In a city known for its history, music, and personality, no neighborhood overflows with more of any of these qualities than Tremé, the oldest African-American neighborhood in the United States. Located on the lakeside of the French Quarter, just across North Rampart Avenue (toward the lake), Tremé is a solidly residential neighborhood infused with a long history of cultivating famous musicians, stirring up Creole cuisine, second-lining through the streets, and burying loved ones in neighborhood cemeteries. Unlike some neighborhoods in New Orleans, many residents in Tremé still have long-held connections to the neighborhood, living in houses owned or lived in by generations of their families. An easy walk from the French Quarter or Marigny, Tremé is a lens into New Orleans life from the locals who live it. Here are nine ideas, in no particular order, to get you started in this historic New Orleans neighborhood.
Things to Do in the New Orleans Tremé
1. Armstrong Park/Congo Square — Start in the heart of history and culture in Tremé for the last 300 years: Congo Square, now encompassed by Armstrong Park, is where slaves used to gather, make music, sell goods, and visit on Sunday, the day of rest. Today, Armstrong Park is home to special celebrations of food, music, and culture throughout the year, and is open to enjoy the bridges and green space of the park any day of the week.
2. Eat — If you have ever been, read about, known anyone from, or otherwise interacted with New Orleans, you know where I’m going with this. Tremé is home to the best of the best when it comes to traditional Creole cuisine in New Orleans (and affordable at that). Whether it’s Miss Leah’s buffet at Dooky Chase’s, fried chicken at Willie Mae’s, or Sunday brunch at Lil Dizzy’s, your heart and stomach will be smitten over the tastes of Tremé.
3. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 — We celebrate death as we do life here in New Orleans, and the St. Louis cemeteries are among the most famous and iconic. Visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the oldest and most famous, to see famous above-ground graves and to visit some of our most famous sons and daughters, including Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau and Homer Plessy, the plaintiff from Plessy v. Ferguson.
4. Museums — As a nerd for New Orleans history with a love of our many cultures and forms of expressing them, Tremé museums are among my favorite. The New Orleans African American Museum honors Tremé’s status as the oldest black neighborhood in the United States in a seven-building plantation that includes an incredibly restored Creole mansion. View fascinating historical examples of black and Creole artisanship of all forms, and then check out the single easiest one-stop look at how that artistry lives on at the Backstreet Cultural Museum, a smaller-sized but high impact, up-close look at cultural art forms from Mardi Gras Indians to second lines.
5. Theaters — Over the last few years, New Orleans has made leaps towards its quest to revive and reopen its storied tradition of theater. Tremé houses several of the best known, including the Mahalia Jackson Theater, a large-scale location that brings world-class acts to town, and the Saenger Theater, a long-time local favorite, impeccably restored and reopened after major damage from Hurricane Katrina. (Tip: check out every New Orleans child’s favorite thing at the Saenger — don’t forget to look up at the ceiling!)
6. Explore — Because Tremé has housed everything from plantations to the poorest families working to get by, it offers an extraordinary display of New Orleans architecture styles over the ages. With many residents still living in family homes, Tremé is one of my favorite places to wander through on any given afternoon, where there’s always something to see and someone to meet and chat with.
8. St. Augustine Catholic Church of New Orleans — I’m not Catholic, but that hasn’t stopped me from finding Catholic churches to visit in almost every place I’ve ever been. While many know and visit St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, one of my favorite churches in New Orleans is St. Augustine, a church founded in 1842 by free black citizens (and open to both slaves and free black citizens).
9. Festivals — It wouldn’t be a post about New Orleans things to do without mentioning the festivals. Tremé is home to dozens, including Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival (March), Jazz in the Park (seasonal), Tremé Festival (October), and Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival (November). Each has its own soul and celebration theme, but all carry the trademarks of New Orleans hospitality: home cookin’, vibrant music-making, laughter, and love.