The French Quarter, with its vibrant atmosphere and unique blend of architectural styles, is easily New Orleans’ most famous and most popular area to visit. It's also the city's oldest neighborhood, and its elegant streets are lined with an appealing mix of lively bars—especially along the legendary Bourbon Street—historic monuments, delicious restaurants, and inviting jazz clubs.
The French Quarter—also called the Vieux Carré, or “old square”—is centered on Jackson Square, which is overlooked by St. Louis Cathedral. The busy area is best navigated on foot, and while of course you can wander around on your own, guided walking tours are the best way to experience the quarter. Learn about New Orleans' culinary and cocktail history on a food tour, take a haunted tour in the evening, or combine a visit to the French Quarter with a tour of another part of the city, such as the Garden District, or a cruise on the Steamboat Natchez.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The French Quarter is very pedestrian-friendly, so wear comfortable walking shoes.
- New Orleans loves parades, which occur on many holidays throughout the year and often march through the French Quarter.
- Hard-partying Bourbon Street is infamous, but it's not indicative of the whole French Quarter—and it's easy to avoid if it's not your scene.
How to Get There
The French Quarter runs from the Mississippi River northwest to Rampart Street, and from Canal Street northeast to Esplanade Avenue. It's incredibly compact and parking can be extremely difficult, so it's best to walk there if you can. Streetcars run along the riverfront, Canal Street, and Rampart Street. Most city tours pass through the French Quarter as well.
When to Get There
New Orleans can be lovely year-round, so the best time to go is based on your tolerance for crowds and weather. The city is exceptionally busy during major festivals such as Mardi Gras and the Jazz & Heritage Festival (usually in February and April, respectively). Like much of southern Louisiana, New Orleans weather trends from hot and humid to simply mild and humid, with summer being the hottest. The winter months are cool and comfortable, though there may be periodic downpours; hurricane season runs roughly from June to November.
History Runs Deep in the French Quarter
It's easy to think New Orleans is just a party town, but it has a rich history as well. The Pontalba Buildings that surround Jackson Square on two sides are the oldest apartment buildings in the United States, while the French Market is the country’s oldest public market. The quirky Pharmacy Museum is a treasure trove of medicinal history. Tennessee Williams used a French Quarter house as the setting for “A Streetcar Named Desire” (a house he later bought), and Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop is one of the oldest buildings in the city—and likely the oldest bar in the US.