French Quarter Walking Tour, New Orleans

French Quarter Walking Tour (Self Guided), New Orleans

The French Quarter, also known as the Old Square, is New Orleans' oldest and most popular neighborhood. Founded in 1718, it perfectly combines the tempting, noisy and nutty nightlife of Bourbon Street with important historical landmarks, art galleries, sophisticated cafés, and some of the city's oldest churches – all within walking distance, close to Mississippi River.

On this self-guided walking tour, the French Quarter will be brought to life with stories, legends, interesting facts and experiences involving the architecture, courtyards, food, beverages, music, art and gardens that all lend to its distinct character.

You must see Jackson Square, the Pontalba buildings with their shops & restaurants, and admire the St. Louis Cathedral’s gothic majesty - either from ground-level or the top of the Cabildo. Close-by is the famed Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets.

Yes while the jazz or zydeco music pouring out of every doorway is fun to experience, Bourbon Street can be a bit much for some, but it also has many fine restaurants, lovely Creole houses and beautiful balconies framed in wrought iron. Meanwhile, Royal Street offers countless upscale galleries, boutiques, eateries, and local flavor.

On the last stretch, don’t miss the sight of numerous historic houses and go to Preservation Hall to catch an authentic old-style jazz concert. End in style with the French Market – a huge walkable place with plenty to see and choose from.

These are just a few things that draw people to the French Quarter year after year, so take this self-guided walking tour to find your way around and make the most of your time in New Orleans.
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French Quarter Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: French Quarter Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » New Orleans (See other walking tours in New Orleans)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 16
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Jackson Square
  • Cafe du Monde
  • 1850 House
  • The Presbytere
  • St. Louis Cathedral
  • The Cabildo
  • Pharmacy Museum
  • Historic New Orleans Collection
  • Royal Street
  • Bourbon Street
  • Hermann-Grima House
  • Preservation Hall
  • Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar
  • Historic Voodoo Museum
  • Old Absinthe House
  • French Market
Jackson Square

1) Jackson Square (must see)

Because of its proximity to the Mississippi River, the St. Louis Cathedral, and the Cabildo, the lively Jackson Square was and is a popular meeting spot at the heart of the French Quarter. Named after Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans, who went on to become the 7th US president, it was a hubbub of activity since colonial times, when the militia performed drills, vendors sold their wares at the open-air market, and public hangings and beheadings were carried out.

Jackson Square was designed after the famous 17th-century Place des Vosges in Paris. Now revamped into a landscaped park with neat lawns and flowerbeds, the square somehow manages to not feel hectic, despite the streams of photo-snapping tourists, school groups, and waiters on their breaks. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The site has been the location of many festive events, movies, and television shows.

The view of Jackson Square is fairly iconic, featuring Jackson's equestrian statue at its center and the beautifully designed St. Louis Cathedral as its backdrop – but there's always more to appreciate than the view. Art and music festivals, mule-drawn carriage tours, artists selling their wares, quirky street performers - you never know what you'll find here. Good for some great tourist photos, a quick break on the chairs, and a great place to take it all in. It is amazing that you'll see so much of New Orleans from just this little spot.
Cafe du Monde

2) Cafe du Monde (must see)

Open around the clock, the open-air Café du Monde (French for "Café of the World" or "the People's Café") is a New Orleans institution. Established in 1862, it is renowned for its café au lait and beignets and is a perfect place for relaxing at a table under the arcade and listening to the street musicians entertain.

The French brought coffee with them as they began to settle along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River around 1700. During the American Civil War, the New Orleans Creoles developed chicory-blended coffee as there was a coffee shortage, which has continued to be served at Café du Monde and other New Orleans restaurants due to the added chocolate-like flavor of café au lait.

The Acadians from Nova Scotia brought other French customs, such as the beignet, to Louisiana in the 18th century. Unlike most doughnuts, beignets are squared pieces of dough with no hole in the middle, sometimes served with fruit, jam, maple syrup, or even savory items. At Café du Monde, the fried delights are served warm with a thick coating of powdered sugar and are sold in orders of three.

Just keep in mind that the place is CASH ONLY and the menu includes ONLY dark-roasted coffee with chicory served black or au lait, beignets, white and chocolate milk, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.

If too crowded, consider going around, back to the take-out window, and enjoying your treats on the Mississippi riverfront.
1850 House

3) 1850 House

1850 House is a well-preserved townhouse, complete with a courtyard, which provides rare public access beyond the storefronts to the interior of the Pontalba Buildings. It was designed for the wealthy Baroness de Pontalba, who had them built in 1849, when New Orleans was one of the largest cities in the US, riding on the wealth of its booming port. These buildings were the height of fashion among the prosperous middle class, particularly for the decorative iron balconies of the apartments, admired as much today as they were in antebellum times when they considerably spurred the craze for ironwork.

Run by the Louisiana State Museum, the three-story residence presents a demonstration of a well-to-do family's life in the 1850s during the most prosperous period in Southern history. Faithfully furnished with domestic goods, decorative arts, and innovations of the day (including walk-in closets and private bathrooms), it comprises several "revival" artworks and furniture inspired by Rococo, Gothic and Classical styles. Note the Old Paris porcelain, New Orleans silver, the six-piece bedroom suite comprising a large half-tester bed, a dressing table, two mirror-faced armories, a washstand, a nightstand, and paintings by several French-trained artists.

The guided tour vividly illustrates the contrast between the upstairs portion of the house, where the upper-middle-class family lived in comfort, and the downstairs, where the staff toiled in considerable drudgery to make their masters comfortable. It's quite an informative look at life in the good, and not so good, old days.

Why You Should Visit:
Great for some local history and color; worth a look if you are interested in how the area was established and the city's historical aspect. If you have never seen an 1850s southern home before, this is a must!

Take time to visit the downstairs store run by the Friends of the Cabildo, which offers handmade art, jewelry, pottery, and crafts, by local artists, as well as books on every subject – from New Orleans history to food to voodoo.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10 am–4:30 pm
The Presbytere

4) The Presbytere

Built in the 1790s as a matching structure to the Cabildo, which flanks the St. Louis Cathedral on the other side, it is one of the nation's best examples of formal Spanish Colonial style, with a full panoply of Renaissance architectural forms. Destroyed by a hurricane in 1915, the cupola was restored to match its twin, the Cabildo. In 1970 the structure was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The first floor is dedicated to "Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond," an exhibition exploring the history, science, and powerful human drama of one of nature's most destructive forces. The well-narrated presentation and graphic display of what happened and how the people of New Orleans coped with the Katrina disaster make you feel as if you were there.

The second floor contains an excellent exhibit detailing the history of Mardi Gras and many not-so-well-known aspects of the city's annual celebration. It's a very compelling and touching display that explains things via first-person accounts, photos, audio, video, and beautiful artifacts such as crowns, scepters, costumes, and accessories related to the tradition.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10 am–4:30 pm
St. Louis Cathedral

5) St. Louis Cathedral (must see)

Most tourists recognize the St. Louis Cathedral's triple spires as the main symbol of the French Quarter. Many have taken photos of the gleaming white facade against a clear blue sky from across picturesque Jackson Square. Relatively few, though, have stepped inside the cathedral to view its beautiful interior. The stained glass windows depict the saintly life of France's King Louis IX, and the glorious murals and statuary beckon the visitor back nearly 300 years to its founding.

The St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States, built in 1727 and dedicated to King Louis IX of France. The original structure was burned during the great fire of 1794. The current building was completed in the 1850s.

The influences of the Spanish and the French are easily recognized in both the artwork of the church and also the flags displayed near the chandeliers in the main aisle of the sanctuary. The church was designated as a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI in 1964. Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral in September 1987, and after the visit, the square in front of the church was renamed in the pope's honor.

The interior is open for self-guided tours when masses and other church functions are not going on. The fine pipe organ is frequently played for the enjoyment of visitors, and there is also a small gift shop.

Note the sloping floor; Clever architectural design, somehow, keeps the building upright even as its ground continues to sink.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30 am-4 pm; Mass: 12:05 pm
The Cabildo

6) The Cabildo

Just as with The Presbytère, the sister building on the other side of St. Louis Cathedral, the historical Cabildo has a storied history of fires, rebuilding, and roles as the seat of the former Spanish territorial government. Walking through the building, one can sense the history of former times. Ceremonies for the Louisiana Purchase transfer, a transaction that almost doubled the nominal size of the U.S., occurred here in 1803.

Against such background, The Cabildo is quite well qualified to house the premier collection of New Orleans and Louisiana historical artifacts – starting with the earliest explorers and covering slavery, post-Civil War reconstruction, and statehood. The detailed history is told from a multicultural perspective and touches on interesting topics like immigration and assimilation, antebellum music, mourning and burial customs, and the role of the Southern woman.

Portraits of historical figures and incidents are hung throughout the museum, though probably the most memorable section is the one explaining the city's connection with Napoleon, evident in the naming of various streets, as well as in the preservation of the French Emperor's death mask, donated to the museum by his doctor. The item and its story of it almost ending up in the dumpster is fascinating.

This three-story building is packed with the 300-year history of Louisiana – from its indigenous beginnings to the French/Spanish influence, the Battle of New Orleans, significant people in the state's past, and more. A great place to go if you like history and facts. As an extra, the upstairs offers great views of Jackson Square.

Get a 20% off combo ticket with The Presbytère on the Cathedral's other side (or with any other Louisiana State Museum).

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10 am–4:30 pm
Pharmacy Museum

7) Pharmacy Museum

What a find this museum is! It has it all – education, spookiness, a picture-perfect garden setting, and even a charming balcony. Take the guided or self-guided tour through the nation's first pharmacy - it tells the stories of its owners – including J. Dufilho, the first licensed pharmacist in the US. You will also learn about the supposed hauntings that occur in the building.

On display are all sorts of antique medical equipment and medicines – from voodoo potions and live leeches to numerous 19th-century dental instruments to all variants of snake oil, old makeup, and countless other curious items and methods, both fascinating and terrifying. There is even a pharmacist's work area that displays the microscope, mortar, and pestle that doctors used to make their medicines, while the nearby garden shows the herbs that were a part of many prescriptions to patients. All in all, money and time are well spent!

Show up just before 1 pm to take the one-hour guided tour in the style of an entertaining lecture/presentation (Tuesday-Friday, for the same price as the self-guided tour but so much better), after which you'll be free to explore the museum at your leisure.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 10 am–4 pm
Historic New Orleans Collection

8) Historic New Orleans Collection

Located in the French Quarter on Royal Street, this is a New Orleans treasure trove of quirky, well-described historical artifacts (for example, an original Jazz Fest poster or the "Fair Play for Cuba" leaflets that Lee Harvey Oswald passed out while in town), plus rotating exhibits, local art, and photography, furniture, archives and more.

Entry to the excellent temporary history exhibitions in the street-front room of the Merieult House is free, but to see the best of the collection, the architecture, and the history, you will need to take a guided tour, offered several times daily. The tour covers the galleries upstairs or the elegant Williams House on nearby Toulouse Street – a must for anyone interested in design and decorative arts.

You may also want to look at the courtyard café and the perfectly curated gift shop staffed by some of the savviest ladies in town.

Any music lover would be happy to hear the Aeolian organ, completed in 1926 and recently restored (check out the "organ demonstrations" tour). It is a major deal for organ music lovers as only four working models still exist in the US.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 9:30 am–4:30 pm; Sun: 10:30 am–4:30 pm
Royal Street

9) Royal Street (must see)

If you want to experience the finer things in life, this is one of New Orleans' best streets where you can do so. In contrast to nearby Bourbon St., it displays a more sedate culture and refinement, with countless upscale galleries, boutiques, eateries, and local flavors such as potted ferns hanging from balconies. One of the city's oldest arteries, it's definitely one where you can get some good people-watching while having all the main attractions within walking distance.

With their ornate and beautiful design, many 18th- and 19th-century buildings lining the street are dedicated to first-class selections of antiques and artworks rivaling those displayed in major museums. Be sure to browse the sublime collection at the old M. S. Rau store at 630 Royal, which welcomes gawkers. Other notable stores sell jewelry and decorative carnival masks ranging from simple feather-and-ceramic styles to handcrafted, locally-made varieties with heftier price tags.

Royal Street is so unique that one will find it difficult to choose where to begin and where to end. From visiting the Gallier House to touring the Historic New Orleans Collection or eating at the restaurants displaying scenic gardens, ornate fountains, and beautiful courtyards, there is a lot to see and do here.

Why You Should Visit:
Certainly refreshing if you need a break from NOLA's bar/party scene, as the vibe is more family-friendly, and the stores have many souvenirs appropriate for family and friends, especially as you approach the heavily trafficked areas near the river. Several blocks of Royal Street are closed to vehicles between 11 am–4 pm, and colorful street performers entertain for tips.
Bourbon Street

10) Bourbon Street (must see)

Set in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter, the street is an attraction in its own right, stretching thirteen blocks from Canal to Esplanade Avenue. Renowned for its bars and strip clubs, as well as the live jazz scene, Bourbon is just as rich in historic sights and iconic venues. Here you will find some of the most luxurious spots in the city, such as the timeless Royal Sonesta Hotel and Galatoires Restaurant, where you can taste the best of French Creole cuisine in a festive yet elegant atmosphere.

Among the iconic bars here are Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop on the corner of St. Phillip St; the Old Absinthe House – the birthplace of the famous Absinthe House Frappe; and the Lafitte-in-Exile, the oldest gay bar in the U.S. Famed American playwright Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were regulars at Lafitte-in-Exile. If you're in the mood for jazz, head to Fritzel's European Jazz Club, an almost 200-year-old building hosting live jazz gigs every night of the week!

Why You Should Visit:
Nice to walk around and look at the art shops during the day and check out the food options, but at night it gets pretty wild. Be prepared for sensory overload: the lights, the noise, the smells, etc. There will be something here to surprise the un-surprisable.

If you visit, try the famous hand grenade drink. Also, don't take pictures of street performers if you don't intend to tip them.
For those looking for hard-core jazz music, it appears to have all moved over to Frenchmen Street.
Hermann-Grima House

11) Hermann-Grima House

Built in 1831 for Samuel Herman, a German-Jewish immigrant who married into a wealthy French-Creole family, this huge Georgian-style house is one of the best examples of upper-class Creole living you'll ever see. Featuring a courtyard, the only stable in the French Quarter, and a fully-functional outdoor 1830s kitchen, it is toured with a docent.

Remarkably enough, the Hermann-Grima House survived not only being subdivided into apartments or torn down but has also endured all the hurricanes throughout the years, not to mention the Civil War. Most of the furniture and original pieces are still inside. Moreover, a unique feature is the historically accurate special exhibitions, including presentations for the holidays, summer dresses, and something a little bit spooky in October. They also have a wonderful calendar of rotating shows in the gallery space at the historic Gallier House.

New Orleans' history and architecture are unique, especially considering its geography and climate, so even if you have seen every house museum in a southern city like Charleston or Savannah, you will learn new things on the one-hour tour here! Besides saving your receipt, you can also visit the nearby Gallier House at a discounted rate.

The best time to visit is from October to May when cooking demonstrations take place in the kitchen using the tools used during the 19th century.
Preservation Hall

12) Preservation Hall (must see)

Located just a few blocks from the Mississippi River, in the heart of the famous French Quarter, the aptly named Preservation Hall is a legendary venue, and much of its charm is found in its rustic, intimate, old-school vibe: shabby walls with paintings of local musicians, bench seating, a strict no-phone policy, no amps, and no bar.

The focus here is on keeping New Orleans jazz alive, though, in recent years, the house band has also collaborated for tours and recordings with several artists outside the genre, including gospel, hip hop, rock, and other inventive blends of styles. There are many seasoned musicians, as well as a few younger ones, and it's all great.

Plan to get there 45-60 minutes before the shows at 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10 pm daily. The good news is that the Hall is right around the corner from Pat O'Brien's, so you can enjoy a hurricane cocktail to go while you wait.
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar

13) Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar (must see)

Nestled in the heart of the French Quarter, on Bourbon Street, what a surprise is to find this typical early Creole cottage, which seems to have been transported from a different era. It is believed to be the oldest structure continually used as a bar in the southern US and supposedly served as a front for slave trading, contraband, and other illegal activities involving the city's most famous pirate, Jean Lafitte, and his "Baratarians," a thousand-strong band of smugglers.

Built in the 1720s, Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970, and in 2013 Esquire Magazine ranked it among the best bars in America. Even if you are not drinking, take a walk inside and look around - it is especially atmospheric. No electric lights are allowed here, so even amid the chatter and the blaring jukebox, the cavern-like, candlelit interior is akin to time travel. A must if you love history, stories, and old buildings!

The sneaky strong "purple drink" – otherwise known as Voodoo Daquiri – is what some people come here for, but you'll probably be more interested in catching the piano player (and singer) who is very good at engaging the crowd in sing-alongs, therefore, be sure to arrive after 9 pm!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10 am–3 am
Historic Voodoo Museum

14) Historic Voodoo Museum

Strange, unique, spooky, fun, and scary, this museum, established in 1972, offers a curious and introductory insight into the world of Louisiana Voodoo, also known as New Orleans Voodoo. Despite consisting of only two rooms, it is jam-packed with historical Voodoo relics, paintings, sculptures, and other artifacts. It is quite interesting to see whether you are just discovering Voodoo or you are a die-hard fanatic.

The local priestess will even give you a psychic reading in person or by phone. For those who wish to take the experience further, ritual services with local practitioners – from blessings and curse removals to weddings and other ceremonies – can be arranged.

They limit visitors in the museum proper, and as two come out, two more can go in – which means you can see everything without feeling rushed. The gift shop sells love potions, books, chicken feet, gris-gris bags, snake oils, books, dolls, candles, and other mementos.

Operation Hours:
Daily: 10 am–6 pm
Old Absinthe House

15) Old Absinthe House

The two-centuries-old original bar from the Old Absinthe House was returned to its 240 Bourbon Street home in early 2004 and maintained its decrepit vibe in the good old NOLA way. There are autograph registers on display; one signed by Billy Joel and one ancient with signatures such as "I.P. Freely" in a spidery fountain pen. This place was frequented by Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, and Frank Sinatra - some of the decors looks unchanged since those days. Thousands of business cards pinned to the wall serve as interesting wallpaper, and you can bring your own.

It was Oscar Wilde who gave one of the great quotes about any beverage: "After the first glass [of absinthe], you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world." The drink was once outlawed in the US, but now you can legally sip the infamous libation.

The ritual goes like this: sugar cube on the slotted spoon, cold water 'dripped' over the ice cube, melting the sugar and causing the green liquor louche into an opaque opalescent white. It is where the "green fairy" comes into play, as you see the green absinthe changing before your eyes, creating what might appear to be a fairy swirling in your glass. The bartender will probably light the sugar cube on fire, which is always exciting.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Wed: 9am–3am; Thu-Sat: 9am–5am
French Market

16) French Market (must see)

Spanning the length of six blocks, the French Market technically begins at Café du Monde and stretches downriver from Jackson Square to the US Mint. Spread across its numerous tables and stands, you can find everything from souvenirs to clothing to street-food outlets of every conceivable kind, with some excellent fruits and veggies. Often you can hear music as well, as the market makes for a great performance space.

The crepe stand is out of this world, but there's no shortage of other great-smelling food kiosks and restaurants with just about anything you could ask for, from crayfish to po' boys to beignets. Also, in addition to the tourist-focused NOLA and Mardi Gras masks, t-shirts, shot glasses, etc., you may find locals who make unique, colorful jewelry (pins, earrings) or will offer an assortment of handmade art items in clay, stone, or wood. Their wares are reasonably priced and make great souvenirs. Don't forget to bring cash, as not all the booths accept credit cards.

While primarily a shopping center, this popular spot is surprisingly historical. The oldest of its kind in the US, it has been a gathering place for many different ethnic groups, starting with the Native Americans who came here to sell their baskets and beads and later including Creoles, Germans, Sicilian and Chinese, who once traded fragrant herbs, mysterious wild birds, and even alligators. Today, the market's arcades have been mostly enclosed to protect shoppers from the sun, though still open at the sides to allow for a breeze.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9am–6pm; Sat, Sun: 10am–6pm

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