or Spanish descendants born in the colony. The Cajuns of South Louisiana were originally French colonists who, more than 350 years ago, settled in Nova Scotia. The British exiled them, resulting in a wave of Cajuns settling in the swamps and bayous of Louisiana. To understand more about the difference between Cajun and Creole see here.

Photographer- Zack Smith

New Orleans Today

Understanding the roots of these two groups adds color and dimension to the vibrancy of New Orleans, a city with a rhythm, style and attitude all its own. It’s a city of festivals, of freewheeling fun, of go-cups poured in the bars where cocktails were invented. It’s a place where pirates and ghosts have free rein, where cemeteries are above-ground cities of the dead and Voodoo has its own royal queen. Here, Carnival stretches for weeks, gumbo and crawfish recipes are family heirlooms and neighborhood pride is touted in all corners of the Big Easy. 

To the spellbound visitor that gets it, New Orleans is like no other place in the world, a city formed by the superstitions, traditions and history of Creoles, Spaniards, French, Irish, Italians, enslaved Africans and free people of color. The particular experiences to be had here have always been driven by independent thinkers, creative spirits and non-conformists. And that is never going to change.