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More than music

New Orleans - without all that jazz

From voodoo to yoga - Jonathan Neal finds that the iconic American city is about so much more than music

New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, the sometimes wild, sometimes smooth music that reflects the city's eclectic mix of French, Spanish and Caribbean culture. After dark, every bar and street corner reverberates to the sounds of horns and Louis Armstrong - a New Orleans native. But what else is on offer if you're not that kind of cool cat? 

New Orleans' famous streetcars are still in use after 150 years of service

The answer is, plenty! Start with a tram ride. Trams, or streetcars, are 150-years-old and connect downtown New Orleans with the rest of the city via four lines, and they are a gorgeously nostalgic way to see the sights.

Day passes cost three dollars. Hop on the St Charles Streetcar Line starting at Canal Street and travel west on St Charles Avenue through a tunnel of oak trees, passing lovely antebellum mansions, and end at Audubon Park, the city's second-largest open space. See snapping turtles and exotic birds at the lakes.

The Bywater neighbourhood is filled with colourful murals, organic cafes and hip restaurants.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, artists and creative types unable to meet rent prices in the unscathed French Quarter migrated here.

The long, one-way streets are best explored by bike, which you can hire via the city's Blue Bike scheme.

For dinner, visit the beautifully renovated The Country Club.

Voodoo shops sell more than just tourist trinkets, the religion thrives in New Orleans

Voodoo is a very real - and culturally important - religion in these parts, with its own mythologies, saints and rituals.

Its roots can be traced back to West African tribes who, in the 18th century, were kidnapped, enslaved, and taken to Brazil, Haiti and Louisiana. Many were forced to practise Catholicism and so voodoo is something of a melting pot. New Orleans has become synonymous with voodoo and various tourist shops sell trinkets and dolls. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum offers a good introduction.

The Warehouse District, also dubbed the New Orleans Arts District due to its abundance of galleries and studios, is a chilled-out neighbourhood in the heart of downtown.

Yoga fans can take a class at Reyn Studios, in a converted warehouse illuminated by huge windows. After all the goodness, try a cupcake at Bittersweet Confections.

100-year-old Arnaud's serves traditional Louisiana Creole dishes, with jazz accompaniment

Arnaud's restaurant has been serving classic Louisiana Creole cuisine for more than a century - but there's another good reason to go.

Diners are given access to the Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum. Mardi Gras or 'fat Tuesday', the day before Ash Wednesday, is the huge carnival that takes over the French Quarter for a week.

Explore the carnival's glamorous history at the mini-museum, named after the daughter of a local landowner said to have reigned as queen of more than 22 Mardi Gras balls from 1937 to 1968. Fabulously lavish costumes are displayed alongside memorabilia.

Stunning gardens open daily in the Museum Of Modern Art and house more than 90 works of modern sculpture - and they're free.

New Orleans is said to be one of the most haunted cities in the world - that's what you'll be told if you join a walking tour in the French Quarter.

Stories of the 'walking dead' may come from the fact that it's impossible to bury bodies in the swampy ground - and during hurricanes, corpses resurfaced and 'flew' through the air.

The solution? Entombing the dead in cemeteries that resemble small marble villages. Lafayette Cemetery No.1, in the Garden District, is one of the most hauntingly beautiful.

Swamp tours are a great way to see the natural environment

About half of New Orleans sits below sea level but began to sink only as a result of 18th century settlers building on the marshy land.

Get a flavour of what they must have faced then by taking a 40-minute drive to Barataria Preserve, a swampland within the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. If you're lucky (we were), you'll glimpse alligators basking in the sun.

Tucking into a plate of pillowy, square doughnuts called beignets, washed down with a cafe au lait, is a New Orleans tradition.Many places serve them, but the 24-hour Cafe du Monde wins the taste test.

Another New Orleans classic is the po boy. These sandwiches are said to have been invented in makeshift kitchens during a streetcar drivers' strike in the 1920s. When a worker came to get one, the cry would go up in the kitchen: 'Here comes another poor boy!' And the name stuck, eventually becoming 'po boy'.

Branches of Killer Po Boys serve everything from traditional beef and dripping to shrimp and avocado. 

First published in the Mail on Sunday - August 2019

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