New Orleans Travel: The French Quarter
Begin your journey at the center of everything!
THE FRENCH QUARTER.
The very best place to start your New Orleans travel is the French Quarter. The French Quarter is in easy walking distance of most downtown New Orleans hotels. Although highly commercialized, the French Quarter is steeped in history and fantastic things to do.
New Orleans Travel Tip: Jackson Square contains an eclectic group of homeless, beggars, vendors, fortune tellers, artists and the like. It is a great place to visit, but it may be impossible to satisfy every person who asks you for money.
In the heart of the French Quarter is Jackson Square. At the center is St. Louis Cathedral, first built in 1718. It is open generally (and free) to quietly sit and pray. If you are lucky, you might even catch a wedding party leaving the church on a Saturday afternoon. If you are staying in a nearby New Orleans hotel, you can even enjoy a worship service, often held 3 times daily.
See our New Orleans Travel Tips section on Restaurants.
See our New Orleans Travel Tips section on Hotels.
Next door is the The Louisiana Cabildo Museum (ph. 504-568-6968, 701 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA 70116) is open most days except Mondays from 10:00 until 4:30 except holidays. Around Jackson Square are local artists, particulary on the weekends, who sell paintings and other works of are from their carts and hung on the iron fence of Jackson Square. This is a great place to get French Quarter information as well.
Directly across the street is Cafe Du Monde (800 Decatur Street New Orleans, LA 70116) generally open 24 hours a day selling its brand of coffee and chicory and its powdered sugar covered beignets. Not a typical French Quarter restaurant, it offers a unique powdered-donut that is simply delicious. No New Orleans travel is complete without a visit to Cafe Du Monde!
New Orleans Travel tip: Cafe Du Monde is sometimes very crowded and there is a line, but yet wait 15 minutes and the line is gone. If there is a line, do something else, and the line will often be gone.
Behind Cafe Du Monde is the River and the Riverfront
streetcar line. You can take the streetcar from here North to the French Market or South toward the Aquarium and Canal Street. It cost $1.25 to ride (exact change only) and stops only at designated stations. From here you can walk either direction, however a streetcar ride is often enjoyed by all. Your New Orleans travel will not be complete without at least one streetcar ride! It cruises the edge of the French Quarter along the Mississippi River.
We prefer visiting the French Market next. Follow Decatur Street on the south edge of the French Quarter past Jackson Square, either walking or by streetcar. If you walk, you'll pass, among other places, the Market Café (1000 Decatur Street, ph. 504-527-5000) featuring traditional New Orleans’cuisine and po-boys. Outdoor and indoor dining to live jazz. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Weekend breakfast buffet. Open 7:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. This is an exciting French Quarter restaurant where you can watch the people stroll by.
New Orleans Travel Tip: The French Quarter can get very hot in the summer. Walking for long distances should be broken up with stops in air-conditioned places to cool off.
There are newly-renovated, open-air, canopy-covered buildings containing the both The Farmer’s Market and the Community Flea Market make up the New Orleans French Market. The French Market is open generally 7 am until 7 pm. This is a great place to buy spices, sample foods, and shop for inexpensive jewelry, sunglasses, t-shirts and other assorted goods. There are an assortment of French Quarter restaurants represented here as well.
New Orleans Travel Tip: Since this area is newly renovated, the restrooms are very modern and clean. They are located about mid-way between the Farmer's Market and the Flea Market.
The French Market was originally established as indians traded goods along the Mississippi River, and it has evolved to what it is today.
The French Market is one of the best places to sample the foods of New Orleans at a reasonable price. Amongst its offerings are World Famous N'Awlins Cafe & Spice Emporium (504-528-7770), a French Quarter restaurant with unusually good food. Here, family legacy endures. The Humphrey family have been vendors at the French Market since 1939. Starting with a produce concession, the new incarnation of the family includes a retail area for spices and cooking items alongside the diner counter, where they serve breakfast, plate lunches, a roster of grilled fish dishes and a meaty turtle stew.
New Orleans Travel Tip: People in New Orleans call the center of a boulevard the "neutral ground." This is a holdover from so many different claims to the city that the area has alway been "neutral."
A few shops down is Meals from the Heart Cafe (504-525-1953) where the specialty is reduced-fat, low-sodium dishes. Specialties include a petit crab cake and lots of vegetarian fare, like slider-sized black bean burgers. Although not a typical French Quarter restaurant, the food is excellent and the people are very friendly.
A popular candy outlet of the longtime Marigny-based candy maker Loretta Harrison is Loretta's Authentic Pralines (504-944-7068). A popular item is the huge, oblong praline "shoe sole" cookie.
Another popular establishment is the Organic Banana featuring frozen drinks with a local focus. Here, they blend pina coladas and daiquiris with a unique, French Quarter made Old New Orleans Rum.
At the very end is the Old US Mint (400 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, LA. 70176, ph. 504-568-6968). It suffered considerable damage during hurricane Katrina, but has various sections open for travelling exhibits. Admission is generally free.
New Orleans Travel Tip: Some of the best, and least expensive local food is available in the French Market.
The best idea after the mint is to take the streetcar line back downtown to the Aquarium of the Americas (1 Canal Street New Orleans, LA 70118, 1-800) 774-7394). This is a fantastic wonderland of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast marine life. Interactive exhibits and an IMAX theatre make it a fun even for the whole family.
If you are near the Aquarium and are hungry for lunch, there are several French Quarter Restaurant choices nearby. Mother's (401 Poydras Street New Orleans, LA 70130-3207, (504) 523-9656) is a great casual choice for jambalaya and poboys.
New Orleans Travel Tip: Try the debris poboy of roast beef and au jus that is a great New Orleans original - only at Mother's.
Another nearby French Quarter restaurant option is Cafe' Adelaide located in the Loews New Orleans Hotel (300 Poydras Street, New Orleans, LA. 70130 ph. 504 595-3305). This is a slightly more upscale French Quarter restaurant which is part of the Brennan Family of restaurants featuring specialty entrees. The Hilton Riverside New Orleans is practically next door and it houses several good French Quarter restaurants.
Harrah's New Orleans is in the same vicinity. It features a full casino, complete with restaurants and other entertainment.
New Orleans Travel Tip: The Central Business District has fewer restaurants than the French Quarter. Most of the CBD eateries cater to the business crowd. However, there are plenty of French Quarter restaurants scattered all over downtown.