The beautiful French Quarter is where New Orleans began in 1718. Today, battered and bohemian, decaying and vibrant, it remains the spiritual core of the city, its cast-iron balconies, hidden courtyards and time-stained stucco buildings exerting a fascination that has long caught the imagination of artists and writers. It’s a wonderful place simply to wander; early morning, in the pearly light from the river, is a good time to explore.
The Quarter is laid out in a grid, unchanged since 1721. At just thirteen blocks wide – smaller than you might expect – it’s easily walkable, bounded by the Mississippi River, Rampart Street, Canal Street and Esplanade Avenue, and centring on lively Jackson Square. Rather than French, the architecture is predominantly Spanish Colonial, with a strong Caribbean influence. Most buildings date from the late eighteenth century; much of the old city was devastated by fire in 1788 and 1794. Shops, restaurants and bars are concentrated between Decatur and Bourbon streets, while beyond Bourbon, up toward Rampart Street, and in the Lower Quarter, downriver from Jackson Square, things become more peaceful. Here, you’ll find quiet, residential streets where the Quarter’s gay community lives side by side with elegant dowagers, condo-dwellers and scruffy artists.