There's a rhythm to this most soulful of southern cities. Not just from its world-class music clubs and talented buskers, but from the unique blend of European and Creole influences. The recent Mardi Gras festivities came to an end on March 4 with exuberant and elaborate parades and wild street parties marking the end of a six-week carnival.
Those who missed the festivities can still get a taste of the fun at Mardi Gras World at 1380 Port of New Orleans Place (mardigrasworld.com), but pack your dancing shoes because New Orleans knows how to party any time of year.
The city was built upon swamps on a strategic trading point on the Mississippi River. Its heart is the French Quarter: an atmospheric district, 12 blocks by six, where the city was founded in 1718. These days it has a largely Spanish feel with cast-iron balconies and old carriageways leading to secret courtyards — the result of a shift in power in Louisiana in 1762 and a fire 26 years later that destroyed the original settlement.
New Orleans suffered more destruction in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina swept in. The city has since picked itself back up, but a third of the 485,000 evacuees have yet to return and may never do so.
South-west of the French Quarter is the arty Warehouse District with museums and galleries. To the north-east are the up-and-coming Faubourg Marigny and Bywater areas. The main tourist centre is at 501 Basin Street (neworleanscvb.com).
Take a hike
Start on Canal Street and stroll east along Royal Street, the French Quarter's finest avenue. Pop into the galleries and antique stores and pause to enjoy the busking banjo players. On the corner of Conti is the grand Louisiana State Bank which is opposite the Supreme Court and dates back to 1910.
Turn left on Dumaine Street and visit the two-room Voodoo Museum at No 724 (voodoomuseum.com; 10am-6pm; $5/£3.10). Voodoo first came to New Orleans with slaves from Congo in 1719 and still has a strong presence. Turn left on Bourbon Street, famed for its bars, and after three blocks turn left on St Peter Street. Continue until you reach leafy Jackson Square, named after major Andrew Jackson in 1815, after he defended the city against the British in the Battle of New Orleans. A bronze equestrian statue of Jackson, who went on to become the seventh US president, stands at the centre. This is also where flag ceremonies took place to mark the transfer from Spanish back to French rule in 1803 and, shortly after, Louisiana's entry into the American Union.