Why you should go
Whatever happens in the French Quarter usually begins here in Jackson Square, at Decatur and St Peter Streets. It's a gentle, carnivalesque scene, sprinkled with lazing loungers and surrounded by fortune tellers, sketch artists and traveling performers. Overlooked by cathedrals, offices and shops plucked from a Paris-meets-the-Caribbean fantasy, Jackson Square is one of America’s great town squares and the heart of the Quarter.
Lovers lanes and trimmed hedges surround a monument to Andrew Jackson, but the real stars here are the magnificent French-style St. Louis Cathedral, flanked by the Cabildo and Presbytère. The former houses a Louisiana state-history museum; the latter a permanent exhibition on Mardi Gras.
Nearby are steps leading up to the Mississippi River, where long barges evoke days of old.
The prime time to visit is on weekends just after brunch. As you meander through the square, observing the street performers and artist booths, be sure to tip, even if it's just pocket change. That's why people perform here. Tarot card readers and fortune-tellers stay well into the evening, and some are open to bargaining when the foot traffic thins.
The square was part of Adrien de Pauger’s original city plan and began as a military parade ground called Place d’Armes (Place of Weapons). Madame Micaëla Pontalba, a 19th-century aristocrat, transformed the muddy marching grounds into a trimmed garden and renamed the square to honor Andrew Jackson, the president who saved New Orleans from the British during the War of 1812.
In the middle of the park stands the monument to Andrew Jackson – Clark Mills’ bronze equestrian statue of the seventh US president, unveiled in 1856. The inscription, "The Union Must and Shall be Preserved," was added by General Benjamin Butler, Union military governor of New Orleans during the Civil War, ostensibly to rub it into the occupied city’s face. The gesture worked. Butler was dubbed "Beast Butler" by locals, and eventually his face was stamped on the bottom of city chamber pots. During his tenure as military governor of New Orleans, Butler instituted health quarantines that drastically reduced yellow fever outbreaks.
Nearby hotels and restaurants
Hop into Stanley, at the square's north corner; it's an iconic spot for brunch, lunch or drinks.
Across Decatur St from the square lies Café du Monde, where you can grab a bag of beignets (square, sugar-coated fritters) to go and picnic on a park bench. Pigeon camaraderie is free.
Prefer to sit back and people watch? Just across St Ann St from the Presbytère is Muriel's, a large restaurant with a pleasant balcony overlooking the square.
Nearby hotels in the French Quarter include the gorgeous, deceptively spacious cottages at Audubon Cottages and the historic Soniat House Hotel.