ESSENCE Festival, ‘the party with a purpose’, is set across two main locations, the Ernest N. Moral Convention Center and the Mercedes Benz Superdome. These are both situated on the edge of the French Quarter, meaning you can enjoy the Big Easy (New Orleans' nickname) during the day without straying too far from where the party will kick off later on.
ESSENCE Festival runs over a weekend and is an excellent excuse to explore one of America’s most unusual cities. Travelers are recommended to arrive the day before the festival starts. This gives you the perfect opportunity to leave your suitcase in your hotel and head to Frenchmen Street, New Orleans’ capital of live music.
If you are staying outside New Orleans, parking near the festival couldn’t be simpler. Parking is available at both main locations – just make sure you have cash with you for the parking garages (fees vary).
Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport is the best bet if you’re arriving from another state or even from abroad. Taxis, hire cars, and shuttle buses to bring you to the venue can be booked in advance. If there are several people in your party a taxi may work out cheaper than a shuttle.
Make sure you don’t overdo it during the evening, because New Orleans is a city unlike any other in the States. The Cajun French, Spanish, and African-American cultures have left more than an indelible mark on the Crescent City – they course through its veins and have melded together to create its unmistakable identity. The city’s curiosities and cultural history are a testament to this, so make sure you leave plenty of time to experience them.
Let New Orleans’ voodoo past cast a spell on you and explore the history of its spiritual folklore, which developed from Afro-American religions. Pay homage to Marie Laveau, the Queen of Voodoo, at her tomb in St. Louis Cemetery no.1, then find out more about her story at her House of Voodoo or at the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.
If you prefer more immediate thrills, make sure to book a kayak swamp tour of the bayou. You will get up close and personal to wildlife living among the mangroves including pelicans, possums – and the odd friendly ‘gator! If that’s too close for your comfort, just enjoy the wild and unspoiled beauty from a safer distance, on a boat.
Even the shopping experience is infused with the spirit of New Orleans. The city abounds with countless family-run antique shops, fine art galleries, and independent music shops, particularly in the French Quarter and on Magazine Street.
In a city as energetic as New Orleans, you don’t want to waste time sorting the particulars when you could be nodding along to jazz on Frenchmen Street or enjoying a bowl of hearty jambalaya. Make sure you tick the essentials off before touching down for ESSENCE Festival. Hotels are plentiful, but make sure you don’t get caught out by booking too late.
Make sure your accommodation is sorted well in advance to avoid any last minute panic, as the city does get booked up for the festival. Choose from glamorous historic hotels in the French Quarter, boutique hotels, or more wallet-friendly ones.
If you prefer the freedom to come and go as you please, or want to book a bigger space for a group of travelers, then a vacation rental might be a better bet. Typical rentals in New Orleans include spacious, candy-colored shotgun houses with verandas, and smart, industrial-style apartments.
The home of soul food, po’ boys, and beignets, the Big Easy is not short on local (and delicious) specialties. In fact, you’re likely to have so many on your food bucket list that it’s a good idea to plan where you want to eat before you go, to avoid being caught out by a sudden hunger pang.