- Type of festival: Regional music and food
- Dates: April 16–19 2020
- Location: All over the French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
- Admission: Free
The historic French Quarter of New Orleans has long been a draw for visitors, especially for the live music scene in the neighborhood and the bars of Bourbon Street. Since 1984, the French Quarter Festival has been an annual showcase of what the Quarter is all about. Think live jazz, blues and zydeco performances, as well as the best food and drink that New Orleans has to offer. If you’re heading to the French Quarter for the festival, here’s our visitor’s guide to help you make the most of your weekend.
What to Expect
The four-day weekend of the French Quarter Festival runs from Thursday through Sunday and is absolutely free. And with over three-quarters of a million visitors each year it’s one of the largest free music festivals in the US. More than 20 stages are set up throughout the French Quarter for the duration of the festival, with live performances representing all the different traditions of New Orleans and Louisianan music taking place from morning to night.
Beyond the music you can explore the culinary delights of the French Quarter, the legendary bar and nightlife scene, as well as a program of special events including the Kickoff Parade on the Thursday, dance lessons throughout the weekend, tours through the historic neighborhood, talks and readings, and all kinds of activities for kids in the Children’s Zone.
Music at the French Quarter Festival
As the birthplace of Dixieland and Louis Armstrong, it’s no surprise that jazz has a central role in both the musical history of Louisiana and at the French Quarter Festival. But that’s only part of the story. The city has a long music tradition that reflects the many communities that have called New Orleans home. So, alongside jazz, you’ll hear Latin, rhythm and blues, zydeco, New Orleans funk, rock, and swing sounding out from the many stages of the festival.
The focus is very much on New Orleans and Louisiana music, with the vast majority of performers coming from the city and surrounding area. Take some time to explore the schedule on the music page of the festival website. This will help you plan out which sets you don’t want to miss. That said, one of the joys of the French Quarter Festival is moving between the stages and discovering something new.
Eating at the French Quarter Festival
If there’s one thing that rivals music, both at the French Quarter Festival and in New Orleans in general, it’s the food. This is the town of gumbo and jambalaya, of po-boys and crawfish, red beans and rice … the list goes on. And at the French Quarter Festival, some of the best restaurants in the city set up across the festival’s main sites. So, you’ll always be close to something great to eat. The festival website has the low-down on who is serving what and where.
All the food areas also offer drinks, where the tips go towards supporting the musicians at the festival. You can expect a range of local craft beers and classic New Orleans cocktails. And, of course, throughout the French Quarter there are numerous bars worth checking out between sets. This includes Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest drinking den in the city.
Where to Stay for the French Quarter Festival
With so many visitors in town for the festival, it’s important to plan your accommodation well in advance. Ideally you’ll want to be staying in the neighborhood, and thankfully there are many excellent French Quarter hotels to choose from.
Right on Bourbon Street, the Bourbon Orleans Hotel occupies a historic building. It offers an escape from the hustle and bustle outside, especially in its central courtyard and swimming pool. Also on Bourbon Street, the Royal Sonesta New Orleans features traditional French Quarter architecture and design. It’s also home to The Jazz Playhouse, one of the stages for the French Quarter Festival.
Elsewhere in the French Quarter, La Galerie French Quarter is a boutique hotel located between Bourbon Street and the Mississippi River. It’s within walking distance of all the festival venues. For a spot of luxury, the Hotel Monteleone is a historic French Quarter hotel close to Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, and the Riverwalk. If you decide to stay outside of the French Quarter for the festival weekend, there are many other great hotels in New Orleans in neighborhoods across the city, including the Central Business District, Lower Garden District and Tremé.