Louisiana, in the Southern United States, is an electric cultural explosion. Cajun, Creole and American Southern accents, cuisine and heritage mingle together in one scenic destination. Swamps, French colonial architecture, charming villages and historic plantations are all found within the borders of Louisiana. New Orleans is the most-visited destination in the state, and it is certainly a worthy destination. An overview of the best places to visit in Louisiana:
Where the Barataria Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico, there is a barrier island known as Grand Isle. On that isle, the main town goes by the very same name. The town of Grand Isle is only 100 miles south of New Orleans, but it has a distinctly different atmosphere. Despite taking a beating from hurricanes and disasters like the BP Gulf oil spill, this beach village retains charm and character. The Grand Isle State Park overlooks the Gulf of Mexico, and swimming, canoeing and fishing are all popular pastimes. In the summer, fishing rodeos bring the local community together and provide ample fresh fish for regional restaurants. Fishing charters are common, and they are the best way to snag a great catch in Grand Isle.
Located in Iberia Parish, just minutes from Vermilion Bay, is Avery Island. Despite the name, Avery Island is inland, and it is actually a salt dome. Most people know Avery Island because it is home to a seriously spicy condiment: Tabasco sauce! The Tabasco factory is the biggest attraction in the area, and the guided tours are fascinating. The Tabasco brand is more than just a factory on Avery Island, however. Tabasco also owns botanical gardens and a bird sanctuary. Exploring the grounds is a wonderful foray into local wildlife, and it is a must-do activity on Avery Island.
Just outside of Lafayette is the small parish town of Breaux Bridge. This charming destination is sometimes known as the gateway to Cajun culture, and it is definitely a fantastic introduction to the heritage, cuisine and history of Southern Louisiana. Most importantly, Breaux Bridge is the crawfish capital of the world. Every May, thousands flock to the area for the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. Lively Zydeco music will make you want to join the locals and dance in the streets, and there is no shortage of delicious fresh crawfish to go around.
The oldest settlement in Louisiana is Natchitoches, which boasts plenty of French and Spanish colonial architecture. Founded at the beginning of the 18th century as a French settlement, Natchitoches is now known for its historic district. A brick street along Cane River Lake is the perfect place to set off on a walking tour, spotting charming colonial homes and more than a few bed and breakfasts offering quaint accommodation and afternoon teas. History lovers can’t miss the Fort Saint Jean Baptiste, an original 18th century fort that offers reenactments of military manoeuvres as well as ordinary colonial life.
Right on the banks of the Mississippi River is the Laura Plantation. This Creole plantation thrived in the early 19th century, when it was better known as the Duparc Plantation. Before the Civil War, the plantation grew and harvested sugar cane. Six slave cabins remain on the property, highlighting this troubling part of American history. Among these slave cabins the origins of the Br’er Rabbit stories were collected, many of them rooted in West African legend. Much of the plantation’s architecture has been restored, which means that a guided tour is truly like stepping back in time.
New Orleans might be the most popular place to visit in Louisiana, but Baton Rouge is the state’s historic capital. Louisiana State University, or LSU, is a big attraction in the city, and the 100-year-old campus is a thing of beauty. Sports stadiums, Indian mounds, the Greek amphitheater and several lakes open for recreation are just some of the reasons to spend a day on the LSU campus. The Art Deco Louisiana State Capitol is a stunning structure, but many locals argue that the Old State Capitol from the 19th century is even more beautiful.
The city of Lafayette is in the heart of Cajun country, making it a destination you won’t want to miss. Jubilance is a way of life in Lafayette, something the students at the University of Louisiana campus take to heart. Head to Jefferson Street in Downtown Lafayette, and there is no shortage of nightlife spots where you can drink, dance and dine all night. Dive headfirst into the culture with a trip to the Acadian Cultural Center. Acadia is the name of the region, and where the word Cajun comes from. Of course, no trip would be complete without sampling Cajun fare. In Lafayette, gumbo and po’ boys are staples of the local diet.
Oak Alley Plantation is situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, and it dates back to the early 19th century. The oak alley for which it is named, however, is even older. It is a remarkable landscaping feat, with a double row of trees creating a shaded canopy that looks ethereal. Like most plantations dating from the period, Oak Alley was in the sugarcane business, and it relied heavily on slave labor. Today, visitors can tour the Oak Valley Plantation, stay overnight at its inn and dine at the onsite restaurant. Traditional culinary delights are on the menu, with some local favorites including fried Louisiana oysters, smoked sausage, crawfish etouffee and buttermilk pie for dessert.
Much of Louisiana is made up of wetlands. These areas flood with the seasons and are generally uninhabited, but they are home to a plethora of wild animals. Swamp tours are advertised throughout the state, and they are an incredible chance to see a completely different side of Louisiana. Although all types of vessels are used for these tours, the most exciting is the airboat. These boats are able to navigate through swampy areas because their motors are above, rather than below, the water. Plus, the speed and noise makes it a rush! On a quieter swamp tour by canoe or kayak, prepare to see alligators, owls, snakes, herons, pelicans, nutria, otters and turtles.
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New Orleans, or the Big Easy, is truly unlike anywhere else in the U.S.. It is a pinch of Creole, a dash of Cajun, a spoonful of Southern and a whole lot of French. Situated in southeastern Louisiana, the city is widely known for its annual Mardi Gras celebration. The French Quarter is the most visited part of the city, and it’s easy to see why. There, you’ll find Jackson Square, a pedestrian area dominated by the spires of the historic St. Louis Cathedral. The French Quarter is also home to the famed Bourbon Street, where live music and cold drinks beckon from morning until night. It’s also where you can dine on beignets and chicory coffee at the unparalleled Cafe du Monde.