Central New Orleans | French Quarter

 

The French Quarter & Central Neighborhoods


 
 

The French Quarter is the heart of historical New Orleans. An easy grid of petite streets with Creole townhouses and old-time charm, it is perfect for ambling without any particular destination in mind. Boutiques, galleries, ateliers, and cafés can be found just about everywhere you look. The thing to do here is simply mosey around and enjoy the atmosphere. 

 
 

 

Best Ways to Experience Central New Orleans:

Jackson Square: (Center) St. Louis Cathedral, (left) the historic Spanish-Colonial  Cabildo

Jackson Square: (Center) St. Louis Cathedral, (left) the historic Spanish-Colonial Cabildo

 

One | Wander

 
 

The best thing to do in the French Quarter is just walk around and enjoy exploring. Whether you are perusing the local shops, admiring the old architecture, or enjoying a beignet beside the Mississippi, the neighborhood is charming just about everywhere you look. The French Quarter is referred to as the "Vieux Carré" or the "Historic Quarter" for a reason. The neighborhood is dotted with numerous historical highlights such as the Spanish Colonial government house, The Cabildo, which is where the Louisiana Purchase took place and is currently where New Orleans' city council meets. In front of the Cabildo lies Jackson Square. Loosely modeled on the Place des Vosges in Paris (very loosely) the square has become a spot for local jazz musicians and street performers to wow out-of-towners with their acts. Of course, the St. Louis Cathedral also resides on the popular square, although I would suggest simply enjoying it's façade over takeaway cafés-au-lait in the square rather than spending much time going inside.

 
Left to Right: St. Louis Cathedral, Live Street Performers in New Orleans

Left to Right: St. Louis Cathedral, Live Street Performers in New Orleans

New Orleanian Street Perfomers
Beautiful Bevolo Gas Lamps Twinkle all over New Orleans (photo courtesy of Bevolo Gas Lamps

Beautiful Bevolo Gas Lamps Twinkle all over New Orleans (photo courtesy of Bevolo Gas Lamps

The French Quarter has more history and more fascinating treasures to uncover as you wander into the smaller streets where things get more interesting. Embrace being side-tracked by anything that catches your interest. Endless boutiques, cafes, and music venues are nestled inside the various Creole townhouses with their iron railings and wide windows. Discovering niche spots is really the reason to be in the French Quarter. Pop your head into any shop or eatery that strikes your fancy.  You'll discover local artists, artisans, and celebrated southern chefs just about everywhere you go.

Bevolo Gas & Electric Lights is a charming atelier where you can watch skilled craftsmen fashion gorgeous gas lamps in a range of styles from the traditional angular lamp you can spot all over New Orleans, to more modern rectangular lamps in copper or steel.

Le Jardin is a great gallery to visit if you want to get the feel for the vibrant color of local folk artists and poke your head into a real Vieux Carré courtyard, while art spaces like Angela King Gallery provide a wider representation of local art ranging from subtle to flashy.

World-class restaurants and small (but bright) culinary gems are abundant in New Orleans, and the French Quarter is home to many of them. For advice on where to go for your particular craving, take a look at the second portion of this article, the "Food & Drink" section. There you will find a condensed list of some of the best eateries in the French Quarter, with descriptions.

Historic architecture of the French Quarter
Overcast French Quarter (photo: Llambrano)
Clockwise from Left: Historic architecture of the French Quarter, Beautifully aging façades of New Orleans (photo: Joaquin), French Quarter Square (photo: Llambrano)

Clockwise from Left: Historic architecture of the French Quarter, Beautifully aging façades of New Orleans (photo: Joaquin), French Quarter Square (photo: Llambrano)

Enjoy the architecture around you as you wander. You won't find it's mix of faded colonial, Victorian, and Creole styles anywhere else in the world. Occasionally you might even come across a cottage built from wooden planks of old barges used in the 1800's to ship goods down the Mississippi. If you're interested in learning more as you go, joining a walking tour is a great way to see The French Quarter through the eyes of knowledgeable locals who will regale you with interesting facts and hush-hush local legends. (More tour information below in Section Two) 

Left to Right: Live Music on the Streets of New Orleans (photo: William Recinos), Sunset over the Mississippi

Left to Right: Live Music on the Streets of New Orleans (photo: William Recinos), Sunset over the Mississippi

When you feel your energy lagging, stop by a French Quarter cafe for a coffee and a pastry to cool down. If the humidity isn't unbearable, try taking your pastries to go and find a spot by the languid Mississippi to enjoy the view, and hopefully the pleasant breeze.

Sunset over the Mississippi
 

Two | Take a Walking Tour 

A verdant courtyard along Le Monde Creole Walking Tour (photo: Bill Coble)

A verdant courtyard along Le Monde Creole Walking Tour (photo: Bill Coble)

There are several fantastic tours that start in this the French Quarter. My favorite tour is "Le Monde Creole Walking Tour." It is one of the only tours that takes you inside private the courtyards and homes of the French Quarter and covers a myriad of subjects: history, architecture, and local lore. The tour guide will take you through important streets of the French Quarter and even ventures into the city's oldest cemetery, an dusty apothecary, and a city history museum. (Tours available in French as well).

Although Le Monde Creole is my favorite tour, there is an unending list of tours catering to every type of traveler.

For the playful traveler, 2 Chicks Walking Tours is fundamentally entertaining, focusing on the shocking and fun stories of New Orleans.

For the high-energy traveler, there are a number of bicycle tours available: Flambeaux Bicycle Tours, Free-Wheeling Bike Tours, and Fat-Tire Tours are the top rated cycling choices.

For the private traveler, hire your own tour guide from, Big Easy Private Tours. Knowledgeable Guides will meet you by your hotel and lead you and your small group around.

For the buggy-pushing, snack-packing traveler, French Quartour Kids offers tours with commentary and jokes that cater specifically to children.

Check out New Orleans Official Guide site to get more ideas for tours. They have everything from Voodoo-themed tours to Creole Pub Crawling tours listed on their French Quarter Tours page. I would highly recommend cross-referencing it with activity ranking sites like TripAdvisor to find the cream of the crop.

 
Le Monde Creole Walking Tour Fountain (photo: Bill Coble)
Clockwise from top: Glimpsing into Private Courtyards of the French Quarter, Learning about New Olreans' Historic Fascination with Cemeteries and the Afterlife, Jackson Square during a fog - Le Monde Creole Walking Tour (photos: Bill Coble)

Clockwise from top: Glimpsing into Private Courtyards of the French Quarter, Learning about New Olreans' Historic Fascination with Cemeteries and the Afterlife, Jackson Square during a fog - Le Monde Creole Walking Tour (photos: Bill Coble)

Learning about New Olreans' Historic Fascination with Cemeteries and the Afterlife (photo: Bill Coble)
 

Three | Cafés-au-lait and Beignets

Beignets and Cafe au Lait at Cafe du Monde

Beignets and Cafe au Lait at Cafe du Monde

New Orleans is home to an array of beloved Creole food. Perhaps the most famous sweet treat to find its way into the heart of New Orleans culture is the beloved beignet. Although similar to an English fritter, New Orleanian beignets are deep fried doughnuts made from choux pastry, or pâte à choux, which is the same light dough that goes into éclairs, profiteroles, and, of course, crème-filled choux! 

Traditionally, beignets are fried and blanketed with a generous heap of powdered sugar right before you eat them, meaning they are fresh and piping hot. One of the most famous adages to come out of New Orleans is, "Don't wear black to Café du Monde!" Once you've tried beignets at any one of the cafes, you'll understand. Powdered sugar wafts through the air clinging to every nook and cranny. And taking a bite without getting a bit on you... well, you might as well commit to wearing sugar for the day.

There are so many fantastic cafés to stop and enjoy a beignet at in New Orleans. Many people visit Cafe du Monde on Jackson Square, but lines can be long and tables crowded. I would recommend trying other cafes for your Creole treat. Or visit Cafe du Monde in the evening, when the lines have abated, but the beignets are just as good!

You'll find the best beverage to go with your beignet is New Orleans style coffee with chicory or a milky café-au-lait. You can also take your treats to go and eat it just about anywhere in the French Quarter to enjoy people watching. 

 

Four | Preservation Hall

To get an authentic taste of New Orleans' traditional jazz heritage, you must go to a performance at the historic Preservation Hall a block and a half from Jackson Square. Members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band perform with a relaxed glee gained only through a lifetime of love for their genre. Although the performances are under an hour - a boon for parents of young, fidgety children -  the set includes an impressively diverse array of traditional jazz pieces aimed at exposing different facets and emotions behind classic jazz motifs. Throughout the performance, the audience is taken on an auditory ride punctuated thoroughly by musicians cracking jokes in between, and often during, the songs. You can feel the history being passed down from the older generation of musicians to the younger ones as the players improvise and encourage each other. It is not simply a performance; it is heritage preserved before your own eyes. To further encourage audience members to truly focus on the beauty of the moment, video recording and photos are prohibited, making each performance a refreshing escape from the usual sea of distractions.

Traditional New Orlean Jazz Performances (Photo: Chris Bair)

Traditional New Orlean Jazz Performances (Photo: Chris Bair)

black-and-white-blur-close-up-221569.jpg

Visitors wanting to see the band play can line up just outside Preservation Hall's charmingly faded façade about a half hour before the show to wait for general admission tickets (typically 20$) - no seat guaranteed. But for supporters of jazz culture who can afford it, I recommend purchasing "Big Shot" Reserved Seats. A bit pricier (35$ - 50$) but it comes with advantages. "Big Shots" skip the line and get the best seats in the house. Regardless of which tickets you buy, if you see a show at Preservation Hall, you will be supporting the continued conservation of New Orleans' beloved jazz heritage. You can also help ensure that Preservation Hall keeps its worn-out wooden doors open by donating to the Preservation Hall Foundation here.

 Preservation Hall Website | Showtimes : 5pm, 6pm, 8pm, 9pm, 10pm

 

Five | Yoga at the Cabildo

Left to Right: Yoga at the Cabildo, The Cabildo as seen from Jackdson Square

Left to Right: Yoga at the Cabildo, The Cabildo as seen from Jackdson Square

The Cabildo and St. Louis Cathedral

If you're looking for  to do something a little different from the usual touristic itinerary, get a little stretchy with New Orleans locals inside of a historic and beautiful Franco-Spanish Colonial building, the Cabildo. Local yoga teachers offer mornings classes three times a week, and anyone can join as long as they buy a ticket beforehand.  Yoga at the Cabildo** is a fun way to break out of the tourist routine and see inside the building where the famous Louisiana Purchase took place. The plus side? Working off some of those beignets you had the day before.

Classes on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. 15$ (tickets online)

 

Six | Live Jazz while you Dine 

anthony-delanoix-460520-unsplash.jpg

Sample southern cuisine while enjoying live music at one of the many jazz lounges and restaurants.

In the mood for upscale, soothing jazz? Sip a Vieux Carré cocktail in the same bar and lounge that popped bottles for literary giants such as Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote.

The upscale Carousel Bar & Lounge, located in the historic Hotel Monteleone, lives up to it's namesake. Decorated in the fashion of an early 1900's carousel, the bar actually rotates, taking its patrons on a merry-go-round ride as they enjoy their cocktails.

Worried a spinning bar might not be the best idea? Never fear, the Carousel only rotates once every fifteen minutes and is just one of the many highlights of the historic bar and lounge. And if you're feeling a bit peckish, Carousel offers elevated pub fare (think Blue Crab & Crawfish Beignets) to enjoy while you relax to live jazz.

Jazz bands perform often for the clientele, and a schedule of upcoming performances can be found on Carousel Bar & Lounge's site, just after the introduction. 

New Orleans, the birthplace of Jazz (photo: Marc Antoine Depelteau)

New Orleans, the birthplace of Jazz (photo: Marc Antoine Depelteau)

Crawfish and grilled corn (Photo: Sidney Pearce)

Crawfish and grilled corn (Photo: Sidney Pearce)

 On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, we have House of Blues*, a loud and unabashedly over-the-top chain restaurant which offers a full menu and an array of various southern-genre music performances. Ever had Sunday brunch with a live gospel choir? If you can handle the energy, House of Blues might be for you.

More great spots to eat a meal and enjoy live jazz in the French Quarter include: (in ascending order from casual to upscale) The Market Cafe, Café Beignet, Crescent City Brew House, The Court of Two Sisters (Jazz Brunch, daily), Antoine's (Jazz Brunch, Sundays), and the extremely elegant Bombay Club (normally 8pm - 11pm daily, with morning jazz on Sundays 11am - 2pm)

For anyone interested solely in drinks with their live jazz, there is a myriad of fantastic jazz venues around New Orleans. Snug HarborThe Spotted Cat, and D.B.A are great places to start.

 

Seven | Take a Steamboat Cruise

Although a bit touristic, for anyone who ever wanted to ride on an actual steamboat, this might be your chance. The Steamboat Natchez* paddles up and down the Mississippi often with a live jazz band and live narration of the history of New Orleans. They offer a buffet, but I wouldn't buy tickets for the cuisine. This boat trip is mainly about the history of steamboat travel and enjoying the views of the river bank as it chugs past. Coming in October, a sister paddle boat will be joining the Natchez. This latest addition will be called the City of New Orleans* and will feature many of the same hallmarks that the Natchez has provided all these years.

 
New Orleans Paddle Boat, the Steamer Natchez

New Orleans Paddle Boat, the Steamer Natchez

 

 

Food & Drink Suggestions:

{ fancy-ish }  / ( chill )  / < in between >

 

Cafés:

{ Brennan's } Technically more than a café, Brennan's is one of New Orlean's top restaurants. Yet Brennan's is especially revered for its breakfast and brunch, so we'll call it an honorary café. Cajun Bloody Marys, Eggs Hussarde, Vanilla Scented French Toast... A morning spent sipping coffee here will not be forgotten. 

< Café Amelie* >  A charming café with patio seating for a lovely for breakfast or lunch.

( Café Beignet* ) An old and quaint cafe with three locations. The Royal Street one is the most popular and offers performances of live jazz.

( Café Du Monde ) Known for their beignets and cafés au lait... There are eight locations. Most people go to the one near Jackson Square... I prefer the less busy locations, especially the one in Kenner which is on the way to several plantations or the swamp wildlife refuge. (See my Day Trip Guide to Plantations near New Orleans.)

< Sucré > A modern French-style patisserie with macarons, confections, and coffee. 

Macarons and Coffee (photo: Brooke Lark)
Cafe au Lait and Beignets
Clockwise from Top: Traditional Café au Lait and Beignets, Brennan's Courtyard (photo courtesy of Brennan's), French style Macarons and Coffee (photo: Brooke Lark)

Clockwise from Top: Traditional Café au Lait and Beignets, Brennan's Courtyard (photo courtesy of Brennan's), French style Macarons and Coffee (photo: Brooke Lark)

 

Restaurants:

Oysters and Beer

Acme Oyster House ) A busy local spot to grab some New Orleans-style grub, Acme Oyster House is where locals and out-of-towners alike have been getting their Oysters, Po' Boys, and Étouffée since 1910. Definitely no-frills - there's literally a neon red sign announcing "Waitress Available Sometimes" - but a bit of fun if you can handle copious amounts of seafood and a penchant for deep frying. Tables are sticky, decor is quite loud - yes, this is a bit of a tourist trap. But after more than a hundred years of being in the bivalve business, they have really nailed their niche. 

*For upscale oysters, look for "Seaworthy" further down in this list. Seaworthy serves top notch oysters, in a renovated Creole cottage from the 1800's.

Clockwise: The Chanteclair Room of Brennan's, Executive Chef Slade Rushing, The Queen's Room (photos courtesy of Brennan's)

Clockwise: The Chanteclair Room of Brennan's, Executive Chef Slade Rushing, The Queen's Room (photos courtesy of Brennan's)

Executive Chef Slade Rushing (photo: courtesy of Brennan's)
Brennan's_Queens Room.jpg

{ Brennan's** } A mid-century New Orleans icon beloved especially for its breakfast and brunch, this swanky spot is where Banana's Foster was born. Currently one of the most renowned restaurants in all of New Orleans, Brennan's has been a rising star on the U.S. culinary scene led by Executive Chef Slade Rushing. Brennan's interior is truly a sight to behold. A collection of fantastically decorated dining rooms plays with various themes of old world elegance. Perhaps their most famous, the Chanteclair room, smacks of a splashy French orangerie, while the Queen's Room with its hues of aquamarine, ivory, and gold echoes the era of Marie Antoinette and the Sun King himself. Of course, the decoration is breathtaking, but the real reasons for Brennan's lustrous reputation are the dishes coming out of Chef Slade's kitchen. As a four-time finalist for the coveted James Beard Best Chef: South Award, Chef Slade brings a range of flavors from a mix of international influences as varied as the character of New Orleans itself. Traditional French, Spanish, and Italian influences merge with unexpected inspirations from afar - think Korean spices paired with French style jus. Really, just read Brennan's menu for a midday food fantasy.

Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon (photo credit: Link Restaurant Group)
Cochon at Dusk (photo credit: Link Restaurant Group)
Clockwise from Top Left: James Beard Award "Best Chef: South" Chef Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon, Outside Cochon at dinnertime, Fall off the bone Cochon Ham Hock (photo credit: Link Restaurant Group)

Clockwise from Top Left: James Beard Award "Best Chef: South" Chef Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon, Outside Cochon at dinnertime, Fall off the bone Cochon Ham Hock (photo credit: Link Restaurant Group)

< Cochon > Upscale Cajun dishes & barbecue in a hip and relaxed atmosphere. Esteemed Southern cuisine darling Chef Donald Link works with locally sourced pork, cooked using traditional Cajun methods. (See Link's other successful eateries below: Herbsaint and Pêche)

Herbsaint >  French-Southern dishes with hints of rustic Italian, Herbsaint is the only restaurant recognized in the Times-Picayune’s annual list of New Orleans' 10 Best Restaurants since it the list began in 2003. In 2007, Chef Donald Link was awarded Best Chef: South by the James Beard Award Foundation. Chef de Cuisine Rebecca Wilcomb won the same coveted title for them again in 2017. Herbsaint dishes feature sustainably sourced, seasonal ingredients from local farmers and fishermen.

 

Left to Right: Herbsaint Gnocchi, Herbsaint's Dining Room (photo credit: Link Restaurant Group)

Left to Right: Herbsaint Gnocchi, Herbsaint's Dining Room (photo credit: Link Restaurant Group)

Herbsaint Dining Room (photo credit: Link Restaurant Group)

 

< Josephine Estelle > James Beard Award-nominated chefs Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer recreate traditional Italian recipes with a Southern American twist. The ingredients are seasonal, the pasta is home-made, and the dishes are inspired by old family recipes.

A seafood platter at Pêche (photo credit: Link Restaurant Group)

A seafood platter at Pêche (photo credit: Link Restaurant Group)

Pêche** > Simply prepared, rustic seafood cooked using traditional "live-fire" cooking techniques on an open hearth. Executive Chef Donald Link and his team source their ingredients from local fisherman and farmers who practice sustainable harvesting techniques. Pêche was given the James Beard Award in 2014 for Best New Restaurant in America, and one of its chefs, Chef Ryan Prewitt, won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South.

Seaworthy** > This is one of the best spots in town to enjoy oysters, wild-caught and sustainably harvested from American waters — Gulf Coast, East Coast and West Coast alike — as well as locally sourced fish and game. All served in a upscale bar in a classic Creole Cottage built in 1832. They have a dinner and brunch menu as well (if you don't like oysters!!)

< Upperline > Much beloved and run by a local woman who brushed shoulders with the likes of Tennessee Williams and Lee Friedlander, Upperline is a down-to-earth spot to enjoy the journey of eating a meal. The art-packed restaurant has been nominated for James Beard Awards several times and was the Times-Picayune's Restaurant of the Year in 2017. It's a birthplace for classic Southern dishes such as Fried Green Tomato with Shrimp Remoulade and Slow Roasted Half Duckling with Ginger Peach Sauce. Finish it all off with Honey-Pecan Bread Pudding and a Brandy Alexander on the rocks.

 

 

Drinks:

French 75 Chris Hannah (photo courtesy of Arnaud's)

< French 75 > Every shelf is a top shelf at this vintage bar in the French Quarter. An offshoot of historic Creole restaurant, Arnaud's, French 75 won the James Beard Award in 2017 for Outstanding Bar Program and was noted as "One of the top five bars in the country," by Esquire Magazine. Their world-class cocktails enjoyed in a 1920's French Safari atmosphere make this renovated cigar lounge a perfect place to meet friends for a special evening. French 75's mixologists are lead by Chris Hannah, who insists on using only fresh ingredients and takes a "home-made" approach to all of their syrups. Order one of their playful concoctions and a plate of hors d'oeuvre from the vintage 1800's bar and enjoy your night in one of New Orleans' oldest establishments. 2018 marks Arnaud's 100th anniversary and is being celebrated in a big way. I imagine the Centennial Gala in November will be a soirée to remember!

Clockwise from Top: Leader of the bar Program Chris Hannah, The namesake cocktail of  French 75,  Outside  Arnaud's  &amp;  French 75  (photo credit: Arnaud's Restaurant)

Clockwise from Top: Leader of the bar Program Chris Hannah, The namesake cocktail of French 75, Outside Arnaud's & French 75 (photo credit: Arnaud's Restaurant)

French75-2.jpgThe namesake cocktail of French 75 (photo credit: Arnaud's Restaurant)
A modern Sazerac (photo credit: Adam Jaime)

A modern Sazerac (photo credit: Adam Jaime)

The Bombay Club } A dark-paneled lounge with live jazz and ritzy cocktails. Think: overstuffed leather chairs and soothing jazz. Sip a traditional New Orleans Sazerac  and enjoy the evening performances as the sun sets on the Big Easy. An upscale alternative  if the  free-wheeling atmosphere at most New Orleans jazz bars isn't your scene.

< Roost Bar > For anyone simply looking for a bright and airy place to enjoy a cocktail or two, Brennan's also offers the Roost Bar. From eggshells to feathers, every inch of decor summons playful avian imagery. Here you will find the delightful concoctions of world-famous bar chef Lu Brow. Enjoy Brow's elegantly modernized classic cocktails, such as their NOLA-groni, while you overlook Brennan's verdant courtyard. 

Seaworthy** > Not just for oysters! Seaworthy is also home to an energetic cocktail bar set in a classic Creole Cottage. Seaworthy has an array of imaginative cocktails and a scaleable menu for the size of your appetite. The oysters are always wild-caught and sustainably harvested oysters from American waters — Gulf Coast, East Coast and West Coast alike —  and other dishes on the menu are made with locally sourced fish and game.
 

 

 

Finally,

Filled with history, charm, and a boatload of blue-ribbon restaurants, the French Quarter and Central Districts are a must, especially if it is your first time in New Orleans. It is a great way to start your journey through the Big Easy.

Admittedly, because of it's charm and central location, the French Quarter tends to attract loud tourists and thrives on the raucous bars of Bourbon Street. Although everyone should visit the French Quarter to appreciate the history and architecture, there are even more authentic experiences often found in New Orleans' other neighborhoods.

Check out my Guide to New Orleans' North East Neighborhoods (Tremé, Faubourg Marigny, St. Roch, 7th Ward & Bywater),  and my Guide to New Orleans' South West Neighborhoods (The Garden District, Uptown, & Carrolton).

 

 

Enjoy your trip to New Orleans!

L.D. has spent the past two years traveling, writing, and encouraging readers to look at the world with fresh eyes. For anyone who feels like their life has lost its vibrancy, she offers some advice, “Open new doors, challenge yourself, and fall in love with other people's stories.”

For advice and encouragement, her articles are there for you...