French Quarter © Michael Bentley
Regarded as the heart and soul of New Orleans, the French Quarter is the historic part of town covering about 90 square blocks radiating out from Chartres Street and Jackson Square. The Quarter, or Vieux Carre, was established in 1718 as a French military outpost, which was later taken over by the Spanish, gradually developing into a cultural hub incorporating slaves, pirates, mercenaries, call-girls and various freemen of every colour and creed. Today the area looks and feels much as it did before Hurricane Katrina, with its wrought-iron railings and tall doorways, and a thrilling offering of nightclubs, bars, live music venues, Cajun-seafood restaurants and all sorts of shops. By day it is one of the best people-watching spots in the world, and the focus for visitors to New Orleans; by night the area becomes a giant street party throbbing with jazz music as well as a world-class dining district. The most famous street is Bourbon Street, where prostitutes literally mingle with priests, and bars stay open all night.