Historic Royal Street is lined with fascinating finds for every type of traveler. (Photo: Karen Dalton-Beninato)
A stroll down Royal Street, the crown jewel of New Orleans’ walking boulevards, is the perfect way to work off the city’s decadent food and drink. From a centrally located hotel like the New Orleans Marriott, walk a block and a half north on Canal and take a right on Royal to start your walking tour along the city’s most idyllic roadway.
Morning Java, Music and Masterpieces
To start, get a morning boost with a chicory café au lait and praline cookie at Café Beignet. You’ll often hear street musicians busking at the edge of its courtyard, so keep dollar bills on hand to tip them when the tune tickles your ears. Look up so as not to miss the whimsically painted café ceiling, decorated with banana leaves and a blue sky.
Beyond the café Royal Street hosts the dazzling window displays of art galleries, jewelry shops, fashion boutiques and antique shops. The grandfather of New Orleans antiques is M.S. Rau Antiques, which sells rarities, including what could be mistaken for steampunk goods — from before that was a thing.
From a Swiss cipher machine to Napoleon’s death mask and an ice-age cave bear skeleton, it’s like a museum with price tags. Whether you’re looking for a rare painting of “Pont du Gard, Nimes” by Sir Winston Churchill, or masterpieces from Monet to Pissaro, they’ve also got you covered.
An Unlikely Dose of NOLA History
At The Historic New Orleans Collection, take a virtual walk on the wild side with the bawdy “Guidebooks to Sin: The Blue Books of Storyville, New Orleans” found in the museum and research center’s shop — it’ll only add color to some the exhibits you might peruse.
The free museum’s tropical courtyard is also the site of seasonal French Quarter festivals and exhibit openings throughout the year, so you could easily stumble into a soiree.
Some of the funkiest walls on Royal Street are found at Antieau Gallery, where artist Chris Roberts-Antieau’s fabric-covered taxidermy peeks out at visitors. Let’s just say the works have been best described as deer heads in luchador masks. For flatter works look for the naturalist oil paintings in frames she creates by hand.
Pro tip: Culture fans should plan their art walk on a Friday to experience the most gallery openings — complete with free wine. Because New Orleans has no open container laws, you can sip drinks as you gallery hop.
Designer Nadine Blake is a French Quarter encyclopedia and can offer recommendations from restaurants to which gallery openings are buzzing. Her boutique is a favorite spot for seasoned jetsetters that hawks travel essentials, antiques and original oil paintings from local artists.
Pick up an insulated stainless-steel water bottle to stay hydrated, and if the weather calls for it, an umbrella patterned with a vintage map of New Orleans.
Ogle the Architecture
The more residential section of upper Royal Street runs from Ursulines Avenue to Esplanade Avenue. Brightly colored homes and wrought-iron balconies dripping with foliage make it one of the most Instagram-worthy avenues in America. Watch your step while looking up because New Orleans was built on a swamp, and its sidewalks (still called banquettes by some locals) buckle, making your stroll roller-coaster-esque.
Spanish and Creole architecture abound, and to witness the height of French style, check out the Gallier House museum, an 1800s French Quarter time capsule designed by father and son architects.
Set the Evening’s Mood
Wind down your stroll by dining at one of the most enchanting spots in the French Quarter, Café Amelie’s courtyard. It’s your best chance to spot Jay-Z with Beyoncé and Solange Knowles, Lady Gaga and friends, or just as importantly your server bringing steaming-hot jumbo shrimp and grits.
A prix fixe menu makes it a meal to linger over, starting with the andouille sausage gumbo and ending with the chef’s daily bread pudding topped with fresh whipped cream.
The cherry on top is your twilight return down Royal Street, watching mule-drawn carriages clop by in the flickering light of gas lamps.