Beyond Bourbon Street and the neon lights and music central lies the historic French Quarter with Spanish and French-era pieces. Some buildings retain their historic properties and operate as museums or private residences. Others have commercial stores such as gift shops yet maintain their iron balustrades and Creole architecture.
Chartres Street is best known for its myriad of Colonial-era buildings that have survived two large fires and multiple floods. Royal Avenue and St. Louis Street have their own Colonial-era sites. Interested in taking a tour? Here are 15 of the oldest buildings in what has been called the Crown Jewel of New Orleans.
Note: Unlike previous maps, this is a walking map of the French Quarter.
Park by the Old Mint/New Orleans Jazz Museum or down by Jackson Square. The one-way lanes and lack of street parking can be a nightmare in a car.
Let’s get started.
Old U.S. Mint (1838)
400 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, LA 70116
Coins were continuously minted between 1838 and 1909 at this old mint on Esplanade Avenue. Build on the site of the old Fort St. Charles, the Greek Revival building produced both American and Confederate coinage. The old New Orleans Mint opened as a state museum in 1981. The building was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but reopened in 2007.
The Louisiana Historical Center, the New Orleans Jazz Club Collections of the Louisiana State Museum, and the New Orleans Mint Performing Art Center are all currently located here.
Old Ursuline Convent (1745)
1100 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA 70116
The Ursuline Convent is the oldest structure in the Mississippi River Valley. It is also the oldest surviving example of the French colonial period in the United States. Erected in 1745, the Convent was occupied by Ursuline nuns until 1824. It also served as a meeting place for the Louisiana Legislature. Today, it operates as the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. In addition to the Old Ursuline Convent Museum, the structure houses the Archdiocesan archives and a formal garden.
Next to the Old Convent is Saint Mary’s Catholic Church (1116 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70116). Older than St. Louis Cathedral, parts of it date back to 1727. St. Mary’s Church was rebuilt in 1850 and rededicated in 1860.
Beauregard-Keyes House (1826)
1113 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70116
The Beauregard -Keyes House museum includes past residents such as Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard and American author Frances Parkinson Keyes. The house has elements of a Creole cottage with Greek Revival features, including a Palladian façade. It also has twin curved staircases leading to a Tuscan portico. A formal French garden, typical of the early 1800s architecture, includes a cast iron fountain and boxwood hedges.
Gallier House (1857)
1118-32 Royal St., New Orleans, LA 70116
Built as a private residence of noted architect James Gallier, the Gallier House is a restored 19th-century house museum. The house is an example of Victorian style architecture and has been furnished according to a household inventory created after Mr. Gallier’s passing. Four wrought-iron arches extend from the balcony to the roof and four windows face each of the arches with shutters typical of the period. Visitors can book a tour of the Gallier house and the Herman-Grima House at the same time. (Just be warned, they are not next to each other so you will have to drive to the Herman-Grima House.)
Madame John’s Legacy (1789)
632 Dumaine St., New Orleans, LA 70116
One of the oldest houses in the French Quarter, Madame John’s Legacy is an example of eighteenth-century Louisiana Creole architecture. The house was raised high enough to withstand frequent flooding of the area and has ventilating features to alleviate the subtropical heat. It also managed to survive the great fire of 1794. The museum itself is currently closed for restoration but you can still view the outside.
Next stop, Jackson Square area.
Note: If you are driving to Jackson Square, park and walk to the Cabildo, St. Louis Cathedral and The Presbytere. The public lots by the river behind Jax Brewery or Cafe du Monde or the paid lot at Decatur St & Toulouse St. (near 601 Decatur St, look for big red Public Parking sign) may be your best bets.
Jackson Square (1718 and beyond)
700 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116
Initially laid out with the rest of the old French Quarter, Jackson Square sits in front of the St. Louis Cathedral. Also called the Place d’Armes, it is the oldest space in the city. Trees and walkways were added to it in the 1830s and the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson was added in 1856. Today, the area around the park is a mixture of commercial and residential property. Local artists also display their work on the outside of the iron fence and visitors can walk among the open-air artist colony to see the artists at work.
The Cabildo (1799)
701 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA 70130
Located on Jackson Square, The Cabildo was the headquarters of the Spanish colonial government and the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer in 1803. The New Orleans city council continued to use the building until the mid-1850s. The original Cabildo was destroyed in the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788 and was rebuilt between 1795 and 1799.
St. Louis Cathedral (orig. 1727, 1850)
615 Pere Antoine Alley, New Orleans, LA 70116
Originally built in 1727, the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis is flanked by the historic Cabildo on one side and the Presbytère on the other. After the great fire of 1794, the original structure was rebuilt. The current structure was finished in 1850 and overlooks Jackson Square. The Cathedral is the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States.
The Presbytère (1791)
751 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA 70116
Originally called Casas Curial or “Ecclesiastical House,” The Presbytère was started in 1791 and is a great example of formal colonial Spanish architecture. It was first designed to match the nearby Cabildo (Town Hall) and was built on the former site of the residence of the Capuchin monks and presbytery. It became a courthouse in 1834 and part of the Louisiana State Museum in 1911.
Napoleon House/Nicholas Girod House (1794)
500 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130
The home was originally built by Nicholas Girod, the mayor of New Orleans. Girod later extended an invitation in 1821 to Napoleon to reside in the mansion as a refuge during his exile. Although Napoleon never made it to New Orleans, the name has been attached to the mansion ever since. An example of French-influenced architecture, it is a three-story brick stuccoed building with two iron balconies and a cupola. The Napoleon House restaurant serves traditional Creole dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya, and what some call the best muffaletta sandwiches in town.
New Orleans Pharmacy Museum (1823)
514 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130
This old apothecary shop is now a museum with medicines, surgical instruments, journals, and an 1855 soda fountain. The museum also highlights the role of Louis J. Dufilho, Jr., America’s first licensed pharmacist and the owner of the apothecary. A newly renovated courtyard also contains a garden of herbs that were used for medicinal purposes. The courtyard also contains a traditional French Quarter garden for private parties and receptions.
Bartolome Bosque (1795)
617 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130
This example of a “Creole Townhouse” dates to 1795. In this style of townhomes, you access the building by ascending stairs in the rear of the building. There were no inside stair halls. The monogram on the balcony is also an excellent example of Spanish Colonial ironworking. A unique feature is that the initials were installed in reverse, whether by error or design so that the initials can be read from the inside of the house but not by people outside.
Historic New Orleans Collection (Museum and Research Center)
533 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130
Commemorating 300 years of New Orleans, the Historic New Orleans Collection houses multiple exhibits including two historic homes (from 1792 and 1890), a bookstore, and an art gallery. The THNOC includes 10 historic buildings that cover two campuses in The Quarter. Four exhibition spaces present permanent and rotating exhibitions showcasing New Orleans history and art.
Hermann-Grima House (1831)
820 St. Louis St, New Orleans, LA 70112
The Hermann-Grima House is a restored Federal-style mansion with a courtyard garden. The home is a prime example of the influence of American architecture on New Orleans homes after the Louisiana Purchase. The interior depicts the lifestyle of a wealthy Creole family from 1830 to 1860. You can tour the house, adjacent slave quarters, outbuildings, and courtyard. Over one-third of the objects in the home either belonged to the original Hermann or Grima families.
Brennan’s Restaurant (1795)
417 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130
The pink stucco Brennan’s Restaurant is an example of an elaborate former bank and residence from the late Colonial period. Constructed in 1795, the two-story mansion first operated as the Banque de la Louisiane. It was later converted into a residence. A historic marker on the restaurant reads in part “Banque de la Louisiane.” The Creole-style restaurant has resided in the building since 1946.
Looking to explore outside of New Orleans? Check out the list of national and state parks in Louisiana.
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