New Orleans French Quarter

New Orleans French Quarter – the city’s top tourist attraction – is much more than another place to see; it’s a neighborhood to truly experience on every level. Intimate yet high-spirited, understated yet artfully embellished, and with a character to earn it a spot among the world’s most vibrant neighborhoods, the New Orleans French Quarter is an adventure you mustn’t miss.

Brief Overview

Also known as the Vieux Carré (“Old Square” in French) or Vieux Carré Historic District, the French Quarter fronts the Mississippi River and  marks the spot where the French established the city in 1718. The city was originally developed as seventy squares laid out in a military-style grid.

Over time, the arrival of immigrants from across the globe and an influx of indigenous and African slaves began to leave their mark on the city. Today, this mix of unique cultures can be seen in everything from art, cuisine, religion, languages, and architecture.

The French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans and is also the city’s cultural hub. Throughout the city’s modern history, many famous writers, artists, celebrities, and business leaders have worked, played, and lived in New Orleans French Quarter either part time or year round. The famous have long mingled with the full-time residents, giving the neighborhood a touch of glamour while preserving its intimate yet vibrant feel.

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, New Orleans

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

French Quarter Architecture

The architecture in the French Quarter is a lovely mix of French, Spanish, Creole, and American design elements. Sadly, the Great New Orleans Fires of 1788 and 1794 destroyed a large number of the original structures, but opened the door to new construction and design methods which not only made buildings more fire resistant, but also added embellishments still seen today. Be sure to look for intricate ironwork designs, Creole cottages, lovely walled courtyards, and charming balconies perfect for people watching.

Whether you’re an architecture geek or simply appreciate beautiful design, the French Quarter is the place to be in New Orleans. Be sure to check out these bucket list French quarter sights:

  • Old Ursuline Convent Museum – Built in 1745, this former convent is now a museum with permanent and changing exhibits. The National Park Service has called it “the finest surviving example of French Colonial public architecture in the country.”
  • The Cabildo –  Under the direction of a French-born architect inspired by Spanish design, construction began on this stately building in 1795. Today, this Jackson Square landmark houses the Louisiana State Museum.
  • St. Louis Cathedral – Another Jackson Square can’t miss, this stately landmark is the oldest cathedral in the U.S. It is located between the Cabildo and the Presbytere and has been featured in hundreds of movies and TV shows.
  • The Presbytere – Designed by the same French-born architect as the Cabildo, this Spanish colonial and neo-Renaissance structure was originally designed to house priests. Today, it’s part of the Louisiana State Museum.
  • Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – Built during the 1720s and 1730s, Lafitte’s is one of the oldest buildings in New Orleans and legend has it it was once a home base for smugglers. It survived the city’s great fires thanks to its slate roof. Today, Lafitte’s is a bar.
  • Madame John’s Legacy – Built right after the Great Fire of 1788, this structure is a perfect example of 18th century Louisiana-Creole residential design. Today, the Louisiana State Museum owns the property and, as of this writing, it is currently closed for restoration
New Orleans French Quarter style hotel

New Orleans French Quarter style hotel

French Quarter Boutique Hotels

As New Orleans’ cultural hub, the French Quarter is the perfect place to stay if you want a more personalized and intimate New Orleans French Quarter experience. There are many great French Quarter hotels that allow you to explore the best attractions while ensuring your accommodations are nearly as impressive as the sights and sounds outside your hotel.

Check out our picks for some of the best places to stay in the French Quarter:

  • Hotel Le Marais – Complimentary breakfast and welcome cocktails, enthusiastic local staff, a heated saltwater pool, and a great location with both high-energy Bourbon St. and refined Royal St. nearby make this a great stay.
  • The Cornstalk Hotel – Located on the National Register of Historic Places, this property offers a distinctive Victorian charm. Celebrities, politicians, writers, and ordinary people alike have fallen in love with the fireplaces, balconies, period decor, and classy vibe of this quiet and distinguished hotel.
  • Hotel Mazarin – Home to the French Quarter’s only wine bar, this luxury boutique hotel features an elegant courtyard, large and thoughtfully-appointed rooms, complimentary breakfast, Egyptian cotton robes and slippers, and friendly and attentive staff.
  • Soniat House – Each of the 31 rooms at at this luxurious property features period antiques, Egyptian cotton linens and bathrobes by Frette, Molton Brown toiletries, and dreamy beds and turndown service. The building is an architectural marvel, the awards here are numerous, and the antique gallery is divine. A must-visit French Quarter hotel.  
  • Hotel Monteleone – This property has long been a favorite of literary giants and has appeared in numerous TV shows and movies. Plus, it’s home to a refined Creole bistro and New Orleans’ only revolving bar, it’s pet friendly and will pamper your pooch, and it offers a variety of packages for every type of traveler.
Creole Jambalaya - Rice cooked with chicken, smoked sausage and tomatoes

Creole Jambalaya – Rice cooked with chicken, smoked sausage and tomatoes

French Quarter Restaurants

Are you a person who eats? Good news then, because New Orleans French Quarter is home to more bars and restaurants than any other NOLA neighborhood. Po’ boys, muffulettas, oysters, gumbos…  you name it and you can probably find it served up right in the French Quarter. Of course, be sure to hit the world-famous Cafe du Monde  for a café au lait and a beignet after a meal at any of these great French Quarter restaurants.

  • Po’Boys:
    • Johnny’s Po’Boys – A family-owned French quarter landmark since 1950. Super fresh breakfasts, muffalettas, and po’boys featuring the famous Leidenheimer bread. Heads up: Cash only.
    • Killer Po’Boys – Specializes in new-school po’boys with a nod to global and gourmet flavors like their rum and ginger glazed pork belly po’boy. Killer classic flavors, too.
  • Muffulettas (Sometimes spelled muffalettas):
    • Central Grocery and Deli – Founded in 1906 by a Sicilian immigrant, Central Grocery is the birthplace of the muffuletta. They know the muffuletta inside and out, obviously. Don’t forget to take home a jar of their famous house-made olive salad.
    • Verti Marte – Tiny market and deli open 24/7. It’s cash only and doesn’t have a website, but it does have the epic “Mighty Muffuletta” served hot and melty or cold and traditional.
  • Oysters:
    • Antoine’s – Established in 1840 and still in the same family, Antoine’s invented Oysters Rockefeller, so named for the richness of the sauce. World-renowned French-Creole classics, 14 dining rooms, and a unique atmosphere make it a French Quarter favorite.
    • Galatoire’s – A French Quarter tradition since 1905, Galatoire’s does Oysters Rockefeller – and everything else – perfectly. An upscale, friendly, and celebratory atmosphere make Galatoire’s a New Orleans rite of passage dining experience.
    • Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar – Take a seat at the bar and watch the oysters get shucked right in front of you. Excellent food and a laid-back atmosphere make it a favorite with both locals and visitors. Try your oysters char-grilled.
  • Gumbo:
    • Coop’s Place – If you’re at least 21 years old, love delicious food, and want a no frills atmosphere that can get a bit loud, Coop’s is for you. The gumbo is fantastic, and there are lots of other goodies to choose from. Try the Coop’s Taste Plate for a bit of everything.
    • Gumbo Shop – This local fave offers three types of gumbo: chicken andouille, seafood okra, and gumbo z’herbes – a sort of oddball gumbo made with greens that has a devoted following. Grab a spot in the lovely courtyard for the perfect lunch.
Frontage to the French Market (also Farmer's Market) in the French Quarter.

Frontage to the French Market (also Farmer’s Market) in the French Quarter. Photo Credit: Victor Wong /

French Quarter Shopping

So. Much. Shopping. That pretty much sums up the retail scene here. You’ll find popular mass-market brands, luxury retailers, and cheap souvenirs galore. And while all those shopping experiences are perfectly fine, you might want to take advantage of your French Quarter getaway to pick up some one-of-a-kind finds. Whether you’re looking for a vintage piece of furniture, an original work of art, or a fascinating book of local lore, you’ll find it in this NOLA neighborhood. Check out these unique French Quarter shopping experiences:

  • SecondLine Arts and Antiques – This eclectic spot features over 8,000 square feet of space where more than 150 local artists and vendors proudly display their offerings. Spend an afternoon perusing original artistic creations, European furniture, antiques, oddities of every sort… an endless assortment of cool stuff you won’t find anywhere else.
  • James H. Cohen and Sons, Inc. – As one of the oldest family-owned businesses in the U.S., this store spans three centuries and five generations. You’ll find a huge variety of antique coins, jewelry, firearms and swords, and collectibles such as maps and New Orleans memorabilia. Buying or browsing, it’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours.
  • Glitter Box N.O. – This little boutique and gift shop offers a funky selection of unique art, clothes and accessories, housewares, tchotchkes, jewelry, and more. Not only do they support local NOLA artists, but the company is run by and for femme-identified people. Plus, a portion of their proceeds supports non-profits in NOLA and beyond that lift up womxn.
  • Bevolo Gas and Electric Lights – If you’re looking for a true New Orleans touch to your home, there’s no better way than with a Bevolo lighting fixture. This third-generation family business  invented the iconic copper lanterns known as the French Quarter Lamp. Today, they still hand craft every single item they sell. Even if you don’t plan to buy, Bevolo is a must-see iconic French Quarter shop and history lesson in one.
  • Faulkner House Books – This national literary landmark is the former home of William Faulkner and has been called “America’s Most Charming Bookstore.” You’ll find new and used books, including some of the author’s rare editions. There are also local interest books by local and regional authors; perfect for gift giving or for remembering your trip long after your return.
Elegant horse-drawn carriage in the French Quarter, New Orleans

Elegant horse-drawn carriage in the French Quarter, New Orleans

New Orleans French Quarter Tours

There’s so much to explore in the French Quarter and everyone’s interests are different. Love to walk? Or would you rather sit back and relax in a carriage? Does architecture fascinate you, or would you rather hear stories of ghosts and spirits? The good news is that all of those experiences and more are possible with our picks for the best French Quarter guided tours.

  • Two Chicks Walking Tours – If you’re looking for highly knowledgeable, engaging, and professional guides, Two Chicks is for you.  But if you want all that plus steamboat loads full of fun, Two Chicks is really for you! They do small group French Quarter tours, private tours, and can even customize experiences for any occasion such as weddings, birthdays, and holidays. They’re excellent cultural ambassadors.
  • Royal Carriages – First things first: This company takes excellent care of their mules and they are all dearly loved. (Read more about this here.) That said, a mule-drawn French Quarter tour with Royal Carriages is a really fun and entertaining way to see the sights. Plus, no walking in the NOLA heat – yay! Take in the architecture, history, and culture on one of their French Quarter guided tours.
  • French Quarter Phantoms – Sightseeing can be hard when you can’t “see” the sights. That’s where these French Quarter ghost tours come in. Your guides will mix historical facts with legends and little-known tidbits of information, giving you a spooky perspective. Who said ghosts, vampires, murder, disease, and disaster don’t make for an awesome tour!
  • Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours – This family-owned local company invests in only the best and coolest U.S.A.-made cruiser bikes with big comfy seats, custom paint, and plenty of chrome. The guides are knowledgeable, friendly, fun, and excited to share their passion for everything NOLA with you. There are many repeat customers with this top-rated bike tour.
  • Friends of the Cabildo – This non-profit offers an in-depth two-hour walking tour led by volunteer guides from the Louisiana State Museum System. The tour focuses on the neighborhood’s history, architecture, and folklore and takes you to Madame John’s Legacy and the 1850 House. Friends of the Cabildo also offers a very rigorous tour guide training program, so they set the standard for what a stellar guide should know.

Of course, there’s so much more to experience in the “Crown Jewel of New Orleans.” But we hope this enticed you to start planning your French Quarter getaway. Or to buy a sword and a beignet.

Like all good hosts, the neighborhood makes everyone feel welcomed, relaxed, and eager to make plenty of memories for years to come. Whether you’re with your significant other, your kids, or it’s just you and your favorite mule from the carriage ride!