Louisiana is a laid-back state in America’s Deep South with plenty to offer locals and visitors alike. A true melting pot of cultures, Louisiana is about as culturally diverse as it gets, and this has had an incredible influence on the state’s food, festivals, architecture… and pretty much everything else.
You probably know about New Orleans in Southern Louisana in 1803, and Baton Rouge the capital city. But it’s not just the cities that make Louisiana so special.
Its bayous are filled with alligators and the marshlands are a frog-hunters haven. Something
The Bayou State, a result of the Louisiana Purchase, is also a bit special because it is the only state that still acts under Napoleonic code and has parishes instead of counties.
Home to a thriving jazz scene and oozing with history, character, and charm, there’s never a dull moment in Louisiana. So, let’s take a closer look at some of the things it’s best known for.
Although people tend to associate Florida with American alligators, you can actually find more of these giant reptiles in Louisiana. With up to 2 million alligators roaming free, and more held in captivity, there are almost half as many alligators as there are humans in Louisiana!
Populations weren’t always this high though – in fact, poachers caused a drastic drop in alligator numbers in years gone by but, thanks to conservation efforts, numbers recovered.
If you’re keen to catch a glimpse of one of these giant lizards while you’re visiting, there are plenty of tours you can sign up to that run throughout the day (and some even throughout the night).
Despite having a super-strong bite, alligators rarely attack humans. So, if you’re feeling brave and want to see one of these creatures in the wild, then your best bet is to spend some time by the water, especially the coastal marshes.
The state of Louisiana is known for being a cultural melting pot. The influences of Native Americans, Spanish and French colonizers, African slaves, and immigrants from all over the world are strongly present throughout the state.
Various traditions are celebrated, you’ll hear a dozen languages being spoken as you stroll down the street, and no two meals are quite the same – specialties include the French beignet (deliciously sugary dough squares), spicy Cajun jambalaya, and Creole étouffée (typically made with shellfish).
Suffice it to say, Louisiana’s diverse cultural background has had a huge impact on forming the vibrant state that stands before you today.
Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, are strongly associated with jazz music. In fact, New Orleans, especially the French Quarter, is widely accepted as being the ‘Jazz Capital of the World’. But why is this? Well, the roots of jazz music are largely linked to the influx of various ethnic groups to the city, each of which contributed various sounds to the music scene.
Congo Square in New Orleans is particularly well-known for its part in the history of jazz music – before the Civil War, this was a rare spot where slaves and free people of color could gather to openly celebrate African dances and music. This led to the exchange of various rhythms between cultures, eventually giving rise to jazz music.
Jazz music has continued to thrive in New Orleans ever since, and it’s the birthplace of some of the world’s best-known jazz musicians. These include Edward Ory, Sidney Bechett, and the legendary Louis Armstrong, known for his unique voice and incredible improvisations.
If you’re keen to check out some live jazz performances while you’re in town, New Orleans French Quarter is home to a range of venues that pump out jazz, ranging from chain restaurants to hidden bars, to internationally-acclaimed clubs.
Oh, and the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival is held annually in the spring and is a great place to check out some live acts as well as brush up on your history.
In line with its rich cultural background, Louisiana hosts a range of festivals celebrating various traditions. The most well-known of these is the Mardi Gras celebration, which relates to the Christian tradition of eating plenty of food on the days running up to lent (a fasting period). The last of these days is a Tuesday, known as Mardi Gras – a French term that translates into English as ‘Fat Tuesday’.
French explorers first brought this holiday to America when they celebrated Mardi Gras back in 1699. The holiday was marked with street parties, dancing, and feasts. Although the holiday was banned by Spanish colonizers at one point, the holiday bounced back in full force in later years.
Nowadays, Mardis Gras is one of the state’s most popular celebrations. It’s celebrated in a range of ways, and the day of fun can often turn into several days… or even a week. During this time, huge street parties are thrown, elaborate balls are held, and you’ll find people roaming the streets dressed head to toe in incredibly colorful costumes. And of course, MoMs Ball in New Orleans French Quarter is one of the best spots to see this spectacle!
In line with Christian traditions, there’s also plenty of cake eating, especially King Cake – a doughy cake with some kind of filling… and a miniature baby hidden inside. Yepp, that’s right, a tiny baby, and whoever gets the slice with the baby in it has to host next year’s party!
As well as its giant lizards, Louisiana is also famous for its frogs – in fact, the city of Rayne is nicknamed the ‘Frog Capital of the World’. The origins of this name date way back to the 1800s, when a pair of entrepreneurial brothers discovered that they had a taste for frogs’ legs. They were such fans of the snack that they decided to set up a business.
Initially, they exported frogs legs to restaurants within the US, but eventually the business expanded into the international market with France being the number one customer. As their reputation grew, Rayne gradually developed its nickname.
If you take a trip to Rayne these days, you’ll be hard-pushed not to spot at least a few of the critters hopping around (they’re all over the sidewalks), and it’s clear that frogs are still cherished in Rayne – there are sculptures and paintings all over the place.
Oh, and there’s even an annual frog festival where some frogs compete in jumping competitions, others are dressed up in costumes, and the unlucky ones are served up as tasty snacks.
But it’s not only Rayne where frogs abound, and froggers head to wetlands throughout Louisiana in the hope of catching their own snack while it’s still alive and kicking. If this sounds up your street, just remember that you’ll need a fishing license to go frog-hunting and that frogging is banned in April and May to make sure the population doesn’t dwindle.
Cajun cuisine is one of the most well-known cuisines in the USA. If you have ever tried Cajun cuisine, you know it is insanely spicy and often involves a lot of frying.
Cajun food is usually a three-pot affair with a main in one pot, a side in another, and a vegetable dish in the last. The cuisine is actually a mix of French, Spanish, African and sometimes Indian.
And while Cajun and Creole cuisines are often confused, don’t let that happen to you! Creole cooking began in New Orleans, Louisiana. While Cajun cooking arrived a lot later, some 40 years after the birth of New Orleans in South Lousiana.
If you want a true taste of Cajun food you should try Boudin. It is a mix of pork, spices, and rice in a smoked sausage casing and comes served in links or balls. The best place to eat it is Lake Charles and the SWLA Boudin Trail with a huge array of restaurants serving it in the area.
Louisiana’s plantations hold many a tragic tale, and if you’re interested in learning more about the lives of those who were enslaved, then we definitely recommend a trip to the Whitney Plantation.
Historically, rice, indigo, and sugarcane were grown on the plantation, and many people were enslaved to work the land. These included slaves of African descent, but also many Native Americans. You can opt for a self-guided audio tour around the plantation and the associated buildings (which are some of Louisiana’s finest examples of Crealo architecture), or take a tour with a regular tour guide.
Unlike many other plantation tours, tours here place a real emphasis on the lives of the enslaved, rather than the owners (although you’ll learn a bit about them too). There’s also a museum that offers tours, but not every day of the week, so check out the website to make sure you aren’t disappointed.
They aren’t as well-known as they should be, but the coastal state of Louisiana has some awesome beaches for those who are ‘in the know’ to explore. Holly Beach, also known as the Cajun Riveria, is particularly idyllic, and it features huge stretches of flat golden sand. The waters are warm, and the beach attracts sunbathers, crabbers, and families from near and far to its calm shores.
North Beach is another popular choice, largely thanks to its white sandy shores, and things here are a little more lively – you’ll spot plenty of volleyball games, races, and other sporting activities going on around here.
Any history buffs out there will probably already have heard of Louisiana’s National World War 2 Museum, located in New Orleans Central Business District. This enormous museum is one of the world’s top-ranked museums and was designated as America’s official World War 2 Museum three years after it was founded in 2000.
The museum offers visitors an incredibly informative, moving, and interactive experience. The various displays, galleries, and exhibitions tell the story not only of American troops but also of American civilians during the war.
There’s an impressive number of relics and reconstructions on display, including hanging aircraft, fleets of boats, and a huge range of weaponry. Plus, there’s even a theatre where you can catch a viewing of ‘Beyond All Boundaries’ – a 4D experience that really will transport you back in time.
The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, except for a few public holidays. Extra tickets are required for certain exhibitions, and they change from time to time, so make sure that you plan your visit in advance.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!