Urban Hiking: Why Walking for Miles is the Best Way to See a City
Hiking and city sightseeing might seem like mutually exclusive activities. Hiking usually conjures thoughts of wooded mountain paths rather than busy concrete streets. But a growing trend is challenging the notion that you need to drive miles to the countryside for a great hike. “Urban hiking” turns sidewalks into trails and offers the chance to experience a city in an entirely new and memorable way — all while getting some exercise.
Plan a route that will take you by some of the city’s well-known sights. You’ll gain a new appreciation for the urban landscape as you traverse the miles on foot, and are sure to discover hidden gems along the way that will leave you smiling. You won’t need to gear up other than planning to wear comfortable, walking shoes and to bring along a bottle of water (along with a sense of adventure).
Find some inspiration with one suggested route around New Orleans.
A Big Easy Route
Famously walkable and entertaining, New Orleans is ideal for urban hiking, with the historic French Quarter the perfect stepping off point. Start on the “quiet” end of the Quarter, at Esplanade and Decatur streets, and wander up river by the French Market, a beehive of sellers unpacking their wares, artists setting up shop and food vendors preparing all manner of delectables.
Right past the market, dog leg towards the Mississippi River, where you’ll see barges and ships and visitors digging into the famous, powder sugar-dusted beignets at Café du Monde.
Cut back into the Quarter when you see the spires of St. Louis Cathedral, walking with the river to your back to Royal Street, and turn left. The rest of your meander offers a feast of lacy wrought balconies, art galleries, street buskers and people watching. Stop in front of Rouse’s Supermarket in the 700 block and listen to Doreen Ketchens on clarinet. Her jazz band is usually out front, and if you’re lucky, they’ll play a classic, like “St. James Infirmary.” On Friday and Saturday nights, you can hear live music amid the charm of the Holiday Inn French Quarter-Chateau LeMoyne.
To Stop or Not to Stop
Stopping along the way delivers rich details along with a chance to rest. St. Charles Avenue is the parade route for most big Mardi Gras parades, so depending on when you’re walking, you’ll see shiny beads hung on fence posts and shimmering in the branches of the oaks.
Along Poydras Street, take a gander at the massive sculptures that dot its neutral ground or median, public art installed by Sculpture for New Orleans. The Holiday Inn New Orleans Downtown – Superdome boasts a 150-foot-tall mural of a clarinet on the outside that celebrates the Big Easy’s jazz heritage, as well as an original Andy Warhol called “Mick Jagger” in the lobby.
Head towards the river, always the point of navigation here (along with Lake Pontchartrain) and hang a right on Magazine Street, one of the city’s premier shopping districts chockablock with cafes, perfect for taking a load off.
Snacking Is Key
It’s high time for a nibble and a break, so why not detour left at Girod Street and dip into Meril, acclaimed chef Emeril’s Lagasse’s first new restaurant in New Orleans in nearly two decades. The oversized bar is a perfect landing pad to enjoy snacks like catfish tacos and hand cut fries, washed down with a quaff of local Abita Amber beer.
Retrace your steps to Magazine to keep the adventure going. You’ll be heading along a mix of residences and businesses at the beginning section of the Garden District’s main shopping drag — six miles of antiques, boutiques, local art, and all manner of restaurants in 19th-century brick storefronts and Creole cottages.
You’ve Earned a Rest
You’ll pass a few pocket parks, the gleaming National World War II Museum, coffee and confection shops and a host of guaranteed characters. Depending on where you land, French Truck Coffee at 1200 Magazine is ideal for a sit down, or take over an outdoor table at Juan’s Flying Burrito in the 2000 block, a friendly spot for a munch and a well-deserved cold beer.
Whether you continue to traverse the city, seeking out watering holes from dives to fancy, or stay the course and wind up all the way to leafy Audubon Park, your views of New Orleans will never be the same. Out in the fresh air, walking through a riot of activity, color and daily life, it’s amazing where the mind will roam, ideas bubbling to the surface like the fizz of good Champagne, another good notion if you’re feeling thirsty and so inclined.