Funky History of The French Quarter and 14 Fun Things to Do!

New Orleans French Quarter. Click for 14 fun and funky things to do on a weekend trip!

When I traveled to the French Quarter in New Orleans, I was struck by its beauty, culture and history. It had a happy, fun, and funky vibe. The people were super friendly. Best of all it didn’t take long to get a good taste of it. Bad pun, but true! Tourists are attracted to this amazing place since there are so many fun things to do. Between amazing French creole dishes and desserts, Bourbon Street, antiques, shops, tours, French Street, parks, concerts, and museums, we found plenty to do.

First, a little funky French Quarter history

I find it fun to find out the history of a place and the French Quarter is filled with funky facts.

For at least 10,000 years the French Quarter was inhabited by the Choctaw along with other Native Americans. They constructed a waterway (where Conti Street is located now) to connect Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River for trade and transport. Gives you an idea of how wet it was, right? Half of The French Quarter is one foot above sea level. The other? Below.

Then in 1718, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville had a brilliant idea to settle a town near the Mississippi. He founded and named the land for the Duke of Orleans (love that guy). Desiring a view of the river, he and a large crew cleared the area of cypress trees and sugar cane and drained the swamp, then constructed log cabins along the waterfront. Yep. They were flooded by the mighty waterway.

He wouldn’t give up. In 1719, Bienville sat down with French engineers and came up with a site plan for a six by nine block city, the first plan of its kind in the country. He razed any cabins that didn’t conform, but a hurricane in 1721 did most of the work for him. LOL!

Surrounded on three sides by alligator infested swamps, (Yikes!) they constructed a levee to protect them from flooding and built homes in the French colonial style; the main floor, eight feet above the ground, just in case. The Ursuline Convent (shown below with the spooky shadow) is one of the buildings that survived.

The French had to payoff a war debt to Spain, so they took control of New Orleans from 1763 to 1803. You can see Spanish influence in the architecture today.

Bienville thought he had all his ducks floating on the Mississippi in a row and his growing city was protected against all of Mother Nature’s threats. BUT in 1788, a fire broke out. In our walking tour, the guide told us, the priest wouldn’t ring the bell in the Catholic Church to warn the New Orlean citizens since it wasn’t Sunday. By now, there were over 6000 people living in the French Quarter. Around 850 structures burned to the ground, leveling close to the entire city.

Did they learn anything? Pshh. No.

They reconstructed the city in those same flammable buildings and the town burned down again in 1794! Spain finally enacted building codes requiring the use of brick, tile, and slate.

The other mistake was realized later. They weren’t able to anchor homes to bedrock when constructing the city since it is built on sopping wet peat. Parts of New Orleans are sinking over an inch a year. According to this article, as organic material dries out after drastic runoff, it breaks down and air pockets compress. While trying to control the amount of water pumped from the city, they try to maintain a high level of water on the surface. Between the threat of the Mississippi and Hurricanes, it’s an on-going problem.

14 fun things to do in the French Quarter:

Where to stay in New Orleans

Make sure to stay in the French Quarter. My husband, Danny and I were able to walk, bike, or trolley everywhere from our location. Ours was a time-share trade, but there are plenty of airbnbs and hotels in the area.

Dining in New Orleans

New Orleans dinner at the Palace Cafe. Click for a weekend guide to New Orleans!

The Palace Café

There is a ton of information on restaurants in the French Quarter, so I’m only going to mention a few highlights.

When I’m on vacation, I look forward to eating at restaurants. Most of us would have high expectations going to a foodie city like this. My husband, Danny, and I weren’t disappointed.  When we first arrived, we dropped off our stuff and headed out to The Palace Cafe. We enjoyed an amazing dinner while being serenaded. A great introduction and welcome to dining in the French Quarter.

You really can’t go wrong with any restaurants in the French Quarter. Most serve traditional creole and it’s all good!

Café du Monde

Make sure to stop by Café Du Monde for beignets. They are light, sugary heavenly mouthfuls. Wash a few down with chicory coffee. Delish!  Don’t worry about setting aside time to stop by. It’s open 24 hours a day!

Café du Monde. One of many fun things to do in the French Quarter. Click for 14 funky ideas!

Cane and Table

We made a reservation at Cane and Table and enjoyed the dinner and ambiance.

Johnny Po Boys

When on vacation, I try everything! I would recommend stopping by Johnny Po Boys. It’s a super casual restaurant with the classic red checked tablecloths. It’s a sandwich you’ll remember!

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street has become famous because of Mardi Gras and Halloween, but it is WILD every night of the week. The first night, we wandered from bar to bar and danced while meeting lots of people who carried very strange drinks. Yep. Those are fishbowls.

On Bourbon Street with new friends. Click for things to do in New Orleans and a weekend guide!

It’s easy to get swept up in the melée. I didn’t even drink and ended up doing a Michael Jackson impersonation, on stage. LOL!

Go on a Ghost Tour

I love to go on ghost tours while on vacation since you get the inside skinny on the city’s colorful characters while learning about the area. From voodoo to witches to multitudes of ghosts, the French Quarter takes characters to a whole new level.

A spooky photo taken on a French Quarter ghost tour. Click for loads of ideas for your next NOLA visit!

Go on a historical walking tour

We signed up for a walking tour and learned so much about the history of the French Quarter. From fires to floods to voodoo to politicians and famous ladies, along with historical French influences from the Duke of Orlean, why the city is sinking and mistakes made during a fire that burned almost everything in the Quarter, it’s very entertaining and well-worth the time.

Check out the famous cemeteries

Since we walked everywhere, we visited the crypts at the Lafayette Cemetery Number 1, which is the oldest in New Orleans.  We really enjoyed seeing the beautiful homes along the way. The cemetery was as creepy as I had hoped. Okay, so it wasn’t this creepy. I had a little fun with editing. LOL! Saint Louis Cemetery is located to the north of the French Quarter and is a lot closer.

Crypts in New Orleans cemetery

Without the unnecessary edits. LOL!

Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans is one of the oldest. Click for photos and ideas for your next trip to the French Quarter!

The Garden District

After your stroll to the cemetery, take a detour through the Garden District. If you love beautiful homes and gardens, you’ll be happy you did!

The Garden District - One of many things to do while in The French Quarter, New Orleans. Click for fun ideas!

Bike to City Park

One day we rented bikes and road to the City Park. There were lots of places to ride. The sculptures were amazing near the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Yellow Dog Sculpture by George Rodrigue

The New Orleans Art Museum

So were the paintings. It was a lovely museum filled with a wide variety of art. I really enjoyed this one by Bouguereaux. She looks like Scarlet Johansson, don’t you think?

Whisperings of Love by Bougeureaux one of many amazing works of art in the New Orleans Art Museum. Click for things to do in New Orleans!

Take in a concert

Check out the events calendar to see what’s happening. When we arrived, we walked to the Oyster Festival at Woldenberg Park. I learned what I should wear next time

Girls with fancy rubber boots at an outdoor concert in New Orleans. Click for things to do in the French Quarter!

Decatur Street voodoo to Royal Street antiques

There are shops of every variety in the French Quarter. Head to Decatur Street for funky the House of Voodoo shop selling alligator heads, herbs for potions, (for real!) and voodoo dolls (really creepy) to cute boutiques, gift shops, and home decor.

MS Rau Antiques on Royal Street is like a museum! It’s easily one of the finest antique shops I’ve ever visited.

French Market

Colonnade Market is a must see in the French Market District. With a wide variety of vendors you’ll be sure to find something to take home. I bought a small leather backpack.

Shop at the Colonnade Market in the French Quarter in NOLA! Click for things to do when visiting!

Jackson Square

Beautiful Jackson Square has it’s own vibe. You’ll find lots of great shops and eateries. But I loved the barkers, street performers and fortune tellers. When you’re in New Orleans you’re in the land of woowoo and voodoo. I always go with the flow!

I sat down with a tarot card reader who wore a funky hat. You know how I love hats. As she flipped the cards and interpreted them, she kept bringing up business, selling, and volunteering. Danny must have some pretty strong energy!

Walk to the Muddy Mississippi

See for yourself how the French Quarter is sinking. You will also understand why it got the moniker, Mighty or Muddy Mississippi. Yep. The turbulent river is brown.

The Mighty Mississippi! Click for things to do in the French Quarter!

Visit Frenchmen Street for live jazz

There is nothing like hearing jazz right on the street. Frenchman is a short walk from the French Quarter. Someone had told us it wasn’t safe to walk from the French Quarter, but we didn’t have any problems.

Jazz on Frenchmen Street. One of many things to do in the French Quarter! Click for ideas.

I hope you enjoyed the virtual tour of New Orleans! Now that I’ve drooled over my photos, I can’t wait to go back! I wonder how hard it is to make beignets…

What’s your favorite thing to do while traveling? Is New Orleans on your travel bucket list?

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Here’s a map to help orient you-

New Orleans French Quarter map

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55 thoughts on “Funky History of The French Quarter and 14 Fun Things to Do!

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  1. I’ve been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but never as a *grown-up* going on a proper vacation. Your suggestions of what to do, where to go look inviting. Maybe NOLA needs to get bumped up on our vacays list. Glad to know you had a good time visiting there.

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    1. I am desperate to go to New Orleans as I am a bit of a cemetery enthusiast! Sadly I’ve developed a fear of flying, so won’t be going any time soon. It looks like you had an amazing time! I will bear your points in mind if I do get to go.

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      1. I hope you do! I just heard about a new treatment for that fear using Virtual Reality.

        Cemeteries are my favorite too. The creepier the better. 😂 the crypts were amazing!

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  2. Your post makes me want to take a trip to New Orleans. I still chuckle when I think of New Orleans and a visit a relative went on a few years back and them trying bengays for the first time – nope not muscle cream – beignets aka little nuggets of goodness – hehe. Thanks for sharing! Happy Day – Enjoy

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    1. Hahaha! That made me laugh out loud. I used to think that baby showers were real showers for babies. Never saw the point in making it a party. 🙂
      We had a great time. There was plenty to do!
      Thanks for stopping by, Renee!

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      1. My neighbours went to N.O. in January and had a great time. They brought me back a taste of N. O. in the form of “Joe’s Hot Stuff” from the New Orleans School of Cooking (spice). Love it!

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  3. Susie, Susie, Susie. What am I going to do with you? The first thing I tell tourists is to get out of the Quarter. The rest of the city is far more interesting. The second thing I tell them is never listen to tour guides. The French Quarter is 10 to 15 feet above sea level, as is the rest of the “sliver by the river,” which didn’t flood during Katrina. The Quarter was never a swamp, which is why the French built there. Just on the lake side of Rampart Street, which once had real ramparts, was called backatown, which was swampy. That’s currently Tremé. And, onward to the lake. The Indians did not come through on Conti Street. They walked to the river on Esplanade, which is a ridge. Or, they paddled through Bayou St. John which once ran completely through Mid-City.

    There’s a whole lot more but you get it. Google Richard Campanella. He’s a professor at Tulane, who writes for various popular publications about our history. He is as accurate as the day is long. And, easy to read.

    The river being muddy. Mostly spring when the ice melts in the north and flows down. Today, the river is about a foot from flood stage. Likely, by tomorrow the gate at the atchafalia basin will be opened, letting the river water pour into the lake.

    If I were going to offer advice, depending on how long you stay, I’d say walk around the Quarter for a day. Take the green streetcar up St.Charles, to 1st. Street. Cross the track and walk through the Garden District. That’s where Anne Rice’s last house was and where we live. Turn left on Coliseum, walk four blocks to Commanders Palace. Eat lunch there. You know where Lafayette No. 1 is located. I think you know how to get to Magazine Street, the longest shopping street in the country. Then on another day, take the red street car up Canal. I think you know the rest. BTW, it’s terminus is at City Park, which was designed by Olmstead. He also designed Central Park in NYC.

    BTW, those Wellies you like so much, have been around since WWI. They are hard to find in shoe and clothing stores because they are sold in hardware stores. Even the fancy ones. We wear them during rainy season when the water stands. Most of us just wear flip flops or shoes that dry easily. It’s just water.

    Next time, before you go, ask a local.

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          1. Of course it is and we are. Just not the Quarter. We go there for pictures (me) for Caroling on Jackson Square (family) at Christmas time and for a revellion dinner, (family)also at Christmas time. That’s it. Even Mardi Gras. For us and most locals, it’s sort of like thanksgiving. And, I make a lot of agency bound pictures.

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  4. I’ve loved beignets since I was a girl and I STILL can’t spell them! 😂

    My parents went on a couple of Mary Kay trips when I was younger and brought them back. I never knew they were the size of a sandwich until I saw the characters eating them on the first few episodes of NCIS: New Orleans–my mom always made them about the size of ravioli.

    When my grandparents went on a trip with their mobile home park (or “Florida Family”, if you prefer), they asked if I wanted them to bring anything back. “YES! Beignet mix!” 💙

    As for vodou (or more commonly there, hoodoo), I thought about taking it up once and decided that appeasing all the loa wasn’t for a lazy gal like me. To the families that have been doing it for generations, I salute you!

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    1. Great to “see” you, Daya!
      Sounds like a great souvenir. I love sweet breakfast confections. Beignets are great anytime!
      Loa meaning, Law of Attraction? I’m all about that, but hoodoo voodoo, not so much. LOL! 🙂

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      1. On No! Crabs have toe nails I am sure of it.

        Our Son Ryker started his horse riding lessons today and he had a blast of fun, he is five. How old were you children when they first learned how to snow ski’?

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        1. I bet Ryker had a blast! I love horses. Just before two years old. I have a video of Kelly with plastic skis at Eldora. With Courtney, we were more sophisticated and set her up with a We Ski – a thumb screw and bungee cord to keep her tips together.

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  5. We loved living there. (Do wish the gas tax funds actually went to maintaining the levies as intended….)
    You hit some great spots. Spooky places as well as lots of joie
    (But not a word about the Yats? Or the Mafia.(it’s real..and alive…when one mob boss planned to move into our neighborhood, everyone told the developer, if you sell to him, all our houses go on the market. He moved in elsewhere.) They did tell you how the Irish immigrants died on the docks during the potato famine era? The Irish dug a good deal of the canals – it was dangerous and they were expendable…slaves were not – far too valuable.
    You have to go back! So many stories!

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  6. I want to read an about you blog. What was were and are your favorite music bands and songs; what is your favorite genre of music. Have you ever been in jail. have you ever encountered a cryptic being or creature. [i.e. Bigfoot] what was your first car; where is your favorite States side retreat’? that kind of fun stuff.

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