Dazzling costumes, lively parades with fun floats and glittering lights, endless beads, and booming jazz and blues tunes are all classic ingredients for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. But many traveling to the Big Easy forget that Mardi Gras also brings in more than 1 million people each year, which means flocks of tourists drinking in excess, suffocating crowds, littered streets, and elevated potential for danger.
A great way to experience Mardi Gras while avoiding the crowds of the French Quarter is by trekking out to New Orleans Plantation Country, located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, about 30 minutes from the French Quarter. Plantation Country is full of smaller towns stocked with creole culture, food, and history. And during Mardi Gras season, the area has six Mardi Gras parades that are just as lively as the French Quarter, but without the wild crowds. In fact, many locals living in New Orleans leave the city around Mardi Gras time to avoid the hordes of people packing into the streets and instead celebrate the festivities in Plantation Country with more locals and more room to breathe.
Aside from a rich history and authentic food scene, Plantation Country offers travelers respite from inflated prices of New Orleans and offers affordable dining, accommodations, and cultural experiences. Consider these options for your next trip to Plantation Country.
Learn the history of New Orleans Plantation Country
A trip to Plantation Country wouldn’t be complete without a few tours of some plantation homes along the Mississippi River. There are 10 historic plantations in this area, and many of them fully embrace their dark pasts in order to educate visitors about slave life on the plantations. Oak Alley Plantation has several reconstructed slave cabins, and tour guides discuss how life was for the enslaved. Destrehan Plantation has an exhibit on the 1811 Slave Revolt, the largest in the country, and stories of the enslaved are discussed as well. Whitney Plantation’s full focus is on slavery, as they have museum exhibits, restored buildings, and hundreds of first-person slave narratives. For a briefing on more modern history such as segregation, civil rights, and a look into the African-American musical history of the area, join a tour at the Our Lady of Grace original sanctuary, which is on the National Register of Historic places.
Where to eat in New Orleans Plantation Country
Historically, people in this region have learned to live off of the land, which means food comes from things hunted and grown. The swampy area is known for its variety of seafood like crawfish, catfish, crabs, and alligator, and fertile soil provides fresh tomatoes, okra, and plenty of sugarcane. Cajun and creole dishes reign supreme here, and Plantation Country is the birthplace of andouille, where St John the Baptist Parish is the andouille capital of the world. Try the andouille chips — thin-sliced and deep-fried andouille, served with creole mustard — at Wayne Jacob’s Smokehouse, and don’t miss a bowl of gumbo from Spuddy’s Cajun Foods. (Be sure to say hi to Spuddy himself.) Nobile’s serves up killer seafood and southern staples like shrimp po’ boys and breaded pork chops. For authentic Cajun grub, B&C Seafood use their own family fishermen to find the freshest catch possible, and The Seafood Pot not only does faves like fried oysters and crab cakes, they have a drive-thru for daiquiris.
Spend a day at the swamp
Another perk of being out of the hustle of New Orleans is the ability to enjoy nature, especially swamplands. Wild Louisiana Tours offers canoe and kayak tours, plus photo workshops, through slow-rolling Manchac swamp. Or, from the comfort of a pontoon boat, travelers can see swamp wildlife and learn about the legend of Manchac Swamp’s voodoo priestess, Julia Brown, with Cajun Pride Swamp Tours. For a fast-paced swamp experience, check out Swamp Adventures’ airboat tour and zip through bayous looking for swamp life.
How to get to New Orleans Plantation Country
For those not wanting to worry about constantly having a sober friend to drive everyone around Plantation Country’s Mardi Gras celebrations, or for those wanting to make the 30-minute drive into the French Quarter for a night on the town, United Front Transportation provides round-trip shuttle service for individuals and groups to and from the airport, hotels, attractions, and restaurants in Plantation Country and in New Orleans.
Where to stay in New Orleans Plantation Country
Not only will staying in Plantation Country cost less than the average room in New Orleans, travelers can park for free in the entire Plantation Country region. There are numerous hotels, motels, B&Bs, and RV parks in Plantation Country, but perhaps one of the most unique ways to stay here is by staying at an actual plantation. The Inn at Houmas House Plantation has charming cottages situated along a pathway of ancient oak trees, while Destrehan Plantation has two creole cottages and Oak Alley Plantation has multiple quaint cottages in an uncluttered setting. All come with modern amenities and are great for spreading out for some southern R&R.