Things to Do in the French Quarter
This post covers things to do in the French Quarter, including tips on restaurants and nightlife as well as a self-guided tour.
25 THINGS TO DO IN THE FRENCH QUARTER
Below are 25 essential sights for understanding and enjoying the French Quarter. It’s set up like a self-guided tour.
This tour should take you approximately an hour to ninety minutes if you just walk without browsing shops, bars, and markets.
But why would you do that? All of these sites are visible 24/7, so there’s no rush.
For more detail on Jackson Square, you can also read our article and self-guided tour focused entirely on that area.
Not included on our map but impossible to miss, the Mississippi River defines one of the French Quarter’s four sides.
As it passes along the edge of the neighborhood, the mighty river has almost completed its grand 2,320-mile journey from its source in Minnesota, touching nine states along the way.
Many explorers struggled on the troubled waters, including the Spaniard De Soto in 1541 and the Frenchman de la Salle in 1682, who claimed the river’s enormous valley, including the present-day state of Louisiana, for France.
In 1699, after de la Salle’s death, another Frenchman, Iberville, was tasked with exploring the lower part of the river; his brother, Bienville, established and named New Orleans in 1718, 100 miles upstream from the mouth.
This began the city’s colonial period, which would last until 1803, ending with the signing of the Louisiana Purchase.
A – Statue of Andrew Jackson on the horse in the middle of Jackson Square. 615 Pere Antoine Alley
Andrew Jackson, America’s 7th President, spent a period of time in New Orleans.
This time was capped off by his decisive victory against the British during the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.
The statue was created by sculptor Clark Mills in 1856, the same year the square was named after Jackson.
Head to the northeast side (the right side if your back is to the water) of the square towards St. Ann Street.
B – 1850 House Museum 523 St. Ann St New Orleans, LA 70116
Located in the Lower Pontalba Building, the 1850 House is a step back into time – to the days of Antebellum New Orleans, often believed to be the most prosperous era in the city’s history.
Guests to the House are treated to what life and culture were like during the mid-19th Century – from room furnishings, china, and paintings – as well as the history of the Baroness Pontalba and her father, Don Andrés Almonester y Roxas, who between the two of them are responsible for financing and building everything in Jackson Square.
Open Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 – 4:30. Admission is $3 for Adults, $2 for Students, Senior Citizens, and Active Military, and Free for Children 12 and Under
Head towards the Cathedral, you should be able to see it from here.
The oldest continually running Catholic cathedral in the United States, St. Louis Cathedral certainly tops the list of things to see in the French Quarter.
While a church has been located on this site since shortly after the city’s founding, the earliest components of the present structure date to 1789, when it was completely rebuilt after the 1788 fire that burned over 800 buildings.
The majority of the modern structure was built in 1850, with the bell dating to 1819. It is one of the few Roman Catholic churches in the United States that fronts a square, lending a European feel to the area.
A bombing in 1909 damaged the stain glass and galleries. In 1964, Pope John Paul II visited the Cathedral.
Now, turn to the building to the right of the Cathedral.
D – The Presbytère
It was built in 1791 to match the Cabildo, the city hall, found on the opposite side of St. Louis Cathedral. The second story was not completed until 1813.
Today it houses part of the Louisiana State Museum. On the first floor, you can find a Hurricane Katrina exhibit, while the second floor is a permanent Mardi Gras Museum; both are family-friendly.
Walk back past the Cathedral to the building to the left of the Cathedral.
Originally built before the fire of 1788, the Cabildo, named for the Spanish city council that met in these walls, was remodeled beginning in 1795.
The Mansard-style roof, typical of mid-19th century France, was added later.
The Louisiana Purchase was signed in the building in 1803. The document granted the U.S. Government everything west of the Mississippi River, plus New Orleans and its immediate surroundings on the east side.
The building was also home to the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1868 to 1910. The groundbreaking civil rights case Plessy vs. Ferguson was tried here.
The Cabildo was named a Historic Landmark in 1960. Today, it is also part of the Louisiana State Museum system, with a broad exhibit covering many aspects of city and state history.
Look back at the Square and notice the two identical buildings on either side. You’ve already visited the 1850 House Museum on the left so head to the right towards St. Peter Street.
F – The Pontalbas
She was the Spanish Creole daughter of the man who financed the building of the Presbytere, Cabildo and St. Louis Cathedral; she also is responsible for renovations and additions on all three of these buildings.
She dedicated the two Pontalba Buildings to the memory of her father.
Famous New Orleans architects James Gallier, Sr. and Henry Howard were connected to the project. Of the four floors, the first houses shops, and restaurants, while the upper floors are apartments.
Turn down Pirates Alley to the left side of St. Louis Cathedral.
Look down as you walk down the alley you will see the small gutter that allows runoff water to flow. When the French Quarter was first being paved, these would have been in all the streets to accommodate standing water.
If you are lucky, at about 5 pm, you can hear the Roots of Music Brass Band practicing inside of the Cabildo.
Pirates in New Orleans did well for themselves during a time when a ship authorized by a government by letters of marque could attack foreign boats during times of war. During this time they would have been called Privateers or Buccaneers.
The small bar in the alley is known for serving Absinthe.
Watch a short video on Pirates Alley.
Halfway down the alley, turn left, then left again on St. Peter Street; take a look at the long red building on your right
H – Le Petit Theatre 616 St Peter St.
Home to a performance troupe founded in 1916, this theater, only slightly younger than the organization that built it, introduced many uptowners to the French Quarter in a time when the neighborhood struggled between dereliction and preservation.
The structure is reputed as being haunted and at night you will hear guided groups (including our French Quarter Ghost Tour) sharing the story of the “lady in white.”
Any plays running at the time of your visit will be advertised outside; the theater also hosts concerts, comedy shows, educational talks, film screenings, and other one-night-only events.
Dickie Brennan’s Tableau Restaurant, located in the same building in a space formerly occupied by a small second stage for the theater, is a great eating option for classic elevated Creole cuisine.
Reservations are advisable, especially for dinner.
Now, turn right on Chartres Street, going away from the Cathedral.
I – New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, 514 Chartres Street New Orleans, LA 70130
The Pharmacy Museum, located on Chartres St, was the “first United States apothecary shop to be conducted on the basis of proven adequacy” – in other words, the first time a pharmacist had to meet the approval of a governing body in order to receive a license to practice.
In 1804, Louisiana Governor William CC Claiborne, in an effort to curb fraudulent dosing practices and ensure pharmaceutical competence, required all pharmacists to be licensed.
Louis J. Dufilho, Jr. became the first pharmacist to pass the three-hour oral examination and began to operate at this location in 1823, paving the way towards improved healthcare for the citizens of New Orleans.
Today, the museum features collections of mid-19th-century medical equipment and practices, many disturbing or terrifying to modern viewers, on the first floor.
Revolving exhibits, as well as living quarters, a physician’s study, and sick room, are located on the second floor.
Open Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00 – 4:00 (closed on Mardi Gras and for special events). Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for children 6 and up. Guided tours are given Tuesday – Friday at 1:00 pm at no additional cost.
Now, continue down Chartres to the corner with St. Louis Street.
J – Napoleon House 500 Chartres St.
This building was constructed for Nicolas Girod, mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815.
The present name of the restaurant derives from Girod’s plans to rescue Napoleon from exile and invite the emperor to share his home. Napoleon died before the plan could be executed.
Beginning in 1914, it was run as a grocery store, then as a restaurant by the Impastato family. Ralph Brennan took over ownership in May 2015.
Signatures include the muffuletta sandwich and the Pimm’s Cup.
Continue down Chartres and turn right on Conti Street.
K – Williams Research Center – The Historic New Orleans Collection, 410 Chartres St New Orleans, LA 71030
Considered one of the premier historical and research centers in New Orleans, THNOC is made up of several historic buildings in two French Quarter locations – The Collection, located at 533 Royal Street, and the Williams Research Center (WRC) here on Chartres Street.
Founded in 1966 by General L. Kemper Williams and Leila Hardie Moore Williams, THNOC houses “more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor.”
The Williams Research Center, home to over 35,000 library books and over 300,000 pictures, drawings, and photographs, is open to the public.
THNOC has published books on the history, culture, art, and music of New Orleans, which are available for purchase.
Two tours of the Royal Street location are offered daily – the Williams Residence Tour and the Architecture and Courtyards Tour.
Both locations are open Tuesday – Sunday from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm, with Royal St, also being opened on Sundays from 10:30 – 4:30, and admission is free.
Tours are $5 per person and are given four times a day.
From here, continue along Chartres Street to Bienville Street and make a right. At the intersection with Royal Street, make a left and find the Monteleone Hotel and its Carousel Bar on your left side.
L – Carousel Bar, 214 Royal St New Orleans, LA 70130
Located inside the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter, the Carousel Bar and Lounge is the only revolving bar in New Orleans and has been spinning visitors and locals for 65 years.
Named one of the Top 20 Bars in the World, this 25-seat “Merry Go Round” also serves some of the best cocktails, including the “official cocktail of New Orleans,” the Sazerac, made with rye whiskey, absinthe, simple syrup, and Peychaud’s bitters.
The bar also offers a food menu and regularly scheduled nightly entertainment. Fun fact – Liberace was the first person to play the piano located in the Bar! Open 7 days a week from 11:00 am.
From here, go back the way you came along Royal Street, continuing until you reach the intersection of Royal and Conti Streets.
Built in 1822 as the Louisiana State Bank, it is named after its architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who is often noted as the “Father of American Architecture”.
His works include portions of the United States Capitol Building, the White House, the Baltimore Basilica.
He is also known for developing ways to combat Yellow Fever. It is ironic, that he died ultimately of Yellow Fever.
If you look across the street you will see the French Quarter Police Station also designed in 1821 by Latrobe.
Keep walking one block down Royal Street.
N – Peychouds/James H. Cohen and Sons Inc: Rare Antiques & Collectibles 437 Royal St.
He moved to New Orleans in 1795 and is believed to have created the first cocktail out of Bourbon and his unique bitters. The Bitters are similar to Angostura bitters but sweeter and more floral.
Peychaud’s Bitters is the definitive component of the Sazerac cocktail. You may be interested in our guide to cocktails in New Orleans.
Now, continue down Royal St. and turn left on St. Peters. Our next two stops are right next to each other.
O – Preservation Hall 726 St Peter St.
In reaction to the rising popularity of rock and roll, Preservation Hall was opened up in 1961. It was a way for the origins of Jazz to be heard by the thousands of tourists that arrived in New Orleans a year.
Famous acts like Bright Eyes, The Rolling Stones, and the Foo Fighters have graced the stage for special appearances.
Today shows begin at 8, 9, and 10 pm nightly. Read our full post on Preservation Hall.
P – Pat O’Briens 718 St Peter St.
This bar dates back to 1933, during Prohibition when the consumption of alcohol was illegal the place was called, O’Brien’s Club Tipperary.
The password, “Storms a Brewin”, may have been an homage to the bar’s signature drink the Hurricane.
The best time to visit is at night when the courtyard fountains brim over with fire.
Return to Royal Street and turn left, stop at the corner of Orleans Street.
Q – Royal Street
Royal Street is a pedestrian street during the day. This is the best way to walk in the quarter as you can walk in and out of the exclusive Royal Street Art Galleries and listen to street musicians play New Orleans classics.
When you arrive at Orleans Ave., look to the right at the statue of Jesus with upstretched arms. During football season locals refer to this statue as “Touchdown Jesus”.
At night Jesus’s shadow is illuminated on the back of the Cathedral.
Turn left on Orleans Street and stop at the next intersection with Bourbon Street.
R – Bourbon Street
Some of the same influential Creole families own properties there today.
But, the modern incarnation is a street lined with Bars, Gentlemen’s Clubs, and Live Music Venues.
Signature drinks on this street are Hand Grenades and Hurricanes. Watch out for flying beads as you walk three blocks to Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmiths Shop.
Read our post on Bourbon Street to learn more.
Turn right on Bourbon Street and continue 3 blocks to St. Phillips Street.
S – Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmiths Shop 941 Bourbon St.
It is often touted as the oldest structure in the U.S. housing a bar.
The structure was said to be run by Jean Lafitte the Pirate and housed the New Orleans black market while he owned the shop. There is no written evidence of this.
The Purple VooDoo Drank is their specialty.
Be careful in the restrooms, as they are said to be haunted. Also, be sure to check out our French Quarter Ghost Tour if being scared is your thing.
Backtrack down Bourbon Street and turn left onto Dumaine Street.
T – New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, 724 Dumaine St New Orleans, LA 70016
This small, 2 room building, located off of Dumaine St, near the hustle and bustle of Bourbon St, is an inexpensive way to pique one’s interest in this spiritual practice.
Filled with artifacts, paintings, and sacred objects, the Museum explores the legends, myths, and history of New Orleans Voodoo.
John T, who works at the museum and is a Voodoo priest, offers fortune-telling and the adjacent gift shop offers a wide range of items for sale, including books, candles, snakeskin, and chicken feet. Read our full post here.
Open daily from 10 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., admission is $5/person.
We offer a daily, pay-what-you-wish Voodoo Tour that begins in the French Quarter.
Continue down Dumaine Street one block
U – Voodoo Authentica 612 Dumaine St, New Orleans, LA 70116
Enter the museum and learn about the complexities of the religion, or better yet take our Voodoo Tour of New Orleans. Return to Bourbon St.
Backtrack to Royal Street and turn right. Our next stop will be three blocks on your right.
V – Gallier House, 1132 Royal St New Orleans, LA 70116
During the mid-19th Century, Gallier was one of the most popular architects in New Orleans, designing houses for many prominent businessmen and families throughout the city.
Guests to the Gallier House, completed in 1860, are transported back to the splendor of the 19th Century – beautiful Victorian furnishings and decorations, toys and games of a bygone era, and the story of a young family living in a nation on the brink of War.
The Gallier House, built “ahead of its time” features indoor plumbing, an attached kitchen, and a ventilation system – all designed by James Gallier, Jr.
This house also is said to have “inspired Louis and Lestat’s New Orleans residence in Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.”
Open to tours on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (and by appointment on Wednesdays).
Admission is $15 for Adults and $12 for Children, Students, Seniors, and Military. http://www.hgghh.org/
Turn right on Governor Nicholls Street and right again on Chartres Street. Our next two stops are across the street from each other.
W – The Ursulines Convent 1100 Chartres St.
The National Park Service states, “This is the finest surviving example of French colonial public architecture in the country.”
It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm and tours are available.
Continue right on Ursulines St. two blocks to the entrance to the French Market.
It was occupied by P.G.T. Beauregard from 1860 to 1868.
The author Frances Parkinson Keyes, wrote the novel Dinner at Antoine’s while residing in the residence.
Today it is a museum and can be toured with the first tour can begin at 10 am and the last 3 pm.
For history buffs, read our self-guided tour on Civil War New Orleans.
Backtrack down Chartres Street and take your second right onto Barracks Street.
Y – Old US Mint 400 Esplanade Ave
It also briefly served as housing for Confederate troops during the Civil War, until the occupation of Federal Forces in 1862.
In 1879, after Reconstruction, minting resumed until 1909, when it was decommissioned.
In 1981, this landmark building became part of the Louisiana State Museum Complex.
Today, it houses the “New Orleans Jazz Museum”, which features “instruments (many played by significant jazz musicians), sheet music, and memorabilia chronicling the history of Jazz from its humble beginnings on the streets of New Orleans.”
There is also a pottery and crafts exhibit, showcasing the talents of students from the H. Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University.
Open Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 – 4:30. Admission is free. 400 Esplanade St. New Orleans, LA 70116
The road directly across is French Market Place, take that until it dead-ends at the park. Walk around the park to the corner of Decatur and St Phillips Streets.
Predating European Colonization the site was a trading post for Native American Tribes of the region.
When the French first arrived, they met with the indigenous people, who taught them about local food and how to prepare it.
Up until the 1980s, it was a place for locals to pick up produce and acted as a food market.
There is a modern resurgence of this occurring now with organic local food being sold and an extensive food court.
The back of the market is a cheap place to pick up trinkets at the flea market.
Head across the street, you can walk through the little park.
While the “Park” itself is made up of many historic Jazz landmarks (including the Old US Mint and Perseverance Hall in Louis Armstrong Park), the Visitor’s Center is a great way to learn more about the history of Jazz, see daily musical performances, participate in Ranger-led demonstrations and talks, and even pick up several self-guided jazz tour routes.
The Visitor’s Center is open 9:00 – 5:00 Tuesday – Saturday, and is free to the public. Please Note: the Center is closed for Mardi Gras and all Federal Holidays
Continue to your right down Decatur Street.
(b) – Cafe Du Monde 800 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116
Some New Orleanians got a taste for it. It is still served today.
If you are less adventurous you may want a Cafe Au Lait. That would be half coffee half steamed milk.
But, what you can not pass up is their world-famous French-inspired beignets.
Don’t wear black the piles of powdered sugar will end up all over your clothes. They are cash only.
This concludes your tour. If you found this tour useful, please share it with your friends and family and be sure to take a look at our other self-guided tours of New Orleans.
In this section, we provide you with access to several maps of the French Quarter that cover food, drink, attractions and hotels.
To begin with, we have our self-guided tour map, which takes you to all the important sites of the French Quarter.
Everything in the Quarter, Filtered by Type
FrenchQuarter.com offers a laptop- or cell-friendly scrollable map that looks overwhelming at a first glance, with a red dot at every one of the dozens of significant spots in the neighborhood.
But once you use their filtering feature, it’s a dream come true.
You can cut down this vast list of locations just to those that are bars, or restaurants, or museums, or churches, or LGBT meeting spots – lots of different subcategories to take care of each different mood or need the French Quarter might induce.
And with that customized map in front of you, you’re a click away from the address, contact, hours and website for each attraction. http://www.frenchquarter.com/maps/
Here’s an easy to use map placing all of the French Quarter hotels.
If you prefer a simple map to print and carry, then maybe New Orleans Online’s maps are for you.
They are designed to show the essentials of the neighborhood. Besides the French Quarter, they have most other areas a visitor is likely to go to.
Here is an excellent map of French Quarter restaurants, with the option to filter by location or ambiance.
It also notes which venues host live music, which have courtyards, which are open late, and other useful details.
The city’s famous streetcars are complemented by a comprehensive bus system, and together they constitute an affordable way to get to most parts of town.
The New Orleans RTA offers a useful resource. Here’s a comprehensive map showing every connection in the French Quarter and how they relate to the city at large.
The French Quarter is more densely packed with restaurants than most neighborhoods you’ll ever visit, and there’s no way you can visit all of them.
Besides the food-related maps above, we have a few suggestions to find the best restaurants and the best deals in the neighborhood.
If you would like to read what other travelers have written, do check out TripAdvisor’s top 10 French Quarter restaurants, which are ordered by review strength.
You can even filter the results in many ways.
Of course, we think you should definitely consider our French Quarter Culinary History Tour for an onsite lesson in the Quarter’s food history and offerings.
Seasonal menus – at several points throughout the year, different groups of local restaurants will band together to offer special deals –
Usually, these are multi-course prix-fixe meals that can bring a normally costly restaurant within easier reach.
Since summer is the quiet season, some restaurants also have special summer deals – like Antoine’s summer lunch special, where the price is the same as the current year, for example, $20.20.
Palace Café’s Temperature Lunch special, where the price is the previous day’s heat index (($9.70 after a 97-degree day, for example).
Check the latest local news – the New Orleans culinary scene is ever-changing, with places suddenly rising or dropping in quality, opening or closing, or starting to offer a special deal.
Fortunately, local magazines and websites are constantly dropping the word on the newest developments.
The food and drink section of Bestofneworleans.com, the website of The Gambit Weekly, reliably produces articles listing seasonal specials, upcoming festivals (and what food vendors will attend), and the latest batch of James Beard Award nominees.
Nola.com/dining-guide, the web version of the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s food coverage, offers restaurant ratings and top picks.
And while neither one is an exclusively local outlet, Nola.Eater.com and Thrillist.com/new-orleans both put local writers to work steadily updating their lists of happy hours – and of places able to accommodate dietary needs like gluten-free.
Lastly, for the podcast-inclined, the series Beyond Bourbon Street offers some great audio versions of the kinds of lists mentioned above, but more in-depth – special shout-out for episode #31, about vegetarian and vegan options.
Talk to strangers – New Orleanians have a more than average willingness to converse with strangers out of the blue.
If you’re getting coffee, checking out at a shop, or taking one of our tours, it never hurts to ask the person helping you about nearby restaurants they like.
We may pull you in on one of our long-standing debates, but you’ll walk away with new ideas.
Sunset in the French Quarter sets a lot of changes in motion – stores shut down, the crowds shift from Royal to Bourbon Street, and Dr. Jekyll starts to turn into Mr. Hyde.
But the bar strip on Bourbon is by no means the only option you have at night.
Firstly, tours at night are a fixture in the French Quarter, with ghost tours being the most popular choice.
Though legally required to close up shop at 10 pm, you’ll find many a tour wrapping up just moments before, so as to make the most of the French Quarter’s beautiful, eerie nighttime ambiance of gas lamps, shadowy ironwork, and dark corridors leading off the street.
We run a nightly, free French Quarter Ghost Tour that is well-reviewed, but there are also vampire tours, voodoo tours, cocktail tours, and haunted pub crawls.
Bars and restaurants are of course the classics of French Quarter nightlife.
While most restaurants have a bar area, the actual bars congregate into two main strips on Bourbon and Decatur Streets.
Bourbon Street constitutes nine blocks of bars, restaurants, and strip clubs.
It starts off flashy and loud, gets a bit more complex and historic as it proceeds west.
It abruptly becomes the center of local gay nightlife and then finishes off with Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, a beloved and ancient dive bar where tourists and locals meet.
If you’re the sort to stop into every bar, it’ll be several nights’ work to explore it all.
As for Decatur, its lower portion – between Ursulines and Esplanade – is more locals-oriented, with grungy watering holes interspersed with some serious craft bars, plus Café Envie, a coffee shop that will make you a spiked stimulant beverage if you need to stay up past bedtime.
This strip leads ultimately toward Frenchmen Street, a bar, and music district outside of the French Quarter.
If you want to find local-flavored music without leaving the French Quarter, there are some excellent if scattered options.
The iconic Preservation Hall sits just off Bourbon Street, as do the low-key jazz joint The Bombay Club and the small, packed, and musically eclectic 21st Amendment.
Other options hide in plain sight on Bourbon itself – the classy Jazz Playhouse, hidden from view inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel, or the Bourbon O Bar inside the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, or Fritzel’s Jazz Pub, a beer hall for the more nostalgically raucous.
The Davenport Lounge, high above the street in the Ritz-Carlton, can be a lower-key start or finish to the night, and the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone offers similar elegance with more crowd (the bar is a carousel).
And the Steamboat Natchez with its resident band offers a nighttime ride if you’d rather see a variety of scenery without having to move.
Besides music, you might also find another classic French Quarter genre – live burlesque – offered in the evening; the House of Blues, One-Eyed Jack’s, and the Jazz Playhouse are the most likely spots.
For more ideas for nighttime activities citywide, check out our article devoted to New Orleans at night.
Be sure to check out:
- Our calendar of guided walking tours of New Orleans.
- Our full list of self-guided New Orleans tours and neighborhood guides.
- Our post on things to see in the Garden District.