Pros: So diverse, so much to do
Cons: you need time to get a good taste of the area.
The French Quarter of New Orleans is the definition of diversity. It is found in the history, cultures, food, music, architecture, and life styles. There is no other place in the world like it. I hope the following ideas help you get a sense of this part of New Orleans. It is about 90 square blocks. It is bounded by Canal St on the west, the Mississippi River on the South, North Rampart Street borders the north, and Esplanade to the east.
1. Take a walking tour of the Quarter.
Being a National park buff I recommend going to the Jean Lafitte National Park. The visitors center will give you a feel of the area. Sign up for one of the walking tours. It's free and the rangers are extremely informative. They give a great walk seeing sights and telling of the history and it's culture. The walk covers about one mile.
Jean LaFitte National Park
419 Decatur St.
2.Take a walk of the quarter on your own.
Start anywhere and just start walking. Keep a handy map. When on your own you can do so much more exploring. Yes, walk up that inviting alley. You will find so many little hidden treasures. Small restaurants with fountains are all over the city behind the facades of the buildings. Don't be bashfull. It's so much fun! See the sights, breath in the smells. Talk to some people. Stop and listen to some of the street entertainers. Look up see the architecture of the buildings. It's unique. Take lots of pictures. Take them of the buildings and the people. It is a place where even the poorest picture taker can become an artist behind a camera.
3.Walk around Jackson Square.
This area was named after Andrew Jackson who was from the area and also was instrumental in holding New Orleans in battle during the War of 1812. This area is wonderful to walk through at different parts of the day. We particularly enjoyed it in the morning. Not as many vendors were there yet. You can catch them later. It was quiet then. Most people do sleep late in this town. The park is surrounded by iron fencing that contains French Style gardens. All around the park you will find all kinds of artists and street vendors. The artists are doing work in charcoals, pen and ink, pastels, and paints. Stop and watch them. Have something done of yourself or purchase a painting of one of the areas landmarks. At the top of the park is St Louis Cathedral. Go inside check it out. I thought the outside was beautiful. The inside was just plain ugly to me. Make a comment on this review some time. Let me know what you think.
4.Have Cafe au Lait and Beignets at Cafe du Monde.
There is nothing like walking to the cafe before the heat of the day comes up. Sit down at the open air cafe and place an order. It's a wonderful place to sit quietly and people watch. It is a busy place even in the morning but once you are seated enjoy. Be sure to wipe that powdered sugar off your face before you leave.
5.Walk along the Mississippi River
From the cafe you are just a hundred yards or so from the river. Take a stroll. Be sure to look behind you as you are on the elevated area. It's a great view of Jackson Square and the Cathedral in the back ground. While moving along the river in a westerly direction in the morning we saw one street entertainer playing a Sax. It was a great feeling slowly walking with a cool breeze from the river and the music in the background.
You pass a few riverboats and the Jackson Brewery, and then go south and west of Canal st. The new high rise hotels look stunning against the blue sky. As you continue you eventually get to a shopping mall with up scale shops. This place on it's own is a great discovery area. Bring your credit card!! From there you can back track or go back up Canal Street and east into the the quarter.
6.Take a River Boat Ride
We found some discount tickets in a local site book. Look for them. Many places want your business. With the discount we payed about twenty dollars each for a sunset cruise on the Natchez It is a sternwheel steam ship that has three decks. Try and get a seat on the back deck. We liked it there and we were also closer to the Dixey Band that played. The boat had a guide who gave a narration of the local area. The ride was about two hours long. We enjoyed it very much. We had met some friends of ours on the boat and had a wonderful time.
2 Canal Street, Suite 1300
1 800 233-BOAT
7.Take a horse and carriage ride
We didn't do this but wish we had. Actually they don't use horses. They use mules. They do better in the heat and humidity. The mules are all "prettied up" with ribbons and flowers. The carriages are beautiful, highly polished and very stylish. You can find them by Jackson Square on the river side of it. It is a bit pricey at about twelve dollars per adult but seems worth it. The driver would take you out and give commentary of the neighborhoods he rides through. These are also great picture opts. Be sure to have the driver take your picture while inside the carriage. Even if you don't take a ride be sure to take a picture of one of them either at the park or on the streets of the quarter.
Good Old Days Buggies
8.Bar hop at night
This is where things come alive. While walking along Bourbon Street you will hear music coming from different places every few feet. Stop in. Don't just stand outside and look in the window. Immerse yourself. Have a beer, listen to a set and then move on another ten feet to the next place. It's a lot of fun. You will get a taste of jazz, blues, zydico, rock-n-roll and who knows what else. Each of these places have great musicians and all have a style of their own. New Orleans is the heart of American Music. Enjoy it!!
9.Stop at Pat O'Briens
Down one of the side streets and not hard to find in the heart of the French Quarter is Pat O'Brien's. Woo! woo!! This was a party place!! You will find a fast moving long line outside. Wait on it! Don't go! You can get a seat outside where the flaming fountain is. Do take a peek but I recommend going inside to the area with the two pianos. If in a party mood you can't miss with this place. There are two pianos with a huge mirror over them. You can see the players easily and they are great entertainers. We spent the night sending down request in a napkin with a couple of bucks. Everybody was doing it. There was never a dull moment. One player would start a tune, everybody sings along, we all cheer and clang glasses together and then the other piano player starts. It's dueling pianos!! and a ton of fun.
This is also what they bill as "The Home of the Hurricane". I have to say after buying back and forth with a guy from Texas we all felt pretty good. Actually I did pay for it the next day. I don't do that sort of thing often but it was worth it and I'd do it again!!
10. Go to Preservation Hall
Down another side street in the French Quarter is Preservation Hall. It looks today much as it did almost sixty years ago. I had a National Geographic magazine from the fifties with pictures of the place. There are still some of the same things on the wall today!! This place is where you will hear the finest jazz in the world. Every night there is a line at the doors. There are different "show times" I believe it was about eight and ten. Anyways you wait, pay about five bucks and squeeze in. And I mean squeeze. Chances are you will be standing in the back or sitting on the floor in the front. There are some benches but they are filled the moment the first people get in.
The place is old, dark, cramped, musty odored, with no food or drink allowed. YOU WILL LOVE IT!! I really mean it. Once the 'ol timers climb in over the crowd they start playing and this my friends is the real deal! It's a must stop. Try your best to get up close. We sat on the floor in front of the band both time we went. It's the best.
11.Watch the action at the Balconies, of Beads for Boobs
I didn't know how much action would still be taking place when it wasn't even near Mardi Gras. Every night there would be groups of people on balconies partying along. They would shout down to people on the streets. Those below would be shouting up. There would be many exchanges of boobs for beads. There were other exchanges too. I'll leave them to your imagination. After fifteen minutes or so the local police would move things along and then it would just pick up there again or somewhere else.
This town has it all. We ate and ate. There is so much to try. You can just get some boiled crawfish on the street or find some of the finest dining in the world. A muffaletta at the Central Grocery is an idea, or Cafe du Monde as I suggested earlier. Near here is also the French Market get some fresh produce and munch on it while walking the streets. Find one of those little hidden restaurants in the back alleys. Some say Commandors Palace is one of the worlds finest places to dine. Make reservations days and even a week ahead.
There are many hard to get into fine dining places here. Book ahead or have your concierge pull some strings. The French Quarter has all kinds of creations to try. There is Creole, Cajun, French, Soul, Spanish, international, all kinds of seafood, coffee shops and cafe's, and on and on. I recommend getting a guide book before arriving and make some plans ahead of time or as soon as you arrive. We loved sampling so much of the local fare.
13.Seek out the street entertainers
I love great talent that performs impromptu. There were different guys and gals all over the place. Some were wonderful and some.......... But they all were entertaining in some way. You will find some great guys with horns playing. Make a request and enjoy.
Just a reminder. In the French Quarter you are allowed to walk around with a drink in hand. All the places sell "take out" drinks. This simply means you get it in a plastic glass. I tell you this because as you stroll looking for the entertainers you can have a drink in hand and get some very inexpensive yet fun entertainment. Some of the entertainers are serious musicians, some put on show.
We enjoyed a particular duo of and older guy "pops" and a younger guy. The younger one would do all the patter getting everybody's attention and getting them involved. "Pops" played a mean harmonica while the other guy played a guitar with a portable amp. it was quite a show, very funny. There are all kinds of entertainers around. Mime is big there. Have fun and have a few dollar bills available.
A FEW THINGS TO DO NEARBY
14.Take a ride on a street car on St Charles Ave and see the Garden District. The ride is fun and you get to see some beautiful homes right from the trolley. If you take it to the end of the line stop at the Camellia Grill. It's on the west side of the street and has the best pecan waffles around.
The black fella who serves everything does all in a very controlled and specific fashion. Don't expect to get your coffee before the waffles are ready. The Grill is a very simple looking dining car but the food is wonderful.
Be sure to take a walk in the Garden District. The street car makes a few stops there. We were able to get a tour map of the area from the Jean Lefitte National Park Visitors center while there days earlier. The Park also gives tours in the Garden district. They are very popular and for these you must make reservations. The houses are beautiful and the stories behind them intriguing.
15.Take a swamp tour. My wife went on this alone. I was recuperating from some "hurricanes that hit me the night before. It was a lot of fun seeing alligators etc. The particular tour she was on became a problem when the guide started hitting on her. That problem was dealt with later. The tours though are a wonderful experience of nature especially is you live in a different area.
Gator Swamp Tours
106 Holly Ridge Dr.
Slidel, LA 70461
504 641-1769 This is not the one my wife went on.
16.See some of the Plantations up river.
We were in Louisiana for a wedding in Baton Rouge. We stayed in New Orleans and specifically the French quarter for three days before going north to the wedding. On the way north just an hour or so out of New Orleans we stopped at our first plantation. It was the Laura Plantation
We found the grounds and mansion beautiful. We particularly found the tour showing the slaves quarters very interesting. We also went to the Oak Alley Plantation That home was awesome!!
For the night we went to another mansion, the Madewood. It was a wonderful experience. The rooms were beautiful with period furniture. One of the dressers even had period clothes. We called up our friends who were in a different room and they joined us as we put on the outfits and took pictures out on our porch. What a fun time that was. The mansion has about twenty rooms it books out. They have a wonderful wine and cheese reception every night. We talked with some locals and those from other parts of the country. This was a grand place to stay. Dinner in the main dining room was wonderful too.
There is so much more to do in the French Quarter, New Orleans, and the immediate area outside it. Ghost tours and cemeteries to see. The New Orleans Jazz National Historic site is close by. Be sure to stop in the Voodoo museum. A refurbished building that was the site of the Ursiline sisters first school is too be seen. We stayed at the Wyndham Bourbon Orleans Hotel right on Bourbon and Orleans Street. I recommend it. I did write a review about it. Take a walk into it and see the Grand Ballroom. It has a lot of history about it and worth a peek. The aquarium is also near the French Quarter. Be sure to get books about it before you go. Frommers and Fodder's both have excellent information. Read some other reviews here for other perspectives of the area.
Have a wonderful time.
Read about more in New Orleans
The Garden District A must visit when in Nawlin's.
Wyndham Bourbon Orleans Hotel In the French Quarter.
Preservation Hall Jazz in the French Quarter
Cafe Du Monde Cafe Au Lait and Beignets!!
1,000 Places To See Before You Die A great book for planning and dreaming. The French Quarter and Preservation Hall are two of the places.