Visiting the United States? There are 50 states in all.

Louisiana is the French Quarter, Mardi Gras and Cajun Country.

The French settled this area centuries ago, and many of the cities — and even the state’s name — reflect that. The state is named after the king of France from 1643 to 1715.

Louisiana is one of 13 states created out of the land that made up “the Louisiana Purchase,” a deal between the U.S. and France in 1803 in which the U.S. paid $15 million for approximately 2,142,000 square kilometers of land west of the Mississippi River. The purchase nearly doubled the size of the country.

Louisiana is a Southwestern state bordering the Gulf of Mexico with a very international flavor. Not only the French, but the Spanish, African, West Indian, English, German, Irish and Italian have all made their mark, influencing Louisiana’s food, music and architecture.

Map of U.S. highlighting Louisiana in red (State Dept.)
(State Dept.)

Mardi Gras Festival

People in costumes at Mardi Gras parade (Tulane Public Relations/Creative Commons)
(Tulane Public Relations/Creative Commons)

The historic port city of New Orleans is the state’s largest city and is famous for its cuisine, jazz and rowdy Mardi Gras festival.

The term Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French and refers to the Tuesday before the Catholic season of Lent each spring. The last day of indulgence before the sacrifices of Lent, Mardi Gras is one big party in New Orleans. Parades include costumed revelers on floats who throw beads and trinkets to the crowds.

New Orleans’ French Quarter

View of narrow street and balconied buildings in New Orleans' French Quarter (Mark Heard/Creative Commons)
(Mark Heard/Creative Commons)

This section of New Orleans may be called the French Quarter, but it was the Spanish who built many of the colonial structures that still stand here, and Spanish is still spoken in some communities, particularly in St. Bernard Parish below New Orleans.

Festivals of jazz, Cajun and zydeco music

Man playing accordion and two men playing instruments in background (Vincent & Bella Productions/Creative Commons)
(Vincent & Bella Productions/Creative Commons)

New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz music and each April hosts the world-famous New Orleans Jazz Festival. In June, the city celebrates other music of New Orleans and the wider area of the entire state of Louisiana: Cajun and zydeco.

Cajun music has its roots in the Old World styles and traditions brought over from Europe, including Germany and Poland, and often has fiddles, guitars and accordions.

Zydeco evolved from Cajun music and blends European, African and American Indian influences. It often uses the same instruments as Cajun, but adds a washboard and horns to create its own sound.

The Bayou State

Kayakers paddling through a Louisiana bayou (Louisiana Dept. of Culture, Recreation and Tourism)
(Louisiana Dept. of Culture, Recreation and Tourism)

“Bayou” is a French word meaning a slow-moving river. Louisiana is called the “Bayou State” because of its many creeks and swampy sections of rivers and lakes where the water is still.

Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge Capitol Building (Yousef Abdul-Husain/Creative Commons)
Louisiana’s lawmakers work in the tallest state capitol building in the country. (Yousef Abdul-Husain/Creative Commons)

The state’s capital city, Baton Rouge, is an hour away from New Orleans and has two impressive state capitols. The current one, at 137 meters, is the tallest state capitol in the United States. Louisiana’s Old State Capitol was constructed between 1847 and 1852 and looks like a medieval fortress.

Baton Rouge means “red stick.” The city got its name more than 300 years ago, when a French explorer saw a red pole along a Mississippi River bluff. Back then, local American Indians used red poles to mark boundaries between tribal territories.

Learn more about Louisiana and check out the other 49 states. If you need a visa to visit, here’s how to get one.