The French Quarter is the oldest and most famous and visited neighborhood of New Orleans. It was laid out in French and Spanish colonial times in the 18th century. While it has many hotels, restaurants, and businesses catering to visitors, it is best appreciated when you recall that it is still a functioning mixed-use residential/commercial neighborhood where locals live.
The French Quarter or "Vieux Carre" ("old section" in French) stretches along the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue (14 blocks long) and back from the Mississippi to Rampart Street (7 blocks wide).
"The Quarter" is compact. One can spend an enjoyable vacation here without leaving it for several days. If the French Quarter is your headquarters, consider leaving your car behind and not bothering to rent one if your health permits a few blocks walk. Parking is difficult, expensive, or both. Occasional trips to other parts of town can be made by streetcar or cab. The neighborhood is pedestrian friendly.
Bourbon Street - some 8 blocks of Bourbon from Canal Street down are heavily given over to catering to the hard drinking tourists. If getting drunk with other tourists is the goal of your vacation, this is the place for you. If not, this notorious strip of tourist traps is worth taking at least quick look at for its colorful sleaziness.
Royal Street - strolling Royal Street by day is as essential a New Orleans experience as Bourbon Street by night. 1 block away in distance, a world in attitude. There are art galleries, upscale antique stores, and interesting specialty shops, Lots of temptations for those with money, but is also fun window shopping for those not spending a dime.
Jackson Square - the old town square, often live music is going on here. Around the square are:
Cabildo - colonial city hall, now a museum; Louisiana Purchase agreements transferring the city from France to the USA were signed here
Pontalba Buildings - 4 story brick apartment buildings have specialty shops, restaurants, and a tourist information office on the ground floors
Moon Walk is a wooden boardwalk along the Mississippi River across Decatur Street from Jackson Square. The curious name comes from its dedication to former New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu.
Old French Market while souvenirs for visitors have taken over a good bit of the space at this 250+ year old market, there are still vendors selling fresh produce as in days of old. On weekends a much larger number of vendors set up here, with handicrafts and flee-market type goods.
New Orleans Jazz Park Visitor's Center & Headquarters at 916 N. Peters; often has live music, lectures, and gives music history related walking tours. Many events are free; those that aren't are a bargain. http://www.nps.gov/jazz/
Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve 419 Decatur Street: Headquarters for National Park that includes several historic sights in and near New Orleans. Has a small museum and visitor's center. Show up by 9am to get a place on the informative free walking tour of the French Quarter. http://www.nps.gov/jela/
Historic New Orleans Collection 533 Royal Street: Free museum with changing exhibits of local history. Also has a research center nearby on Charters Street. http://www.hnoc.org/
Old U.S. Mint 400 Esplanade, by the French Market. Coins haven't been minted in New Orleans for decades, so the building is now a museum, with the minting process downstairs and the world's top exhibit on New Orleans jazz upstairs.
Old Ursuline Convent 1100 Chartres: Completed in 1752, open for tours
Gallier House 1132 Royal Street: Home of famous local 19th century architect
Madame John's Legacy 632 Dumaine: 18th century Creole home
Stroll the streets, look at the architecture, shops, and people. Hear music in the street.
Buggy Rides: Horse drawn carriages have driven tourists around the Quarter since the gasoline rationing of the 1940s. Buggy drivers are known to give riders a running commentary consisting of a mix of tall tales and plugs for local businesses that pay them. Don't expect to learn any real New Orleans history; buggy driver stories are for entertainment value only.
Street entertainers: perform for tips from tourists, and vary greatly in talent. There are excellent musicians who enjoy keeping up their chops out of doors. There are also hacks with little talent other than scamming money. Beware of the Got-yer-shoes-ers; these are scammers who go up to tourists saying "I bet you I know where you got your shoes!". If they succeed in getting the tourist to take the bet, the answer is "You got your shoes on your feet!" They usually have a large and threatening looking friend near by to make sure bets are paid.
Walking tours: put on by the park service are free and you'll learn the real history of New Orleans, which is often as colorful as the tall stories.
Art or high-end antiques on Royal Street. Tacky t-shirts and souvenirs on Bourbon Street. There are several good used book stores on Charters, Royal, elsewhere in the Quarter.
Louisiana Music Factory 210 Decatur specializes in local music, with a wide selection new and used CDs, plus vintage vinyl upstairs. Local musicians often play free sets here for promotion when they come out with a new record. The staff here usually know their stuff and can make good recommendations. http://www.louisianamusicfactory.com/
Acme Oyster House 724 Iberville St: No ambiance, but good, cheap oysters and other southern delights.
Angeli on Decatur at Governor Nicholas, open all night
Central Grocery 923 Decatur: Old Italian-American grocery sandwich shop, famous for their mufaletta sandwich.
Clover Grill 900 Bourbon: Good eggs, burgers, and such 24 hours a day. Heavily (though not exclusively) gay clientele. http://www.clovergrill.com
Louisiana Pizza Kitchen - upscale custom pizza, by the French Market
Margaritaville: Don’t waste away, Jimmy Buffet fans! On Decatur St. near the French Market; OK this place isn't so great, but it had to be mentioned. The great ironies of Margaritaville are this: 1) It is downriver on Decatur where, thankfully, fewer tourists venture even though the place is mostly designed for the tourist trade and 2) Some of the finest musicians in New Orleans that don't play stereotypical New Orleans music (dixieland jazz or R&B covers) play there and they DON'T play Jimmy Buffet covers. http://www.margaritavillecafe.com
Tujages 823 Decatur (just down from Jackson Square): Pronounced "Two Jacks" Despite the weird spelling, it's been here since 1856 so they must be doing something right. The locals swear by it. http://www.tujaquesrestaurant.com
Antoine's 713 St. Louis: French Creole restaurant that';s the oldest in the U.S. under continuous family ownership.
Bella Luna 914 N. Peters: Grand view of the Mighty Mississippi on Decatur St.; Not the *-est anything in town (which so many places claim) but its good. Southwest/Italian-ese. http://www.bellalunarestaurant.com
Brennan's 417 Royal: one of the famous local traditions; fine Creole cuisine, known for their gourmet breakfasts.
Court of Two Sisters 613 Royal: A place for Sunday brunch (with a live jazz combo) and post-night out hangover cures; beautiful courtyard.
Galatoire's 209 Bourbon: Classic Creole on Bourbon Street. Despite being in the tourist strip of Bourbon Street, locals do eat here.
K-Pauls 416 Charters Street: Chef Paul Prudhomme's place; this is the restaurant that taught New Orleans and the world not to sneer at the Cajun food of rural Southwest Louisiana. Does not take reservations. Not a major dress code kind of place. http://www.kpauls.com
NOLA 534 St. Louis: Stands for New Orleans, LA; Very good, run by famous chef Emeril Lagasse, not quite as pricey as his namesake restaurant in the Central Business District, and not as severe a dress code.
Peristyle 1041 Dumaine: Perfect for Friday lunches - very southern and sophisticated!
Johnny Whites: Down home bar. There's two, one on Boubon street and the other on St. Peters near Bourbon. The first has a restaurant, the second just booze. Open 24/7.
Kerry Irish Pub 331 Decatur
Lafittes Blacksmith Bourbon & St. Phillip: Piano bar towards the end of the touristy part of Bourbon Street. Supposedly once the in-town headquarters of pirate & smuggler Jean Laffitte, many colorful stories are told about this location. They pour great Hurricanes.
Laffitte's In Exile 901 Bourbon. Claims to be the USA's oldest gay bar; "in exile" since the original Lafitte's (see above) went straight some 50 + years ago.
Molly's at the Market - a great Irish/Quarterpunk bar on lower Decatur Street, long a favorite of bohemian locals
Napoleon House Charters & St. Louis: The place to go if you like the thought of good drinks in a 200+ year old building whose owners are proud that the interior hasn't been repainted since World War I, with classical music playing over the sound system. Napoleon never made it here, as he died before the local plan to rescue him from exile and start his empire afresh in Louisiana could be carried out. Napoleon House also serves good sandwiches and a limited food menu, with service at a speed somewhere between leisurely and glacial-- don't stop here if you're in a hurry to be somewhere else.
O’Flahertys Toulouse Street back from Decatur: Irish pub that often has live Irish music . Serves cider plus good Euro/English/Irish beers & pub grub. Some say the place is haunted, but ya never know.
Oz 800 Bourbon. Loud hip gay bar.
Pat O'Briens 718 St. Peter (between Bourbon and Royal): Famous for strong Hurricanes, Mint Juleps, TNTs, Purple People Eaters; Popular tourist hangout for a reason; been trendy for generations, has impressive fire/water fountain and patio.
Bourbon Street -- upper Bourbon has been given over to catering to hard drinking out of towners, and this part of the street has a number of music venues (not named here) whose owners make their money off them, with loud mediocre bands hired cheaply. None the less, despite what some say it is still possible to find New Orleans jazz on Bourbon Street.
Jazz Parlor Storyville 125 Bourbon 410-1000
Maison Bourbon at 641 Bourbon sometimes does (though as often doesn't) have decent bands, as many good local dixieland players for the moment lacking a better gig often wind up here. As the doors are open to the street, you can listen a bit from outside, judge for yourself whether they have a band you'd enjoy on a given day, and walk on by or go on in as appropriate. http://expage.com/page/maisonbourbon
Fritzels at 733 Bourbon, 561-0432, has good house bands in the evenings, and is often the venue for out of town and out of country musicians versed in the New Orleans style to play.
Donna's Bar & Grill 800 N. Rampart (at the corner of St. Ann, on the edge of the Quarter): Donna's is a center of the modern New Orleans Brass Band style that combines the old jazz with such influences as funk and hip hop, producing a style that's up to date while still distinctively and uniquely New Orleans. Donna's attracts a mixed clientele of downtown New Orleanians, college students, and in-the-know visitors. http://www.donnasbarandgrill.com/
Funky Butt Excellent new jazz/blues venue in a neighborhood to be careful in at the edge of the Quarter. http://www.funkybutt.com/
Margaritaville 1104 Decatur - see mention above at Eat
New Orleans Jazz Park 916 N. Peters; often has free live music Weekend afternoons and sometimes other times; http://www.nps.gov/jazz/
O'Flahertys Toulouse Street back from Decatur. New Orleans' top place for Irish music. Danny O'Flaherty leads the fun house band, alternating with local and visiting groups playing the music of the Emerald Isle.
Preservation Hall 726 St. Peter (between Bourbon & Royal): Traditional Dixie jazz that you'll pay $40 a concert anywhere else. Here for only $8. Talk about atmosphere! Listen to real jazz and nothing else (no booze, no bathrooms). You'll have to stand in line, and it's cheap. Music starts at 8pm and runs until midnight. The band plays several 30 minute sets and your ticket is valid all night. http://www.preservationhall.com
Palm Court Cafe Those who prefer their old style New Orleans jazz in a somewhat more upscale atmosphere where dinner and drinks are served should be sure to visit this place at 1204 Decatur street in the lower Quarter. Some of the same musicians who play Preservation Hall play here on other nights, along with other top local classic style jazz greats. The owner's husband runs the Jazzology record company, featuring the world's largest independent label catalogue of trad jazz, so you can pick up cds by your favorites from Bunk Johnson to current Dixielanders while you're here. http://www.palmcourtcafe.com
Tipitinas The older more famous one is uptown, but the French Quarter branch presents fine music as well
Places within the French Quarter or just outside of it on Canal Street are the most centrally located, and also cost more than rooms in other parts of town. Those wishing a fuller immersion in the city may wish to go ahead and pay extra for a location from which they can find many days of things to do with no need of a car or transit.
A few of the better hotels with good locations in the Quarter:
Hotel Maison de Ville and Audubon Cottages Is one of the most historic hotels in the Quarter, everyone from Tennessee Williams to Audobon has spent time there. For the best deals try Summer and Winter -- especially mid-week. The hotel's website offers some great deals that you can't find on any of the major travel sites. 727 Rue Toulouse New Orleans, LA 70130 (just off of Royal Street, and Jackson Square) T: 504.561.5858 http://www.hotelmaisondeville.com
Bourbon Orleans - A Wyndham Historic New Orleans Hotel 717 Orleans St. (504) 523-2222. Built in 1817 in the heart of the French Quarter. http://bourbon.wyndham-hotels.com/
Monteleone 214 Royal, in an elegant early-20th century sky-scraper (the only one within the confines of the Quarter itself, just constructed just before large new constructions were prohibited here) has long been one of the top upscale Quarter hotels.
Walk across Canal Street and you're in the Central Business District. Take the red Canal Streetcar line to the attractions of Mid-City, or the green St. Charles Streetcar line to Uptown and Carrollton. The ferry at the foot of Canal Street (free for pedestrians, $1 for cars) will take you across the Mississippi to the Algiers neighborhood, and give you a scenic budget mini-cruise of the River in the process.
Just "below" (down river) from the French Quarter is the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, across Esplanade Avenue, with hip music joints and restaurants.
Inland or "back" (away from the Mississippi River) from the Quarter is the Treme neighborhood.