Explore the French Quarter's Mystique

The joie de vivre that New Orleans exemplifies radiates most from the Vieux Carr?, or the French Quarter. Whether you're looking for great music, mysticism, history and architecture, or art and antiques, a walk through this district offers something for everyone.

Established in 1718 by the French as a military outpost, the square-mile Vieux Carré spent its first 50 years as a French settlement. When New Orleans was acquired by the Spanish in 1763, the French settlers accepted this with a minor amount of revolt. It was when these two cultures combined, along with African influences from the slave population, that Creole society and food were born. Several decades later, the United States made the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and New Orleans became American. At that time a separation began with Canal Street as the boundary of the French Quarter.

To check out the interesting history and beautiful architecture of the Quarter, start at Jackson Square (between St. Ann and St. Peter Streets). The square is now a popular gathering spot. There you will find the oldest cathedral in the United States, St. Louis Cathedral. Downriver from Jackson Square is the French Market, which began in 1791. The oldest in the United States, this farmer's market also houses a flea market today. Past this, you will find the old U.S. Mint, now part of the Louisiana State Museum.

Still on Royal Street, you will find the old Bank of the United States, with some of the finest wrought iron in the Quarter.

When heading the opposite direction on Royal Street from the Cathedral, you reach the Creole Dejan House, which was constructed in 1813. Further along this self tour, you run across Architect's row, which is a series of row houses built in 1832. They were once identical but changed slightly over time.

Then at the very edge of the Quarter, the corner of Esplanade and Royal, stands the Gauche Villa. This Italianate mansion was built in 1856.

Traveling down Royal Street offers a good picture of the Quarter's history and amazing architecture.

Move to the music While visiting one of the best cities in which to take in some local culture and live music, know what hot spots to hit.

A more traditional New Orleans experience is Preservation Hall, where well-known and up-and-coming jazz musicians play. The audience can bring its own food and beverages, as none are sold and listeners sit on wooden benches. Visit Fritzels European Jazz Pub, which sits around the corner of Bourbon Street.

Another traditional jazz spot is the Palm Court Jazz Café on Decatur, which offers a bonus-the gift shop sells hard-to-find jazz CDs.