Located along the Mississippi River, the French Quarter is steaming with local culture and history. The Quarter has some of the best Creole cuisines around. You can start the day sipping a café au lait and indulging in a mouthwatering beignet at the Café du Monde, then move on to see the city's beautiful gardens, majestic courtyards, and the St. Louis Cemeteries.
Though it's known as the Vieux Carre, a French term for "Old Square," most of the architecture is Spanish. Founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, it's the city's oldest neighborhood. Covering 85 square blocks, the Quarter was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and hosts more than 15 million visitors annually.
Fun Fact: New Orleans (the French Quarter in particular) has the most bars per capita in America.
The city's annual festival, Mardi Gras, which begins 47 days before Easter, features vibrant parades, jazzy beads, and elaborate costumes. Guests should visit the numerous museums hosting props and decorations from past Mardi Gras.
"Can't-Miss" French Quarter Attractions
- Jackson Square: New Orleans' famed town square sits in front of the St. Louis Cathedral and a statue of President Andrew Jackson, the Square's namesake. Here you'll find entertaining street artists, blaring trumpets and fortune tellers ready to spill your future. The four-story brick Pontalba Building, built in the late 1840s, might be the oldest apartment complex in the USA. There are also many free art exhibits to discover!
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Photo Alert: If you're searching for the most Instagram-worthy photos to post, choose from any of the great corners in the French Quarter. Try the colorful Kingfish block near Chartres Street or in front of the famous Court of Two Sisters.
- The Cabildo: Brimming with history, this building is now managed by the state museum of Louisiana and contains exhibits on the city's colonization and French culture. This was the spot where officials signed the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
- Pirates Alley: Don't leave the Quarter without strolling down this quintessential urban street, packed with historical buildings and specialty shops like the Faulkner House Books. Legend has it that Andrew Jackson met pirate Jean Lafitte on this row!
- Café du Monde: Operating since 1862, this famous café is open 24 hours a day and serves buttery-delicious croissants and sweet pastries that will delight your pallet. The coffee is also pretty good!
Pro Tip: The famous Café is very crowded on weekends, so try to get your beignet fix on a weekday if possible!
- Jean Lafitte National Historic Park (French Quarter Visitor Center): Culture meets jazz at 419 Decatur Street. This small building holds a great deal of information relating to the city's musical past. Ask a staff member where to find the best New Orleans bands and concert halls.
- French Market: The "French Market" of French Markets outside of Paris, this true flea market/outdoor bazaar covers five blocks of shops and cafes. With more than 50 local vendors showcasing their handcrafted jewelry, crafts, and artwork, you're sure to find something! Visitors can also spot local artists showcasing their crafts, small food stands with local delicacies and numerous souvenir shops.
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- LaLaurie Mansion: Take a ghost tour through this ghastly haunt if you dare! The gorgeous 19th-century architecture is worth exploring with its wrought-iron balconies and baroque façade. Paranormal enthusiasts flock to the mansion, known as one of the most haunted buildings in the country.
Fun Fact: Some say the French Quarter is very haunted. It's not just LaLaurie Mansion, but many of the hotels and bars claim to have ghostly inhabitants walking around in plain sight!
- Bourbon Street: Every year thousands flock to catch a glimpse of the quaint cafes, elegant Nouveau architecture, art galleries, and the many dive bars along the town's most famous French Quarter block. Keep walking to the maze-like graveyards of the St. Louis Cemeteries that date back to the late 18th century.
Fun Fact: Bourbon Street isn't named for the Whiskey; it's from the Bourbon Dynasty who ruled France at the time of New Orleans' inception.
French Quarter History
The French originally claimed Louisiana in the 1690s and founded New Orleans in 1718. New Orleans was ceded to the Spanish in 1763 following the Seven Years' War. After the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, the Spanish used fire-resistant brick, covered in stucco pastel hues, influenced by Caribbean architecture.
The 1803 Louisiana Purchase set things in motion for the city. Construction flourished, with most historic buildings assembled in the late 18th century and early 19th century after the U.S. annexation. In the War of 1812, American troops led by Andrew Jackson defeated the British securing the U.S.'s victory.
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Today the French Quarter consists of restaurants, hotels, guest houses, and bars to support tourism which is vital to the city's economy. Designated as a National Historic Landmark and known simply as the "Quarter," this prime tourist destination draws crowds from all over the world.
Fun Fact: The French Quarter is one of the oldest residential communities in the U.S.
Where to Eat and Drink and Féte in the French Quarter
Home to several world-class celebrity chefs, the dining possibilities are endless in the Holy Trinity of Cajun.
Stanley has the best gumbo in town. It's next to the St. Louis Cathedral and is a staple when visiting the vibrant district. For those who've never tried it, gumbo is a bowl of Gulf shrimp, oysters, andouille sausages and chicken. Whether you're in the mood for jambalaya, gumbo, etouffee or a po-boy, you're in luck! The French Quarter is home to the best authentic Louisiana Cajun and Creole dishes, as well as exceptional seafood.
Pro Tip: If you're not afraid- throw a coin in the Devil's Wishing Well of the Two Sisters courtyard. The spot is rich in the voodoo rituals of Marie Laveau.
The Big Easy's reputation precedes itself, as most city's nightlife pales in comparison to the glitz and glam of the French Quarter. “Laissez les bon temps rouler,” as the New Orleanians.
The music scene is pumping in this culturally rich melting pot where jazz legends like Louis Armstrong got his start. Try Fritzel's European Jazz Club, which hosts nightly jazz performances with heart-stomping revelry. The Oz is also a celebrated area nightclub open 24/7, featuring burlesque dancers and karaoke.
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In search of a great cocktail lounge, try Arnaud's French 75 Bar and the Old Absinthe House. Sip on a New Orleans classic cocktail, Sazerac, a creamy sweet delight with a black licorice finish, or the fruity Hurricane. The famed Chart Room is an eclectic den of jukebox music and no-frill cocktails. Visitors should also not miss the magical Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar. Built around 1722, this is one of the oldest structures in New Orleans.