In New Orleans, the French Quarter—and the many of its attractions that have kept locals and visitors to “The Big Easy” entertained for generations—beckons to the young, old and everyone in between to come out and wander these balmy streets for a jolly good time.
Located on the northern bank of the Mississippi River, the French Quarter, or Vieux Carré, with street names embedded in tiles on the sidewalks, has been a prime destination for artists, musicians, wild celebrations like Mardi Gras, rich cultural traditions, European-inspired architecture, great food, jazz, voodoo, and shopping since the late 1800s.
By simply strolling around this historic Louisiana enclave, you’ll find all kinds of interesting things to do in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Drink, Eat & Listen to Music on Bourbon Street
The 13 lively blocks of Bourbon Street, set between Canal Street and Esplanade Avenue, are famed for their bars, bright neon lights, and authentic New Orleans eateries serving up local gastronomical delights.
Bourbon Street is also the spot to pick up colorful Mardi Gras beads during Carnival. It’s also the perfect stretch of bustling city blocks for a pub crawl during Mardi Gras, or any time of the year, for that matter.
Some of Bourbon Street’s core highlights include balcony spots like Pier 424 Seafood Market Restaurant, which serves gumbo, jambalaya and Cajun cuisine. You’ll find historic bars like Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, oyster bars, jazz venues (drop in on Maison Bourbon), and a humming atmosphere, all day long.
Sample a Beignet at Café du Monde
According to Café du Monde, Beignets are Acadian-inspired fried fritters that in their current form consist of a square piece of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar, served three at a time.
The original Café du Monde coffee stand, on Decatur Street, is open 24 hours a day. This is the place to go for some tasty beignets—along with a cup of chicory coffee or a café au lait—to get some sugar and caffeine into your system so you can keep on exploring the French Quarter’s attractions.
Drop by the French Market’s Flea & Farmers Markets
The renowned French Market should definitely make your list of things to do in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
The covered market, about half a dozen blocks in length, features artists hawking their wares, bistros, plus a multitude of vendors selling trinkets, snacks, souvenirs, and along Dutch Alley, locally handcrafted goods, colorful garments, and other essentials.
The Farmers Market here is a great place to pick up fresh, local produce, spices, and some delectable pralines or handmade candy. The Flea Market is ideal for anybody seeking a fix of quirky charms, jewelry, and playful souvenirs.
Explore Royal Street’s Cafés and Shops
Royal Street runs parallel to Bourbon Street. While it might not feature the explosive nightlife of its lively neighbor, you will still find plenty here to keep you entertained.
Royal Street is chock-full of cafés, shops, art galleries, and antique stores. You will also run across historic old buildings—some in better shape than others—featuring wrought-iron balconies, and galleries (bigger than a typical balcony), plus a good number of Cajun and Creole restaurants, like Mr. B’s Bistro.
If you missed out on a beignet at Café du Monde, you can pick a few up at Royal Street’s Cafe Beignet before heading over to the celebrated Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone for a drink and some live music, just as Ernest Hemingway used to do.
Visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
There’s something fishy going on at the cylindrical-shaped Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, next to the Canal Street Ferry Terminal.
If learning about marine life excites you, a visit to this Louisiana aquarium should rank up there as one of the best things to do in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Visiting the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is one of the best things to do in New Orleans with kids. See the baby shark petting pool, a massive Gulf of Mexico exhibit, the fascinating Seahorses Gallery, Mississippi River exhibit (complete with white alligators), sea otters, and penguins.
Even grownups, who still have some of that childhood fascination and wonder lingering inside their hearts, will enjoy a visit here.
Take a Tour Through St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cathedral is a true New Orleans icon. A church of some kind has been standing in this spot since 1727. The current St. Louis Cathedral, rebuilt after a fire, dates back to late 1794.
This triple-steeple cathedral, with its views across Jackson Square, was originally dedicated to St. Louis, the sainted King of France. The cathedral is recognized as the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States.
Self-guided tours of the historic site are available during the day. And if you’re fortunate enough, a kindly docent will come over to tell you more about this cathedral’s fascinating history.
Soak Up Local History at Jackson Square
Jackson Square, also known as the Place d’Armes, is a central square steeped in local history, the perfect spot in which to soak up some of the French Quarter’s atmosphere.
A visit to Jackson Square, a National Historic Landmark on Decatur Street, will offer you wonderful views of St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo State Museum, plus the square’s celebrated Andrew Jackson statue, with Jackson mounted on his rearing horse.
Also take note of the red-brick historic Pontalba Buildings, which comprise two sides of the square. Many consider the stylish Pontalba buildings, built in the middle of the 19th century, to be the oldest continually rented-out apartment buildings in the United States. Restaurants and shops occupy the ground floors, while the upper floors still serve as residences.
Jackson Square will also offer you a slew of people-watching opportunities, plus a chance to browse the drawings and imaginative paintings from one of the local artists who have set up shop in the square.
Tuck into a Sicilian-Inspired Muffuletta Sandwich
While sampling some tasty crawfish in “Crawfish Town” (another nickname for New Orleans) is the thing to do for seafood lovers, if you lean more toward the sandwich side of the culinary spectrum, you’ll want to tuck into a Sicilian-inspired muffuletta sandwich.
The traditional “cold” version of this sandwich—made with Italian ham and salami, cheese, sesame-laden muffuletta bread, diced olives, capers, pepperoncini, and spices—can be found at Decatur Street’s famous Central Grocery. The grocery has been serving up this gastronomic work of art for well over a century.
Other versions of the muffuletta have popped into existence over the years too, including a seafood version, along with the well-known baked melted cheese incarnation served at Frank’s Restaurant.
Listen to Jazz at the Historic Preservation Hall
If you have any interest in jazz at all, listening to live music at the historic Preservation Hall should be jotted down in your itinerary of things to do in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Preservation Hall, along with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, got its start in the early 1960s to preserve the local jazz scene, when everyone seemed to be more interested in rock ‘n’ roll.
And while the somewhat gritty-looking wooden hall is stripped down to the bare basics, greats like Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, and Jack Teagarden played here.
You can drop in and catch live acoustic jazz at this New Orleans Jazz venue as well, with different concerts performed daily from late afternoon.
Dive into Local Voodoo & Ghost Lore
“N’awlins”, as some folks like to call the city, has its share of dodgy, and even downright wicked history, with plenty of ghost stories to boot. You’ll soon discover that there’s no shortage of scary tales associated with New Orleans involving Louisiana voodoo and the macabre.
You’ll find plenty of ghost tours that will take you by local cemeteries and give you a taste of the French Quarter’s haunted side. But just by paying attention, even on a city walking tour, you’re bound to come across some of the city’s darker past.
Keep an eye out for the “haunted” LaLaurie Mansion, where Madame LaLaurie tortured her victims. You can also swing by spots associated with Marie Laveau, New Orleans’ Voodoo Queen, including Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (where she was laid to rest), and Marie Laveau’s House on St. Ann Street.
Esoterica Occult Goods and the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum are two locations where you can learn more about the murkier aspects of N’awlins history—or even pick up some occult mementos to take home after your trip.
No matter where you roam, it seems you’ll always be bumping into spooky tales in the French Quarter, making it one of the most haunted places to visit in the world.
Drop by the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum is a curious French Quarter attraction, especially if you’re interested in the history of medicine. This former apothecary was the first officially licensed pharmacy to exist in the United States.
Inside the two-floor museum, you’ll find vintage 19th-century medicine jars and lots of old-time pharmaceutical paraphernalia, plus an extensive library related to the history of pharmacies.
After wandering around the property, you’ll learn just how far we’ve come since the 1820s. For example, bloodletting is no longer on the menu at your local modern-day pharmacy. Oh, and of course, rumor has it that this museum is haunted, too.
Explore the Cabildo Museum
Spending time at the Cabildo Museum is one of the best things to do in New Orleans’ French Quarter if you want to learn about Louisiana’s history.
The Cabildo, off Jackson Square, is housed in a distinguished-looking French and Spanish-style colonial building, once home to New Orleans’ government, as well as the state’s Supreme Court.
Since 1908, the Cabildo has been home to three floors of exhibits highlighting Louisiana’s often turbulent history, from French and Spanish rule to the American state. A few hours inside the museum will give you a solid education on Louisiana’s past.
Among the many cultural documents and artifacts stored at the museum, you’ll come across one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death masks (out of a rumored nine), depicting the visage of the man who sold the Louisiana Purchase to the United States.
Visit The Presbytère
The Presbytère, off Jackson Square, was created in 1791 to complement the architecture of the nearby Cabildo. This beautiful brick building is now home to two permanent exhibits that zero in on New Orleans’ cultural life, along with more recent historical events.
To learn even more about The Big Easy, check out the Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana exhibit at The Presbytère, full of captivating facts about the festival’s roots and long history in New Orleans.
The Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond exhibition will teach you about the harrowing events that led up to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and what happened to New Orleans during the terrible aftermath, when the levee failed and flooded the city.
Ramble Through Louis Armstrong Park
One of the more relaxing things to do in New Orleans’ French Quarter is to go for a stroll through Louis Armstrong Park. The park is actually in the jazz-infused Tremé neighborhood, on the border of the French Quarter and its many attractions.
Louis Armstrong Park, named for New Orleans’ favorite son, jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, is home to the notable Congo Square, where slaves used to gather on their day off to socialize, sing and dance.
The park also features many green areas to ramble around, as well as an arched bridge, a lagoon, the Louis Armstrong Sculpture Garden, and an Antique Rose Garden. You will find lots to do here on a sunny day.
Now that you’ve learned a thing or two about what to do in New Orleans’ French Quarter, it’s time to start planning your trip. Browse our luxury cruises to New Orleans and experience all that this fascinating city has to offer.