Between the wrought iron balconies overflowing with flora and fauna and music flittering through in the streets, New Orleans' historic French Quarter is a feast for the senses and one of the must-see US travel destinations. A fun weekend getaway anytime of the year, you don’t have to wait for Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest to live it up in the Big Easy. There are an increasing number of ways to wind your way through the Quarter: carriage rides, Segway tours, bicycle rentals, pedicabs or a good old-fashioned self-guided walking tour. You could spend days or weeks trying to see and eat everything and one visit is inevitably never enough.
Fall in love with New Orleans’ old world charm at these amazing French Quarter spots:
The Best in Fine Dining
New Orleans is a food town with it’s own genre of haute Southern cuisine, so best-of lists are hotly debated and often updated, but uber-chef Susan Spicer's standout restaurant Bayona regularly finds its way to the top of 4-star dining lists. Restaurant R'evolution offers meals so elegant there's a tufted stool for your purse (or satchel) to sit on. Sylvain is a hearty casual option, while Irene's serves the most delicious Italian food in the French Quarter.
Where to Try the Classics
A Muffaletta at Central Grocery on Decatur Street looks like a pound of meat and olive salad on a bun, but tastes like heaven. For a mountain of fried seafood, jambalaya and gumbo in an outdoor setting that includes live music, The Gazebo Cafe just off the French Market is a must-see. Verti Marte on Royal Street is the locals' choice for a 24-hour deli with po-boys so overstuffed it's almost sarcastic. There's standing room only at the tables if you're dining in, otherwise, get them delivered right to your door if you’re staying in the French Quarter.
Let your Drinks do the Walking
Bourbon Street has no shortage of tall drinks in plastic to-go cups (sometimes even with an attached neck strap if you’re a messy drinker), but the classic is Pat O'Brien's hurricane. A Nola institution since 1933, their dueling pianos are a place of foolhardy fun and notable debauchery. Tropical Isle on Bourbon Street sells the signature Hand Grenade, a bright green drink that has fueled many all-nighters and subsequent rough mornings. For a more upscale drink selection SoBou, which stands for South of Bourbon Street, celebrates cocktail culture right down to wine dispensers with single glass servings, and beer on tap at select tables.
Walk Off Said Eats
Start at Esplanade Avenue and stroll through the French Market for souvenirs, handcrafted wares and a massive selection of hot sauces. If you happen to be in town mid-week, Wednesdays host a charming Farmer's Market. From the market, cross through Dutch Alley to stroll along the Mississippi River to where it overlooks Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest church in the United States. From there, head down the steps to the iconic Cafe DuMonde for coffee and beignets (powdered sugar donuts, which really should be their own food group) because you've earned them.
Let Your Eyeballs Do The Shopping
The best shopping district, window or otherwise, is along historic Royal Street. Antiques at M.S. Rau are wildly eccentric with museum-quality items for sale including taxidermized dinosaurs and exquisite antique jewelry. Vintage clothing, bombastic wigs, local artist-wares, autographed instruments, antique toy soldiers, and masks and souvenirs galore – there's no end to what the unique New Orleans shops have to offer.
Best Mind Expanders
The French Quarter is home to some of the most interesting museums in the country that will expand your mind, not just your waistline. Check out The Historic New Orleans Collection, Gallier House, The Cabildo, and Madam John's Legacy, among many others. Historic reenactments regularly stroll the French Quarter and when you catch one in front of a spot you'd like to know more about, they're glad to tell the tale. If the darker side of the city intrigues you, visit the wax dioramas at Musee Conti. For history, they have Napoleon and the famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, and for creepy, they feature monsters like the Wolfman and Cyclops. Peruse the antique oddities at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum to learn how they took the edge off back in the day. The museum offers information on natural hangover remedies that just may save your trip.