The French explorers landed in the area in 1718 and settlers soon followed to the highpoint on the lower Mississippi River. With its decidedly French flair, New Orleans is Louisiana’s top destination. Within New Orleans, the French Quarter is the oldest part of the city and enduring to many a traveler. Some travelers end up spending a bit more time and living in the area for a while, especially writers and artists. For a getaway to New Orleans, here are the top things to do in the French Quarter.
Top Things to do in the French Quarter
Creole Queen Riverboat Cruise
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park
Haunted Ghost City Tour
City Seeing New Orleans Double Decker Bus
Walk the French Quarter
Visit Jackson Square
Do Some Boutique Shopping
Bite into a Beignet
Slurp Some Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Creole Queen Riverboat Cruise
Chugging up and down the Mississippi River, the 880-passenger paddlewheeler enchants both those on board along with those up and down the riverbanks. With its guided commentary, passengers will learn more about the history of New Orleans along with its main thoroughfare, the Mississippi River. It is one of the top things to do in the French Quarter.
Additional riverboat cruises available, like the evening Jazz Cruise with a dinner and there are seasonal river cruises throughout the year.
My Riverboat Cruise
During my visit to New Orleans, I hopped onboard the Creole Queen Historical River Cruise. Along with its interpretive programming, we stopped at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve’s Chalmette Battlefield. Located downriver from the French Quarter, it is one of six NPS locations of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park in southern Louisiana.
The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve’s Chalmette Battlefield is the site of the 1815 Battle with the British Troops. Under General Andrew Jackson, this was the last battle in the War of 1812, and the U.S. forces won.
While at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, a park ranger gave our group a ranger talk about the battle. This area includes a visitor center, a 100-foot-tall Chalmette Monument and the 1830s house.
In addition to touring the Chalmette Battlefield, my afternoon Creole Queen Riverboat cruise offered a buffet lunch along with a cash bar.
The lunch menu started with Caesar Salad, Corn Mac Choux, New Orleans Style Shrimp Pasta, Creole Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice. Bread Pudding along with tea and water were included in the buffet. Bottomless Mimosas are available for $20 per person.
Departs from 1 Poydras St., New Orleans. Advance tickets are recommended. Two sailings a day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Adult admission with lunch is $59 and kids (6 – 12) with lunch are $24. Adult admission without lunch is $39 and kids (6 – 12) without lunch is $15. No charge for kids 5 and younger to ride the riverboat though lunch will $10 per kid, 5 and younger.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park
The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is a collection of six separate locations across Southern Louisiana. For the most convenient location, travelers will find a visitor center with interpretive programming in the French Quarter.
Visitors learn about the history of the oldest part of New Orleans along with the lower Mississippi River region. It offers ranger programs and Junior Ranger programming for kids.
Located at 419 Decatur St. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. It is free to enter the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park.
Located downriver, the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve protects the Chalmette Battlefield. This location offers a 1830s house (not open for tours) and a reconstructed rampart. The 100-foot-tall monument is located behind the visitor center.
Visitors will find interpretive programming and a film that explains the significance of the last battle in the War of 1812 with the British. The NPS Junior Ranger Program for kids is also available.
Chalmette National Cemetery is in the area and was established during the Civil War. It has 14,000 graves from the Civil War through the Vietnam War.
Located at 1 Battlefield Rd., Chalmette, about 6 miles south of the French Quarter. Its visitor center is open daily from 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. It is free to enter the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park.
Four additional sites are located in southern Louisiana. For more information, visit the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park website.
City Sighting New Orleans Double Decker Bus
As a hop-on, hop-off tour, this is a must for a trip to New Orleans. Since parking is a premium in most tourist areas of New Orleans, many use the City Sighting New Orleans as a form of transportation, I did.
With a multi-day pass, I found there was a stop near my hotel, a short distance from the French Quarter. We boarded the bus to get around daily.
During the summer, the bus had a canopy. The ride was shaded and the breeze was nice. However, there is seating on the lower level with air conditioning.
The tour guide and driver were both helpful and informative. The tour zip-zagged through all the top areas in New Orleans, and I got an overview of its history and geography.
The City Sighting New Orleans Double Decker Bus stops at popular destinations like The National WWII Museum, The Super Dome and the Garden District. For some multi-day packages, a tour is included, like a walking tour of the Garden District or the French Quarter.
During my trip, we exited the bus in the Garden District for the tour. We had a few minutes before it started, so we brunched at one of the restaurants that the bus guide recommended.
This is the ideal tour if it’s your first visit to New Orleans, have a limited time in the city or have kids or others with mobility concerns. I felt like we saw and learned a lot in a short time.
The main bus stop is located at the Jackson Square Ticket Office at 700 Decatur. Open daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Adult One-Day Tickets start at $46 and kids (3 – 12) are $10 with babies 2 and younger riding for free.
Due to city regulations, the buses stop running for the day at 5 p.m.
Guided Tours with City Sighting New Orleans
For customers with multi-day tickets, guided tours are included. The City Sighting New Orleans offers a guided tour of the French Quarter and the Garden District. During my visit, I took the Garden District Tour since I wanted to learn more about the picturesque area.
Garden District Tour
With ancient trees lining the streets, the walk was shaded as we departed from the designated meeting point. Our guide was very knowledgeable and had lived in New Orleans for many years.
Sharing his love of history, we learned about the architectural styles along with the history of the area. We learned about the celebrities that have come and gone, sometimes never visiting the homes they purchased.
Our guide also shared the stories along with the former houses of the more notable residents of the Garden District, like the famed author Anne Rice, who wrote “Interview with a Vampire”. We also passed John Goodman’s house, who lives full-time in New Orleans.
In addition to homes and history, our tour guide shared a bit about the culinary history of New Orleans, especially as we passed the legendary restaurant Commander’s Palace.
Haunted Ghost Tour with Ghost City Tours
As the sun sets, dozens of ghost tours head out to learn more about the darker side of the French Quarter. For older kids and teens, a haunted ghost tour is one of the Top Things to do in the French Quarter.
Tourgoers learn about the history (sometimes ghoulish) of the French Quarter. If it’s your first visit, a ghost tour is one of the most entertaining ways to get to know New Orleans better.
A great ghost guide will weave a lot of history into their tours. Some of the best ghost tours use engaging storytellers to lead their tours. If they dress in costume, it’s even better.
My Ghost Tour
During my visit to New Orleans, I joined the Killers and Thrillers Ghost City Tour by Ghost City Tours. As we walked down the darkening streets, our costumed tour guide retold the harrying stories of notorious crimes and murders in New Orleans.
We started in Jackson Square, one of the French Quarter’s top sites, as our guide retold some of New Orleans’ top true crime stories. Walking the side streets, we also learned about the notorious murders next to the Louisiana Supreme Court Clerk building.
Madame LaLaurie and her mansion of horrors on Royal Street was probably the most dramatic of all the stories of the night. Seriously, it will haunt the minds of sensitive people.
Ghost City Tours start at its office, located at 809 Royal St. Its French Quarter ghost tours are walking tours. Reservations are required. Some tours have age restrictions, like the Killers and Thrillers Tour is 16+ though an All Ages Ghost Tour is available. Adult admission is $24.99 and kids (6 -11) are $9.99. Some ghost tours start at 6:00 p.m. and most depart at 8 p.m. Alcohol is permitted on walking tours.
Walk the French Quarter
This is the heartbeat of New Orleans. It is also the oldest section of the city and is called Vieux Carre.
One of the top things to do in the French Quarter is to simply walk its streets. Defined by Canal Street, Rampart Street (including Louis Armstrong Park), Esplanade Avenue and of course the Mississippi River.
The French landed in the bend of the Mississippi River in 1718 and started to settle the area. Up and down the French Quarter streets, the French influence is evident in its architecture, like the Creole Cottages, the gas lights and the pastel paint palette.
One of the top things to do in the French Quarter is walk its streets. Another hold-over from a different time, the streets are narrow. So drivers should park once and wear comfy walking shoes.
Bourbon Street is a must. Though with little kids in tow, make it early. As an entertainment district, the legendary Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes can be ordered to go.
If Bourbon Street is too raucous, then Royal Street makes a good alternative. Both run parallel through the French Quarter. Decatur is another top street in the French Quarter, and it adjoins Jackson Square.
In the shadow of St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square is one of the top things to do in the French Quarter, steps from the Mississippi River. The 2.5-acre garden is a National Historic Landmark and over 2 million visitors a year pass by or through its wrought iron gates.
Named after the statue in its center, Andrew Jackson led the overwhelmed U.S. militia to a victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans. It was the last battle in the War of 1812.
Visitors can enjoy Jackson Square Garden during their visit. It’s also home to artists who hang their work on the fence. In the evening, most ghost tours include Jackson Square.
Shopping rings two sides along with popular Cafe Du Monde across Decatur St. from Jackson Square. Since many tours depart from this area, like horse-drawn buggies and the City Sighting New Orleans Double Decker Bus, it’s likely most visitors will pass Jackson Square more than once.
Located at 751 Decatur St. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The gates to the garden are locked at night though the pedestrian walkway is always open. It is free to enter.
Shopping and Browsing in the French Quarter
The French Quarter offers lots of independently owned boutiques, and I recommended ducking into a few. Royal Street offers high-end antique stores, perfect for window shopping.
Head here for souvenirs, cheap sunglasses and Louisiana Hot Sauce and Prolines.
Located at 2-48 French Market Pl. Open daily from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Dauphine Street Books
Owner Steve Lacy might be better than a librarian for finding his customer’s books of choice. Inside, visitors will find stacks of books organized by topic.
Located at 818 Chartres St. Open Thursday to Tuesday from noon – 7 p.m. (closed Wednesday).
Writing instruments and stationery.
Located at 842 Royal St. Open daily from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Bourbon French Parfums
This legendary store moved from Jackson Square a few years back though it has been in the French Quarter for 170 years.
Located at 805 Royal St. Open Thursday to Monday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Linen and Lace
The destination for lace table linens, bed linens and little girls’ dresses. Many of its items are no longer produced.
Located at 522 St. Peter. Open daily from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (5 p.m. on Sunday).
Top Places to Eat in New Orleans
Dining in the French Quarter is a must. Reservations are always a good idea.
Breakfast and Beignets
Cafe du Monde
Cafe du Monde is a must for New Orleans. Skip the to-go line and get a table. Remember to tip your server.
Cafe du Monde still features the same menu, and I opt for the iced coffee in the summer. Remember, cash is king at Cafe du Monde.
Located at 800 Decatur St. Open daily at 7:15 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, midnight on Friday and Saturday. Several locations across New Orleans though I like the original.
For a beignet place with a larger menu, Cafe Beignet is the place. The locations are scenic, and the beignets are authentic.
Located at 334 Royal St., 311 Bourbon St., 600 Decatur St. and 622 Canal St. Locations open daily between 7 and 8 a.m. and close as the sun sets.
French Truck Coffee
This CBD (Central Business District) coffee stop needs to expand into the French Quarter. During one trip, I visited the Canal Street location several times for an afternoon summertime pick-me-up.
The coffee was great though I really was enamored with the small ice used in their iced drinks. Several New Orleans restaurants serve its coffee, like Rudy Slipper Cafe.
French Truck Coffee serves up a host of barista-made coffees along with tea. Diners will also find baked goods, and I recommend the Almond Croissant.
Located at 700 Canal St. Open Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. – 6 p.m., (Saturday and Sunday at 8 a.m.).
A bright breakfast and brunch spot features bacon, French Truck Coffee drinks, sourdough toast, pancakes and biscuits. A southern favorite, Wakin’ Bakin’ stirs up creamy grits, a must.
Located at 900 Dumainse St. Open Wednesday to Monday from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. (closed Monday).
Red Slipper Cafe
With six locations across New Orleans along with one in Baton Rouge, Red Slipper Cafe is a favorite. Known for its buttermilk biscuits, it features a wide breakfast menu.
Its Bennies are specialties, and the French Toast is another signature item. However, diners will find omelettes, sammies and salads. You can make it a boozy breakfast with several breakfast cocktails available.
Located at 204 Decatur St. Open daily at 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. (3 p.m. on weekends).
Best for Lunch and Dinner
Central Grocery is still shuttered. I’m not a fan of the set-up selling out of the liquor store next door so skip it.
On my latest trip, I took Anthony Bourdain’s advice (RIP) and ventured into Verti Marte. This hole-in-the-wall bodega has a food counter in the back.
The Verti Marte muffuletta was just what I needed. Tender sesame-topped bread spread with an olive spread and heavy helpings of salami and provolone. I said yes to it toasted. It married the flavors all the more.
The Verti Marte food counter serves lots of other sandwiches like po-boys, chicken and sausage gumbo along with desserts. The market portion offers lots of beverages from the usuals to local beer.
Located at 1201 Royal St. Open 24 hours a day.
Acme Oyster House
This regional restaurant started in the French Quarter in 1910. The first location was destroyed by fire in 1924, and Acme Oyster House set up shop at the Iberville location soon after.
After driving in from Texas, I usually stop here for a plate of fried seafood, most likely oysters. I like the atmosphere and the fact I don’t have to have a reservation, especially if I sit at the bar.
The menu offers all the New Orleans classics, like a couple of gumbos, fried shrimp platters, jambalaya and more. The po-boys are one of my favorites though they lost their po-boy prices back in the last millienea.
Located at 724 Iberville St. Open daily from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
For fine dining meets Southern classics experience, Cochon in the Wharehouse District is the place to sip and sample. With a neon sign out front, the dining room is thoroughly modern and features a bar with a collection of southern-inspired craft cocktails along with beer in both bottles and draft. Cochon also features an extensive wine list with a selection by the glass as well as by the bottle.
With its small plates menu, diners can savor classics like fried alligator (our waiter said it had been on the menu for close to 20 years). Alternatively, fried boudin is another Southern food staple on the Boucherie menu.
Its menu offers classics like Rabbit and Dumplings, expertly cooked, so each were toasted on the top and baked through with a hint of gooey goodness where it hits the filling. Not an easy task, since most dumplings I’ve tried are woofully undercooked.
The Smoked Beef Short Ribs were fork tender and flavorful. I sampled Cochon’s Chicken and Andouille sausage gumbo with a roux so dark it looked like pine tree bark. Worth noting, the gumbo was on the thinner side that elevated the low country classic into a fine dining soup.
Reservations are a must for dinner. If your reservation isn’t early in the evening, chances are the best desserts will be 86’d for the night.
Located at 930 Tchoupitoulas St. in the Wharehouse District. Open 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily. Cochon was one of Anthony Bourdain’s recommendations.
A staple for a generation, Brennan’s anchors the French Quarter in New Orleans with its pink facade on Royal St. Behind its doors, diners enter an elevated dining and bar area with a courtyard beyond.
Opening in 1946, the venerable restaurant has weathered hurricanes and sweltering summers with the grace of a Southern lady. At times, both its menu and interiors might feel dated to some younger clients, yet its menu offers the Creole and Cajun classics that define New Orleans cuisine.
Brennan’s might be one of the most famous restaurants in New Orleans. Its diners range from locals out celebrating a milestone to travelers, including traveling families.
Located at 417 Royal St. Open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are a must for any time of day.
Disclosure: Some tours were hosted.