On my first visit to the French Quarter, three years ago, I knew I was only going to be passing through and would only have about two hours to take a quick photo-op stroll and eat lunch. About all I knew was French Quarter = Bourbon Street. Yes, I knew about Mardi Gras, New Orleans jazz, etc., but I had not done my homework about the neighborhood, as I was focused on other destinations.
It actually worked out great for a first visit. I loved strolling the little bit of the French Quarter that I had time for, and really enjoyed the Creole/Cajun sampler dish I ordered in a corner-restaurant on Jackson Square, with exterior walls comprised of beautiful, old, floor-to-ceiling wood-framed glass doors that were all open to the street, so you could soak up all of the sights, sounds and people-watching while savoring your meal.
While I was eating, a traditional French Quarter wedding procession passed slowly by the restaurant, led by the bride and groom…dressed in white and black…each holding a white or black parasol…and immediately followed by a New Orleans jazz band and guests. I had my camera, so I was even able to grab a few nice shots.
This was a very cool introduction to the French Quarter, but I knew I’d have to come back. The French Quarter is so unique, that there’s probably nowhere else like it in the U.S. I live in New England, where pretty much everything looks the same, so the French Quarter is like visiting another country for me.
Just a few random French Quarter facts…things I was curious about and had to look up, myself. Why is it called “The French Quarter”? Because it was originally settled by the French in 1718. It is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. It is also called the Vieux Carre (with an accent over the final “e”), which means “Old Square” in French.
Why is New Orleans called “The Crescent City”? Because this oldest neighborhood of NOLA sits on the bank of a sharp bend in the Mississippi River.
The Quarter, as it is also known, is about fourteen blocks long, by about seven blocks deep. These are not New York City blocks. They are small blocks with narrow streets lined with beautiful, old architecture…a walking neighborhood.
In the middle of this fourteen-block expanse, and set nearly against the Mississippi, sits Jackson Square. If Bourbon Street is the heart of the party-zone in the Quarter, then Jackson Square is the actual heart of the Quarter. A bit quieter and more laid back, Jackson Square provides a relaxing respite from the craziness of Bourbon Street.
I’ll be staying at the Place d’Armes, a very old, quaint hotel, ideally located between Bourbon St. and Jackson Square, on St. Ann Street. I found this hotel completely by accident on my first trip, simply looking for anywhere to park in a hurry. I saw a sign for parking and pulled in. Turned out to be the valet parking garage for the Place d’Armes. Who knew? Happy accident.
Expect to pay around $40/day to park in the Quarter. Not cheap, but worth it, especially if you’re only passing through and are just looking for a first taste of the Quarter.