New Orleans' most historic and popular district is the French Quarter, full of beautiful architecture with ironwork galleries. The architecture is only one aspect of the French Quarter though – by day it's almost a sleepy suburb and you can lazily tour the streets from a horse and carriage; but by night it's a different story altogether – noisy, crowded, yet full of atmosphere. The drinks flow freely, the music drifts out of open doors and windows. It's an experience not to be missed!

The French Quarter: Come for the architecture, stay for the atmosphere!

If you wanted to see some wonderful French architecture you would probably think of visiting France, but, this isn’t what I would recommend! I don’t believe there is anywhere in France that has such a beautiful collection of historic architecture as the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana does, though having said this, you’d be surprised to learn that much of the famous architecture of this part of the city actually dates from the Spanish ruling period – so how come it’s called the French Quarter?!

The oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans

The French Quarter of New Orleans is the city’s oldest neighbourhood; this is where the city first began in the 1700s. At that time it was largely French immigrants who settled here, and there were many wooden buildings constructed to house them, contain shops, bars and brothels. The original French architecture was largely destroyed during two fires – the first was the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788 and the second was in 1794.

It was around this period that the Spanish took control of Louisiana and they set about rebuilding the city. They took on far more strict building regulations so that another fire would not destroy the city, and they built those beautiful buildings that the French Quarter is so famous for – the ones with the detailed ironwork galleries and many windows and doors that mainly date from the 18th and early 19th century.

Since the 1920s these historic buildings have been protected so they cannot be demolished or altered, and this is great for us and generations to come because we can still enjoy this striking architecture and the cultures it represents.

Strolling around the French Quarter

Many tourists will argue that the French Quarter is best seen at night, when it really comes to life. This is true, but I still recommend you take a stroll during the daytime as well, because you can only really appreciate the architecture when you can see it properly! This is also a quieter and more sedate time of day to visit, and if you’re here with children it would be safer for them. Wander around some of the most famous streets like Bourbon Street and Chartres Street, or see the French Quarter from the comfort of a horse and carriage!

I also enjoy exploring some of the lesser known, and hence less busy streets, as it’s away from the tourists that you can really get a feel for the heart of old New Orleans. There are still many gorgeous buildings to seek out, and quieter places to enjoy breakfast or lunch.

In the evening the French Quarter is positively buzzing – the atmosphere changes completely, and is a lot of fun for adults though a little intimidating for children. There are many lively bars and restaurants to have a drink or a meal in, and many of them also entertain you with live music. I personally think there is no better place in the world to enjoy an evening of jazz music than in New Orleans’ French Quarter, and I’m not even a jazz fan!

French Quarter landmarks

Apart from the ironwork galleries there are a couple of landmarks to head for. At the edge of the French Quarter, standing opposite the mighty Mississippi River, is Jackson Square. This attractive square is home to the beautiful Saint Louis Cathedral, built in 1789, and here you can firmly see the Spanish influence in the design of the church.

Two New Orleans’ institutions can be found at the edge of the square. The first is a restaurant named Tujagues where you can sit and enjoy authentic Creole recipes and wonder which of the famous people adorning the walls sat at your table!

The second is Café de Monde where you can come for a less formal coffee and beignet. Café du Monde is actually world renowned for its tasty beignets, so make sure you sit and have a couple along with a café au lait. Your visit to the French Quarter can only be considered complete after you’ve done this!

The French Quarter is one of the most famous historic districts in the United States, though there are many more. Have you visited a historic district in a large North American city and if so, what did you particularly like about it?

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