The French Quarter in New Orleans is often a sought out party scape, infamous for Bourbon Street and the guaranteed belligerence (and often next-morning regrets) this famous strip of bars will bring to you. Flashy, neon signs as well as flashy, neon, (annoying) people do all they can to lure you into their establishments, all offering irresistible happy hours (3-for-1 anyone?), and midway down the street, the eventual inability to make it any further, as a result of those tantalizing deals.
New Orleans is a really fun place, though it’s often (regretfully) neglected due to the overwhelming misconception that Bourbon Street IS New Orleans. (Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had many a hay day on this lovely lane of liquor)- but sadly some of the most beautiful parts of this district are often overlooked.
The French Quarter is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in the United States. The architecture is unique to this particular section of New Orleans and the fact that it’s not replicated architecture, rather maintained and renovated architecture enhances its historical appeal significantly. The sherbert colors of the dwellings and businesses are alluring and inviting, though the shutters and window coverings as well as windowless doors reminds us that these are private residences- (this only heightens my curiosity of how amazing some of these places must be on the interior). Side streets should not be ignored in the French Quarter. The French Quarter is rather small and the entire area could easily be covered over a weekend.
Having withstood innumerable hurricanes and other natural disasters as well as two major fires, this particular section of New Orleans is majestic in more ways than one. The history itself is fascinating- but incorporate the civil engineering geniuses behind this section of town crafted in the late 1700s, and it’s baffling. Walking through the more quiet, residential side streets, anyone with an imagination can look at these structures and visualize maidens in their cotton dresses living and working on those same streets.
Dining in New Orleans is unlike any other place in the country, not only for the cuisine offered but also for the atmosphere of establishments in structures over 200 years old. With small, outdoor courtyards offered by many of NOLA’s restaurants, it’s very apparent how old these structures really are. The authenticity is amazing in every rusty hinge and every original balcony. And in some, it’s apparent that you’re sitting amongst what once were separate servant quarters. And with discreet garden patios enclosed by structures on parallel streets, it’s almost like being nestled into your own nook and cranny.
There are things that must be done while visiting the French Quarter. Everyone should try a beignet from Cafe Du Monde alongside the Mississippi River. Served in an outdoor cafe, it’s a mecca for people watching and a longtime tradition of New Orleans. A walk by St. Ursuline’s Convent should definitely be considered- built in 1752, it’s the only French-Colonial structure still standing and is the oldest structure west of the Mississippi. Jackson Square is a haven for artists and fortune tellers, also a native tradition of NOLA, though some appear to be less than authentic. With the Cabildo (the building where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803), St. Louis Cathedral, and the Presbytere at its front, photos of Jackson Square from outside its perimeter appear surreal.
The Archdiocesan cemetery above the French Quarter should not be missed- St. Louis Cemetery # 1- the old, decrepit tombs are haunting, yet intriguing, though it is only open till 3 p.m. unless you register for a haunted tour of New Orleans. Be sure to see the tomb of Marie Laveau- considered the “mother of voodoo” in New Orleans, emphasized by the red “X’s” on her grave. Leave your own “X’s” for good luck and leave an offering such as coins, flowers, or an alcoholic beverage.
The LaLaurie mansion at 1140 Royal Street (or Rue Royale), though now privately owned and renovated into luxury apartments, should be strolled past. Once home to Madame Delphine LaLaurie, the Madame had been accused of maintaining a slave torture chamber in her attic and was ran out of town by disgusted citizens, though some speculate she could’ve been victim of yellow journalism. The story says LaLaurie tortured, murdered, and performed horrific scientific experiments on her slaves- and in an attempt to end the terrors of the home, an elderly cook set fire to the home, which led to the discovery of the chambers. Many stories still arise with claims of new owners finding burial grounds and mounds of bones during various renovations, but I’ve never found a factual number or report of such findings; however, the speculation is intriguing nonetheless.
All in all, the French Quarter is a remarkable place filled with a unique history unlike anywhere else in the country. I recommend Bourbon Street to everyone- to taste the infamous section of town and create your own tale of NOLA drunkenness, but do make a point to experience the other unique appeals of this particular section of town. These few city blocks hold more mysticism in its aura than any other place I’ve visited. With tales of voodoo and slave torture chambers, the history is rich and deep and the discoveries you can make here are insightful and inspiring. You may even be lucky enough to unexpectedly have someone’s pet parrot say “I love you” as you quietly venture down a residential street.
By: Ashley Halligan