AAA Walking Tours
The French QuarterThis walking tour begins at Jackson Square, but you can start at any point convenient to your hotel. If you enter the Quarter by car, parking is available in three lots on Decatur Street near Jax Brewery, with entrances at Conti, Toulouse and St. Peter streets.
Providing a good transportation alternative for visitors staying at hotels outside the Quarter is the air-conditioned Riverfront Streetcar, which travels for 2 miles along the levee from Julia Street (inbound) to Esplanade (outbound) at the downriver boundary of the French Quarter. Stops include the New Orleans Convention Center, the Riverwalk, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Jax Brewery and the French Market. Get off the trolley at Dumaine to reach Jackson Square, your starting point.
One really needs several days to fully explore the Quarter, although some might wager that a lifetime is not long enough to truly know this eclectic locale. If you have only a day, slip into your most comfortable walking shoes and prepare to experience the heart and soul of New Orleans. The tour takes up to 2 hours.
Known as the Place d'Armes by the French and Plaza de Armas by the Spanish, Jackson Square was renamed in 1848 in honor of Gen. Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Standing near the imposing statue of Old Hickory, you are in what has been called the finest architectural setting in the United States.
On St. Peter and St. Ann streets—beyond the verdant plantings, the painting-adorned iron fence and the cheery umbrellas of the sidewalk artists—rise the stately Pontalba Buildings.
Diagonally across Chartres Street from the Pontalbas is another set of twins, The Cabildo and The Presbytère. In turn, these elegant structures frame the crown jewel of the square, the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis King of France. On a sunny morning, surrounded by flowers and pigeons and lulled by the De Gaulle Fountain, you might be tempted to end your walking tour right here, before you have even begun.
Do not—there is too much to see and do. On the St. Ann side of the square in the Lower Pontalba Building is the Louisiana Tourism Office, a good place to pick up maps and brochures. If time permits, take a tour of the 1850 House (The Lower Pontalba Building) for a glimpse of what life in a middle-class Creole town house was like in the 19th century.
Cross Decatur Street and experience a New Orleans tradition, Café Du Monde . Except for facade renovations, not much has changed at this coffee stand since steaming café au lait (a blend of equal parts of chicory coffee and hot milk) and beignets (fried, confectioners' sugar-dusted doughnuts) were first served in 1862.
The café anchors the north end of the historic French Market, which had its origins as a Choctaw trading ground even before the city was established by Jean-Baptiste LeMoyne in 1718. Among the Native American trade goods was a finely ground powder made from sassafras leaves—the filé (FEE-lay) sought by Creole cooks to thicken gumbo.
The market complex consists of a series of colonnaded buildings stretching along Decatur and N. Peters streets from St. Ann to Barracks streets, with gift shops, clothing stores, a candy cookery, more coffee stands and informal eateries. The sweet smell of pralines may entice you to stop and buy a snack. A small courtyard tucked behind these buildings contains several lifelike statues, including a bronze girl reclining on a fountain.
Stroll along Decatur and cross N. Peters. Note the 13-foot-tall gilded statue of Joan of Arc on the Place de France, a tiny wedge of ground forming a point where N. Peters diverges from Decatur. A gift from the people of France, the Maid of Orleans stands as another reminder of the city's French connection. The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park Visitor Center at 916 N. Peters features exhibits about America's most famous indigenous musical art form.
Stop at the corner of Ursulines Avenue and French Market Place. The last pavilions house the open-air farmers market, once a riot of color and aromas. In recent years, flea market bargains have replaced fresh produce in many stalls. Beyond the French Market on Esplanade Avenue is The New Orleans Jazz Museum. The red brick building served as the Confederacy's only mint for a few months during the Civil War and continued as a federal mint until 1909.
Turn left on Ursulines, passing the shaded seating area of Latrobe Park and crossing Decatur. This street was aptly named for the historic site beyond the high walls on your right; a quick right at Chartres brings you to old doors that open onto the courtyard of the Archbishop Antoine Blanc Memorial complex, which contains the Old Ursuline Convent. Constructed in 1745 during the French occupation, the convent is one of the city's oldest buildings.
At one time the convent walls surrounded all land bounded by Ursulines Avenue and Barracks, Royal and Decatur streets. Along with house museums and small hotels, this quiet, colorful residential section of the Quarter is characterized by three main types of dwellings: narrow shotgun houses, two- and three-level town houses, and Creole cottages. Streets in this area are less populated than in the busy commercial district closer to Jackson Square.
Opposite the convent is the yellow Beauregard-Keyes House, where Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard, hailed as the “Great Creole” after defending Fort Sumter at the opening of the Civil War, resided 1866-68; author Frances Parkinson Keyes penned “Dinner at Antoine's” while living here in the late 1940s.
Three buildings away is the Soniat House, an exceptionally large town house built in 1829 by a wealthy Creole plantation owner for his family of 14. One of many quaint hotels in the Quarter, Soniat House is fronted by a fine example of mid-19th-century iron lacework. Note the porte-cochere entrance that once served as a carriageway and watch for other examples of this architectural amenity throughout the district.
Cross to the far side of Gov. Nicholls Street and turn left. From this side, you can see over the brick wall at 618-620 and into the courtyard of the Clay House, the 1828 home of statesman Henry Clay's brother, John, who was married to Mrs. Soniat's sister.
Turn left on Royal Street, the Vieux Carré's premier shopping address, especially for antiques. Facing you on the corner at 1140 Royal will be the three-story Lalaurie House. Legend has it that the mistress of this house, Delphine Lalaurie, tortured her slaves, then set fire to the building when she was discovered, escaping to Europe through the Clay garden and out the Soniat carriageway. Many locals maintain the house is haunted; it's a favorite stop on ghost tours.
At 1132 Royal is the stately Gallier House, residence of James Gallier Jr., the son of a prominent 19th-century New Orleans architect, who followed successfully in his father's footsteps. Gallier Sr.'s works include the handsome Greek Revival old city hall (Gallier Hall) on St. Charles Avenue facing Lafayette Square. Besides his home, the younger Gallier designed the Creole's beloved French Opera House, which occupied the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse streets until it burned in 1919.
When you reach St. Philip, turn right and walk up the block past the McDonogh School to Bourbon Street. On the northwest corner is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the French Quarter. Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, now a tavern, dates to 1772. The privateer Lafitte brothers were said to run the shop as a front for their smuggling enterprises.
Turn left on Bourbon and continue along this quiet stretch—away from the bars, jazz halls and adults-only clubs—to Dumaine. Go left to return to Royal, turning left again. Some of the Quarter's most ornate ironwork adorns the small balconies and expansive galleries along this street, and the green cornstalk fence fronting a guest house at 915 Royal is a striking example. The whimsical piece of iron artistry was crafted in Philadelphia around 1834; a similar fence surrounds a Fourth Street Garden District mansion.
Retrace your steps to the corner and pause for a moment to look up the long corridor of Rue Royale. This is the French Quarter of novelists, satirists and playwrights: the backdrop for Keyes' historical fiction, a setting for John Kennedy Toole's outrageous “A Confederacy of Dunces” and the inspiration for a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Tennessee Williams. Although Blanche DuBois' streetcar named Desire doesn't pass this way anymore (the line was removed in the late 1940s, after Williams' play was published), the Quarter's mystique, romance and allure have been preserved for future literati.
Turn left, taking a slight detour to see Madame John's Legacy at 632 Dumaine. The raised cottage, a rare example of French Creole design, survived a fire that destroyed most of New Orleans in 1794. It takes its name from native New Orleanian George Washington Cable's 19th-century short story “Tite Poulette,” in which an heirless Creole named John bequeaths his house to a quadroon with a beautiful daughter. Cable's depictions of Creole lifestyles were disdained by the community. Moviegoers who follow author Anne Rice's vampire series may recall seeing exterior shots of this house in “Interview With the Vampire.”
Return to Royal Street to continue your walking tour. In the next block between Pere Antoine's and Pirates alleys is St. Anthony's Garden. The sedate backyard of the cathedral once rang with the clashing blades of challenged Creoles. On Pirates Alley, a byway both portrayed and inhabited by Quarter artists and authors, look for Faulkner House Books at 624 Pirates Alley, a bookstore named for the building's famous 1930s resident—William Faulkner.
Get out the camera. Just past Pirates Alley on the corner at St. Peter, you will walk under the balconies of the Labranche Building, one of the Quarter's most photographed structures for its lacy acorn and oak leaf grillwork.
Turn right on St. Peter for a glimpse through gated entries of two popular nightspots, Pat O'Brien's and Preservation Hall. Pat O's, as the locals call it, reverberates nightly with sing-alongs in the piano bar. Next door, Preservation Hall musicians only jam evenings, usually to a packed house.
Backtrack to Royal. On the uptown riverside corner (that's the one across the street on the right side of St. Peter) is the four-story, 1811 structure conceived as the first “skyscraper.” Protests that the subsoil would not support such a tall edifice halted it at three floors; the fourth was added 65 years later. The “YLM” in the ironwork is the monogram of the first owner, Yves Le Monnier. Another of Cable's Creole tales is set in this house.
The next four blocks form the main commercial area. Several fine old restaurants, a pastry shop, cool courtyard taverns, two large hotels and the greatest concentration of antique stores in the Quarter line the street. Rows of horsehead hitching posts, art studios, galleries and gift shops add to the charm.
Amble uptown on Royal. Midway up the block is The Court of Two Sisters restaurant, occupying the 1832 building where Creole siblings sold Paris clothing and notions in the late 1880s. It has one of the Quarter's largest dining courtyards.
Continuing toward Canal Street, cross Toulouse to the 500 block of Royal, where you will pass The Historic New Orleans Collection, a multibuilding museum that includes the Williams Residence, the former home of collection founders Gen. and Mrs. L. Kemper Williams.
Turn right on St. Louis Street. In the middle of the block on your right is Antoine's, one of New Orleans' oldest family-operated restaurants. French-born founder Antoine Alciatore's son created the establishment's signature dish, oysters Rockefeller—so named for its rich sauce—here in the late 1800s.
Cross Bourbon and look for the Hermann-Grima House, built in 1831. Now the property of The Woman's Exchange (which also owns the Gallier House), it has a lovely courtyard and the only stable in the Quarter. This handsome Colonial structure exemplifies the American impact on Creole New Orleans.
Turn left at Dauphine and left again toward the river, following Conti to Bourbon Street. On the way you'll pass Broussard's, established in 1920 by Parisian-trained chef Joseph Broussard.
A quick right on Bourbon will take you to New Orleans Musical Legends Park, where statues in a courtyard setting honor the city's music greats. Return to Conti.
At the corner of Bourbon and Conti is the Famous Door. Jazz greats have played this stage since 1934, and a roster of the luminaries who have entered to be entertained frames the portal.
Continue on Conti and turn left at Royal. Two buildings dominate the river side of the street. The oversize 1910 Beaux Arts-style structure on the 400 block first housed district and state courts, then the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission. The Louisiana Supreme Court now resides in the old Civil Courts Building. This intersection was once the city's financial hub; the grand old Bank of Louisiana building at 334 Royal now serves as the French Quarter 8th District Police Station.
On the far side of the police station on Chartres is K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. Chef Paul Prudhomme helped make Cajun cooking a household name with the opening of his restaurant in 1979.
A right on St. Louis then a left on Chartres will take you back to the heart of the Vieux Carré, cathedral spires in view. On the way note the 1823 apothecary shop of Louis Dufilho at 514 Chartres, home of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. The devastating 1788 fire started in the home of a Spanish official at the Toulouse Street intersection. At the corner of Chartres and St. Peter streets is Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré, an active element in the city's cultural life.
Back at Jackson Square you can enter the quadrangle from any side for a well-earned rest. But why stop now? You're in New Orleans, where excess is a lifestyle; where locals embrace an old Acadian concept called lagniappe—a reference to getting a little something extra, like a bonus. Your lagniappe is just across Decatur Street, where one more great photo opportunity awaits.
Mount the steps at Washington Artillery Park for a panorama of the historic plaza. Camera in hand, align General Jackson with the cathedral and capture a postcard-worthy image. Click. Now turn around and face the mighty, muddy Mississippi. With a little luck you just might get a shot of the Steamboat Natchez taking on passengers at the Toulouse Street Wharf; the stern-wheeler's melodious steam calliope puffs out tunes. Click. And from this wide vantage point of the river you'll see why New Orleans is called the Crescent City. Click.
The Garden DistrictThe fine old homes of the Garden District, bounded by Jackson and Louisiana avenues and St. Charles Avenue and Magazine Street, preserve traces of the era of cotton and sugar empires, when grand antebellum plantations dominated the landscape. This was primarily the American section of town, named for the lush garden estates.
The district owes its luxuriant vegetation to an 1816 flood caused by the overflowing Mississippi River. Although many plantations between Carrollton and the emerging American sector were destroyed, a rich deposit of alluvial silt created a very desirable feature for future development—higher ground. In the early 1830s Jacques Livaudais sold his sugarcane plantation, which was soon subdivided, later incorporated as the city of Lafayette and subsequently annexed to New Orleans, where it became known as the Garden District.
In addition to thriving indigenous and exotic plantings and magnolia trees rivaling oaks in size, the neighborhood boasts a variety of building styles, including Gothic, Greek Revival and Renaissance. Many homes are embellished with iron lacework, a hallmark of New Orleans architecture.
The Garden District is easy to tour, but not necessarily easy to walk. Because some of the sidewalks have become warped by the roots of old oak trees, it is recommended that you wear comfortable shoes and watch your step. Also, look out for the occasional marble carriage step near the curb in front of some residences, remnants of a bygone era.
Please keep in mind that these are private residences, closed to the public. Tours through select homes are given during the Spring Fiesta and Historic Home Tours, a 2-week celebration that usually begins in March. For information phone Spring Fiesta Headquarters, (504) 581-1367.
There are no public parking lots in the Garden District and many parking spaces on the one-way cross streets are usually occupied by residents' vehicles. Your best bet is to take the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar, which travels from Canal Street to the Garden District. After your car passes Jackson Avenue, reach up for the pull cord to signal the conductor to stop at First Street. The ride takes up to 15 minutes; the walking tour lasts about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
If you arrived here by streetcar, walk from St. Charles one block toward the river on First Street to your starting point at Prytania Street. On the left facing Prytania is the Bradish Johnson House, a Second Empire-style mansion erected in 1872 by New Orleans architect James Freret for a wealthy sugar planter. Louise S. McGehee School for girls has occupied this ornately appointed house since 1929. Like many other Garden District residences, this one is surrounded by an iron fence and shaded by large trees—in this case, mimosa, magnolia and oak. Cross Prytania for another look.
You are standing in front of Toby's Corner, 2340 Prytania St., the district's oldest house. This austere 1838 Greek Revival raised plantation features square columns rising to a Greek cornice. Note the herringbone pattern of the brick sidewalk.
Continue down First. The two-story Greek facade supported by four massive columns at 1407 forms the imposing veranda on a frame house that probably dates from the 1840s.
Cross Coliseum. Two Italianate mansions built simultaneously in 1869 by architect Samuel Jamison anchor both ends of this block. But the Morris House, 1331 First St., and the Carroll House, 1315 First St. at Chestnut, have something else in common: identical ironwork.
Leaving Carroll House, cross Chestnut. The elegant double-galleried town house framed by two curbside oak trees at 1239 First St. was originally the Brevard House, but locals know it as Rosegate, author Anne Rice's former home. A combination of Greek Revival and Italianate styles, the 1857 mansion is noted for its cast-iron adornments. Tread carefully here: The guardian oaks' gnarly roots have corrupted the sidewalk.
Walk to the end of the block. Diagonally across Camp Street is the Payne House, historically significant as the home where Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, died in 1889. A large marble slab near the curb is engraved with highlights of Davis' illustrious military and political career. The Greek Revival structure is one of the most outstanding examples of Garden District antebellum architecture.
Turn left at Camp, then go left again at Philip. As you make your way toward Chestnut, note the frame Italianate behind a large magnolia tree at 1220 Philip. Owned by sugar broker Samuel Delgado, the house was occupied at one time by his nephew Isaac, who amassed an art collection that he donated to the city in 1911. This was the foundation for the New Orleans Museum of Art, formerly Delgado Museum, located in City Park.
A few doors down on the left at 1238 Philip St., at the corner of Chestnut, is a single town house dating from 1853. The use of Doric columns on the lower veranda and composite ones on the upper balcony is characteristic of the period. The octagonal wing facing Chestnut was added around 1869, a reflection of Victorian preferences.
Continue on Philip, crossing Chestnut and Coliseum. A quaint raised American cottage stands in the middle of the block at 1433. A spacious front gallery distinguishes this from the Creole version.
Double back to Coliseum and turn right. Starting from the corner, the series of eight shotgun houses at 2301-29 Coliseum is misnamed the Seven Sisters; the origin of this moniker is dubious. Modest in scale when compared to the grandeur of their neighbors seen thus far on the tour, the single-story and camelback (having a second story atop the rear section) dwellings are believed to be early “spec” houses.
Walk down to the Third Street intersection. On your left at 1331 Third is the Musson House, built around 1853. It was the home of Creole cotton factor Michel Musson, maternal uncle of Edgar Degas, for a time. Degas' painting “A Cotton Office in New Orleans” depicts activities at his uncle's office, which he visited regularly during his 1872-73 stay at the Musson family's Esplanade Avenue home, which is where the family moved after the Civil War.
Across Coliseum facing Third is the Robinson House, one of the area's largest residences. Completed for a Virginia businessman just after the Civil War, the structure is executed in the more expansive style of the later antebellum period. The architect was Henry Howard, designer of Nottoway Plantation in White Castle and several other Garden District homes. Especially notable is the graceful curved portico.
Cross Third and continue on Coliseum. Just outside the arched gates of the 1840s Greek Revival house at 2618 Coliseum is another stately oak tree and another bumpy banquet. Careful as you head toward Fourth Street.
The gables, ironwork galleries and gingerbread trim on the chalet-style Koch mansion at 2627 Coliseum make for an interesting architectural contrast to the otherwise classic Garden District fare. The house was built 1860-70.
On the left in the next block of Coliseum, starting with 2700 and ending with 2726, are five double-galleried town houses known as Freret's Folly. The story goes that architect William A. Freret's venture was not the success he had hoped for; hence the nickname.
Now turn your attention to the aqua-colored, turreted Victorian that wraps around Washington Avenue just ahead on the right. This is Commander's Palace, one of New Orleans' finest dining destinations and catalyst for the careers of popular chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. Although it is now operated by the Brennan family, this landmark restaurant dates from 1880; it was named for founder Emile Commander.
Sorry, you usually can't get in without a reservation, but with a little advance planning you can recount the highlights of your walking tour another day over lunch, a jazz brunch (Saturdays and Sundays only) or dinner. Try the bread pudding soufflé, Commander's Palace's twist on an old New Orleans favorite.
Round the corner and walk along Washington. Just across from Commander's beyond dreary brick walls is one of the “cities of the dead” that New Orleans is known for. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 was established in 1833 when the Garden District was within the city of Lafayette. We recommend that you enter the historic cemetery with a guide.
Take a sharp right at Prytania, where you'll pass The Rink, an 1884 skating rink that now contains upscale shops. There's also a coffee shop inside. If you've already taken the French Quarter walking tour you're sure to experience déjà vu as you stroll down Prytania alongside the cornstalk-motif fence enclosing Col. Short's Villa, 1448 Fourth St. The handsome 1859 Italianate residence is another of Henry Howard's architectural legacies. A bronze plate on the fence details the seizure and occupation of the house during the Civil War.
The unique Gothic Revival house at 2605 Prytania St. has a matching guest house on the grounds. This is said to be the only residence of its type in the Garden District. Across Third and a little farther down on the right is 2504 Prytania, home of the Women's Opera Guild. This 1865 Greek Revival by William A. Freret features a later Italianate addition. Tours of the elaborately furnished house are available Mondays 10:30-4, September through May and by appointment. Tours last 45 minutes to an hour; phone (504) 899-1945 for additional information.
Cross Second Street and proceed to First, where you began. From this point it is only one block left to St. Charles and the streetcar. Beyond Washington is the Lower Garden District, and beyond that, Uptown, which embraces both sides of St. Charles Avenue. What began as a series of plantations between Lafayette and Carrollton is now home to several neighborhoods as well as Loyola University, Tulane University and historic Audubon Park.
New Orleans, LA
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Louisiana's statewide sales tax is 5 percent; an additional 5 percent is levied in the New Orleans metro area, and Orleans Parish has a .5 percent tax on food and beverages. The city has a 14 percent lodging tax, plus an occupancy tax of $1-$3 per night. The state's car rental tax is 3 percent.
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Ochsner Medical Center, (504) 842-3000; Touro Infirmary, (504) 897-7011; Tulane Medical Center, (504) 988-5263; University Medical Center New Orleans, (504) 702-3000.
1221 Elmwood Park Blvd. Suite 411 New Orleans, LA 70123. Phone:(504)731-7083 or (877)572-7474
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is about 21 miles west of downtown New Orleans in Kenner and is served by nearly all major domestic and foreign carriers.
New Orleans is served by several major car rental agencies. Arrangements should be made before you leave on your trip. Your local AAA club can provide this service or additional information. Hertz, (504) 568-1645 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
Amtrak uses the Union Passenger Terminal at 1001 Loyola Ave. Daily service is offered. Phone (800) 872-7245 for further information.
The Greyhound Lines Inc. bus terminal is at 1001 Loyola Ave.; phone (504) 525-6075 or (800) 231-2222 for schedule and fares.
Cabs are plentiful in the main business and tourist areas. Average fare is $3.50 initially and $2.40 for each additional mile and $1 for each additional person. The largest companies are Carriage/Yellow/Checker, (504) 207-7777; Metry, (504) 835-4242; and United, (504) 522-9771. Information about taxi service also can be obtained from the Taxicab & For Hire Bureau at (504) 658-7176.
Transportation by bus, streetcar and ferry is available in New Orleans.