Planning your first (or second, or third) trip to New Orleans and interested in visiting some historic sites in the French Quarter?
We’re making it a little easier with our list of 7 favorite historic spots (in a part of the city that’s full of them). Whether you choose to explore them all in one day or take it a few at a time, we think you’ll enjoy learning more about New Orleans’ robust history through these picturesque examples.
As the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer in 1803, the Cabildo would already be one of the most historically significant buildings in the entire city of New Orleans, but the history doesn’t stop there. This building also served as the headquarters of the Louisiana State Supreme Court in the 19th century, and was the site of the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1892.
First built in the late 18th century, the Cabildo now houses the Louisiana State Museum’s historic collections including Napoleon’s death mask.
2. 1850 House
Located inside one of the historic Pontalba Buildings on St. Ann Street, the 1850 House offers a glimpse of antebellum life in New Orleans.
Also part of the Louisiana State Museum collection, this beautiful spot right on Jackson Square replicates 19th century Parisian architecture, a favorite style of Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba, the woman who bought the property and commissioned the buildings (incidentally, her father helped finance other famous local architecture like the Cabildo and St. Louis Cathedral). Inside the 1850 House, you can browse period-specific paintings, china, furnishing, and decor. Downstairs, there’s a well-appointed gift shop perfect for browsing for souvenirs.
3. The Old U.S. Mint
In the past, all United States currency was printed at the Old U.S. Mint, which was built in 1838. The Mint today is equal parts historic museum and musical concert space: The New Orleans Jazz Museum features exhibitions and even live performances.
Located on Esplanade Avenue, the current exhibits here include Satchmo: His Life in New Orleans which profiles Louis Armstrong and Time Takes a Toll: The Conservation of Musical Instruments which includes “Fats” Domino’s white Steinway grand piano that was flooded after Hurricane Katrina and has since been restored.
4. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
This one-of-a-kind bar gets its name from the pirate Jean Lafitte, who operated a business out of this building in the early 19th century. The building is one of the oldest in the city of New Orleans and the current bar has a rich history of its own.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop played host to celebrities such as Noël Coward and Tennessee Williams in the early 20th century, and now locals and tourists alike flock to this quaint Bourbon Street location for beer and frozen cocktails.
5. Old Ursuline Convent
Built on Chartres Street in 1752, Old Ursuline Convent is the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley. It’s the oldest example of the French colonial period still standing in the United States, and for just $8 (or less), you can explore inside and marvel at details like a hand-crafted cypress staircase, oil paintings featuring past archbishops, religious statues, bronze busts, and more.
The building has had many purposes over the centuries, whether used as a convent, an orphanage, and even a makeshift hospital. The self-guided tours let you reflect on all of these functions while gaining a deeper understanding of the building’s rich history. After your tour, go to the walled courtyard behind the main building. It’s a secluded and peaceful spot perfect for reflecting on the principles of the Ursuline Sisters who first founded the convent.
6. Napoleon House
Napoleon House was never actually a home for Napoleon Bonaparte, but the owner at the time offered up the historic building to Napoleon, if he needed it, as refuge during his exile. The building itself dates from 1797, and it’s been family-owned since 1914.
Sit inside and enjoy the historic details or take your Pimm’s Cup outside to enjoy the beautiful outdoor courtyard. NOLA favorites like Sazeracs and muffulettas are also on the menu at this European-style bar and restaurant.
7. Hotel Monteleone
Our sister property Hotel Monteleone is one of the French Quarter’s historic gems. Built in 1886 on Royal Street, the Hotel Monteleone offers a unique balance between historic detail and modern amenities.
Literary figures like Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, and Tennessee Williams have a direct connection to the hotel, which even features literary suites designed to honor these authors. If you’re staying at the Bienville House, you can walk over the Monteleone and note historic details throughout the hotel, like the grandfather clock in the lobby, or sip a cocktail in the iconic Carousel Bar.