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There is no better time to visit New Orleans than this year, as the city kicks off celebrations to celebrate its 300th birthday. More than 130 registered festivals will take place throughout the year, so whenever you visit you’re sure to find plenty of great food and music among the sights and sounds of this colorful city. Whether it’s your first visit or your tenth, here are eight experiences every visitor should tick off their lists when exploring a city that captivates both visitors and locals alike.

RELATED: 10 great places to eat in New Orleans

Flickr CC: Mim

1. Walk with the dead

Travel back in time, tracing the city’s history while touring its cemeteries, dubbed Cities of the Dead. There are 42 cemeteries in the metro area, with many of the deceased interred above ground, due to the city’s high water table and elevation below sea level. The St. Louis Cemetery No.1—the fourth oldest in the city—is the burial site of voodoo queen Marie Laveau, former mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial, and chess master Paul Morphy. Also keep an eye out her for the odd-looking pyramid tomb—that belongs to actor Nic Cage. Consider a walking tour or—gasp!—a haunted ghost tour.

Flickr CC: Steven Guzzardi

2. Fuel up with traditional beignets and chicory coffee at Café du Monde

Start your morning with a cup of chicory-flavored coffee and an order of warm, sugary beignets. Tourists flock to the often-crowded tables at Café du Monde in the French Market, taking a break from perusing the colorful stalls of crafts and souvenirs. For a quieter interlude, visit Café Beignet at one of its three locations. The original Royal Street spot is housed in a converted 1800’s carriage house in the French Quarter, and features indoor and outdoor seating.

3. Get buzzed on Hurricanes from Pat O’Brien’s

Sidle up to the bar or—just because you probably can’t in your hometown—enjoy one on the go. We recommend the latter so you don’t miss any people-watching while strolling along Bourbon Street (thanks, open-container policy). This sweet rum libation was invented at the bar, located on St. Peter Street, in the 1940s. It’s served in a glass shaped like a Hurricane lamp. Patrons flock to the bar and piano lounge at this location, as well as the courtyard restaurant on Bourbon Street.

Flickr CC: Derek Bridges

4. Indulge in a  delicious brunch at Brennan’s

There is no better place to head for brunch than Brennan’s on Royal Street, where taste buds have been satisfied since 1946. Cap your meal off with bananas foster, invented at Brennan’s Vieux Carre Restaurant on Bourbon Street in the early 1950s. The decadent dessert combines bananas, rum, banana liqueur, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter. It’s made tableside and served over vanilla ice cream.

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5. Learn to cook Cajun and Creole cuisines

Bring some Cajun and creole cuisine back home with a class from the New Orleans School. Learn how to make typical local dishes, such as gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, shrimp and grits, bananas foster and pralines. Whether observing and then sampling food prepared by a local chef in an open demonstration or engaging in hands-on cooking with a small group as you create and then eat a meal you have prepared under the watchful eye and of a professional cook, it’s a great way to learn about the city while enjoying its noteworthy cuisine.

6. Take a street car (not named Desire)

Let the good times roll, literally, while traveling through the city on one of its famed streetcars, the oldest in the United States. Take the St. Charles (the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world), to see some of the city’s historic homes, or opt for the Canal Street or Riverfront lines, though it’s best to avoid rush hour and right after school lets out, when cars can be very crowded.

Preservation Hall | Flickr CC: Infrogmation of New Orleans

7. Tune in to the world’s best live jazz

With all the historic mingling of cultures in New Orleans, it’s no surprise that it’s one of America’s top music cities. The jazz scene is especially strong here, and yuo hear it in watering holes throughout the city. Head to historic Preservation Hall, established in 1961 and playing traditional New Orleans Jazz nightly at 5pm, 6pm, 8pm, 9pm and 1am. Meanwhile, the 21st Amendment at La Louisiane features live blues, jazz and swing music nightly in a bar that pays tribute to the Prohibition era, mobsters and speakeasies.

Flickr CC: ScubaBear68

8. See the making of the Mardi Gras parade

Celebrate Mardi Gras all year long with a visit to Mardi Gras World, located on the Riverfront at Blaine Kern Studios. Sculptors and painters work year-round on the floats New Orleans’ krewes use in Mardi Gras parades. This attraction offers daily tours where visitors can watch artists in action and view floats from past parades, a favorite especially for families with young children and parade enthusiasts.

Don’t miss the chance to celebrate 300 with New Orleans. This festive city is always in a laissez les bons temps rouler state of mind.

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Tagged: New Orleans, Uncategorized

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