Cool Buildings in New Orleans: A Self-Guided Architecture Tour
With an architectural wonder on almost every corner, you hardly need us to tell you where to find cool homes in New Orleans. They’re everywhere. And we mean everywhere.
From the French Quarter to the Garden District, shotgun houses to 18th-century cathedrals; you’ll find a little French colonial here, a Creole cottage there. NOLA’s rich history plays out on its streets with every turn you make.
So while you don’t have to look far for interesting architecture, there are a few famous buildings in New Orleans that you won’t want to miss. Let’s get to it:
St. Louis Cathedral
At the heart of any good French Quarter architecture tour—wait, any good New Orleans visit, period—is the St. Louis Cathedral.
You’ve undoubtedly seen the photos of this gorgeous, 18th-century cathedral overlooking Jackson Square. You might know it best for its three, towering white spires, but its real claim to fame is as the oldest continuous use cathedral in all of the United States.
First built in 1718, then famously rebuilt after the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, this historic piece of New Orleans architecture is a must-see.
It’s fitting that the first home we cover belonged to a notable 19th-century architect. What we love about this spot—besides of course, its iconic green gates—is that it operates as a public museum.
Step through its doors and into the life of a prominent 1860s family living in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Outfitted with the era’s most modern innovations and of-the-times decór, it’s the perfect place to start your journey through NOLA history.
We’d be remiss not to follow up the Gallier House with the Hermann-Grima House—considering a ticket to one gets you admission to the other.
Similarly restored to near perfection, this 1831 French Quarter house features a Federalist architectural flair. You’ll be able to explore the now museum from top to bottom, including the urban slave quarters, carriage house and courtyard.
Old Ursuline Convent
Completed in 1752, the Ursuline Convent is not only the oldest building in New Orleans, it’s the oldest building in all of the Mississippi River Valley. A classic architecture example from the United States’ French colonial period, this building holds a massive piece of New Orleans history.
Tour the grounds to follow its evolution from a convent to an orphanage and finally, to the fully restored museum you see today.
The charming Pontalba Buildings are probably already on your list whether you know it or not. These block-long brick buildings on the corner of 500 St. Ann Street and 500 St. Peter Street are iconic, to put it simply.
Built in a Parisian style, the buildings feature elaborate cast iron balconies draped in fresh flowers and greenery. The shops below and apartments above have all been declared a National Historic Landmark. And there’s no question why.
Joseph Carroll House
Before NOLA was a sprawling city, massive plantations led up to the city’s edge. What’s left of the vast, green spaces can be seen in the Garden District, a charming neighborhood full of 19th century mansions with magnificent yards.
With so many homes to marvel at here, walking tours of the area are common. But a simple stroll down St. Charles street will feel like a getaway of its own. Still, there’s a few houses that aren’t to be missed—like the Carroll-Crawford House.
A three-story home with intricate ironwork details, lush palms and an adjacent carriage house, it embodies the best of the Garden District on one single lot.
Commander’s Palace Restaurant
A cherished landmark since 1893, Commander’s Palace Restaurant is just as likely to appear on a New Orleans architecture tour as it is on a food tour.
Whether for their award-winning Creole cuisine, a taste of that old school Louisiana charm or for a photoshoot in front of their iconic blue walls, you’ve simply got to visit.
Join the ranks of over 100 years of prominent New Orleans residents and guests in visiting the Commander’s Palace. Oozing with energy from the inside out, there’s no place but NOLA where a building like this would make perfect sense.
The Blue Lady & Pink Lady
On the corner of St. Charles and Nashville, a whimsical two-for-one deal awaits. Affectionately titled the Blue Lady and Pink Lady for their cheeky paint jobs, these 1889 Queen Anne style Victorians are what can only be described as simply delightful.
Now included on the National Register of Historic Places, both houses feature elaborate detail work that’s quintessentially New Orleans. They’re exactly the type of houses you hope to see in the Garden District.
Marigny & Bywater
You can’t appreciate New Orleans architecture without paying homage to the city’s vast collection of shotgun houses, primarily in the Marigny & Bywater neighborhood. With West African roots, these simple, single wide, sans-hallway structures were originally built to accommodate the city’s lower income populations.
The name helps you understand the design—if you were to stand at the front door and fire a shotgun, the bullet would fly through the back door without leaving a mark. More strategically, it creates extra space in an otherwise small structure and allows a cool breeze to run freely through the house.
In any case, shotgun houses are integral to New Orleans’ history. You can find them in any neighborhood, often brightly colored and always distinctly NOLA.
Can’t decide where to explore first? Book a bike tour of New Orleans and see a little bit of everything.