With 300-plus years of history crammed into 14 short blocks, one could easily spend days exploring all the Vieux Carré has to offer. But what about folks on a fixed time budget? What’s the Crescent City day-tripper to do? We’ve compiled a 24-hour crash course for French Quarter first-timers, designed to make New Orleans newbies feel like longtime locals.
Start the day with a café au lait. New Orleans has been a leading coffee importer for more than 200 years, and since 1862 Café Du Monde, the city’s oldest coffeehouse, has been satisfying java junkies with its trademark brew. Go easy on the beignets (trust us, you’ll need the room), and grab a second cup to go before strolling the French Market, America’s oldest public produce market, which predates the city itself.
Still hungry? You won’t be for long. Settle in for brunch beneath the sprawling century-old wisteria vine at the Court of Two Sisters. Established in 1940 on the former site of the Shop of Two Sisters, a 19th-century notions boutique, the Court has built its reputation on history and romance. It’s said that more wedding proposals have been made in its courtyard than anywhere else in the nation.
Breakfast at Brennan's has topped NOLA must-do lists since 1946. Start with brandy milk punch (hey, it’s tradition!) and turtle soup with aged sherry before diving into Eggs Hussarde or grillades and grits. Top things off with rum-soaked Bananas Foster (hey, it’s tradition!) flambéed tableside. Between courses, ask to see the Morphy Room, dedicated to child chess prodigy Paul Morphy who resided here during the 1800s.
Work off that extra Hollandaise touring Jackson Square, which was first laid out as a military parade ground in 1721. Originally dubbed Place d’Armes, the site was renamed to honor President Andrew Jackson in 1852 by Baroness Micaëla Pontalba, who is likewise credited with erecting the twin brick buildings that flank the square—the nation’s first apartment complex. The bronze statue at the square’s center depicts Jackson tipping his hat toward the former residence of the baroness, his rumored lover.
Facing the square is St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest active Catholic cathedral in the country, built in 1851 on the foundation of a 1727 colonial church. To its left is the Presbytère, designed as a rectory in 1791, though it was never used as such. Today it is part of the Louisiana State Museum’s holdings, along with the Cabildo (to the cathedral’s right), in which the signing of the Louisiana Purchase took place in 1803.
Between the Cabildo and the cathedral is picturesque Pirate’s Alley, where author William Faulkner wrote his first novel, “Soldier’s Pay.” One block over, playwright Tennessee Williams finished “A Streetcar Named Desire” at 632 ½ St. Peter Street. That orange building at the corner of St. Peter and Chartres? That’s Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré, one of the oldest community playhouses in the United States.
Further down Chartres is the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, once home to Louis J. Dufilho Jr., the nation’s first licensed pharmacist who plied his trade here from 1823 to 1855. Questionable 19th-century medical practices (bloodletting, pills coated in gold and silver) are examined, along with the making of sodas and stronger tonics. After all, it was another French Quarter pharmacist, Antoine Peychaud (of bitters fame), who is credited with creating the first cocktail in 1838 at 437 Royal Street.
Ready for a cocktail of your own? For more than a century Galatoire’s mirrored dining room has been the place to be seen…and be toasted. Its hours-long well-lubricated Friday lunches, which can easily morph into dinner, are to stuff of legend and a weekly ritual among local movers and shakers.
Something more low-key? The crumbling walls and smoked-tinged memorabilia at Napoleon House hint at the establishment’s age. Built in the early 19thcentury for mayor Nicholas Girod, it was offered as safe haven for Napoleon once the emperor came out of exile, but it never happened. Instead it became a fabled tavern and restaurant, known for its warm muffulettas and icy Pimm’s Cups.
Brush up on the city’s 300-year backstory at the Historic New Orleans Collection. The free facility offers a wide array of rare artifacts and ephemera exploring the Quarter’s evolution. Music is the focus at the New Orleans Jazz Museum, which is housed in the Old U.S. Mint, the only mint where both American and Confederate coins were struck.
Step into the circa-1831 Hermann-Grima House and step back in time. In addition to period-perfect furnishings, the historic home features the Quarter’s last remaining stables and open-hearth kitchen. Gallier House, dating to 1857, was home to architect James Gallier Jr., and is credited as one of the first homes in the city to have hot and cold running water. Nearby you’ll find the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley, the Old Ursuline Convent, erected in 1727 to house the nation’s first order of nuns.
Dinner With a Side of History
How better to cap off a historic day than with dinner at New Orleans’ oldest eatery? Since 1840, Antoine’s, the nation’s longest-operating family-run restaurant, has fed and feted everyone from President Calvin Coolidge to Brad Pitt with such signature dishes as Oysters Rockefeller, which originated here. Its 1840 Room (one of 15) replicates a refined 19th-century dining room with museum-quality appointments, including a circa-1659 cookbook.