Despite the history and culture oozing from every brick in New Orleans' iconic French Quarter neighborhood, it will forever remain a very tourist-y destination: it seems like every popular and cliched "thing to do" in New Orleans was crammed into 78 city blocks. That doesn't mean it isn't worth a visit, though! Dodge the crowds and head to some of the best-kept secrets of the French Quarter... and kudos to you if you can remain sober while doing so! (Although the city's utter and complete lack of open container laws might make that a challenge. Not that there's anything wrong with that...)
Okay, I'm gonna level with you guys... no matter where you go in the French Quarter, you will run into at least a few other tourists. That being said, finding a place with an authentic atmosphere (and comparatively fewer intoxicated visitors) can make all the difference, especially when it comes to listening to some real New Orleans jazz. The most popular place to soak up the swingin' signature sound is Preservation Hall, but the smaller, more intimate Fritzel's Jazz Pub feels less like a tourist attraction and more like a well-kept French Quarter secret. If you can, get a seat on the balcony!
Okay, so it's a block down from the technical boundary of the French Quarter, but it's worth the walk. This sandwich shop is actually located in the very back of the Erin Rose Bar . The menu is pretty small (do keep in mind... it's in the back of a dive bar) but the quality of the po boys is incredible. If you're feeling traditional, go for the shrimp, but the decadent pork belly po boy and veggie-friendly sweet potato po boy are out-of-this-world delicious. Plus, there's nothing better to wash down a po boy than a cold beer!
One major feature of the French Quarter is that many of the buildings were built even before 1803, when America obtained New Orleans in the Louisiana Purchase. The French/Spanish influenced architecture is so iconic and distinctive to the neighborhood that any modifications to any building in the French Quarter have to be approved by a committee to make sure they gel with the historic vibe of the rest of the buildings in the area.
One of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter, The Cabildo, is located in the neighborhood's iconic Jackson Square (named for the statue of Andrew Jackson). It was the seat of the colonial government when the Spanish were in control, and it's where the Louisiana Purchase was formally signed, transferring New Orleans to the US. It was used by the New Orleans city council, and then became the home of the Louisiana Supreme Court-- famous cases like Plessy v. Ferguson were heard here. It's now used as the Louisiana State Museum and features displays on the state and its uniquely colorful history.
If you're looking to avoid hoardes of people, it makes sense to go to the farther reaches of the French Quarter, where crowds thin out considerably. So, even though Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop is on Rue Bourbon, it's at the end of the street, and most people generally pass out or just give up before making it quite that far along in their bar crawls. It's one of the oldest buildings in New Orleans, built circa 1720 (it survived the big fire of 1830) and it's also reportedly the "oldest structure in America to be continuously operated as a bar". Oh, and it was maybe a hideout for New Orleans' most notorious pirate, Jean Lafitte. They serve up old-school piano music and lots of beer (yes, they have hurricanes, too) to go along with that helping of history, making it well worth a visit!
Everyone who comes to New Orleans goes to Cafe Du Monde: the beignets, the cafe au lait (brewed with chicory-- not everyone likes it, but it's worth a try!) and the history can't be beat... they've become the place to get a beignet, a French donut topped in powdered sugar, since they've been serving them up since before the Civil War. If it's your visit time visiting, it's tradition to blow some powdered sugar off your beignet and make a wish before you dig in! The downside to snacking at Cafe Du Monde, however, is that it's eternally crowded. Never fear: beignets aren't the only sweet treat in the French Quarter: sample New Orleans' other signature delight: bananas foster, invented at Brennan's. Bananas foster, if you haven't had the pleasure of enjoying it, is bananas cooked in a sugary, buttery rum sauce served over vanilla ice cream.
Try it at the Court of Two Sisters-- it's just as good with less of a wait-- or find it incorporated into cheesecake, French Toast, and other recipes all across the city.
Most people will inevitably be seduced into visiting the Voodoo Museum, which is cool because the place is totally badass, but for a different perspective on voodoo and New Orleans history, you should definitely check out the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. They have a display on gris-gris and other voodoo potions used for healing the sick, as well as assorted questionable medical practices and devices, old school medical tools, cosmetics, and some background on how the soda fountain became tied to the pharmacy. You'll leave equal parts horrified and amused... so it's a good thing there are a lot of places to get a drink nearby!
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