The French Quarter envelops you with its 18th century colonial beauty, seductive scents and the sound of music.
Whether you come during Mardi Gras or any other time of year, there are only a few places on the planet that can touch the senses the way New Orleans can. This famous city on the Mississippi River in Louisiana turns 300 years old in 2018. This rich history is felt as soon as you enter the French Quarter and become entranced by the architecture, Cajun cuisine and lively music coming from restaurants and street corners.
Strolling the Square
Start the day at Jackson Square, the cultural center of the French Quarter. The statue of Gen. Andrew Jackson on his horse looks over the Mississippi River with the St. Louis Cathedral as its backdrop. This gorgeous square is full of music and art. Even on a weekday morning, as you stop to listen to a group of musicians, you may hear another group on the next street corner. Amid the festive atmosphere, local artists create and sell their works around the square.
Take a quick walk across the street to the famous Café du Monde and enjoy the fabulous café au lait and beignets. Even if you get powdered sugar everywhere, it is worth it, and that coffee is so smooth. Continue just a little downriver to see the historic French Market consisting of six blocks of clothing, book, candy stores and the like.
View of St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square
Dancing in the Streets
All throughout the French Quarter, expect to see street musicians and performers. The street musicians in particular are often the source of visitors’ most unforgettable moments. Imagine coming out of one of the shops on Royal Street as a street parade is just passing by. Known as “Second Lines,” these impromptu street parades are a proud New Orleans tradition. Or, you might be wandering the streets when a local Dixieland band complete with washboard, tuba, upright bass and drums sets up on a street corner. Passersby start dancing while a crowd of locals and visitors casually gathers on the sidewalk to listen as the sun sets.
A couple seizes the moment for an impromptu dance as buskers perform in the French Quarter
Birthplace of Jazz
Of course, aside from Mardi Gras, New Orleans is mostly known as the birthplace of jazz. This uniquely American art form developed here 100 years ago when African-American musicians absorbed European musical elements and created their own unique sound. To this day in New Orleans, you can still enjoy it casually on almost every street corner or hear it in a real jazz club. A trip to New Orleans is not complete without hearing some authentic jazz.
There are countless music halls and jazz venues to choose from throughout New Orleans, but both jazz lovers and novices should catch a performance at Preservation Hall. This is a true New Orleans institution, where you can experience authentic jazz.
Another great location to catch live jazz is Frenchmen Street, just about a block outside the French Quarter. This lively area has come to be known by the locals as one of the best places to enjoy live music in the city. Grab a beer and wander along the street to hear great tunes coming from each bar. There are countless music halls and jazz clubs to choose from, and one particular favorite is the Spotted Cat Music Club. The sign outside the door says the music begins at 4 p.m. and doesn’t end until 2 a.m., a schedule typical of New Orleans entertainment, so there’s no excuse for missing out.