5 Spots in the French Quarter Every History Buff Must See
While it’s easy to come up with a longer list of must-see landmarks in a city this old and colorful, here are our top five recommendations for the French Quarter, all located within walking distance from each other.
Jackson Square (751 Decatur St.)
Known since the 18th century as Place d’Armes, it was renamed in honor of Andrew Jackson following the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. Jackson’s bronze statue is the focal point of the square, surrounded by the lavish flora and facing the Mississippi River. Jackson Square is also a host to the open-air artist market and performance space, with local art displayed along the fence. You can have your sketch done, dance to a brass band, or have your fortune told. Carriage rides are offered in front of the square.
St. Louis Cathedral (615 Pere Antoine Alley)
The oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States, St. Louis Cathedral overlooks Jackson Square and the block-long row of the Pontalba Buildings. St. Louis Cathedral is one of the most instantly recognizable buildings in the world, its famous steeples showing up on many a postcard and in quite a few films. You can check out the Cathedral’s stunning interior during its hours of operation, attend a mass or a music concert. If passing by, depending on time of day, you may get to hear its bell, catch a brass band playing outside, or witness an occasional wedding party spilling out of the Cathedral, followed by a second line.
This historic building served as the seat of government during the Spanish colonial rule, and was built to replace the building claimed by the fire in 1794. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase was signed at the Cabildo. Standing tall right next to St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo is now part of the Louisiana State Museum.
On the other side of St. Louis cathedral is the Presbytère, built in 1791 in the style to match the Cabildo. It’s called “Presbytère” because it was built on the site of one, which served as a residence for Capuchin monks. The building served as a courthouse in the late 19th century and is now also part of the Louisiana State Museum, just like the Cabildo. The Presbytère currently houses two permanent exhibits, on the history of the Carnival and Hurricane Katrina.
French Market (2 French Market Pl.)
French Market founded in 1791 as a Native American trading post and has been operating since, making it the oldest public market in the country. Similar in structure to a traditional European market, this open-air mall covers roughly five blocks, from Cafe du Monde on Decatur St. across from Jackson Square to the daily flea market at the end of Esplanade Avenue. Many retail shops and restaurants surround it in every direction. The flea market area hosts dozens of local artisans, plus vendors from all over the world. You’ll find souvenirs, handmade masks and jewelry, t-shirts, music, and more. Stop by the food vendors to get a quick bite and an edible souvenir to take home.
Old Ursuline Convent (1100 Chartres St.)
The Old Ursuline Convent was built in 1752, which makes it the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley and the oldest surviving example of the French colonial period in the country, circa Louis XV. The building has first served as a convent for the Ursuline nuns, and then, as centuries ticked on, it had been, at some point: a school, an archbishop’s and priests’ residence, archdiocesan offices/archives, and is now part of the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Its museum is open for self-guided tours.