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The Mississippi River

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A resonant, romantic and extraordinary physical presence, the Mississippi River is New Orleans’s lifeblood and its raison d’être. In the nineteenth century, as the port boomed, the city gradually cut itself off from the river altogether, hemming it in behind a string of warehouses and railroads. But, as the importance of the port has diminished, a couple of downtown parks, plazas and riverside walks, accessible from the French Quarter, the CBD and uptown, have focused attention back onto the waterfront. For details of river cruises.

Crossing Decatur Street from Jackson Square brings you to the Moonwalk, a promenade where buskers serenade you as you gaze across the water. Upriver from here, Woldenberg Park makes a good place for a picnic, watching the river traffic drift by; it’s also the location of a number of free music festivals. At the upriver edge of the park, the Aquarium of the Americas, near the Canal Street wharf (Tues–Sun 10am–5pm; $18, IMAX $9, combination tickets available with the Insectarium and the Zoo; w http://www.auduboninstitute.org), features a huge glass tunnel where visitors – rampaging infants, mostly – come face to face with rays and sawfish. There’s also a Mississippi River habitat – complete with Spots, a white gator – an Amazonian rainforest, and an IMAX theatre. Beyond here, via the Piazza d’España, you can enter the touristy Riverwalk Marketplace mall, which not only has its own outdoor riverwalk but also boasts the superb Southern Food and Beverage Museum (Mon–Sat 10am–7pm, Sun noon–6pm; $10; w southernfood.org), a wonderfully evocative love letter to old New Orleans and its foodie quirks.

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