We are New Yorkers; we walk everywhere. Since we don’t have a car, we get a lot of mileage out of our legs. So when we go to a new city, our inclination is to figure out how to explore that city on foot. Touring a city on foot is the easiest and best way to get a feel for a new area and get in some exercise to work off the extra vacation food. When we got to New Orleans, I was excited to walk around and see the historical cemeteries and beautiful garden district.After doing some research, we decided to go with Free Tours on Foot. The tour is run by local Orleanians who are familiar and knowledgeable with the culture and the city. As the name suggests, the tour is offered FREE of charge but you are supposed to tip the tour guide appropriately at the end if you are happy with their service. If you are interested, Free Tours on Foot is also offered in 10 other cities.
The city of New Orleans is spread out, so the best way to get from downtown to the Garden district is on the St Charles streetcar. These antique trolleys are the oldest streetcars still operating in the world. It’s like riding on a piece of history! Beware, sometimes there are accidents that occur on the streetcar line causing significant delays. This happened to us and we had to scramble to flag down a taxi and get uptown in time for the start of our tour.
The outing started at Lafayette Cemetery #1 and continued around a five block radius encompassing the neighborhood. During our tour, the sky opened up and we got to experience a torrential downpour which I’m sure occurs frequently in the south during summer. Streets were flooded in minutes and we had take cover under the veranda of one of the houses. These wide covered porches really come in handy during the shower. The rain did not let up, but after 30 minutes we decided to venture out anyways. Our tour guide was kind enough to provide umbrellas and rain ponchos.
The opulent houses in the garden district were originally built between 1832 and 1900 and are considered one of the most beautifully preserved collections of historic mansions in the country. These multi-story Victorian houses were constructed in the days where excellent craftsmanship and intricate details were the norm. Each house had a wrap-around porch where people would congregate at night back when there was no air-conditioning. A well manicured garden surrounds the house creating an oasis from the bustling city. Beautiful wrought iron fences in elaborate designs enclose the whole area. These mansions are still occupied today, mostly by the rich and famous. If you are thinking of moving here, you better think again, the property taxes alone are upwards of $30,000 a year, but you’d be in good company. On our tour we walked by the house of actors (Sandra Bullock, John Goodman), author (Anne Rice), and sports legends (Archie Manning, Drew Brees).
Walking around this historic neighborhood, you will also see hundred year old trees lining the wide open streets, giving shade and privacy to the residents. Along the sidewalk there are many remnants of the past still present today like the hitching posts that were used to tie horses or the stepping stones used by ladies to get out of their carriages. Even though they don’t have a practical uses anymore, their presence lends an air of authenticity to the whole district.
A visit to New Orleans is not complete until you walk around the Garden district. We learned a bit of history and saw many elegant houses full of characters. Our guide was knowledgeable and filled with many funny stories about the area. He entertained us during the downpour while we waited under the porch. In fact, we had such a great time that we decided to come back and do another tour with them again. Check back next week for our cemetery tour post.
- Street car: $1.25 per person one way
- Free Tours on Foot: free + tip