Jackson Square was once a site for public executions of rebellious slaves but its dark past has been left behind and, nowadays, this vibrant public park is filled with artists and musicians, shoppers and diners, united with the single aim of having a good time.
The city park was designed by Louis Pilié in the Parisian style and was originally known as Place d’Armes. In 1971 it was converted into an open-air mall with space for craft stalls and food outlets. The 19th-century Pontalba Apartments on two sides of the square are now filled with shops and restaurants, while beautiful St. Louis Cathedral to the northwest offers a peaceful respite from the urban buzz. The USA’s oldest continuously working cathedral is flanked by two other heritage buildings, the Cabildo and Presbytère, which both fall under the umbrella of the Louisiana State Museum.
Jackson Square is one big open-air art gallery, with paintings squeezed onto on every available surface from pavements to fences, and artists compete to paint your portrait or sell you a caricature. It’s also a popular spot for other flamboyant street entertainers such as jugglers and magicians, mime artists and tarot card readers. Pull up a chair at Café du Monde and enjoy the view that has been captivating drinkers of its famous chicory-infused café au lait since the 1860s.
The square is also the scene of numerous public events and festivals, concerts and sporting celebrations. The French Quarter Festival draws the crowds every April with live music from local jazz bands, tasty food and unusual gifts for sale. In the run-up to Christmas the air is filled with the sweet sound of carollers – a popular local tradition that dates back to 1946, while extravagantly costumed revellers flock here for the annual Mardi Gras parade.
Parking in this busy and popular part of the city can be hard to find, so use the bus for a quick and convenient ride straight to the beating heart of the French Quarter.