Written By David Hedges founder of Nola Tour Guy
The French Quarter is the original city of New Orleans. Established in 1718 it's been continually occupied for over 300 years! It should be a must do on your visit to New Orleans and whether it’s your first time, the second time, or tenth time visiting, there is always a new and fun thing to do in the French Quarter! Below is a list of some of the exciting adventures and things to do in the French Quarter.
To start, the first fun thing to do in the French Quarter is a stroll along the River Walk. The River Walk is a 1.3-mile trail that resides right along the banks of the Mississippi River in the French Quarter. While the River Walk can be used for walking, running, biking, and walking your dogs, there is also an outlet mall for shopping and a food court to grab a bite to eat. The Riverwalk Gazebo is also found in Woldenberg Park, which also houses the Audubon Aquarium of America. There is always something to do while you enjoy a scenic view of the Mississippi River.
While you're exploring the River Walk along the Mississippi, take a ferry across the Mississippi from the Foot of the Canal. This crossing is also known as the Algiers Ferry, connecting to the West Bank of New Orleans. This famous ferry also made a cameo in the 2006 movie Deja Vu. For $2 you can purchase a ticket to this ferry and enjoy a smooth ride on the river. This ferry is also close to many other attractions.
The Algeries Ferry isn’t the only opportunity to ride across the river. While you are exploring the River Walk along the Mississippi, why not grab tickets to take a steamboat ride? Another iconic piece of New Orleans is the steamboats along the Mississippi River. American writer Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, worked on a steamboat where he earned his pen name. Twain wrote about the Mississippi, the steamboats, and some of his famous novels paint a view of these iconic scenes.
While you’re in New Orleans, make sure to experience this yourself! There are many options to enjoy a steamboat right in New Orleans. There are options like the Steamboat Natchez, New Orleans Steamboat Company, and Paddlewater Creole Queen, which offers public and private tours and other events. Make sure you check each company’s website for more information, times, and prices. Regardless of which steamboat you choose, you’ll be in for an adventure as you travel the Mississippi as they did over a century ago.
One of the best things to do in the French Quarter is to experience the food. The cuisine of New Orleans is mostly known for Creole, which include influences from French, Spanish, West African, Caribbean, and Native American cuisines. Creole cuisine illustrates how Louisiana claimed its own food identity through centuries of cultures mixing together to make up the New Orleans we know today.
There are numerous restaurants to explore and taste. Antonie’s restaurant is one of the oldest restaurants in the French Quarter and was founded in 1840. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar Shop, named for the famous Cajun pirate, is one of the oldest bars in the French Quarter and has an excellent drinks. Po-boys are also a staple of New Orleans cuisine. Two places worth checking out are Johnny's Po-Boy and Killer’s Po-Boys.Bennachain, an African cuisine restaurant, is found on Royal Street is a place not to be missed. Cane and Table and Compère Lapin are Caribbean-inspired restaurants worth tasting. For further suggestions, check out the article, “The Best Things to Do in the French Quarter,” to see some noteworthy restaurants. You are sure to find a fun restaurant to discover while in the French Quarter.
Jackson Square is found in the heart of the French Quarter. It easily stands out with familiar buildings like the Presbytere and the Cabdio. Nearby, there is the St. Louis Cathedral. Spanning over two and a half acres, there are many things to do while strolling Jackson Square.
Jackson Square was originally conceived in the mid 18th century and was the seat of the Spanish colonial government during their time ruling over New Orleans. If you’re exploring the square, you usually want to start at the beginning of Jackson Square and work your way forwards. It was also the home of the Place D’Armes where colonial authorities would execute criminals and rebellious slaves. In1803, when the United States purchased Louisiana and the surrounding territories, Jackson Square became the site of the Louisiana Purchase. Later on, this area was redesigned by the Baroness in the mid 19th century to serve as a public park, similar to the grand gardens found in Paris at the time. Jackson Square got its current name after President Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.
The history of Jackson Square continues to make a central stop for the visitors that come every year. Now, Jackson Square has many uses just as it did over two centuries ago. The city of New Orleans will host numerous events and celebrations. There are also many museums and other local attractions to visit nearby. There is even an artist colony in Jackson Square where visitors can view and experience some of the local art scenes. There are so many fun things to do in Jackson Square that you could spend a day here alone.
he Presbytere Museum sits alongside the Cabido and both museums are found near the St. Louis Cathedral. The Presbytere was initially built near the end of the 18th century to be the home of priests. It later became a courthouse in 1831. Today, it is part of Louisiana's collection of state museums. It houses two permanent exhibits that detail New Orleans’s connection to Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina, standing as a connection the present. The Cabido, also found in Jackson Square, was built during Spanish colonial rule and was the site where the Louisiana Purchase was finalized in 1803. If the Presbytere is connect to the present, then the Cabido is connected to the past. Today, the Cabido is a museum remembering the history of New Orleans and the state. There are numerous artifacts and exhibits detailing the city’s 300-plus-year history. Both buildings are located in Jackson Square. Visit the Louisiana State Museum page for hours and more information.
New Orleans has a long tradition of mysticism and magic associated with it. From the legends that have evolved over centuries, you can still experience this mysticism by visiting a fortune teller. Many of them set up around Jackson Square shortly after sunset. Throughout the day, fortune tellers can be found near St. Louis Cathedral. There are many found throughout the rest of the French Quarter. Take a chance and learn about your future by visiting a fortune teller while vacationing in the French Quarter.
The St. Louis Cathedral, a grand structure nearby Jackson Square, is found in the heart of the French Quarter. Located at 615 Pere Antoine Alley, this cathedral is a sight to behold. The original church construction began in 1725 and concluded 3 years later. However, during the fire of 1788, the foundation of the current church was laid 1789. This makes the St. Louis Cathedral one of the oldest Catholic churches in the United States. As the 19th century progressed, the church too began to grow. In the mid-1800s, famed New Orleans J.N.B. de Pouilly was consulted to expand the church. As the 20th and 21st centuries continued onward, the cathedral survived Hurricane Katrina and has continued to stand.
Today, the church stands as home to the New Orleans dioceses and a place of worship and gatherings. If you are interested in visiting, the St. Louis Cathedral offers tours, including visiting the cathedral daily, with a self-guided brochure tour for only a dollar. The cathedral also has a museum at the Old Ursuline Convent that is open to the public that narrates 300 years of New Orleans history. Visiting the cathedral allows a visitor to experience 300 years of history in one place. For more information, visit the respective sites here and here.
According to the pharmacy's website, this preserved 1823 apothecary and pharmacy is listed on the registry of National Landmarks for the French Quarter. Louisiana was one of the first states to create a licensing process for those interested in pursuing pharmacy and medicine in 1804. Louis J. Duhlo, one America’s first licensed pharmacists, passed the test in 1816. He later went on to open up a pharmacy. The museum has ensured the pharmacy resembles what it did over 250 years ago. In addition, you can do the self-guided tour learning about 19th medical and science practices and answer the question of why people didn’t often visit the doctor during those times. This museum is located at 524 Chartres Street and is open Wednesday – Saturday from 12 pm – 5 pm. For the latest up-to-date information, visit their website.
Founded in 1972, the New Orleans Voodoo Museum has exhibits detailing the history of Voodoo and New Orleans’s relationship to it. Voodoo is a religion still practiced today that was influenced by traditions from the Caribbean and religious traditions from West Africa. Enslaved Africans practiced it during the French and Spanish colonial rule during the 18th century and continued throughout the 19th century. Voodoo continued to be a part of New Orleans continuing into today. The New Orleans Voodoo Museum seeks to preserve that history and educate the public beyond the stereotypes like “zombies” and demystifying the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau that exists in popular culture.
The museum offers a walk-through museum and cemetery tours. They also assist individuals interested in connecting with Voodoo practitioners and research. For those looking to research and learn more about Voodoo, the museum also offers academic and media research help. The museum is located at 724 Dumaine Street and is open daily from 10 am – 6 pm. Check their website to stay up to date on the latest admission rates.
As you visit the French Quarter and explore the local museums, you might want to take home some of that history with you. Luckily, the French Quarter is home to some unique antique shops full of all sorts of treasures that you can take home. The first antique shop is M.S. Rau is located at 622 Royal Street and is open from Monday through Saturday, 9 am - 5:15 pm. This shop has collections with a little bit of everything, including paintings, brooches and jewelry, furniture, and even antique medical and scientific equipment. Another one worth visiting is Cohen Antiques, located at 437 Royal Street. This shop has antique weapons, coins, and collectibles; they are open from Monday to Saturday, 9:30 am - 5 pm. Another antique shop worth visiting is Keil’s Antiques, located at 325 Royal Street. They have collections featuring 18th and 19th-century furniture and other odds and ends; they’re open Monday through Saturday, 9 am - 5 pm. Harris Antique Ltd. is another antique shop at 233 Royal Street specializing in 18th and 19th antiques from Europe. They’re open from Monday through Saturday, 10 am - 5 pm. These are just a handful of many antique shops found in the French Quarter. While you are visiting, make sure to stroll along Royal Street to see the full breadth of antique shops as one of the top things to do in the French Quarter.
A beignet is a deep-fried pastry and has been a staple of New Orleans cuisine since French immigrants brought it to Louisiana. The most famous place to grab a beignet is at Cafe du Monde! Cafe du Monde is a legendary cafe in the French Quarter that has been around since 1862. Many people stop by to grab a coffee and beignet, so plan your trip accordingly. Cafe Du Monde is open daily 7:30 am - 11 pm every day, and they’re located at 800 Decatur Street in the French Quarter. It can get busy in the morning, so try to visit later in the day to avoid the crowds. They’re open as late as 11 pm so that you can plan your visit after dinner!
Take a spin and have fun in the French Quarter! Situated in the heart of the French Quarter, The Carousel Bar is located in the Hotel Monteleone at 214 Royal Street. True to its name, this bar features a full-size carousel at the center of the bar, complete with a carousel that revolves. It is truly one of a kind. Take a ride at the Carousel Bar and try one of their signature cocktails like the Sauzec or a Pimm’s Cup. The bar also has a food menu that is worth trying. You can grab a bite and a drink while riding a carousel! For more information, you can visit their website here.
Bourbon Street is probably the most famous street in America and is littered with unique restaurants, bars, and shops. Most people may know about this street’s trashy reputation due to the many bars and nightclubs, but it is worth looking beyond it and experiencing how unique Bourbon street really is. Walk along the street and watch New Orleans come to life. The most magical time to enjoy Bourbon Street is right at dusk with a drink in your hand. You can experience the lively nightlife while tasting Bourbon Street as well. But if you don’t want to stay and visit one of these establishments, take your drink to go! With Louisiana's lack of an open container law, you can stroll Bourbon Street and enjoy a drink while you do so. To read more about some of the restaurants and bars worth visiting on Bourbon Street, consider checking out the article about The French Quarter for additional info.
One of the fun things to do in the French Quarter is people watch and see how unique this historic neighborhood is. There is no better place to do it than at Cornet on Bourbon Street! Located at 700 Bourbon Street, the Cornet is a restaurant worth visiting and grabbing dinner. They serve a wide variety of authentic Cajun and Creole dishes and have a drink menu worth trying. The most noteworthy aspect of the Cornet is the balcony with a view. The restaurant offers both inside and outside dining; the outside dining is worth the trip alone. You can dine on a balcony on Bourbon Street and take in the lively atmosphere that lives in the city 24/7. Enjoy a meal with a view. The Cornet is open daily from 11 am - 11 pm; on Friday and Saturdays, it is open until midnight.
Found throughout the French Quarter are various street performers that embody the spirits of the French Quarter and New Orleans. The French Quarter has been reputed to have a vibrant art scene for centuries, spanning into the 21st century. From street performers like live statues to musicians to performers. Many performers can be found in front of the St. Louis Cathedral or Royal Street throughout the day. One performer to check out is Dorreen, who typically plays her clarinet with a band outside the Rouses on Royal Street most Saturdays.
Preservation Hall has been a staple of the New Orleans music scene since 1961. Located at 726 St. Peter Street, Preservation Hall has daily jazz shows so you can be sure to catch one when you visit. Preservation Hall offers an intimate experience of listening and experiencing jazz up close and personal. There are nightly and daily concerts, often standing room only. This is an excellent experience for people of all ages and families. If you visit Preservation Hall, make sure you follow their Covid-19 safety protocols and reserve your spot for the performances beforehand. A list of daily performances and links to reserve your spot can be found in the Preservation Hall’s calendar. They are open Saturday and Sunday 2:30 pm - 9 pm, and on Monday through Friday, they’re open 5 pm - 9 pm. Catching a live jazz show at Preservation Hall should be one of the top things to do in the French Quarter!
The French Quarter, also known as Vieux Carre, is the oldest part of New Orleans. There are so many buildings to explore. One of the oldest buildings worth checking out is Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar at 941 Bourbon Street. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar is rumored to be one of the oldest buildings in the city and one of the oldest bars in the country, dating back circa to the 1720s and 1730s, where it escaped two fires that ravaged the city before the 1800s.
Before the turn of the 19th century, New Orleans experienced two fires in 1788 and 1794. The fire of 1788 started on Chartres Street and ended up destroying most of the buildings in New Orleans at the time. The 1794 fire, though not as destructive as its predecessor, still destroyed over 200 buildings in the city. As a result, after both fires had wiped away most of the French architecture, the city (a Spanish colony at the time), was rebuilt using Spanish-influenced architecture. The buildings in Jackson Square like the Cabido resemble this. As the 19th century continued, examples of antebellum architecture began to pop up too. Other influences also began to show up in new architecture with designs borrowing from styles like Georgian, Neoclassical, and Greek Revival. These examples of architecture only grew grander and made their way into the cemeteries with elaborate gravesites and became known as the Cities of the Dead.
Today, the city works hard to preserve its past and keep these historical buildings in fantastic condition. Even walking down the street, you can see the amazing history. While you’re exploring the city, make sure to take your time to see what you walk by.
Another fun thing to do in the French Quarter is shop at The French Market. The French Market is a modern-day attraction dating back to the late 18th century. Today, you can find a variety of vendors that offer a variety of foods, including fresh seafood, meat, and vegetables to arts, crafts, and jewelry.
The French Market spans six blocks in the French Quarter. The French Market was originally a Native American trading post that became established as a market in 1782 when the Spanish built the first building. As time went on, it became an essential part of New Orleans's growth as a trade hub. In the late 1800s, African American architect Joseph Abelard gave the market its first permanent building, which helped it develop into the bazaar that’s known today. While you can still find foods from across the region, the market also sells various clothes, jewelry, arts and crafts, and local knick-knacks. The modern French Market continues to be as colorful and unique as the city going into the 21st century. Occasionally, you’ll also find concerts and events going on as well.
Currently, the French Market is open daily during the week from 10 am - 5 pm and attracts local vendors from all over. There are options for public parking and taking public transportation. Visit the French Market website to find the most updated information, including lists of current vendors, restaurants, and events.
Near the River Walk is the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. This exhibit offers an up-close and personal view of the many species of insects on this Earth. This place has many exhibits, including a butterfly garden, to experience the wonders of nature. Currently, the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium are closed and the time it will reopen is currently unknown. According to their website, Covid-19 caused the organization to reassess its priorities. They plan to move the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium and combine it with Audubon's Aquarium campus. The new exhibit will be housed in a 17,000 space. The combined places will create a greater experience. To follow updates and the latest updates, follow and check in on the Audubon Nature Institute’s page.
While that is being constructed, the Audubon Nature Institute also offers a zoo, an aquarium, a nature park, and even more things to do and explore. For tickets or more information, visit their website for times, locations, and more information.
If the unusual is more to your taste, you should check out The Museum of Death. This museum did not originate in the French Quarter but was first conceived in San Francisco in 1995 where owners JD Healey and Catherine Schultz decided to create a space where they could educate the public about death. The first location was in San Francisco's first mortuary and later expanded to include a second location at 227 Dauphine Street in the French Quarter.
The Museum of Death offers a self-guided tour that lasts around 45 minutes. Visitors can learn information about serial killers through artwork and artifacts. There is also a collection of artifacts related to the Charles Manson family and the crimes committed by them. Visitors can also learn about crime scenes and car accidents from crime photos. There is also a Theater of Death and an opportunity to learn about cannibalism. But be warned, this isn’t for the faint of heart, and recommended a mature audience view these graphic exhibits. If you can handle all these exhibits, you can stay longer than the estimated time of the self-guided tour.
While there is no age limit, the museum suggests this visit should be for mature audiences due to the graphic nature of the museum, so prepare accordingly. For more specifics about visiting, including the latest covid guidance and what is allowed and not allowed in the museum, please visit their website for more information. The admission price is $17 and they’re open 7 days a week from 10 am - 6 pm.
Visiting the French Quarter is compared to visiting a living museum. Found in the neighborhood are many historic homes that have become reminders of the years gone by. One fun thing to visit in the French Quarter is the Hermann-Grimma House.
Located at 820 St. Louis Street, the Herman-Grimma house is a 19th century meticulously restored to its former glory. Only a 4-minute walk from Preservation Hall, visiting this old home can be accomplished on the same day you catch a live jazz performance. The house, built in 1831, became many things over the two centuries of its existence. In 1974, it became a registered historic landmark and later opened as a museum in 1975. The house has been transformed into a time capsule of life during the 19th century belonging to a nameless upper-class Creole family.
The museum itself is an outstanding representation of architecture found in the French Quarter. Visitors can see a large open-hearth kitchen where, according to their website, they offer cooking demonstrations twice a month October through May. Visitors can also see what life was like in the 19th century through the living exhibits like the period-decorated parlors and the urban slave quarters. There is also a stunning courtyard to visit.
The Herman-Grimma house is located near the Gallier House, another museum similar to the Herman-Grimma house. Tours are offered 6 days a week between 10 am - 4 pm. To learn more details or to make a reservation, visit their website.
The French Quarter covers the equivalent of 422 acres or .7 square miles (1.7 kilometers). In this small space, there is so much to do and explore that finding a place to start can be a daunting decision. Why not take the stress out of deciding where to start by taking a free walking tour of the French Quarter? Not only is it free, but it is fun and you get to learn about the whole story of the French Quarter.
Looking for more activities in New Orleans? Check out 6 Off the Beaten Path things to do in New Orleans
NOLA Tour Guy offers a FREE French Quarter walking tour where you can learn about the fascinating history of the French Quarter. The daily free tour meets daily at 10 am at 768 Decatur Street at Washington Artillery Park, however, you must make reservations ahead of time to reserve your spot! The tour touches on things like Pirates Alley, Jackson Square including The Cabildo and The Presbytere, some of the most famous streets including Royal and Bourbon Street, Storyville, and some of the historic homes lived in by Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. There is still so much more that hasn’t been listed. Each tour is FREE but we’re positive you’ll love the walking tour of the French Quarter that you will gladly pay what you feel the tour is worth! It’s the best money-back guarantee in the business!
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