8 Reasons to Spend Christmas in New Orleans
New Orleans may not be the first place you think of when you imagine holiday travel destinations, but this vibrant city is full of Christmasy surprises.
When the holiday season rolls around, some people head to the snowy mountains of New England or the sunny shores of California. Others may choose to visit theme parks, or even travel overseas. However, one of the best places to visit for Christmas may surprise you: New Orleans. This city, so richly steeped in culture, history, and entertainment, is sure to impress every member of the family when Christmas morning rolls around. So get ready to pack your bags and discover the top 8 reasons to spend your Christmas in New Orleans.
No discussion of New Orleans Christmastime would be complete without making mention of Reveillon. This word, which means “awakening” in French, refers to a very special meal that almost everyone in the city partakes of in their own ways. Because the Catholic Creole people who once populated the city would spend Christmas Eve fasting, they would all join together after their midnight mass to have a big, festive meal together. These days, Reveillon is served every night at many of the areas most popular restaurants, and citizens of the city and visitors alike are welcome to join the festivities.
I recommend trying the Reveillon dinner at Galatoire’s Restaurant, located in the French Quarter. At any time of the year, Galatoire’s is highly touted as one of the best traditional eateries in the city. Galatoire’s Reveillon dinner includes four courses. I personally suggest choosing the oysters Rockefeller, lobster bisque, petite filet, and panna cotta, but there are several alternate options for each course, and the menu can be partially customized to your preferences.
Galatoire’s Restaurant is located at 209 Bourbon Street.
It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30am to 10:00pm, and Sunday from noon to 10:00pm.
It is closed on Mondays.
If you enjoy celebrating the holiday by standing around the warm glow of a massive bonfire, you won’t want to miss the Christmas Bonfire party hosted by Oak Alley Plantation. For the cost of admission, you will be treated to an all you can eat buffet dinner featuring tons of Creole specialties, as well as plenty of coffee and hot cocoa to help warm your spirits. Live music is performed on the lawn of the plantation, and of course, the highlight of the evening is the lighting and enjoyment of the bonfire itself.
Bear in mind that the event is festive dressy holiday attire only, but is partially held outdoors. Dress in your warmest Sunday best, and be sure to wear your dancing shoes! Although some children may enjoy this event, it is largely designed for adult visitors; at $130 per person, it is probably best to leave the kids at home for this event.
Most years, the Christmas Bonfire takes place at 7:00pm on one of the first Saturdays of the month. Reservations are required.
Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra Christmas Concert
Every year, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra puts on a spectacular Christmas show. This performance, titled “Baroque Christmas,” highlights some holiday favorites and includes a few songs you might never have heard before, too. Held at different churches throughout the area, you have a few opportunities to catch the Baroque Christmas orchestral performance. The show concludes with some selections from Handel’s Messiah, which is sure to get all of the audience into the holiday spirit.
Depending on where you sit and which date you attend the concert, tickets for the show can run between $25 and $75 per person. Since it is a musical performance, there’s not really any need to pay for “up close and personal” seating. Choose a lower-cost ticket closer to the back of the room; you’ll hear just as well, and you’ll still have some funds left to enjoy something else from the list, too!
Baroque Christmas is performed on select nights the week before Christmas. The show lasts approximately two hours, including an intermission.
Canal Street Lighting Ceremony
If you are planning to be in the area a little bit before Christmas Day, consider joining the City of New Orleans Downtown Development District for the annual Canal Street Lighting Ceremony. The week before December begins, the incredible lighting display including over one million holiday lights is lit in a spectacular kick-off to the season. Viewing the lighting is free, but if you would like to donate an unwrapped toy, you will have access to the kids-only cookie decorating event that takes place before the official lighting.
This is an excellent event to take children to. Santa is there every year, ready and waiting to talk to the kids, and the cookie decorating is a lot of fun for everyone. I recommend arriving well before the lighting begins—at least by a couple of hours—in order to avoid the traffic and parking situation.
Every year, the Canal Street Lighting Ceremony takes place about a week before the start of December, at 5:30pm on a set night. Check ahead of time to be sure you are there for this beautiful display!
Christmas Eve on a Steamboat
Are you looking for something a little more New Orleans specific to make your holiday special? Try spending your Christmas Eve on a Victorian-inspired steamboat! The steamboat Natchez goes all out for this holiday extravaganza. As the last functioning steamboat to sail the Mississippi River, why wouldn’t it? The price of admission allows you three hours on the boat, including and elaborate holiday buffet-style meal that can be enjoyed in the elegantly-decorated dining room of the ship. Jazz music is played all night long, and standing on the decks of the boat is sure to give you a view you’ve never experienced before.
Children are welcome on the Steamboat Natchez Christmas Eve Cruise. However, bear in mind that dressy holiday attire is required of all attendees, so be sure you and the kids are all dressed in your Christmas Eve best! Be sure to allow yourself about an hour before and after the cruise to board and depart the boat and return to your vehicle.
Adult tickets cost $75; children 6-12 can ride for $40.25. Admission for kids under 6 is $22.25.
The steamboat boards at 6:30pm and disembarks at 9:30pm.
Nineteenth Century Holiday Decorations
For a taste of the Christmases of the past, take this tour through two of the most historic homes in the city: the Gallier and Hermann-Grima Historic Homes. Your tour guide will teach you everything you might want to know about the traditions and customs associated with holiday celebrations in the New Orleans of generations gone by. The homes are decorated with period-accurate holiday items, so this tour is truly like stepping through a portal in time and spending just a little while amongst the extravagance of a nineteenth century holiday party.
Give yourself at least an hour to tour these two historic homes. They are near each other, and both homes are included in the price of admission; however, you may want time to ask questions of your tour guide, so no need to rush yourself through the homes! If possible, take the tour on a weekday, as you will have far fewer crowds to worry about. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes for the small amount of walking included.
The Nineteenth Century Holiday Decorations Tour is held from November 30 to January 9.
Tours depart on the hour Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10:00am to 2:00pm, and Saturday from noon to 3:00pm.
The homes are closed on Wednesdays.
Join the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium for a fun, kid-friendly, creepy-crawly take on holiday celebrations! This event is perfect for the kids in your family, but adults are sure to have a great time, too. Face painting and balloon animals abound, and of course, Santa Claus will be there to talk to your kids about their holiday wish lists. Bug-themed holiday snacks are provided for kids and adults both, and of course, there are plenty of bug-centric holiday stories to be told, too!
Bring along the whole family to this event. It may be a little dull for teens, but they can always take some time to tour the Butterfly Garden or the Insectarium apart from the Jingle Bugs celebration. Younger kids will love this unique holiday encounter, and since it is a little bit off the radar compared to some of the other, larger New Orleans area holiday events, it may be quieter than some of the others you choose to visit.
Adult tickets cost $16.95, while admission for children from 2 to 12 is $11.95.
Movies on the Mississippi
What could be more jolly than a free holiday film party on the banks of the Mississippi River? For three Fridays in December, you can spread out your picnic blanket and take in a free movie at the Riverwalk’s Spanish Plaza. The movies are subject to change, so be sure to check out the event’s web site before committing one way or the other; all movies will be kid-friendly and holiday themed.
I can’t recommend this event enough. First of all, it’s free, which is a great bonus itself. But it can be so much fun for visitors and residents of the city alike to join together under the stars to enjoy classic holiday film favorites. Bring the kids and leave your worries behind for this fun Friday night adventure!
Holiday Movies on the Mississippi begin every Friday night in December before Christmas Eve at 6:30pm.
Clearly, there is plenty to do to keep you and the whole family occupied and happy during the holiday season in New Orleans. So the next time you find yourself wondering where to take your Christmas vacation, consider visiting this exciting city!
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