Sultry, seductive and utterly irresistible, the Louisiana city makes an unforgettable cruise-and-stay destination, says Liz Jarvis

Located on the Mississippi River, New Orleans is one of the most enchanting cities in the US, a cultural melting pot of Creole, French and Spanish influences, with a vibrant, intoxicating atmosphere. You don’t have to visit during Mardi Gras to find someone playing jazz or Cajun music – it’s everywhere. The impact of Hurricane Katrina devastated the area; 100,000 people left and never returned. But the essence of New Orleans remains, and the residents are incredibly friendly and justifiably proud of their wonderful city. Even if you’re only in New Orleans for a night or two, a stroll around the idyllic French Quarter with its charming houses, intricate ironwork, courtyards and fountains is an absolute must, as is a visit to the historic park at Jackson Square, with its statue of seventh US President Andrew Jackson and nearby stalls selling art and trinkets.

What to do
Take a walking tour – the best one is run by Robert Florence (tourneworleans.com), who will give you a fascinating insight into local history, culture and architecture, and you’ll also visit the city’s oldest pub, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, which dates back to the 18th century.

In the Garden District you’ll find beautiful antebellum homes and the historic Lafayette Cemetery, which has above-ground tombs; and the Historic Voodoo Museum offers an intriguing insight into another element of New Orleans culture. Other must-sees include the gold statue of the Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc (local people call her “Joanie on her pony”). Enjoy live jazz at Prohibition Hall, and a ride in a streetcar along Desire Street.

A cruise in a paddle steamer on the mighty Mississippi river, particularly at sunset, will give you glorious views of the city. And it would be almost rude not to hit the bars along Bourbon Street; mint juleps are the local speciality, and a Hurricane (rum, passion fruit syrup and lime juice) at the legendary Pat O’Brien’s is another must-do, albeit a touristy one. If you’re spending a few days in New Orleans it’s also worth taking a trip through Cajun country to Oak Alley Plantation for an illuminating insight into Louisiana’s past.

Where to eat
Located on Chartres Street, Café Fleur-de-Lis offers authentic Southern cooking in a friendly atmosphere. Make sure you try a Po-Boy – a delicious sandwich usually filled with breaded oyster or shrimp. And no trip to New Orleans would be complete without a visit to Café Du Monde, famous for its icing sugar-covered beignets (square doughnuts, served hot with chicory coffee). Ignore the queue – just sit down wherever you can find a seat and wait to be served; the beignets are freshly made, warm, sweet and delicious, and it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What to buy
Tabasco sauce (it’s made in Louisiana); a box of Café Du Monde beignet mix; Cajun spices; strings of Mardi Gras beads.

Where to stay
Le Méridien New Orleans is a chic, contemporary hotel located within easy walking distance of the French Quarter. Rooms are bright and spacious with pillow-top mattresses and desks, 55-inch flat screen TVs and mini fridges; go for a suite and you’ll have a fabulous view of the Mississippi river and city skyline. There’s a brilliant rooftop pool area with rentable private cabanas, a coffee shop/cocktail bar, and the restaurant, LMNO, is excellent, serving delicious locally-inspired breakfasts including short rib hash. Rooms start from £195 per night (lemeridienneworleanshotel.com).

Getting there
Cruise lines that go here include Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line and Azamara Club Cruises. Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines fly daily to New Orleans, with connections from Atlanta available. Fares start from £581.85pp including tax. For further information, go to virginatlantic.com or delta.com or call 0844 2092 770. You can find out more about New Orleans at neworleanscvb.com.

Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise here.