Even locals love to get lost in the history and romance of the French Quarter, the city's oldest neighborhood. From the narrow side streets flanked with historic architecture you'll marvel at the city's power to endure. Keep walking, slowly, and take the time to look up at the fabled wrought-iron balcony railings or to peer down cobblestone corridors for a glimpse of secret courtyard gardens.
The neighborhood will not run out of ways to entertain you. The Vieux Carre, French for "Old Square," is technically the entire French Quarter, but you'll notice a divide at Decatur Street to the river, as things start to feel more modern, and chain stores and restaurants pop up. The historic part of the French Quarter is where you can slip down a quiet street, gaze up at a row of balconies, and forget for a moment that you are living in the 21st century. During the day the French Quarter offers several different faces to its visitors. The streets running parallel to the river all bear distinct personas: Decatur Street is a strip of tourist shops, hotels, restaurants, and bars uptown from Jackson Square; downtown from the square it becomes a hangout for hipsters and leather-clad regulars drawn to shadowy bars, vintage clothing resellers, funky antiques emporiums, and novelty shops. Modern development along the river side of Decatur Street can make this strip feel like a suburban corridor, but some of the best of old New Orleans is still here: the massive Mississippi River, Cafe du Monde, and the French Market.
Chartres Street remains a relatively calm stretch of inviting shops and eateries. Royal Street is, perhaps aptly, the address of sophisticated antiques shops and many of the Quarter's finest residences. Bourbon Street claims the strip bars, sex shops, extravagant cocktails, and flashy music clubs filmmakers love to feature. Dauphine and Burgundy streets are more residential, with just a few restaurants and bars serving as retreats for locals.
After dark you'll find fine dining and easygoing eateries aplenty, and music pouring from the doorways of bars as freely as the drinks flowing within them (and out of their doors—plastic "go cups" for your cocktails are standard at the exit of every bar and club, and consuming alcohol on public streets is legal in New Orleans). On any ordinary evening a stroll through the French Quarter is a moving concert. Strains of traditional jazz, blues, classic rock and roll, and electronic dance beats all flow from the various bars and nightclubs while street musicians add their unique sound to the mix.
For all its evening-time adult entertainment, the French Quarter by day is quite kid-friendly. Children adore eating beignets; watching ships ply the Mississippi; walking through the Caribbean tunnel fish tank at the Aquarium of the Americas; munching crunchy treats made out of bugs at the Audubon Insectarium; and savoring the same delicious po'boy sandwiches and fried seafood that their parents enjoy.