1st timer, or a returning visitor – stay safe in New Orleans by learning how to avoid the crime hot-spots. Here you get up-to-date advice on where’s safest to stay, what to see, what’s good to eat and all your transportation options – so sit back, relax and enjoy an amazing vacation !
New Orleans is the largest city in Louisiana and is world famous for both its spectacular Mardi Gras and also for year-round partying – particularly along Bourbon Street, in the famous French Quarter. But the city also has an unenviable reputation for violent crime, sometimes directed at tourists.
The great news is that mostly everyone who takes sensible precautions will be perfectly safe and enjoy an amazing, hassle-free vacation in this unique City. Most of the sights are within easy walking distance of the main hotels. The City centre has flat terrain, is very compact and walking is the best way to explore. If you prefer not to walk too much, both Street Cars (trams), Uber & taxis are readily available.
Note that the locals pronounce the name of their city “New Orlins” (not as you might think “New Orleeens”) and you’ll often see it referred to on signs or in brochures as “NOLA” which is shorthand for New Orleans Louisiana.
Top Tip : The key to any great vacation is to pre-plan as much as possible, so that you can then relax and enjoy yourself. Your first consideration is your arrival in New Orleans – so lets explore your options for getting into the City both safely, swiftly and comfortably.
Arriving By Air
If travelling by air, you’ll be landing at New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport situated 11 miles north-west of the City centre, on the southern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. From May 2019 – its huge new Terminal will also be open.
There is no rail-link from the Airport to the City.
Your onward travel options are therefore going to be road journeys, which are either by hire car, limo, taxi, Uber, shared door-to-door shuttle-mini-bus, or taking a regular bus.
If planning on renting a car, you’ll find that most of the major car hire companies are represented at the Airport. Use a comparison website to find the cheapest deal and book your rental car in advance of your arrival. Unlike many other US cities where driving is essential to get around, New Orleans is compact, well served by public transport and taxis, so hiring a car is not your best option.
The Airport Shuttle Mini Bus offers a shared door-to-door service, which you take with other travellers headed for the City and costs $24 per passenger one-way. The fare includes up to 3 bags. As a cheaper, but much slower “point-to-point” alternative, there is a twice-hourly bus service, operated by Jefferson Transport (JET), linking the airport, via a number of suburban stops, to a fixed drop-off point in the City, costing just $2 per passenger. Be aware that this bus service is not an express route, but just a low-cost, regular bus, that stops-by at the Airport.
If you decide on taking a taxi, it’s around a 20 minute ride to either Downtown (known as the Central Business District / CBD) or the French Quarter. There is an official taxi rank at the airport. At the time of writing (May 2018) the fare is set at $30 one way for up to 2 passengers, rising to $45 for 3 passengers. Uber is also available and is around 30% cheaper than regular taxis. Both are very safe and reliable.
If you prefer arriving in a little more style, Viator are one of a number of companies offering a pre-bookable chauffeur limo service with a meet and greet in the arrivals zone, starting from around $70 one way, for up to 3 or 4 passengers.
Top Tip : In terms of the sheer convenience of a door-to-door service, the low price, personal security and quick journey time, Uber is probably your best choice. If you don’t know how to use Uber – click here for details.
Arriving by Bus or Train
You’ll be arriving at the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal on Layola Avenue, a block or two south-west of the Mercedes Benz Superdome, in the Central Business District (CBD). This convenient station is the hub for Amtrak trains. It is also the City terminus for bus services operated by Greyhound Coaches, Megabus and other reputable carriers. You can download a printable map from this website of the Central Business District.
The Passenger Terminal has its own Street-Car stop (on the Layola line) for your onward travel to Canal Street or the French Quarter. Remember however, especially if travelling with luggage, that the Street-cars can be very full – with standing room only at peak periods of the day. Using the Street-car is however very simple and inexpensive, just click here for clear instructions on getting tickets and the fares available.
Top Tip : Use either Uber, or take a Taxi, both of which are readily available, for the very short 5 to 10 minute ride to all the hotels in the ‘Safer Zone’ described below.
Arriving by Cruise Ship
Even though New Orleans is 100 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, along the Mississippi, this huge river allows modern cruise ships to sail right into the heart of the City. So, if New Orleans is part of your cruise itinerary, you’ll be arriving at the Cruise Terminal (see photo above) and will be pleasantly surprised to find that is located in a safe and very central area of the city, right alongside the Convention Centre and a Shopping Mall, next to Spanish Plaza (bottom left corner of the map below).
Cruise companies sell very expensive shore excursions into the City, but during daytime, it’s very easy and totally safe to walk to the sights straight from your cruise ship. The Terminal is a 10 minute walk from Canal Street, which is the start of the French Quarter. On exiting the Cruise Terminal, just turn right and head towards the big-name hotels, which points you in the direction of the French Quarter. This website allows you to download a printable Cruise Terminal Map
Top Tip : The Street-car “Riverfront Line” runs from the Cruise Terminal’s very own Street-Car stop (shown on Street-Car maps as “Julia Street”). All East-bound Street-Cars go direct to the French Quarter. Just hop on and then get off four stops later, at Toulouse Street. The fare is just $1.25 one-way. To find out more about using the Street-Car system, just click here.
The “Safer Zone”
There will always be some debate as to where is “safe” in New Orleans. Occasional crime happens mostly everywhere in all major cities and New Orleans is no different. The Safer Zone described in this article, is based on researching many websites and also my personal experience in New Orleans. As always, personal safety depends on many factors, but one of the most critical is being aware of the geography of the place you are visiting. So let’s learn a little about the City.
New Orleans is set on the shore of the mighty Mississippi river. The river, to the South of the City, is one of your most easily identifiable boundaries. To the West, Poydras Street is probably as far as tourists would need to venture on foot. To the North, it’s probably best not to go further than Burgundy Street, as a block beyond that takes you to North Rampart Street and closer to the Basin Street Housing Projects and poorer areas of town. To the East, Esplanade Avenue is your sensible boundary. The purple line on the map defines this suggested Safer Zone. All principal city centre tourist sights are within the Safer Zone. Now check-out the 12 Best Things To Do in New Orleans, or carry on reading for great personal safety tips for both daytime and also after dark.
Safety When Out & About
Within the Safer Zone you’ll be surrounded by tourists and locals alike. The French Quarter is probably what brings most tourists to New Orleans. Now download your printable tourist French Quarter Map. The partying scene is centred around Bourbon Street, which stretches from Canal Street towards Esplanade Avenue. Bourbon Street offers a bewildering selection of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops and is only ever really quiet from around 4am until 11am each day (that’s the period after the previous-night’s partying and the beginning of the lunchtime trade).
The rest of the French Quarter is rather more tranquil, offering antique shops, voodoo emporia, coffee shops, souvenir stores and unique architecture. The New Orleans Police Department always have a very visible presence – more so in the evening and night, making the main streets safe.
That being said, don’t carry large amounts of cash or wear flashy watches or jewellery. The French Quarter adjoins a number of poorer neighbourhoods and whilst poverty does not make criminals, it may induce those with criminal intent to view tourists as a source of illicit income through theft or robbery. To avoid the possibility of becoming a victim of pick-pockets, men should not carry their wallets in a back pocket and ladies should have a purse or handbag closed with a zipper or clasp.
Top Tip : It’s always wise to leave one of your credit cards, or bank cards, in your room-safe, so that in the unlikely event that you do lose your wallet or purse, you have back-up access to an immediate source of cash.
Always keep valuables (bags, cameras, cell phones etc) on your person, or in plain sight when in a restaurant or bar. You will find an inexpensive little gizmo called a “Handbag Hanger” a useful travel accessory (see photo below). These compact, self-balancing, folding devices, available from Amazon, Ebay and other fine retailers allow you to hook a bag, camera or purse on your restaurant table, for added security. Thinking of dining out ? – click here for my top gourmet suggestions of what’s good to eat in New Orleans.
Top Tip : While soaking-up the sights, allow time (perhaps an hour) for a light lunch and then some shopping time for souvenirs. To avoid disappointment, book your excursions on-line before arriving in New Orleans and make your evening dining reservations in advance of your arrival using Open Table
The first rule is to stay in the Safer Zone. As with any large city, keep to the main streets, which throng with tourists. Avoid alleyways, poorly lit, or deserted areas and also avoid the parks and river bank. Trust your instincts. If something feels unsafe – just take another route.
Bourbon Street is the epicentre of nightlife in New Orleans. It’s always busy after dark and it’s fine to walk from bar to bar along its busy stretch, as in addition to private door security men, there is always a heavy Police presence. To find out more about the bars and restaurants on Bourbon Street, visit the French Quarter’s website here.
New Orleans has a vibrant gay scene. For full information on French Quarter LGBT venues and an interactive map, showing locations, click here.
Away from the French Quarter, the areas immediately outside the big hotels are safe during the early evening if you are walking to a nearby restaurant to enjoy a local speciality dish. But be aware in the Central Business District (CBD), that streets quickly become quiet once offices in the area close for the day. Why not download your printable map of Central Business District.
If attending an event at either the Mercedes Benz Superdome or the Smoothie King Center, check out my page dealing with safety at these venues.
Top Tip : It’s always safer to take a taxi / Uber back to your hotel after you have been out for dinner or partying. Walking alone after midnight is not recommended anywhere in the City.
There are two well-known, and rather laughable tourist scams of which you need to be aware. Neither are problematic. They’re just minor annoyances. The first scam is where a rough-sleeper will say to a tourist “I bet you $5 that I know where you got them shoes”. Do not engage in the conversation, as if you accept their ‘bet’ they will say “You got them on your feet!” and ask for money for ‘winning’.
The second scam is where they say “I bet you $5 that I can spell your last name”. If you accept the ‘bet’ they will spell-out the letters “Y-o-u-r L-a-s-t N-a-m-e” and expect a reward.
If approached by anyone trying either scam, just shake your head, smile and walk on. They won’t follow you, and will simply try the scam on the next tourist in the street.
The only other annoyance you may face are drunken rough-sleepers begging for some change, as you pass. They can pop up anywhere, but particularly tend to congregate outside the McDonalds restaurant, situated on the corner of Canal Street & Royal Street. They can often be heard arguing amongst themselves. They pose no risk to tourists and are just looking for money to buy their next drink. Just ignore them and walk on.
Crime Facts & Statistics
If you really must see some facts and figures, you can view an interactive crime map identifying the location of all reported crimes – including the dates and times on which they occurred. You’ll readily see that most of those in the city centre are petty offences, often relating to drink or drug violations – with only a handful of more serious offences taking place late at night.
Where to Stay
It is always wisest to book into one of the many hotels located in the Safer Zone. These will be situated in lower Canal Street; in the French Quarter itself; along St Charles Avenue between Canal Street and Poydras Street; or indeed the lower area of Poydras Street. The hotels to choose from in these areas include properties operated by reputable chains such as: Omni, Leows, Hilton, Wyndham, Crowne Plaza, Ritz-Carlton, Harrah, Le Meridien, Staybridge Suites, La Quinta Suites, Courtyard, Intercontinental, Hyatt, Renaissance etc. There are also a number of very good independent hotels in this area. To ensure that the ambience and style of the hotel is suited to your preference, read the recent traveller reviews of the property on Tripadvisor. Many hotels offer great rates if you book in advance through Trivago or similar websites. Remember, room rates are always more expensive at weekends and when there’s a major event being staged at the Superdome or Convention Centre.
As with any city, the better properties (4 & 5 star) offer the very best facilities and will be situated in the safest & most central areas. They will also provide excellent security for their guests. As with all hotel rooms, make sure that you activate the deadlock on the door when occupying your room, never admit strangers and leave your valuables locked in the in-room safe.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to the better properties in the Safer Zone, I strongly recommend that you defer your trip until you have the cash to enjoy that degree of peace-of-mind.
Staying at B&B’s or Hotels in the suburbs may seem quaint, more authentic and cheaper, but you’ll soon see your budget eaten-up with taxi-fares getting you in and out of town, or leaving your car in the prohibitively expensive parking lots within the City centre. You may also find, that in reality, your chosen neighbourhood, or accomodation is both unsafe & unattractive.
Top Tip : To find out how to get rock bottom prices for your hotel stay, including how to get complimentary upgraded rooms click here
If visiting the United States from overseas, remember that it is absolutely essential to take out adequate Travel Insurance to cover the otherwise enormous financial cost of medical care, in the event of an unexpected emergency.
New Orleans enjoys a warm climate throughout the year, becoming very hot and humid during the summer months. Make sure that you apply sun-screen and carry a bottle of water to sip as you enjoy the sights. Wear comfortable shoes and loose-fitting light-weight clothing made of natural fibres (cotton / silk etc). Very few restaurants have dress codes, so relax and dress for comfort, rather than the catwalk.
Remember also that New Orleans is situated near swamps and therefore Mosquito repellent is useful, especially during the evenings.
If you are in New Orleans to party – remember that too much alcohol can impair your judgement and may lead you to make unwise decisions or take unnecessary risks. Pace your alcohol consumption and intersperse alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic alternatives.
Possession of small amounts of cannabis (marijuana) for personal use has been de-criminalised in New Orleans since 2016 – but it is still not lawful. This means that Police Officers can hand out fines to – but not arrest – those caught consuming it.
Finally, recent statistics show that there are 21,376 people living with HIV in Louisiana, with one third of all new HIV cases diagnosed in the State arising in New Orleans. If there to party, you should always practice safer sex.
- Plan your visit and book your excursions well in advance
- Stay at 4 or 5 star hotels in the Safer Zone
- Book guided tours if you plan to visit anywhere north of Rampart Street
- Be aware of the scams described in this article
- Keep your valuables safe
- Take taxis / Uber after dark
- Stay on busy streets, particularly after dark
- Load Uber on your cell phone and open an account.
- Leave 1 credit card in your room safe as a standby for cash if you lose your wallet
- Take out comprehensive travel insurance
- Stay in the Safer Zone as far as possible
- Be moderate in you intake of alcohol
- Carry bottled water in the day
- Wear comfortable shoes and light-weight clothing
- Practice safer sex in casual encounters
Now explore my site for great Money Saving Tips
Plus find out how to live like a local with my invaluable How to Guide
Don’t miss my suggestions for the 12 Best Things To Do in New Orleans
And learn about great local New Orleans Cuisine
Or learn about safety if visiting the Mercedes Benz Superdome & Smoothie King Center