When I say New Orlean’s French Quarter, my guess is you’re not picturing a family-friendly scene. In fact you’re probably visualizing the exact opposite! And there are certainly parts of the French Quarter that are NSFK (not safe for kids) but the reality is that most of two-thirds of a square mile that make up the historic French Quarter of New Orleans are perfectly safe for families to explore.
We recently visited with our two kids and had a fantastic time experiencing this unique city. New Orleans is full of history and unlike many other places in the US and we found plenty of things to do in the French Quarter with kids.
Related post: New Orleans Attractions for Kids
Tips for Exploring the French Quarter with Kids
Here’s our favorite tips for touring the French Quarter with kids.
Stick to day-time exploring
The French Quarter has a reputation for a reason. As the day goes on, there are more ‘characters’ who appear and the alcohol gets more pervasive. We left the French Quarter most days by 5:00 pm and never saw anything that made us feel uncomfortable with our kids.
Avoid Bourbon Street and Stay Closer to the River
Bourbon Street is (in)famous for all the reasons you think it is. Skip this area if you don’t want to explain lots of things to your kids. The good thing is that those who want to participate in these activities tend to stay in this area so you can avoid it if you want to.
The closer you are to the river the more family-friendly it is. You can hop on the Riverfront Streetcar line or you can walk along Decatur Street (which runs parallel to the river) and connects you to several of the attractions in the French Quarter.
Expect to Walk a Lot
There is no public transportation inside the French Quarter so you’ll be walking. There’s lots to see and the blocks are very small so it’s not a crazy amount of walking, but you will be trekking a bit so make sure to wear good shoes.
Prep Your Kids
This is a big warm-weather city so you’ll probably see some homeless people and it’s nice to have a conversation about that with your kids in private before they’re pointing and asking very loud questions. We also talked with our older son who can read about some of the t-shirts or signs he might see and how he didn’t need to read them out loud for his little brother. These were very small parts of our time in the French Quarter and hardly distracted from our exploring, but it is worth prepping your kids before you visit.
There are lots of places that only take cash and you may want to tip some street performers as well. There are tons of ATMs everywhere but if you want smaller bills for tipping, it’s good to get some cash ahead of time.
Not Many Public Bathrooms
There were only a couple of public restrooms that I saw so make sure to take advantage of bathrooms at any place you visit (attraction or restaurant). The National Park offices (see more below) both have restrooms you can use as well.
What to Do in the French Quarter with Kids
Take a Tour with French Quartour Kids
If you only have time for one thing in the French Quarter it needs to be this! Jill Dresser runs French Quartour Kids and as a former teacher, she understands that nothing beats learning about history in the place it actually happened. From a historical tour to a spooky ghost tour, French Quartour Kids offers something for both kids and teens (ages 5 and up).
My kids couldn’t get enough of the interactive tour as we learned about the history of New Orleans and all of the amazing people who have lived in the Crescent City. Jill uses props and maps and games that keep everyone’s attention and the tour moves around the quarter so you get a sense of how the city has developed.
Of all the things we did in the French Quarter, this is what my kids talked about the most. They’re still reenacting duel scenes and spouting out facts about pirates so I know they learned a lot. There are tons of different tour companies that will take you around the French Quarter but French Quartour Kids is the only one I know of that’s specifically designed with kids in mind. I highly recommend it as an introduction to the city!
Earn a Junior Ranger Badge
There are actually two different places in the French Quarter to earn a junior ranger badge from the National Parks Service. If your kids haven’t tried the Junior Ranger program yet, it’s a fantastic free educational opportunity. Kids (ages 5-13) complete a booklet of activities at each site and then turn it in for a special Junior Ranger badge and a swearing-in by one of the park rangers. My boys love collecting these badges and we always end up learning things about the places we visit.
The Jean Lafitte National Park is actually made up of several sites across southern Louisana but they have an office in the French Quarter on Decatur Street with a small visitors center. Stop in and earn a Junior Ranger badge or hear one of the ranger-led talks.
The New Orleans Jazz Historical Park honors the importance of New Orleans in the history of jazz. Their small office hosts various jazz groups and musicians and is another place for kids to earn a Junior Ranger badge. It’s tucked behind some shops near Cafe Du Monde. Check their calendar before your visit for performance times and locations.
Listen to Some Jazz
New Orleans is home to some incredible musicians but many of the places they play don’t allow kids so you have to get a little creative in finding family-friendly places to listen to music in the French Quarter. The most famous is Preservation Hall but tickets can be a bit pricey and lines are long to get in.
The best bet is to find some street performers to enjoy along Royal Street or around Jackson Square or to check out the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park for concert times. We managed to find a free concert at the National Museum of Jazz hosted by the National Park (so the concert was free but there is an admission charge to the museum if you wanted to tour that).
I also noticed two outdoor restaurants near the French Market that had live jazz bands playing and kids were welcome in the dining area of those locations.
Visit Jackson Square
Jackson Square is the historic city center of New Orleans and home to the famous St. Louis Cathedral. The square is full of photo-ops and tons of New Orleans charm. Our kids loved running on the grass and climbing in the palm trees while we sat enjoying the beautiful gardens and sunshine. There are street performs and artists all around the square to visit.
The Cathedral is free to visit and there are a two museums next door that offer exhibits but are geared more for adults than kids.
You can’t come to New Orleans and not try these sugar-soaked fried dough pillows. And you can’t miss eating them at the world-famous Cafe Du Monde right next to Jackson Square. Open 24-hours a day, you’ll only find coffee and beignets on the menu, so this is a snack stop rather than a meal. We split one order of beignets for the four of us (there are 3 on the plate). Don’t skip a cafe au lait to go with it. My husband liked the traditional hot cafe au lait and I loved the frozen one.
Expect long lines, especially at peak times like breakfast and lunch, but the line moves quickly and seating is first come, first serve, so as soon as a table opens up, sit down. Your server will come quickly and clear your table as they take your order. Be prepared to pay when they bring the food (CASH only). There’s also a to-go line on the back side of the restaurant, but I’m not sure it moves any faster than waiting for a table. My suggestion is to sit and use it as a chance to rest your feet.
Do Some Shopping
Let your kids do some souvenir shopping in the French Market which is set up much like a flea market with individual vendors selling silly souvenirs and t-shirts. My kids loved having a few places to spend their own money and prices were pretty reasonable. For more grown-up shopping there are tons of stores along Decatur St. and lots of art galleries along Royal St. that are fun to browse.
Should I Bring Kids to New Orlean’s French Quarter?
Yes! We found the French Quarter to be a fun place to explore with our kids and felt safe and comfortable in all the places we visited. Be smart and use common sense about when and where you wander, but overall this historic area is full of tons of great kid-friendly spots and can be enjoyed by the whole family. Don’t let the reputation of Bourbon Street keep you from discovering what a great destination New Orleans is for families.
What’s your favorite spot to visit in the French Quarter with kids? Have you brought your kids to New Orleans? What tips or questions do you have?