New Orleans lives and breaths music, architecture, and food. The heart of the city is the French Quarter, where you find most top attractions and experiences
New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz and today is famous for Mardi Gras celebrations
The French Quarter is the oldest section of New Orleans and remains the most traditional place to visit when you’re in town.
The purpose of this guide is to complement the vlog above that I shot in the French Quarter, providing additional information about the places that appear in the video as well as suggesting new locations and experiences you can include in your own tour.
Jackson Square, where New Orleans was born
New Orleans has such a unique history due to the French and Spanish influences, and to fully appreciate it, it’s worth joining a guided tour. I chose Free Tours by Foot after reading great reviews online.
The tour starts at Jackson Square and is really free, you just tip the guide based on your experience. Be prepared to give a good tip, as you get a lot of value in the 2 hours you will be walking around the French Quarter.
Our guide was Elizabeth Broussard, who is extremely knowledgeable about New Orleans’ history. She was born and raised in New Orleans, so she shared stories about growing up here in addition to historical facts. She even taught us the correct pronunciation of certain words. E.g.: The city is “New ORleans”, not “New OrLEANS“. But the Parish is “OrLEANS“.
The tour starts at Jackson Square, the square from where the entire city expanded. Actually, the French Quarter is also known as the Vieux Carré, which means “Old Square”. It’s a reference to this place.
At Jackson Square you can see:
- The statue of Andrew Jackson (at 2:10 in the video): Andrew Jackson was the 7th President of the United States. He played an import role winning the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 against the British
- St. Louis Cathedral (at 2:11 in the video): The oldest continually running Catholic cathedral in the United States. The earliest pieces of this church date back to 1789 (it had to be rebuilt after the 1788 fire that destroyed 80% of New Orleans, which our guide Elizabeth explained here). The European influence is very evident, as this is one of the few Roman Catholic churches in the country facing a square
- The Cabildo (briefly appears at 5:44 in the video): Like in other Latin American Spanish colonies, the Cabildo was an administrative Spanish council governing a municipality. This is where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803 (and remember, at that time, Louisiana occupied about 1/3 of today’s USA area). Also, the Louisiana Supreme Court was located here between 1868-1910. Today, it’s part of the Louisiana State Museum and its exhibit covers the history of the state as well as New Orleans’.
- The Pontalba Buildings: The two buildings facing Jackson Square that appear at 0:21 and behind me at 0:22. These are two buildings on two sides of Jackson Square occupying the entire blocks which are the oldest continuously-rented apartments in the United States. The buildings are from the late 1840s. You can find shops and restaurants on the ground floors.
- Cafe Du Monde: The most traditional coffee shop in New Orleans and where I wanted to try the beignets (the dish at 1:56). As it was so busy, I ended up eating right in front, at Monty’s. The beignets were delicious and I actually enjoyed being in a place that was not so crowded. But Cafe du Monde is open 24 hours, so next time I’ll try showing up later in the afternoon.
- Royal Carriages: On Decatur St. you can get a carriage tour (on the carriages that appear at 6:02), a New Orleans tradition since 1941. Prices start at $20 per person as this is actually a guided tour you take on a carriage. You can go for a French Quarter tour or a Ghost tour.
- Mississippi riverfront (where I shot the images starting at 0:08): Not exactly at the square, but a short walk from Cafe du Monde. On your way here, you have a beautiful view of the square
What I didn’t visit around Jackson Square and would consider for next time:
- The Presbytère: This is considered one of the best examples of colonial Spanish architecture in the United States. It was built in 1791 to match the Cabildo and it’s located on the opposite side of St. Louis Cathedral. Today it’s also home to part of the Louisiana State Museum. It has an exhibit on Hurricane Katrina and houses the Mardi Gras Museum | Cost: $6
Bourbon Street, where New Orleans comes alive
This is probably the most famous street in New Orleans, at least for party goers. This is where all bars between 6:22-7:50 are located.
Unlike many might think, the name Bourbon derives from the French Bourbon dynasty, and not the whiskey! Hahaha! Actually, the name of this type of whiskey also derives from the French dynasty.
And by the way, the most famous drink here is the hurricane, made of rum.
How to enjoy Bourbon Street:
- The main part of Bourbon Street closes to traffic at night, so wear comfortable shoes if you plan to walk the 9 main blocks.
- Most bars are located in the central section of Bourbon Street and they have open doors. You come and go as you want and don’t even need to buy a drink in each. Actually, in New Orleans’ French Quarter you can carry your drink from place to place. But remember, you can drink alcohol on sidewalks and streets as long as you have plastic cups. We got in and out of several bars, enjoying 2-3 live music performances in each. In some bars, you can go up to the second floor, where you will have a great view of the crowd at Bourbon Street.
- The most popular bars are Pat O’Brien’s, Johnny White’s, the Famous Door, Spirits on Bourbon, Channing Tatum’s Saints and Sinners, Razzoo and The Cat’s Meow
- Another popular place: Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo | 739 Bourbon Street
- Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest structure in the United States used as a bar (that you can see between 6:45-7:25) is located in a not so crowded part of Bourbon, about 2 blocks from the most popular bars | 941 Bourbon Street
- In between the most popular bars and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, Bourbon Street becomes the center of gay nightlife
What you may not enjoy, but be aware:
- In addition to the bars, shops, and lively nightlife, there are strip clubs at Bourbon Street, so don’t open every door…
- Bourbon Street is really a party place at night, so early in the morning you may still smell the alcohol in certain parts of the street
Royal Street, where New Orleans maintains its charm
So close but so far away…
This would perfectly explain Royal Street in comparison to Bourbon Street. These are two major streets in the French Quarter, which are parallel to each other but represent totally different aspects of New Orleans.
Along Royal Street, you find some of the nicest boutique hotels, art galleries, antique shops, and the old sophistication of the French Quarter.
This is what I enjoyed:
- Royal Street is a pedestrian street during the day. Go for a pleasant stroll while listening to street musicians playing some of the local classics. There are performances everywhere, a pleasure to watch
- Beautiful buildings to see are the Louisiana State Bank at 403 Royal St. and the Gallier House at 1132 Royal St. The latter is actually a museum. It’s a nice 1860 house with Victorian furnishings and decorations
- Pirate’s Alley: This is an alley along 2 blocks connecting Royal Street to Jackson Square with some very charming buildings. You can briefly see it at 3:45. In 1925, Nobel laureate William Faulkner wrote his first novel in a house here which today is an independent bookstore.
What I did not see but would consider for next time:
- Carousel Bar: This is very traditional and the only revolving bar in New Orleans. It’s located inside the Hotel Monteleone | 214 Royal Street
- Preservation Hall: Not exactly on Royal Street, but in between Royal and Bourbon. This is a traditional jazz club where you can see intimate performances like at the beginning of New Orleans jazz. Only 100 people can fit in each session, and some of them will have to watch the 30 to 45-minute session standing or seating on floor cushions. This certainly recreates the historical ambiance, but might not be suitable to everyone. Our guide Elizabeth told us to arrive up to one hour early to secure a ticket, which starts at $15 | 76 St. Peter Street
Other experiences in New Orleans’ French Quarter
These last places we visited are located on the edge of the French Quarter and are so historically rich:
- French Market: This is the oldest market in the United States and in addition to the flea market part, it also has shops and restaurants. Long before the founding of New Orleans in 1718, the site of the market was already home to a Native American trading post. The French Market appears in the video between 5:23-5:29. | 1100 N Peters Street #1
- Ursuline Convent: The Ursuline Nuns were the first religious order coming from Europe to Louisiana. They arrived in 1727 and the convent dates back to 1752. It’s considered one of the finest surviving example of French colonial public architecture in the United States (in the video at 5:30). The convent is open for tours for $8 | 1100 Chartres Street
Experiences on my list for next time:
- Ghost tour: New Orleans is so famous for ghost stories, and the ghost tours here are highly rated. They all start in the evening, which makes things even more exciting… hahaha! Here’s a list of ghost and vampire tours in town are available on TripAdvisor
- Voodoo shops and museums: Voodoo is an important part of New Orleans’ culture. The religion was brought to America by the African slaves and from Congo Square, it spread throughout the colony. There are lots of voodoo shops in New Orleans and even voodoo museums, which display artifacts and sacred objects. Two examples are the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum at 724 Dumaine Street and Voodoo Authentica in the next block at 612 Dumaine Street
Whatever your day and your trip to New Orleans might take you, be sure to wander around in no hurry the streets of the French Quarter. It’s amazing the amount of live music and culture you will find in every block and every turn.
New Orleans is unlike any other city in the United States, so be open-minded and prepared to embrace its uniqueness.
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Cheers and enjoy,
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