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Louisiana is known for its rich and fascinating culture created by a blend of French, Spanish and African and Native American influences. Jazz music, voodoo and Cajun cuisine all originate from Louisiana, and the state plays host to numerous festivals throughout the year, including Mardi Gras and New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Besides festivals, music and food, Louisiana also has a very unique landscape, featuring a vast network of swamps and bayous. A great way to explore the state is by taking a road trip along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, stopping off at various river towns along the way.
Here are all of the things that make Louisiana unique:
20 Things Louisiana is Famous For
Cajun cuisine is a style of cooking that originates in Louisiana. It’s based on the traditional cooking of the Acadians – descendants of French colonists who lived in Acadia, which is now Eastern Canada. They were expelled by the British during “Le Grand Derangement” (The Great Expulsion) in the 18th century, and many of them ended up in Louisiana.
The Acadians brought with them their own food traditions and adapted them over time to suit their new home’s climate, landscape, and ingredients. Traditions from other cultures were also incorporated into the cooking, particularly African-American and Indigenous American traditions.
Today’s Cajun cuisine is a mix of West African, French and Spanish influences. It’s known for its use of spices and herbs, as well as aromatic vegetables such as green bell pepper, onion and celery.
While you’re visiting Louisiana, make sure you try some popular Cajun dishes, including Jambalaya, Gumbo and crawfish etouffée.
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz music, and there are clubs all over the city where you can catch live jazz performances. Every spring the city plays host to Jazz Fest, which is held at the Fair Grounds Race Course and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Over the years Louisiana has spawned many famous jazz artists, including Louis Prima, Buddy Bolden, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.
The Mississippi River is the second longest river in North America, stretching 2,340 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, passing through 10 states along the way.
When it reaches the end of its journey in Louisiana, the river flows through towns such as Tallulah, Vidalia, Morganza, Plaquemine, St. Francisville, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. If you’re up for an epic road trip, consider driving along the Great River Road, which follows the river through all these towns.
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is a festival that culminates on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent begins. It’s a time when people are allowed to eat rich foods like King Cake (a sweet cake that has a plastic baby inside) and drink alcohol before they give up their vices for 40 days.
Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans date all the way back to the 1730s, when the holiday was celebrated with elegant society balls.
By the 1830s New Orleans held parades and street processions, involving horseback riders, carriages and gaslight torches known as “flambeaux”. Over the years Mardi Gras became more elaborate, with dazzling floats, colorful costumes and masked balls. Purple, green and gold were eventually adopted as the official colors of Mardi Gras; with purple representing justice, gold representing power, and green representing faith.
Voodoo is a religion that originated in Louisiana and the southern United States. It comes from a combination of several different faiths; Roman Catholic Christianity, the religions of West Africa, and Haitian Vodou.
When enslaved West Africans arrived on ships from Africa in the 18th century, they brought to Louisiana their spiritual practices. These rituals and practices then merged with those of the local Catholic population, and they continued during the Spanish occupation. Many Haitians then arrived in Louisiana fleeing the Haitian Revolution arrived in Louisiana, bringing with them Haitian Vodou. This is how Louisiana Voodoo was born.
Voodoo is mainly connected to nature and spirits, and connection with these spirits can be achieved through various rituals. Rituals often include singing, dancing and offerings to invoke the spirits. Voodoo practitioners often have altars in their homes and carry gris-gris charms (talismans), which can either protect or cause harm.
Po boys are a type of sandwich made with French bread, stuffed with various meats and vegetables. Originating in New Orleans, they can be eaten at lunch or dinner time. The po boy is often messy to eat because it has lots of fillings inside it – but that’s part of the fun!
You can find cold po’ boys on menus all over Louisiana, usually filled with roast beef or fried seafood such as shrimp, crawfish, fish, or oysters. The magic of the po’ boy is in the bread, which should be crispy on the outside but nice and fluffy on the inside.
New Orleans is the largest city in Louisiana, and one of the most exciting destinations to visit in the United States. The city has a vibrant energy, filled with jazz clubs, bars and restaurants serving Creole and Cajun cuisine. It’s especially known for its raucous nightlife, and is a popular spot for hen parties and stag weekends.
The main highlight of New Orleans is the French Quarter, which is home to Bourbon Street – one of the most famous streets in the country. This historic street is lined with bars, clubs and souvenir shops, and is visited by millions of tourists each year. Other popular attractions in the French Quarter include St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square and Cafe du Monde, which is famous for its beignets.
Another popular area to visit in New Orleans is the Garden District – a peaceful, leafy area filled with historic mansions and beautiful gardens. Here you’ll find the historic Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which is notable for its many tombs and mausoleums.
Swamps and Alligators
Louisiana is home to around three million acres of wetlands, which are inhabited by alligators, crawfish, pelicans, herons, snakes and other wildlife. If you find yourself in New Orleans, make sure you book an airboat tour to explore the swamps and see some of this wildlife up close.
According to Cajun legend, the swamps are also prowled by the Rougarou – a mythical creature with a human body and the head of a wolf. So keep your eye out!
Louisiana’s official state tree is the Bald Cypress tree, which is native to the southeastern United states. This hardy tree has adapted to grow well in Louisiana’s wet, marshy swamps, and can grow up to 120 feet (36.5 meters) tall.
Cypress trees are slow growing and are recognizable by their gray or reddish-brown bark, tapered trunk and needle-like leaves. They get their name “bald cypress” due to the fact that they shed their leaves so early in the season.
Beignets are a New Orleans specialty. They’re deep-fried dough covered in powdered sugar, and they’re often served as a dessert. You can find these fritters at coffee shops and cafes, or sometimes at restaurants as well. If you want to try the best beignets in New Orleans, visit Cafe du Monde, which usually has a long line of hungry tourists waiting outside.
Crawfish Capital of the World
Louisiana is often known as the Crawfish Capital of the World. Crawfish, or crayfish as it’s sometimes called, is a popular food in Louisiana, and can be found in the state’s wetlands and swamps.
Louisiana has long been associated with this tasty treat–and not just because they have such an affinity for eating it! The state has one of the largest industries dedicated to farming these crustaceans, which means that if you visit during their season (roughly January to June), chances are good that you’ll find yourself dining on some of these spicy mudbugs!
While you’re in Louisiana, make sure you try Gumbo – a stew made with meat or seafood, stock, and a mixture of onions, celery and bell peppers. Gumbo is the official state cuisine and can be prepared with either okra or filé powder as a thickener.
Jambalaya is a traditional Cajun and Creole rice dish consisting of meat, vegetables and rice. It’s a bit like a Spanish paella and is typically made with sausage (usually andouille), pork, chicken, or shrimp.
First the meat is sauteed with a sofrito mixture of celery, onion and green bell pepper. Rice and broth is then added to the mixture, along with some Cajun spices and herbs. The entire dish is then left to simmer on a low heat until the rice is cooked.
Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 4th, 1901. He grew up in a family of musicians and became a trumpet player and singer at an early age. He went on to become one of the most famous jazz musicians of all time, and was awarded with two Grammy awards and an induction into the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.
Louis Armstrong had a deep, gravelly voice and was known for his scat singing, which involves singing nonsense syllables to make music that sounds like words. Among his best known songs were “What a Wonderful World”, “Hello, Dolly!” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”
He passed away on July 6th 1971 at age 69 years old due complications from heart disease, and is interred at Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York.
Louisiana is known for its plantations, which were large farms that grew crops like sugarcane, cotton and indigo. People who worked on these plantations were usually slaves who were brought from Africa to the United States by force.
These slaves were forced to work long hours in harsh conditions, for little to no pay at all. Louisiana is home to numerous historic plantations, including Oak Alley Plantation, Houmas House and Nottoway Plantation.
Many of the state’s plantations feature well-preserved antebellum mansions furnished with period pieces, as well as beautiful, manicured gardens. A visit to these plantations will allow you to see inside these homes, as well as learn about Louisiana’s dark history of slavery.
Ghost tours are a fun and entertaining way to learn more about the history of New Orleans. Most tours involve a guided walk around the French Quarter, visiting some of New Orleans’ most eerie and paranormal locations. Tour guides tell stories of the ghosts and spirits that haunt them, as well as local tales of disasters and misfortune.
National World War II Museum
Located in the central business district of New Orleans, the National World War II Museum is the nation’s largest museum dedicated to WWII.
Opened in 2000, the museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian institution and was originally called the D-Day museum. New Orleans was chosen as the museum’s location because the Higgins boats, which were vital to the amphibious invasion of Normandy, were manufactured there.
Today, the museum’s vast collections include more than 250,000 artifacts and over 9,000 personal accounts detailing America’s involvement in World War II.
New Orleans is famous for its historic streetcars (trolleys), which trundle along the city’s streets.
There are currently five streetcar routes, although the most important one for tourists is the famous St. Charles Streetcar, which connects the Central Business District with the Garden District.
This vintage streetcar is registered with the National Register of Historic Places, and is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. There’s no air-conditioning on the trolley, which means it can get pretty stuffy in summer!
Parishes instead of Counties
Unlike most of the states in America, which are divided into counties, Louisiana is divided into parishes. The term “parish” originates from the Spanish colonial and French colonial periods, when the main religion was Roman Catholicism. The boundaries of each territory generally coincided with church parishes, and the term was adopted in the territorial legislature.
Today, Louisiana is divided into 64 parishes; 38 of them are governed by a council called a Police Jury, while the remaining 26 have other types of government.
Sugarcane & Cotton
Louisiana is known for producing sugarcane and cotton – two commodities that are vital to the state’s economy.
Estimates from the USDA show the state harvested around 165,000 acres and produced around 330,000 bales of cotton in 2022. Cotton can be used for all sorts of products, including towels, clothing, coffee filters and tents.
Sugarcane, which produces sugar and molasses, is grown in three states – Texas, Florida and Louisiana.
Louisiana’s sugarcane industry dates back to the 1750s, when Jesuit missionaries managed to successfully grow sugarcane crops on their plantation in New Orleans. The industry grew rapidly during the 19th century, and Louisiana still produces sugarcane to this day. The state ranks second behind Florida in terms of sugarcane production, producing around 15 million net tons annually.
Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States since 1928. It caused catastrophic damage in Louisiana and other parts of the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 people and leaving thousands homeless.
The category 3 hurricane struck Louisiana on August 29, 2005, unleashing sustained winds of up to 125 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour). New Orleans was one of the worst hit areas, where floods caused damage throughout the city, leaving many people without access to foods and basic necessities.
Baton Rouge (which translates as “red stick”) is the capital of Louisiana and the second largest city in the state, after New Orleans. Sitting alongside the Mississippi River, the city is a major economic center and is home to two major colleges – Louisiana State University and Southern University.
The city got its name after French explorer Sieur d’Iberville spotted a cypress stick stained with blood of fish and animals.
A Final Word…
As you can see Louisiana is famous for lots of things, from crawfish boils and beignets to streetcars and swamps. If you want to experience the state for yourself, check out my itinerary for 3 days in New Orleans, which includes the French Quarter, Bourbon Street and the beautiful Garden District.
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