The French Quarter is the cultural heartbeat of New Orleans, blending colonial French architecture with Caribbean and southern influences to create an atmosphere that is unique to Louisiana. New Orleans has an endless list of things to offer, but these are the top things to see and do in the French Quarter specifically.
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Wander around the Faubourg Marigny
Exploring the Marigny is an event within itself. Dotted with jazz and dive bars and some of the best house and punk nightclubs in the US, this is where the young and alternative gather when the sun sets. Bustling with the coolest kids, the Marigny is the place to meet friendly locals more than willing to invite you into this bohemian community. If you want to avoid the tourists of Bourbon Street and cut right into the heart of the New Orleans scene, take a wander down to the cafés and Frenchmen Art Market; you never know who or what you might find.
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People watch and relax in Jackson Square
The breathtaking Jackson Square is the heart of the French Quarter. Surrounded on all sides by archetypal creole townhouses, full of shops, bars and restaurants, the bustle of the square is towered over by the iconic St. Louis Cathedral. Possibly the top people-watching spot in the Crescent City, the square is full of street artists, performers, musicians and mystics. Take a post-dinner walk through Jackson Square, or simply a break on a park bench next to the statue of Andrew Jackson, with or without a drink in hand.
Sit down for a Café au Lait
New Orleans offers a distinct spin on the traditional European café culture, mixing traditional intellectualism with southern friendliness. Communal places, such coffeehouses are a great way to observe and to meet the city; grab a table and don’t be surprised should a local sit down with you for a chat. Café du Monde is a must for first-time visitors to the city; indulge with a plate of their beignets, washed down with coffee and chicory. Alternatively, try smaller cafes for a more intimate experience, such as Envie Espresso Bar and Café on Decatur Street.
Whether looking for the year-round Mardi Gras beads and neon drink deals of Bourbon Street, the contemporary scene of the Marigny, or some of the more traditional chill jazz vibes, New Orleans nights were made for bar hopping. The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street is a highlight, hosting musicians and enormous crowds of novices and regulars every night. In line with the characteristic spontaneity of the Big Easy, don’t be surprised should bar hoppers and a gathering of buskers turn into a massive street party, and one of the best nights of your life.
Carriage ride through the Quarter
Echoing through the French Quarter day and night is the slow clapping of horses’ hooves from the Victorian carriage rides through the neighborhood. Hop on one of these for a romantic, meditative tour of the area and be sure to ask your coachman for suggestions and information about the city. These rides are often accompanied with a history lesson and some guides to the streets, making this a perfect option for a first-day introduction to the French Quarter. Welcome to families and groups, exploring streets built for carriages is a time machine in itself.
Browse the French Market
The covered French Market, located just by Jackson Square and Café du Monde, is home to frequent music and culture festivals, as well as the Crescent City Farmers Market every Wednesday. Full of artisanal and locally-sourced food, this is the place to try New Orleans produce, confectionary, baked goods and seafood. Every day the French Market hosts a flea market where you can browse for antiques, jewelry, crafts, art and clothing. Attend one of the Saturday cooking demonstrations at 11am to learn how to make traditional creole cuisine. For a New Orleans take on yoga, join one of the Saturday jazz yoga classes at 10am.
Go on a ghost hunt
The vibrant and often dark history of the French Quarter is best explored by signing up for one of the local walking ghost tours. Find out more about the most notorious figures, such as Marie Delphine LaLaurie and the Axeman of New Orleans. Apartments for sale or rent of the French Quarter are frequently marked with “Not Haunted” signs; you supernatural fans, go forth and find out from an impassioned guide which ones are, all while taking in the architecture and encountering some of the finest characters – both dead and alive.
Eat like a local
The French Quarter has the most famous restaurants in town, and with good reason. Renowned for blending French dishes with Caribbean flavors and the comfort food of the Deep South, New Orleans is rightfully regarded as one of the best cities for foodies. Whether fine dining at Antoine’s or Tableau, a shrimp po’ boy at Johnny’s, oysters at Acme or a creole take on hot dogs at Dat Dog, the quarter offers ever-reliable and innovative foods. You haven’t truly been to New Orleans unless you return home a few pounds heavier.
Learn some voodoo
The New Orleans reputation for voodoo and witchcraft is alive and thriving in the French Quarter. The neighborhood offers an array of information about the long local history of voodoo and magic, from Marie Laveau to Anne Rice. Explore the quarter and witchcraft shops for a spell or two and a tarot card reading. Those of you looking to learn more should take a trip to the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum for a look at relics of past and present mysticism.
Appreciate New Orleans’ colorful art scene
The French Quarter is home to a vibrant arts community. Often inspired by the city and culture itself, art galleries are the perfect spot to pick up a print of your favorite New Orleans scene, with pieces featuring the landmarks, streets, music, food and festivals that typify the Big Easy. High-end art galleries in the French Quarter cater to serious art collectors; however, there are plenty of galleries featuring affordable prints. It’s not unusual for many of the newest artists to be working in the shops, so those interested should stop in for a chat.
Why not make a weekend of it? Book a stay with Culture Trip at one of the best hotels in New Orleans or stick to a tighter budget at one of these budget hotels and hostels in Mid-City. There’s plenty to keep you busy too, from exploring the best museums in New Orleans to trying local specialties such as a po’ boy at these top spots or eating delicious, fresh seafood at these top restaurants.
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