Visit for Mardi Gras or something else?
By and large, much of what people have posted here is good, though I would not agree with the advice that you avoid the Quarter. It's simply a matter of what you're interested in. But everybody who's replied so far is from somewhere else. I'm from New Orleans. I was born and raised there and lived there for thirty years. Though I live elsewhere now, I get back on a regular basis.
Mardi Gras can be a lot of fun. It can also be very tiring. And Mardi Gras varies dramatically according to where you are and when you're there (meaning day or night). In the Quarter, it's crowded, wild and raucous — and there aren't any parades. Elsewhere, it's parades and such, less crowded (except on Canal Street) more family-oriented.
Mardi Gras can also be hazardous. I have never had a problem and can't say I know anyone who has. But lots of people do. Many of the people who have problems are visitors who are unfamiliar with the terrain. It's very easy to wander into a sketchy area unknowingly. Other people who have problems are those who get drunk and belligerent, or who believe New Orleans is their playground and that anything goes. It's loose, but there are limitations. Whatever you do, do not antagonize a police officer. That would prove to be an unfortunate choice.
Whether you want to be in the Quarter on Mardi Gras day or elsewhere, get started at about 6:00 a.m. Lots of people will be out and about by then and it just gets busier and busier afterwards. And wear a costume, one you thought up and designed yourself. Something clever and topical is always great. You'll get your photograph taken a lot, so get ready to pose.
If you're interested in the rest of what you mentioned (history, food, music, entertainment etc.), go to New Orleans some time other than Mardi Gras. I would highly recommend the third week of April. Everything is in bloom, the weather is fabulous (clear skies, not hot, low humidity) and the crowds are smaller. The French Quarter Festival is the weekend preceding the first weekend of the JazzFest, but it's not too busy. Alternatively, mid-October to late November works, too.
The JazzFest is a two-weekend affair that's always the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. If you're interested in the JazzFest, treat it like Mardi Gras. That is, go for that and nothing else. It's a huge event that will occupy all of your attention. There are concerts and shows everywhere at night, in addition.
From late May to mid-September, New Orleans is very hot and humid. And, of course, from mi-August to early September, there's always the possibility of a hurricane. That's an interesting event that's best avoided.
St. Louis Cemetery
I don't know what it is about cemeteries, but wherever I travel, I feel the need to see where its people are buried. I think it's one of the ways to learn about the culture. All people have certain rituals that they go through in life, and they may be different according to culture. But this is one that everyone has in common. In New Orleans, the crypts are above ground, as you see here. You can select from several cemetery tours which show where famous people are buried.
Founded by the French in 1718,...
Founded by the French in 1718, as Nouvelle Orleans , New Orleans has a rich history. French and Spanish influences still remain, mixed with Creole and the after effects of the civil war. These together with varying economic circumstances ( demise of 'King Cotton' , rise of Oil ) have moulded a very intersting city. The ' Crescent ' city ( because of the shape of the Missisippi river winding through it ) An indigenous musical genre called ' Jazz ' has had it's affect too ! Several memories of 'N'awlins' stick in my mind. In character, it is a city with something of 'European' feel to it. Something not really seen in the rest of the US. There are many 'must sees ' - here are some :a stroll along Bourbon Street, visit the old square in the French Quarter, walk along the riverfront and take a boat ride on the Natchez paddle wheel steamer.Take a tour of the Louisiana Superdome stadium. To give you an idea of it's size, the Astrodome stadium in Houston will fit inside the Superdome !! Visit one of the old Jazz Halls, walk around the beautiful Garden District, visit some of the old Antebellum Houses ( pre-Civil war houses ), take a stroll in Audubon Park, visit the Mardi Gras museum .. There is some great shopping in New Orleans with both the Big department stores and great little antique shops, specialty shops etc. There are many . Watching the street performers in Jackson Square in the French quarter and listening to free , impromptu jazz was something else.The old antebellum homes of the former plantation owners are really worth visiting. Try Magnolia Hall. Having a evening cruise along the Missisippi while listening to live jazz ( when the Saints go marching in ) was one of the best travel memories I have . Magic !
Cajun and Creole: The Cuisine
What defines Creole and what defines Cajun? The answer is: nothing. And everything. I can tell you about a roux – a mixture of oil and flour that darkens and thickens gumbos--but that's in both. Salt and pepper and cream and butter and fat? More of all of them in both Creole and Cajun than in most other cooking styles, but now more than there used to be in both historically. You can pick on a few dishes. Creole jambalaya tends to be reddened with tomato, while Cajun jambalaya tends to be brown and lack tomato. Gumbo is smokier in Cajun country than in New Orleans. But you do see oysters Rockefeller (a traditional Creole dish) in Lafayette, and crawfish etouffee (a traditional Cajun dish) in New Orleans. There's been so much cross-fertilization of the styles over the decades that the merger has been consummated.
Our History of the Po-boy
The po-boy had its physical origin in the Oyster Loaf which appeared about 1900. The loaf consists of a one foot segment of a “French Bread” slice in half horizontally, smothered with butter, heated in the oven f at 300F for 6 minutes. When removed a dozen hot lightly deep-fried oysters (dipped in a spiced cornmeal batter) is placed on one half. This is slathered with mayonnaise and dribbled with a hot sauce (a little milder than pure Tabasco). It became the custom to “dress” this further with shredded lettuce, tomato slices and dill pickle slices. This tidbit in pieces was offered free at bars as a sustainer to encourage drinking or as they say “pour boire”. The name is ascribed to a the time of a street car strike (in 1929?). Two ex-conductors ran a sandwich shop near the end of the line on Canal Street where the “starving” strikers congregated and they were reported to have been sustained by baguette sandwiches filled with cheap beef and gravy provided by these sympathetic restauranteurs. (It was during Prohibition and the old pour-boire was not functional). But the name readily corrupted to something for the “Poor Boys” on the strike line. So the French Loaf remained as the Po-boy. When I was a student in the late 30’s , my first exposure to the sandwich was at a bar at the corner of Canal Street where the St. Charles streetcar entered it. Here they featured a (free) Po-boy sandwich with a drink for 25 cents. (Actually it was not “free” because the drinks were about 10-15 cents). We were under age and had root beer from the tap. A century has passed since the beginning and the Po-boy is stronger than ever. Whether it provided inspiration for the Philly Steak or the Submarine is for others to decide. If you read about what makes it unique(in other Tips) you will understand the difference to a gourmand. Living here an being able to eat.