Every city around the world has a unique twist or perhaps an iconic landmark that immediately makes you aware of where you are. New Orleans is no different, in fact I would say that the Crescent City is even more unique than any other city that I have visited. Stereotypically identified by the gorgeous French Quarter district, we wanted to learn more about this area stretching from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue. What better way to explore this neighborhood than by having our very own private French Quarter walking tour!
I have previously taken my very own ‘self-guided’ walking tour of the French Quarter but after taking our recent ‘private’ tour, it quickly makes you have a greater appreciation of the vintage architecture and history that surrounds this beautiful city.
Have you walked the French Quarter before? Do you know the rich history that surrounds this part of the city? Did you also know the significance of Canal Street and the divide between the French Quarter Catholics and Protestants on the other side? We definitely appreciated learning about all of this and much more!
Historic New Orleans
Thanks to Historic New Orleans, we participated in the awesome Twilight French Quarter walking tour. What we didn’t realize when we headed to our rendezvous spot was that we would be the only individuals on the Friday evening tour…but no complaints here because that just made the tour even more special!
Historic New Orleans Tours is the place to go for authenticity rather than sensationalism (Frommers)
Our tour guide, the one and only Tony Paone (we had no idea who this was until I just did a quick Google search and noticed that he is an Italian-American actor who grew up in New Orleans and has starred in movies such as ‘I Love You Phillip Morris’ and ‘Are You Here’), was awesome and offered an unlimited amount of knowledge on the eclectic melting pot of New Orleans along with a myriad of stories throughout the French Quarter.
You may be wondering by now what exactly makes a private walking tour of the French Quarter such an appealing attraction? $20 for a two hour tour may not seem particularly expensive but you at least want to learn something a little more than what you could experience if you just walked the route yourself.
Let’s take a look at our top 5 reasons to taking a French Quarter walking tour with Historic New Orleans based on our experiences.
1. Royal Sonesta Hotel and Grateful Dead
Love history? Check! Love architecture? Check! That pretty much sums up both Heather and myself so taking the private tour around the French Quarter was a no-brainer, especially when Tony highlighted some of the key topics we would be learning as we walked around.
Our tour started at the Bourbon Cafe Beignet directly across from the Royal Sonesta Hotel (sorry Tony for being 45 minutes late but traffic in and around New Orleans at 5:00PM on a Friday is crazy!). Even on Bourbon Street, the intricate details of the buildings are awesome, something you probably don’t associate with the stereotypes I am sure you are aware of surrounding this iconic part of the city.
Immediately Tony related a story about how the Grateful Dead referred the Royal Sonesta in their song ‘Truckin’ because of how they were ‘Busted down on Bourbon Street’ (of course the group members were busted inside the hotel room but they made their millions from using this experience in their lyrics). After all, we are on Bourbon Street and this was well and truly a “Welcome to New Orleans!”
Walking through the French Quarter we passed by the Louisiana State Supreme Court and as we peered through the bars at the gorgeous architecture, Tony shared some of his childhood memories of how he was able to just relax on this properties grounds at any time and there were no signs of high security around the perimeter…of course all this changed after 9/11.
2. Napoleon’s House and Chartres Street
At the end of the 18th century, Napoleon’s exile lead to rumors that he was heading for New Orleans hence the reason we today have a historic house located on Chartres Street that was supposedly constructed and chosen for Napoleon’s residence.
The octagonal lookout tower that provides 360 degree panoramic views across the city of New Orleans was allegedly the spot where Napoleon would have resided had he made it across the Atlantic and into the port of New Orleans.
Of course the plans to bring Napoleon to this part of Louisiana were halted after the announcement of his death in 1821.
Today this has been renovated into a restaurant that offers a variety of local cuisine specialties along with the infamous British inspired Pimms drink which is one of the most popular throughout New Orleans.
As we continued walking along Chartres beyond Napoleon’s House, we wandered past the historic New Orleans Pharmacy which is essentially an apothecary with exhibits of ancient medicines and cures.
This is a popular spot for events and is frequently closed for private functions but if you get the opportunity to go inside to explore the museum, it is well worth a visit.
3. Jackson Square
After a brief walk along Royal Street, we headed towards probably the most famous location in the French Quarter – Jackson Square. Notably named after the infamous General Andrew Jackson who fought off the British attacks to maintain American possession of New Orleans in the early 19th century, Jackson Square is now an iconic representation of everything this city possesses in terms of history and culture.
The stunning sight of St. Louis Cathedral towers over Jackson Square and provides the backbone of the Catholic beliefs that run throughout the French Quarter. Meanwhile the Cabildo and Presbytere stand either side of this ancient cathedral.
We toured the inside of the Cabildo the following day but essentially this was the spot where General Jackson recruited many of his army in the infamous ‘Pirates Alley’ which runs directly between the cathedral and former court/jail.
As merchants made deliveries at the port of New Orleans, pirates would make their way up and down Pirates Alley. These hardy folks were the perfect fighting men for Jackson so it made perfect sense to him to issue a pardon to the most infamous pirate – Jean Lafitte and then encourage his men to join and fight the British.
This obviously worked out pretty well for them!
Located in the heart of Vieux Carré, a visit to Jackson Square wouldn’t be the same without heading inside the gated park (open during daylight hours) and admiring the towering memorial to General Jackson himself. This is the perfect spot with the cathedral and other significant architectures in the background for a memorable picture.
4. Place de Henriette DeLille
Walking through Pirates Alley imagining all those battles that took place in and around this location soon became distant thoughts as Tony directed us along Royal Street and pointed out a plaque at the back of St. Louis Cathedral. Shining bright in the evening sky as the sun had almost set, this commemorative memorial on the sidewalk represented Venerable Henriette DeLille who is one of the most famous females to have walked the streets of New Orleans.
Predominantly known for her role in seeking change and the founder of the Roman Catholic order of the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans, DeLille was always caring for others and clearly recognized her role as a nun throughout the amazing work she carried out.
Since 1988, there has been an order out to make her a saint and the current Pope has declared that should DeLille be granted this canonization while he is at the helm, he will perform this at the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans – a fitting tribute to a woman that has been so iconic for many throughout the region.
5. European Architecture
Our final reason for taking the Historic New Orleans French Quarter tour is pretty much a summary of everything you experience as you stroll around this neighborhood. The rich heritage of European influence is apparent throughout the French Quarter, notably the French and Spanish designed constructions that reflect the periods where both nations had control over Louisiana prior to the Louisiana Purchase.
Tony pointed out a number of key designs throughout the tour and highlighted the inspirations that you see as you wander through some of the lesser known streets in the French Quarter.
The cast iron balconies that are the epitome of Spanish influence are still visible and provide an iconic representation of New Orleans architecture.
It is worth noting though that the majority of the buildings front facades are examples of a re-design, particularly inspired by Greek revival which is also very apparent throughout New Orleans’ Garden District.
Many of the ‘original’ buildings were destroyed due to fires in the late 18th century but it is also interesting to see that many of today’s constructions that you see are preserved and renovated using as many of the original materials as possible.
Walking around the French Quarter is a great experience regardless of whether you do this alone or with a tour company like Historic New Orleans. The benefits of taking this type of tour are highlighted above but I am sure you would likely have many other benefits simply because tour guides like Tony very rarely give two tours alike. The routes differ and it just makes the overall experience more rewarding because you never know what story will be told next!
I think the overall learning experience that provided us with a better understanding of not only the history and architectural brilliance of the French Quarter, but also of the underlying cultures that lie within the confines of this mysterious and beautiful part of New Orleans. I encourage you to take a tour though should you decide against this, be sure to take your very own French Quarter walking tour because you never know what piece of history you may stumble across!
Disclaimer – We would like to thank the New Orleans CVB for hosting us on this trip, and Historic New Orleans for providing complimentary tickets for the French Quarter Walking Tour. These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.