There’s a lot to see in New Orleans that could be considered hokey or a tourist trap. The French Quarter is full of them, really, starting with Bourbon Street. If you’re looking for the real New Orleans, only part of the story will be found in the French Quarter. But I’ve spent a lot of time in New Orleans over the past 20 years, and much of that time has been spent in the French Quarter. And one of the spots I keep returning to is the New Orleans French Market. It’s a simple food market mixed with lots of trinkets, clothing and souvenirs for sale. And it’s one of my favorite spots in the French Quarter.
The first time I visited New Orleans, back when I was a wide-eyed 18-year-old college freshman, one of my first memories of New Orleans is walking through the French Market and buying a gator on a stick. At the time, our time browsing the stalls at the New Orleans French Market was just a way of wasting time as we waited for the nighttime fun on Bourbon Street. But as I’ve gotten older, one of the few things that remains the same about all my return visits to the New Orleans French Quarter is the French Market. On our most recent visit to New Orleans, we only spent about 30 minutes at the New Orleans French Market. But it felt like returning home, with the sounds, the sights and the smells of this active market.
And with this being the first visit to the Crescent City with our 7-year-old son, I knew there would be lots of fun opportunities for him in the French Market.
I didn’t buy a gator on the stick to snack on this time, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of opportunities to get my hands on a delicious snack or two. In fact, one of the many festivals this city is known for was going on at the time. FoodFest had taken over the French Market the weekend we were in town. But since we had just had a fabulous brunch, we weren’t hungry for more than just a few snacks. That doesn’t mean all the fabulous food from some of the great restaurants of New Orleans and across the South wasn’t tempting. But in New Orleans, well, amazing food is everywhere. And you can’t eat it all, even if you try. But one of the great things about the French Market is all the wonderful food available, including oysters. I love oysters.
So what did we do in the French Market? We walked, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of this historic New Orleans fixture.
The French Market has existed on the same site since 1791, on the east side of the French Quarter near the Mississippi River. It began as a Native American trading post, and has been under a number of flags, from Spain to France to the United States. The market is said to be the oldest in the U.S. Everywhere you look are buildings more than a hundred years old.
Today, the market is more than just the flea market stalls, vegetable vendors and seafood outposts. It also includes a number of shops and restaurants stretching west along Decatur Street, including the famous Café Du Monde.
But one of the great things about the New Orleans French Market, especially if you’re visiting the Crescent City with children, is just walking around and taking in the unique visuals.
There were lots of quality finds.
But there were also the cheaper variety of souvenirs.
Whether you’re looking for a fedora hat or a bottle of hot sauce …
Maybe a gator on a stick, oysters on the half shell, or an old book, the French Market has an abundance of tacky, cool and eccentric.
And that makes the New Orleans French Market a cool spot for a morning of browsing. Start out with coffee and beignets at Café Du Monde, enjoy some time shopping the stalls of the market, and end the morning with lunch at one of the several restaurants of the market.
The farmers market and flea market are open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; the other retail shops are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.