While the South has a unique and palatable cultural identity, the most unique corner of this complex region has a background that differs considerably from the demographic makeup that constitutes most of the rest of the Southeastern United States.
Prior to the start of the Seven Year War in the mid 18th century (before America existed as a sovereign nation), the British had a problem on their hands in one of their most northerly colonies.
Having taken much of Acadia (now the present day provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI in Canada) from the French by force in the 1750’s, they had a populace of mostly French-speaking residents refusing to pledging allegiance to the British Crown.
After being defied repeatedly by the proud incumbents, the decision to deport the entire population at the barrel of a gun was made, resulting in one of the biggest diaspora of a culture in the history of the world.
One of these ships loaded with exiled Acadians landed on the shores of Louisiana near New Orleans, then a possession of the French, though the Spanish controlled the remainder of the territory.
While some returned to Acadia over the ensuing decades, many stayed, becoming known over time as Cajuns. They made use of what was available in the lands around them and using what they knew before, they birthed a culture defined by exuberant food, drink and dance, making this state one that has become known by Americans from outside the state as a place to live life to the max.
Combine this cultural aspect with Louisiana’s bayous and hinterlands, and you have a place that will rank high among your favorite destinations in America, let alone the South.
What To Do – Culture & History
The best and most obvious place to start any exploration of Louisiana is in its cultural center and largest city of New Orleans. The one sight you should check out here before heading off into the bayous is the French Quarter, which is a sector of the city that is home to much of its Cajun and French heritage.
Don’t miss Jackson Square, famous for massive St. Louis Cathedral and the old city hall where the Louisiana Purchase was signed, bringing the Spanish territory into the American fold. Additionally, a long night spent eating and drinking on Bourbon Street is practically mandatory, as it is here where you can sample the incredibly addictive Cajun cuisine and its freewheeling attitude towards partying at the same time.
After you have had your fill of the Big Easy, head to Baton Rouge, where the Old Louisiana State Capitol awaits. This former legislature stands out from any American style government building, as its castle-like structural form gives a more imperial feel rather than something you would find in a republic. Its stained glass windows and dome will wow architectural enthusiasts, while a 4D presentation brings the building’s role during the Civil War to life.
If your wanderings about the state of Louisiana take you through Shreveport, you should set aside an hour or two to check out the R. W. Norton Art Gallery if the visual arts are one of your cultural interests.
The namesake of this gallery made a fortune in Louisiana’s abundant oil fields, amassing a collection of American art that included many outstanding pieces depicting life in the American West. The gardens on the grounds of the gallery are rife with plant life, including many beds of azalea, a hot pink flower that this portion of the South is famed for.
While it is fun to experience the Cajun culture that exists in Louisiana today, learn how life was for this transplanted culture by visiting the Acadian Village. Located in Lafayette, this historical park contains residences, a blacksmith shop and an art gallery, all of which will transport back to life back in 18th century Louisiana.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
Those traveling with families or ocean life lovers should check out the Aquarium of the Americas. Being one of the top-rated aquatic zoological facilities in the United States, this facility focuses on life that thrives in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as those that call the Caribbean and the Amazon River home.
In particular, the exhibit on life that thrives in and about the oil rigs that dot the coast of Louisiana is especially interesting, given the state’s tight ties to the energy industry.
By far the biggest association that many people have when New Orleans or Louisiana is mentioned is the celebrations that take place on the week prior to Lent (a solemn period in Christianity) beginning.
Mardi Gras World is the place where floats are made for the multiple parades that take place during this time, and given the scale of the celebrations, construction occurs through much of the year, allowing this sight to be part of anyone’s itinerary no matter when they happen to find themselves in the Big Easy.
Those seeking to see what life is like out in the wetlands of Louisiana needn’t head anywhere else than Atchafalaya Swamp, which is by farthe largest swamp in the United States. Powerboat tours can take visitors that are in a hurry to the best spots in the bayous here, while those that prefer to guide themselves can go paddling in a kayak and/or fish the waters for the many species of fish that troll these waters.
After your experience on the bayous of Atchafalya, get a schooling on the ecology behind these lands at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Here, not only can you learn through exhibits and dioramas, you can also sample a bit of the bayou musical culture that makes this part of the state famous, as local musicians often come to play for tourists at this park.