If you find yourself with time off during the holidays and a desire to use it for travel, I can think of few destinations as appealing as New Orleans for the solo traveler. In fact, I’ve done it myself: In 2008, I flew to New Orleans the day after Christmas and flew home on New Year’s Eve and got to celebrate the holiday season in this wonderful city. That year, airfare was unbelievably cheap: $310 from Burlington, VT. Sadly, those kinds of prices are a distant memory, but airfare may well be the only part of your trip that is terribly pricey.
During the month of December many New Orleans hotels offer significant discounts called “Papa Noel” rates to drive visitors to the city during a typically slow season. This makes New Orleans a very reasonably-priced destination for the holidays. The weather is variable, but ideal: It’s not too hot or too cold, though it can be humid and windy. You will encounter no hurricanes this time of year, unless you count the kind served in a glass.
Everything is open and running during the holiday season (though some things may be closed on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day). I went on tours, visited museums and cemeteries, and listened to live music up and down Bourbon Street. In addition to all the usual things to do in New Orleans during any other time of the year, Christmas allows you a glimpse into the holiday traditions of this unique city.
There are Reveillon dinner menus in the restaurants throughout the month of December. Reveillon comes from the French culture in New Orleans. In the past, it was a feast served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Today, Reveillon is celebrated throughout the month of December with special prix fixe menus in many of the restaurants of New Orleans. What will you find on these Reveillon menus?
Mouth-watering regional cuisine like turtle and alligator soup, gumbo, fricassee of rabbit, quail, pheasant, shrimp remoulade, crawfish étouffée, fried green tomatoes, bread pudding with rum sauce. . .and if I keep this up, you’ll want to eat your screen. Best of all, the prices are much lower than what four courses would normally cost you at these restaurants (it’s much like Restaurant Week that way, minus the charitable component). If you want to sample traditional New Orleans cuisine at affordable prices, I can’t think of a better time to visit the city than during the holidays.
There are also a myriad of holiday events during the month. Celebration in the Oaks features a train ride through extensive lighting displays in beautiful City Park. There is a holiday parade early in the month, holiday concerts, a holiday home tour in the Garden District, and caroling in Jackson Square. No matter what your travel dates, you’re sure to find something that will put you in the holiday spirit.
If you think you’d miss having a white Christmas in the deep South, you can always fake it here. Harrahs New Orleans puts on a festive pseudo-White Christmas with “Miracle on Fulton Street,” a holiday lighting display featuring a forest of Christmas trees and fake snowfalls every hour on the hour. You can buy warm chestnuts and hot cocoa to cap off the experience.
Some people might get a little sad or lonely traveling during the holidays solo. But I had a blast on my own in New Orleans! I kept very busy seeing the sights, going on tours, and sampling the local food and music scenes.
I also found it very easy to meet people to chat with. Maybe it was because people were in the holiday spirit, I don’t know. I had a great dinner conversation with a couple from Pennsylvania one night over dinner at the bar at Mr. B’s Bistro. They were in New Orleans to volunteer in the Ninth Ward, helping to rebuild homes there that had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. I chatted with two local schoolteachers one night while waiting in line for a buffet. I met another solo traveler—a Louisiana native–on my cemetery tour and we wound up having lunch and dinner together that day.
I have very fond memories of my trip to New Orleans that holiday week in 2008. So fond, in fact, that I’m sort of wishing I were going to be there this year. In any case, if you ever find yourself wondering where you can comfortably go as a solo traveler during the holidays and have a good time without feeling out of place, I highly recommend giving New Orleans a try.