Destination: New York and New Orleans – travelling by train between the two.
Itinerary: New York (6 nights) – overnight on the train – New Orleans (6 nights)
Duration: 13 days
Time of year: October
This is a honeymoon for food and music lovers – and of course, having a fondness for big, vibrant cities comes in handy as well. Both New York and New Orleans have more than enough to keep you occupied for a week in each; in fact, we both could have easily spent a lot longer in each city.
We began our trip in New York – this was my third visit and my husband’s first, which meant we did a fair amount of sightseeing, though much of it was just a case of wandering around and stumbling over famous places – suddenly looking up and seeing the Empire State Building is always a great moment. One of the highlights for both of us was heading down to the very tip of Manhattan to jump on the Staten Island Ferry, which is free, and a great way to soak up the city’s iconic skyline and to see the Statue of Liberty (and take some fabulous photos, too).
Rather than stay in a hotel, we rented an apartment in the Lower East Side through AirBnB. Renting apartments is my favourite way to stay in a city – I love the feeling it affords you of living like a local, and it allows you to relax in a way that you can’t in a hotel. Our apartment was a great, quirky studio apartment in a typical old tenement building in the Lower East Side – I would link to it but unfortunately it’s no longer rented out – and we found the LES a fantastic base, close to loads of bars, restaurants and shops (particular shout-outs to the famous Katz’s Deli, and the amazing Doughnut Plant), and from here we easily walked all over Manhatten (though if you’re less keen on walking than we are you’ll find the subway a blessing).
We couldn’t visit New York City without a bit of music – both of us are big jazz lovers, and the Big Apple is home to a plethora of legendary jazz clubs. We headed to the Village Vanguard one evening, which is definitely our favourite of the venues, and in a great location on the edge of Greenwich Village. This is another of my favourite neighbourhoods, with a great, lively atmosphere both day and night, lots of little independent shops, and great places to eat. On Sundays, Washington Square Park in the heart of the Village is a great place to hang out, with lots of bands playing.
Though you could easily fly down to New Orleans, we decided to head down to the Big Easy by train – a journey that takes a rather impressive 30 hours and 17 minutes. Obviously, travelling overland like this means it makes the most sense to buy a sleeper cabin – you could do it in reclining seats but you wouldn’t be half as comfortable. We booked a two-person Viewliner Roomette, which costs about $195 on top of the regular train fair. It’s a cosy little room, with just enough space for two – you sit opposite each other, and there’s a sink and toilet (covered, thankfully) to one side, and then at night the (single) beds are folded down and provided with bedding. If you can afford to splash out a bit, I’d recommend booking a Viewliner Bedroom, which is a fair bit more spacious, but for just one night, we found the Roomette absolutely fine.
If you book a room on an Amtrak train, all your meals are included – the food was surprisingly good, and catered specifically to the route, so we were able to enjoy things like French toast for breakfast and Southern fried chicken for dinner – and the dining car was a great chance to meet other people and hear about where they were heading too. The train stops along the way, so you could easily break up the journey once or twice – at Washington D.C., the stop was long enough that we were able to get out and wander around the station, and it made us wish we’d stopped there for a night, though the real highlight was seeing some of the capital’s iconic buildings as the train left the city. I always find train journeys fascinating for the scenery, and loved seeing the landscape change from state to state – and our Roomette had a guide to the route, which meant we could keep track of where we were at any time.
New Orleans lived up to its sultry reputation – despite our long train journey, and arriving a bit delayed, it didn’t take much persuasion for us to head straight out into the city after we’d checked in to start exploring the city. We stayed at two hotels in the city – our first few nights were at the fabulous Hotel Monteleone, right in the atmospheric French Quarter, while the remainder of our stay was spent at International House Hotel, in the less atmospheric CBD, but just a short walk (or stumble) from the French Quarter.
Our time in New Orleans was a lot more leisurely than the days we spent in New York, built around late mornings (and gluttonous breakfasts – complete with oysters – at Stanley), lots of leisurely meals, more live music than we could begin to count, and numerous evening cocktails. Highlights were undoubtedly the amazing jazz at legendary Preservation Hall (go as early as possible and you can stay for all three sets), the sublime food and drinks at the Green Goddess (it’s no exaggeration to say it was one of the best meals we’ve ever had), and the cocktails at the kitsch but fun Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone.
Our visit to New Orleans coincided with the annual Blues & BBQ Festival, which was free festival, crammed full of world class performers – we spent two very happy days out in the sunshine enjoying the music and lots of local food and beer. There’s countless festivals held in the city throughout the year, and I’d really recommend checking out the Jazz & Heritage Festival Foundation’s events page if you’re heading to the city to see what’s going on. We also headed to the Garden District on the streetcar to browse the independent shops of Magazine Street and the marvel at the gorgeous old houses, and to the excellent Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which at the time of our visit had an eye-opening photo exhibition of the city during Hurricane Katrina.
Despite the city locations, this was an incredibly laid-back and relaxing trip, with plenty of time for leisurely exploration, not to mention lots of eating and drinking. To date, this remains one of the best holidays we’ve ever had (with no exaggeration), and so I have no doubt in my mind that it would make the most fabulous – and decadent – honeymoon itinerary.
All photographs © Emma GibbsYou might also like: