French Quarter French Quarter Neighborhood Guide
The storied history of the French Quarter as an important port and the oldest part of New Orleans has been shaped by the French, Spanish, African, Irish, Caribbean, and Italian cultures — as evidenced in today’s melting pot of its architecture and infrastructure.
Today’s French Quarter is one of the top destinations for global travel. It represents the melting-pot quality of the city with its medley of lush courtyards, Creole townhouses, crumbling facades, and wrought-iron wraparound balconies — with influences from both the French and the Spanish rules and the city’s many immigrants.
The robust entertainment aspect of the Quarter is manifested in the neon bustle of Bourbon Street, the 24/7 bars and restaurants, live music in Jackson Square and on street corners, and the always-on, pulsating party vibe.
The full-time population of the French Quarter has been steadily dwindling since the 20th century, replaced by businesses and part-time or short-term residents. You’re more likely to have a commercial property for a neighbor, or an out-of-town condominium owner.
One feels the history and the magic of this neighborhood in every brick, and the city tries hard to preserve its gem by enforcing strict regulations when it comes to development and improvement. The new streetcar line, Rampart/St. Claude, joined the existing Riverfront and Canal lines in 2016. The street repair of the eight blocks of Bourbon Street starting at Canal was slated to be completed by the end of 2017. Expect to pay, on average, $566 per square foot.
Read on to learn more about this neighborhood’s residents, notable features, hotspots, and history. Are you looking to buy a house in the French Quarter, New Orleans? Our experienced Realtors can make the home-buying process seamless and swift. Contact us online or call (504) 483-8884 to discuss your real estate needs and goals.
Where Is the French Quarter Exactly?
The French Quarter is a sub-district of the French Quarter/CBD area. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it has a total area of 423 acres. The French Quarter’s boundaries, as defined by the City Planning Commission, are:
- North: Esplanade Avenue
- East: The Mississippi River
- West: North Rampart Street
- South: Canal Street
The area stretches for seven to nine blocks between North Rampart and the river, and for 13 blocks between Canal Street and Esplanade Avenue. It equals an area of 78 square blocks. Under city zoning laws, some sections between Decatur Street and the river, which were used as industrial warehouses, are excluded from the most common definition of the French Quarter.
What’s to Love About the French Quarter?
What not to love about the French Quarter? The mere fact that it’s been around for 300 years (in 2018) makes it one of the most interesting places in the country. While many hotels, restaurants, and businesses (such as tour companies and souvenir shops) cater to tourists, it’s still a functioning, mixed-use neighborhood that thousands of residents call home. The Lower Quarter (between Jackson Square and Esplanade Avenue) in particular is largely residential, with businesses sprinkled throughout the area.
Here are just a few things we love about living in the French Quarter:
Stunning Architecture: Incredible architecture is the dominant feature of the neighborhood. The French Quarter of today retains more of the architecture left from the Spanish rule (1762-1802) than the original French buildings, which were largely wiped out by the great fires of 1788 and 1794. Still, a few notable French colonial landmarks remain, such as the Old Ursuline Convent, which was built in 1752. The streets also still bear the names of French nobility, such as Bourbon and Burgundy.
The High Ground: Because the French Quarter is located on high ground it gives this area an advantage over many other New Orleans neighborhoods with less elevation. The French Quarter didn’t suffer any flooding as a result of Hurricane Katrina, for instance. Power lines are underground, to ensure better protection against storms.
Every Street in This Exotic Neighborhood Has Something to Offer: This includes top restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs, boutique shopping, indoor and outdoor entertainment, live music, high-end bars, art markets, craft cocktails — you name it. From the 200-year-old bars to brass bands playing in Jackson Square to beignets 24/7 — the French Quarter caters to all tastes and wallets.
French Quarter Is the Most Walkable Neighborhood in New Orleans: With a score of 98, the French Quarter is the most walkable neighborhood in in the city. It’s also a biker’s paradise, with a score of 90.
The Many Prides and Pearls of the French Quarter
With such a high concentration of landmarks, entertainment venues, restaurants, pedestrian malls, and other factors that contribute to the neighborhood’s character, it’s hard to pinpoint favorites. From the neon hustle of Bourbon Street to the tranquil elegance of Dauphine, and from the old-school neighborhood dives to the fine-dining experiences, the Quarter has charm, soul, and surprises — and it’s always open for business.
Here are a few highlights:
- Soak up Jackson Square (originally called Place d’Armes), the heart of the French Quarter. Shop the Pontalba row, listen to a brass band playing by St. Louis Cathedral, see Napoleon’s death mask at the Cabildo, peruse the excellent exhibit on Mardi Gras at the Presbytere, get a tarot reading, and look at the street art propped against the fence of the square.
- Get a muffaletta to go at Central Grocery on Decatur (established by a Sicilian immigrant Salvatore Lupo in 1906 and still run by the family), and sit by the river in the 16-acre Woldenberg Park, home to many festivals. You can see all kinds of boats go by, including Steamboat Natchez, straight out of a Mark Twain novel.
- Attend a jazz brunch. Two venerable institutions, Arnaud’s (est. in 1918) and Antoine’s (est. in 1840) serve upscale Creole dishes to the sounds of live Dixieland jazz.
- Drink at one of the oldest bars in America. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is housed in a crumbling Creole cottage on the corner of Bourbon and St. Philip streets. It was built between 1722 and 1732 and was said to have been used by the infamous Lafitte Brothers, Jean and Pierre, as a base for their privateer operation in Barataria. The bar’s signature drink (if you’re feeling brave), called Purple Drank, is a frozen daiquiri concoction. The Old Absinthe House, also on Bourbon Street, dates to 1806 and has hosted its share of famous patrons, including Oscar Wilde and Franklin Roosevelt.
- Have some fried chicken or jambalaya at Coop’s Place, a no-frills local bar and restaurant on the always-busy stretch of Decatur Street. Don’t let the long line scare you.
A Brief History of the French Quarter, New Orleans
The French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carre (the “old square” in French), was the original settlement founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville. The city of New Orleans developed around it. Rampart Street, for example, was named for the city walls. Jackson Square served as the main city square and a military parade ground. The first settlers were the French, the Spanish, and the Creoles.
The area also had a high concentration of free people of color. The great fires in 1788 and 1794 destroyed most of the Quarter’s old French colonial architecture, which was eventually replaced by the Spanish colonial style.
In the early 20th century, the area saw an influx of Italian, German, and Irish immigrants as it became more rundown and less desirable to the Creoles. As the city shut down the red light district of Storyville many of those businesses trickled into the French Quarter, sending the old Creole families that still lived there Uptown and to other areas of the city. Later, in the 1920s, bohemians recognized the allure of the Quarter (and its cheap rent) and started moving in.
The Vieux Carre Historic District was established in 1965, to oversee the preservation of the area’s historic character. The 1984 World’s Fair was instrumental in turning the French Quarter into a heavily visited tourist destination. As a result, it’s undergone massive development in the 1980s, with the opening of high-rise hotels on Canal Street, and condos and the B&Bs. Rising rents and property values drove many long-term residents away — to Treme, the Marigny, and, later, to Lakeview.