The French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carré or the “Quarter” to locals, sits on a crescent in the Mississippi River on some of the highest ground in New Orleans. Not only is it the city’s cultural hub, but it is also a community where residents take time to welcome visitors in the streets.
Intimate and unique, New Orleans’ oldest neighborhood has exerted a spell over writers and artists since the time of Mark Twain, Lafcadio Hern and John James Audubon.
Hollywood celebrities and software magnates have joined the residential mix, keeping the glamour of the French Quarter up-to-date, but it is the year-round local residents who keep the neighborhood vibrant.
French Quarter architecture blends Spanish, French, Creole and American styles together in an idyllic, enchanting setting. Walled courtyards, perfect for French Quarter parties, are a gift of the Spanish influence. Cast iron balconies were added to many masonry buildings after 1850, when Baroness Pontalba included them on her fashionable row houses near Jackson Square. These lacy galleries, along with plentiful stoops and porches on younger buildings, make the Quarter a great place for people watching.
Visitors can obtain an inside look at Vieux Carre’s architectural gems by going on home tours offered throughout the year. Gallier House, designed and built by James Gallier, one of the most esteemed architects in New Orleans history, is one of the best examples of the fusion between culture and architecture in the city. From its elaborate ironwork to dreamy balconies and Creole cottages, no wonder the French Quarter’s architecture is so iconic.
From antiques and books to clothing and accessories, the French Quarter is full of boutique shopping. Browse the treasure trove at the French Market, once a 1920’s Italian Market. The space is now filled with funky shops and grassroots art galleries. Stroll down Royal Street for a glimpse at galleries featuring antiques and work by local artists, or meander down Chartres Street for a look at clothing, shoe, and accessory boutiques.
From fine dining to casual local eats, the French Quarter is the best place to sample Creole and Cajun cuisine and truly has something for every taste. Dine in classic white tablecloth splendor at Antoine’s or Galatoire’s. Munch on a muffuletta from Central Grocery, the original home of this Italian delicacy. And definitely don’t miss the iconic Café du Monde, home of the famous beignet, or French doughnut.
Besides its obvious architectural distinction, the Vieux Carre offers visitors a plethora of different experiences. Take a stroll or a carriage ride through Jackson Square as you enjoy street performers and local artistry. This picturesque square and dramatic garden, sitting just in front of the iconic St. Louis Cathedral, offers a charming and intimate French Quarter view. A picnic in Woldenberg Park provides a great view of the Mississippi River and passing barges and steamboats.
In addition to these famous New Orleans sights, the French Quarter is also home to several historic houses and small museums. Do not be fooled by the common interpretation of the French Quarter, because it is so much more than anything you could expect.