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This article was updated February 2020
Aaaah the French Quarter in New Orleans – honestly, what is not to love? The oldest neighborhood in the city is brimming with not only 24/7 bars, but live music throughout the streets, charming antique stores and art galleries, fabulous restaurants, wacky voodoo shops, quirky street performers and a feeling all to its own. There simply is no other place like the French Quarter.
Walking around the Quarter, as the locals call it, is an experience so uniquely different from anywhere else. The blend of Spanish, French, Creole and American styles of architecture makes you feel like you’ve left America and entered another world. Bustling balconies, secret courtyards, colorful buildings all add to the allure and mystique. With the sound of live jazz forever wafting in the distance, and the streets abuzz with tourists and locals alike, the energy is infectious. It’s impossible not to fall in love with New Orleans and the French Quarter!
One could wander the streets of the French Quarter all day and be fully satiated by the sites, the sounds, the smells. It’s that kind of place. There are, however, a few places you should definitely see when in Nola. Below are our top picks.
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Street Musicians and Performers
Walking around the French Quarter and coming upon musicians every few blocks is my favorite thing about this city. Nola is the birthplace of jazz, and it’s felt – and heard – everywhere you go. Big groups, small groups, soloists, they all can be found throughout the French Quarter. We couldn’t get into the jazz club Preservation Hall one day because we didn’t purchase tickets ahead of time, but in the end it was ok because no matter what there is always live music in the streets – and good music at that. Sounds so cliché, but these musicians are such a reflection of the city – so much life and soul!
Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral
Jackson Square is a vibrant public space in the heart of the French Quarter, and a place where people convene, feast, shop and ponder. Facing the Mississippi River and surrounded by buildings, including the St. Louis Cathedral, there is always action to be found in Jackson Square. Whether it be street performers, musicians or artists working away, this is the heart of the city. Restaurants and shops surround the square, and it’s great for people-watching.
Jackson Square is the home of St. Louis Cathedral, America’s oldest operating cathedral! If there’s one image that so defines Nola, this might be it. Three Roman Catholic churches have stood on this site since 1718, the second of which was destroyed by a fire. The now iconic cathedral is said to be one of the few cathedrals in the U.S. facing a major public square. Take a moment to go inside – it’s beautiful.
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Café du Monde
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a visit to Café du Monde! In French, it means “Café of the World”, and it really is. Everyone comes to this historic café, just off Jackson Square, for their famous beignets and coffee. Beignets are essentially fried dough – the French version of a donut. I am not a huge donut person, but these are seriously delish! Café du Monde gets packed with people at all hours of the day, so if you can’t sit down at a table, there is also a take-out window. That’s what we did, and the line wasn’t bad. Best of all, though, it’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Except Christmas. So no excuses for not paying a visit.
America’s oldest public market, the French Market is a French Quarter institution. We love the French Market, and went three times. What started hundreds of years ago as a Native American trading post has become a cultural mecca, full of good food, crafts, art and shops. There is something for everyone, including flea market finds. Some of the food vendors don’t open until later in the morning, so if you’re wanting to go and eat there, don’t go first thing in the morning. My girls came home with art works that they saw the artisan make right then and there, and were forever smitten.
New Orleans is known for its food, and in the French Quarter there is a lot of it. Feasting in this city is not for the faint of heart, so bring your appetite because “light fare” does not exist! There are restaurants everywhere you go in the French Quarter, but some notable ones are Napoleon House (known for their muffelata), Oceana Grill (good creole seafood), Brennan’s and old-school classics Antoine’s and Galatoire’s. For a real treat, splurge on some fine dining at R’evolution, fancy yet modern, and incredible food; it was our favorite meal of the trip.
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Royal Street is probably my favorite street, full of character with its charming and quirky antique shops, art galleries and good restaurants. The locals will tell you to avoid Bourbon Street for all its crowds and drunken tourists, and while they’re right, it’s still a must-see, just for the rowdy experience alone. The action literally never stops, even at 7:00 a.m., and for that, you have to see to believe. Chartres Street runs through Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. Decatur Street is famous for running along the Mississippi, with Café du Monde and the French Market on its course, as well as praline, soveneir and brick-a-brac shops .
The French Quarter is one of the most unique parts of the United Sates and not to be missed – if you want to have a completely different kind of American experience, then head here.
Want to read more about New Orleans? Check out these guides!
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