The French Quarter is undoubtedly New Orleans’ most famous neighborhood, best known for its nightlife and Carnival season activities. But it’s also the oldest; the entire area, which spans 0.6 mi2 (1.7 km2), is designated a National Historic Landmark. With buildings and streets seeped in history, it’s no surprise, then, that the district is home to about 20 museums. From Irish heritage to the origins of jazz, there’s so much to learn and discover. So how do you choose which ones to visit?
Of course, you could visit all of the museums, but that depends on how much time you have. Even if you managed to hit 2-3 a day, you’d still need at least a week. And if you only have a week, you probably don’t want to spend all of your time in the same area of the city. So, we decided to pick just a few.
I ended up choosing them based on level of quirkiness. Because, me, but also—why the hell not? We had already done a more “traditional” art museum so I was ready for something different. And different is exactly what we got. These aren’t for everyone, but if you’re into the offbeat and obscure, then you’ll hopefully enjoy them as much as I did. So without further ado, here are some small, quirky French Quarter museums worth checking out.
1. New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
Just a few blocks from Jackson Square, you’ll find the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. Comprised of just three rooms, it’s pretty tiny, but that doesn’t take away from its offerings. You can spend at least an hour poring over the artifacts packed floor to ceiling. And that’s before you browse the gift shop, where you can pick up everything from soaps and oils to gris-gris bags.
We mistakenly joined part of a guided tour, thinking it was included in the experience. As it turns out, you can book a longer walking tour, which includes other attractions, like Congo Square and Marie Lareau’s house. It’s given by Nate Scott, affectionately known as Nu’Awlons Nate, who is a lifelong resident of New Orleans. Together with his wife, Benita, he runs a private tour company to share the history of the city with visitors.
Talk about a happy accident, though. Mr. Scott put the “guided” in “self-guided” for us as we listened to his witty stories about the history of voodoo and it’s influence on New Orleans culture. It’s hard to say whether we would’ve enjoyed our visit as much if not for his colorful storytelling. So if you go, consider booking with him first. The tour takes roughly 2 hours, welcomes people of all ages, and only costs $36.
Visit the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
Location: 724 Dumaine Street
Hours: 10AM-6PM daily
2. New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
Just a couple of blocks from Jackson Square in the other direction, you’ll find the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Here, you can learn all about the history of pharmacy in America, which is actually a lot more interesting than it sounds. It all started in 1804, when Louisiana became the first state to require licensing for pharmacists and other medical practitioners. Before then, people were just going around willy-nilly mixing up and administering their own medicines. Which, as you can imagine, was pretty groovy, but also very dangerous.
The first pharmacist to pass the new licensing exam was a man by the name of Louis J. Dulfilho, Jr. He built the classic creole townhouse that the museum now occupies, or America’s first “legit” pharmacy. It consisted of an apothecary on the first floor and a residence above. Dulfilho Jr. lived here with his family until 1855, when it was sold to a physician named Dr. Dupas.
Dr. Dupas, by all accounts, was not a good man. It’s believed he experimented on pregnant slaves, killing many of them in the process. It’s said that his ghost now haunts the property, although you won’t hear about this at the museum. The self-guided tour is very much focused on the history of pharmacology alone. It’s very interesting with plenty to see—the collection comprises over 18,400 historical items, including voodoo potions, surgical instruments, and an 1855 Lippincott soda fountain.
Visit the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
Location: 514 Chartres Street
Hours: 10AM-4PM Tues & Wed; 11AM-4PM Thu-Sat
3. Museum of Death New Orleans
While some would argue that the world-famous Museum of Death is more tourist attraction than museum, I beg to differ. It does, after all, contain objects of historical, scientific, artistic, and cultural interest. Did you know post-mortem memorial photography used to be a thing, for example? I didn’t, but boy, did I find out. I also learned that in the ’40s and ’50s, American newspapers used to just casually publish photos of car accidents, bodies and all.
There is a lot of graphic material on display, so the museum is not for the squeamish, but if you have any interest in criminology or mortuary science, it’s definitely worth a visit. The New Orleans location is smaller than the Los Angeles original, but there’s still plenty to see. Since no photos are allowed, you’ll just have to use your imagination. Think Manson family memorabilia, artworks and letters from serial killers, and antiquated autopsy equipment. There’s also a mini-theatre in the back where you can watch true-crime videos.
The museum can easily be done in under an hour, but there’s also enough to keep you busy for two—it just depends on how invested you are in each exhibit. You may also want to set aside some time to browse the gift shop, which has a pretty impressive collection of death-related merch.
Visit the Museum of Death New Orleans
Location: 227 Dauphine Street
Hours: 10AM – 6PM daily