The world watched Hurricane Katrina drown New Orleans in 2005. The world did not watch New Orleans rise from the depths of despair and rebuild -- not only its structures but its famously jubilant spirit. But rise it has and New Orleans today is almost back to normal, at least in those urban areas that visitors frequent. The most popular tourist entertainments here have always been great music, good food and vibrant nightlife and all have been restored to their pre-hurricane strength. Mardi Gras and the Jazz and Heritage Festival are as lively as ever and most of the city's cultural and historical attractions have been restored. In fact, this could be the best time to visit, as the locals are eager to have travelers back and good deals are offered everywhere.
Finding fun things to do here is indeed the Big Easy. The French Quarter alone has a vacation's worth of restaurants, trendy nightclubs, historic buildings, antique shops, high-end boutiques, low-end dives and everything in between. If you've come to New Orleans to party, Bourbon Street is worth at least one night out. It's crowded, it's cliched, it's gaudy and bawdy but that's its appeal. Daytime trips to the French Quarter should include a walk down Royal Street or Jackson Square, where you'll find art galleries, upscale stores and specialty shops. You'll likely also spot tarot readers and quartets performing impromptu shows on street corners.
Faubourg Marigny, south of the French Quarter, is an enriching side trip. The district is known for its Bohemian lifestyle and, if you're an architecture fan, this is where you'll see quaint Creole cottages built in the 19th century. Washington Square Park is the hub of activities in the area, with lots of landmarks, bars, entertainment venues, coffee shops and restaurants.
If you have a flair for the occult and voodoo, you'll find many shops selling books, crafts and paraphernalia of the genre in and around New Orleans. To complete your walk on the beguiled side, spend a few hours at the historical cemeteries in the Treme and Mid-City areas.
You can also enjoy New Orleans' sights by hopping aboard one of its many riverboat cruises, ferry rides, streetcar tours or bicycle expeditions. Sites to add to your itinerary include the New Orleans Museum of Art and the park in Mid-City, as well as the beautiful old architecture and historic Victorian mansions Uptown.
The city has plenty of year-round events to add a special touch to any vacation. In addition to the open-air zoo that is Mardi Gras, the biggest events are the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Voodoo Music Experience and the New Orleans Southern Decadence Festival (now there's an oxymoron).
Though seriously dinged by the BP oil spill in the gulf, New Orleans' seafood industry is getting back on its feet and once again supplying the aquatic delicacies that visitors expect to find on city menus. Try asking around to find the freshest oysters and make sure to sample the local favorites: a beignet for breakfast, gumbo for lunch and a late-night po-boy to fuel your dash for your hotel after barhopping.