Lousiana's state capital is a magical city which manages to blend the attractions of a large urban destination with old world historical charm, great food and cultural appeal.
Instead of staying in New Orleans, give Baton Rouge a try instead. You can use it as a base to tour the swamps of the Bayou or visit the many beautifully preserved antebellum plantations nearby like Frogmore or Magnolia Mound. And, if you need to visit the French Quarter, you can drive to the Big Easy in just over an hour.
Stay in Spanish Town, and be in Baton Rouge for one of America's most colorful Mardi Gras celebrations. Head to the Baton Rouge Blues Festival in spring or just check out the great Cajun restaurants in Beauregard. At any time of year, superb eateries like Poor Boy Lloyd, Bellue's and Rice & Roux are waiting to serve you the finest crawfish around.
So if you want to sample Cajun culture and want a safe, welcoming mid-sized urban destination, it's hard to beat Baton Rouge.
Every February, the people of Baton Rouge go Mardi Gras crazy. Neighborhoods like Spanish Town erupt into life, with music and street parades. It's a magical festival and a fantastic time to be in the city.
Baton Rouge is a superb destination for lovers of culture. There are historical sights like the Old State Capitol and the Governor's Mansion, museums like the Louisiana Art and Science Museum and the Louisiana State Museum and theaters like the Shaw Center for the Arts - so there's always something to do.
The region around Baton Rouge is as much of an attraction as the city. Take tours into the wilderness of the Bayou to see crocodiles, visit antebellum plantations and dine on delicious crawfish and jambalaya at Cajun restaurants like Rice & Roux.
LSU is the city's crown jewel. One of the country's leading universities, it's also a major tourist attraction, hosting the Museum of Art, the remains of ancient Native American burial mounds and opportunity to watch the LSU Tigers battle it out in college football.
Baton Rouge also offers plenty for kids to enjoy. Families can spend a day petting the animals at the KidsZoo, seeing tigers or parrots at the main zoo or cooling off at water parks in the city like Blue Bayou.
In a state with a rich history and a reputation for colorful politics, it comes as no surprise that Louisiana's first statehouse was constructed to look and function like a castle. Withstanding fire and a war as obstinately as it endured scandals and bitter debates, the Gothic Revival-style Old State Capitol opened in 1852 on a magnolia tree-lined bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Gutted by an accidental fire during the Civil War, its restoration in 1882 added more light as well as a stained glass dome and a sweeping grand staircase. Haunted, some say, by a senator who collapsed and died after a fiery debate, and lamented by Mark Twain, who once wrote "let dynamite finish what a charitable fire began," the grand Old Capitol survives as a National Historic Landmark and a must-see museum of Louisiana political history.
With eight battle star commendations for its service in the Pacific during World War II, the USS Kidd (DD-661), the only Fletcher-class destroyer retaining its vintage war-time appearance, now rests on the Mississippi River as a veterans memorial and museum. More than 50 of her compartments are on display, along with the museum's full-scale replica of an Old Ironsides gun deck, several fighter planes, and an extensive collection of model ships.
Constructed in only 14 months during the Great Depression for a modest $5 million, the Louisiana State Capitol rises 34 floors and 450 feet over downtown Baton Rouge as a legacy for Huey Long, the Kingfish, who served as both governor and U.S. Senator. The design of the nation's tallest capitol is loaded with symbolism, including the ornate lobby and legislative chambers, while the 27th-floor observation deck provides spectacular views of the city and river. The 30-acre capitol gardens feature magnolias, azaleas and live oaks, as well as the monument and the remains of Senator Long, who was assassinated at the capitol in 1935.
Representing the French Creole style of colonial architecture, the Magnolia Mound Plantation built in 1791 is one of Baton Rouge's oldest buildings. Constructed of cypress beams and a confection of mud and Spanish moss called bousillage, the plantation house museum showcases a number of structures, including an open-hearth kitchen, as well as decorative arts and furnishings that shaped the fascinating culture of Louisiana.
The 40-acre, outdoor Rural Life Museum portrays life as it was really lived in hardscrabble rural Louisiana during the 18th and 19th centuries. No Old South romanticism here: this is an educational museum with more than 30 authentic structures and thousands of relics and artifacts. Learn how sugar cane was processed, how plantation slaves received medical care, how farmers and craftsmen subsisted, and how a "dogtrot house" had its advantages during the Louisiana summer.
The best time to travel to Baton Rouge is probably spring. In March and April, the weather is fine, temperatures hover in the 70s and the city hosts events like the Zapp's Beer Festival and the Baton Rouge Blues Festival. Then again, February can also be a wonderful time to visit, not least because of the chance to catch the city's Mardi Gras festivities.
If you intend to fly into Baton Rouge, the city's airport can be found in the northern part of town, a short taxi journey from the major hotels. The best way to get from there to the city center is via cabs (which cost around $25) or shuttle bus companies like Tiger Airport Shuttle. An alternative route into Baton Rouge is to fly to New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International, which is an hour away by road. Airport shuttles like Tiger can get you to your Baton Rouge hotel within 90 minutes.
Baton Rouge doesn't have an Amtrak station of its own, but getting there by train is still an option thanks to services that stop in New Orleans, which include the Crescent City, the Sunset Limited and the City of New Orleans.
If you are driving from New Orleans you can reach Baton Rouge in just over an hour by taking I-10. The same highway connects Baton Rouge with cities to the west like Houston and Los Angeles. Anyone coming from northern cities should hook up with I-12 using routes like I-55.
Greyhound and Megabus are the two major intercity bus operators in Baton Rouge, and the main bus station is located at 1253 Florida Blvd. Greyhound offers a much wider range of bus connections, but Megabus is a cheap way to get to Baton Rouge from Houston or San Antonio, so is often worth checking out.
Baton Rouge offers a fantastic mix of hotels and resort accommodation, with something for all vacationers. If you want to enjoy an authentic, luxury Southern experience, try Nottoway Resort. Housed in an antebellum mansion, the sports and spa facilities there are second to none. In the center of town, try hotels like the Hilton City Center, Red Lion Baton Rouge or the Belle of Baton Rouge, which doubles up as the city's leading casino.
Spanish Town – Baton Rouge's oldest neighborhood, Spanish Town is also the home to the city's Mardi Gras celebrations - some of the liveliest and most spectacular in the country. Also known as the "pink flamingo", Spanish Town is also the most bohemian area of the city, with hip bars like Ruffins and Draft House Bar always packing in patrons.
Beauregard – Another neighborhood that boasts almost 200 years of history, Beauregard is unusual among American district as it avoids a standard grid pattern, instead featuring a series of diagonal boulevards. With historical sights like the Governor's Mansion and plenty of restaurants and high-quality hotels, it's a great upscale base for a vacation in Baton Rouge.
Downtown Baton Rouge – Aside from being the business center of the city, Downtown is also home to most of Baton Rouge's most popular tourist attractions. Families can head to the city Zoo, visit the State Capitol or see artifacts from the Jazz Age at the Louisiana State Museum. It's also a convenient location from which to explore the wider city.
Most of the public transit options in Baton Rouge are provided by the Capital Area Transit System (CATS). Single fares cost $1.75 per journey, an all-day pass costs $4, while a 7-day pass costs $19. Another handy service is the Downtown Trolley. This old-style trolley bus runs during the day and stops at all of the major Downtown Attractions, plus it's free of charge.
Taxis in Baton Rouge typically charge a meter drop of $4, then $2 per subsequent mile, with a small surcharge after midnight. Uber offers a cheaper alternative, with their cheapest rates starting at $1.25 for the meter drop, then $0.90 per mile, with a minimum fare of $5.
You don't need a car to enjoy Baton Rouge, but it helps. It's also handy if you want to drive to New Orleans, which is 90 minutes away. Downtown offers a good spread of surface parking lots, meters and garages, so finding somewhere to park is rarely an issue. Rental cars can also be found at competitive rates, with some packages costing as little as $10 per day.
There are a couple of excellent city center malls in Baton Rouge that should have everything that shopping fans need. The largest is the Mall of Louisiana, where you'll find stores like Apple, Sears, and Aldo. Towne Center is slightly more upmarket with stores like Adler's Fine Jewelry, Gap, and Talbots available to choose from.
Shopping for groceries in Baton Rouge is simple and relatively affordable. You'll find branches of local chain Calandro's in most neighborhoods, along with national companies like Albertsons, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Expect to pay less than $2.50 for 12 eggs and $12 for a good bottle of wine (with a 10 percent sales tax added on top).
If you are looking for high-quality Cajun cuisine, Baton Rouge is a great place to be. Try the crawfish at Piccadilly's, the fried chicken fingers at Raising Cane's and the New Orleans style barbecue at VooDoo BBQ Nicholson for a variety of the region;'s favorite dishes. Poor Boy Lloyd's is a great place to stop for sandwiches, while Rice & Roux offer takeout Cajun that is handy for tourists as they hop between sights. Expect to pay $15 or less at midrange restaurants and $25 at more upscale eateries.