New Orleans is unlike any other city in the United States. For starters, it is one of the country’s oldest cities. It has a distinct and diverse culture derived from its African, French, Spanish, and Creole elements mixing together. This translates into architecture, food, and southern hospitality that is distinct from anywhere else in the USA or the world. For the visitor, this creates an opportunity to have unique experiences that will leave a lasting impact. However, it also means that things are done a little differently than what you would normally find in other major American cities. Here are 50 of the best travel tips for first time visitors to New Orleans offered by locals, regular visitors, travel bloggers and industry experts to help guide you so that you can have an amazing and safe time in the Big Easy.
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Best Travel Tips For First Time Visitors To New Orleans
The best travel tips to New Orleans for first time visitors fall into several categories. Those include:
- How best to get around;
- Ways to save money;
- How to stay safe
- Where to stay;
- Where and what to eat; and
- Best things to do.
There were a couple of areas that I received the same advice over and over again from different travel experts and locals. Those were:
- Take at least one streetcar to explore the city.
- Be careful in the French Quarter in the evening.
- Make sure you allot some time to enjoy live music.
Those travel tips and others are described below and explained.
There are other destinations in the world that are expensive, overwhelming, or unique and require some extra assistance in navigating so that you can save money, stay safe, and know the best things to do.
- New York City – If you are travelling to New York soon and want to arrive prepared, take a look at 50 Best New York City Tips For First Time Visitors.
- Las Vegas – Here are 50 Best Las Vegas Tips For First Time Visitors to make sure that you are ready for this crazy fun destination.
- London – For help with these enormous metropolis, here are 50 Best Travel Tips For First Time Visitors to London.
Finally, just organizing and booking a trip can be complicated and frustrating. I have written a comprehensive step by step guide about how I go about planning a trip, focusing on how I save money and get the best flights and accommodation. For more information, please see Planning A Holiday: A Foolproof Guide To Easy Vacation Planning.
Best Travel Tips For Getting Around New Orleans
Here are some of the best travel tips for first time visitors for finding your way around New Orleans.
Avoid Driving To The French Quarter
Try to avoid driving to or trying to find parking in the French Quarter, especially in the evening. Most streets are one way and very narrow. Moreover, some streets turn into walking zones in the evening. In addition, it is very popular and extremely busy at night with pedestrians everywhere.
Walk or Ride A Bike
You can easily walk or ride your bike around New Orleans. It is very flat and the layout of the city is pretty straightforward. If you get lost, people are generally helpful and street signs are everywhere.
Olivia, a frequent visitor to NOLA says, “Try The American Bicycle Rental Company, a family owned business on Burgundy Street. They offer maps and guidance on making the most of each day and rent out American-made Cruiser bikes with comfy 13-inch wide saddles and oversized, puncture-resistant tyres. They are perfect for a long day negotiating the bumpy roads of the city and, with their chrome fenders and bells, look pretty cool too.”
Rely On Public Transportation
Public transportation in NOLA is excellent. Rob, a regular visitor says, “The public transport system in New Orleans is awesome for tourists. I would recommend that first-time visitors purchase a day pass ticket which costs only $3. This is a bargain as it allows you to use the RTA (Regional Transit Authority) busses, streetcars, and ferries for unlimited rides for 24 hours. The transport systems are very well kept and it’s a pleasure to ride to see the beautiful city of New Orleans.
The streetcars will take you across all the major areas of the city including the City Park, Jackson Square, and give you a scenic view of the Mississippi River whilst the busses will get you to the intracity and outer lying areas such as the Bayou Sauvage which is a National Wildlife Refuge. There are two ferries – the Algiers Point-Canal Street Ferry and the Lowers Algiers-Chalmette Ferry – that will get you across the Mississippi to visit parts of the city.”
Take A Street Car
Even if you do not need or want to use public transportation, you should take a street car ride at some point. Allyson, a resident of New Orleans says, “Locals and visitors alike enjoy the reliable and leisurely street car rides across the city. St. Charles, Canal Street, Riverfront, and Rampart lines all either run along or intersect with Canal Street in the area between the French Quarter and the Central Business District, so you can see numerous NOLA icons along the way. At $1.25 for a one-way ride, you won’t find cheaper fare anywhere else.”
Best Travel Tips For Saving Money in New Orleans For First Time Visitors
Travelling and exploring any city can be expensive. However, there are always ways to save money if you know where to look. Accordingly, here are some of the best travel tips to save money in the Big Easy.
Stay A Couple Blocks Away From French Quarter
If you want to have easy access to the French Quarter and save money, book accommodation a block or two beyond the French Quarter. You will not only pay less for accommodation, but you will be able to walk and avoid any taxi or Uber costs.
Stay Outside Of New Orleans
If you really want to save money, then stay outside the Big Easy. This would really only work if you don’t want to party into the night on Bourbon Street. However, if you see yourself only spending the days exploring, then this could be a good option.
In addition, there are some cool excursions outside of NOLA such as taking a swamp tour or visiting plantations, such as the Oak Alley Plantation, both between 1 and 1 1/2 hours drive. For more information about these attractions and how to get there, please check this out.
Karen recommends driving Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. It is the longest continuous bridge passing over water (126,122 feet according to Guinness Book of World Records) and in the middle you cannot see land!
Consider Youth Hostels
Heidi from Holiday St. says, “Accommodation is generally cheaper than other major U.S. cities averaging about $187 per night for a three-star hotel. There are also a few youth hostels to check out if you’re looking to save some money. These include The India House Backpackers Hostel and The Quisby.”
Get The GO New Orleans Pass
If you plan to see a lot of the major sites, consider purchasing the GO New Orleans Pass. Imani, a travel blogger says, “You can save time and money and enjoy stress-free touring with the GO New Orleans Pass. The GO New Orleans Pass allows you to choose from over 25 attractions in New Orleans, is good for up to 5 days, and saves you up to 35% on ticket prices. It also comes with a mobile pass option.”
Best Travel Tips For What To Do In NOLA For First Time Visitors
New Orleans offers a long list of fascinating and fun attractions. You will likely need multiple trips in order to see everything, explore different areas, and eat all the wonderful food. So how do you figure out what you should see or how best to organize your time? Here are some of the best travel tips for what to do in the Big Easy for first time visitors.
Explore The French Quarter
When people hear “New Orleans”, they normally think of the French Quarter. More specifically, people often associate New Orleans to the “crazy-night-time-party” scene where people drink and dance in the streets, and others throw beads at them. However, it is very different during the day. It is calm and lovely to explore. The architecture and history of the French Quarter is something beautiful and shouldn’t be missed.
For example, walk around LaFayette Cemetery No. 1 where famous residents such as Tennessee Williams, Jean Lafitte and Anne Rice are buried. In addition, the St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square is the oldest cathedral in the US and the only remaining example of French Colonial architecture.
Visit Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street is located in the French Quarter and the center of New Orlean’s nightlife. Even if you don’t want to stay long or participate in the festivities, you should swing by one evening and take a look. It is considered by many to be one of America’s foremost party streets.
Design Your Own Pub Crawl
Marc from JTG Travel recommends designing your own pub crawl in the French Quarter. That should include “Old Absinthe House, Maison Bourbon, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar (the oldest structure in the United States operated as a bar), Pat O’Brien’s terrace, Beach on Bourbon, and the Cat’s Meow.” They can be enjoyed all day and night.
Live Music All Day Long
A visit to the Big Easy wouldn’t be complete without seeing some live music. You have a choice of almost any type of music and multiple areas where you can enjoy it, starting with the French Quarter. Sam says “The French Quarter is home to some of the nation’s finest musical acts, so be sure to take in a show while you’re here.”
You can find dozens of street performers all over the French Quarter from morning until night. They are incredibly accomplished. In any other city, you would only be able to see such talented people in their own show at a venue. Make sure you allow yourself time to walk and enjoy them. Don’t forget to bring some cash for tips.
Go Where The Locals Go
Frenchmen Street is packed with venues that offer an array of live performances ranging from traditional jazz to blues to reggae and rock. They attract audiences from all over the world. This is a good alternative if you wish to avoid Bourbon Street.
If boutique shopping, artist’s galleries and delicious Creole restaurants are more of your vibe, then Magazine Street is for you.
Freret Street offers more of a chill and laid back feel, with blocks filled with yummy restaurants.”
Rent A Paddleboat
Rent a paddle boat on Lake Pontchartrain. It is an excellent way to see the city without costing too much money.
Have A Parade
Steve from Insanely Cheap Flights says, “What many people don’t know is how easy it is to have your own parade, complete with police escort. You can hire the musicians directly, or hire a full-service company to take care of all the details. The police will close the streets to traffic along your route, and you’ll be able to celebrate with a unique New Orleans experience.”
New Orleans is also a foodie paradise. There are many iconic foods and drinks that you should try in New Orleans.
Eva from Discovering Hidden Gems says, “Cafe du Monde is a must for every visitor, so I recommend stopping in early, say before 9 am to avoid heavy crowds and long lines.” Make sure you get New Orlean’s classic, a beignet, a deep fried fluffy donut.
For other quintessential food and restaurant establishments:
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop “the oldest structure used as a bar in the US” – Voodoo Daiquiri
NOLA Po’ Boys – Shrimp Po’ Boy Sandwiches
Carousel Bar (the bar rotates around like a carousel) – Vieux Carre and The Sazarac are signature drinks
Napoleon House – hot Muffuletta sandwich and Pimm’s Cup signature drink
Old Absinthe House – Absinthe House Frappe (fair warning – it tastes like licorice, so if you don’t like licorice you won’t like this!)
French Market Restaurant – Crawfish (which you can see boiling in the window throughout the day and smell it from a block away to draw you in).
Take The Garden District Streetcar
Taking the streetcar from the Central Business District to the Garden District is another fantastic way to explore New Orleans. It is the world’s oldest continuously functioning streetcar and is available for less than $2. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as this is the only streetcar in the city that still boasts mahogany seats, brass fittings and exposed ceiling light bulbs.
Ralph Calhoun from the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens in Monroe, Louisiana says, “If you like rare or used books, you can pick up a map in most of the bookstores in the Garden District which lead you to lots of sources for used books.”
Visit The National WWII Museum
The National WWII Museum is an amazing interactive museum that focuses on the American experience in WWII —why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. It is a must-see experience for your whole family.
The Higgins boats central to Operation D-Day were built in New Orleans. They revolutionized the war by carrying troops from ships to open beaches rather than the historical need to land at ports. This was one of the many reasons Congress made NOLA the home of one of the largest collections of WWII artifacts in the United States.
For Animal Lovers
If you love animals or are travelling with children, check out the Audubon Zoo and Aquarium. The zoo features animals from around the world and offers animal demonstrations, feedings, and the award-winning Jaguar Jungle and Louisiana Swamp habitats. The Aquarium is consistently voted as one of the best in the country and ranked as one of the best things to do in New Orleans. Both are dedicated to conservation and education.
Spend Time On The Banks Of The Mississippi River
For a relaxing afternoon, spend time on the banks of the Mississippi River. It has a gorgeous view of the Big Easy which is a magical ending to any day. Across Jackson Square, you will have some of the best views of New Orleans.
Best Travel Tips To New Orleans For First Time Visitors Concerned About Safety
New Orleans is a large American city. That means there are safe areas, less safe areas, and areas best left avoided at all costs.
The tourist areas (French Quarter, Central Business District, and Garden District) are all relatively safe places to stay or visit provided you use common sense. In other words, don’t get rip roaring drunk and walk alone down an alley at 2:00 am. Beyond that scenario, there are a couple of unique scenarios of which you should be aware.
Tourist Area Is Small
The tourist area in New Orleans is in a small concentrated area. That means petty thieves don’t have to guess where to find the tourists. Be alert and keep your items secure in a zippered purse or pocket.
When out at night having a good time, do not cut yourself off from other revellers. Stay up with your group. On the flip side, make sure you take a moment every so often to ensure everyone in your group is keeping up.
It is best to avoid anyone who you feel is soliciting you in any way. If someone is offering their service or a product out of the blue, they are likely trying to take advantage of you. Keep your eyes ahead and continue on.
You should either try not to drink too much or have one person in your group who stays relatively sober and keeps an eye on things. This might be difficult if you are in New Orleans with your college buddies or for a bachelorette party. However, unfortunately, people are waiting to take advantage of you.
Skip The Beads
Bead necklaces are usually thrown from partiers from the upper terraces along Bourbon street all year long. You don’t have to do anything to get them except be walking by when they are thrown (which is usually all night). You certainly don’t have to flash anyone to get them. If you want to wear them while on Bourbon street, then fine. However, don’t wear them beyond. It marks you as a tourist.
Michelle from Brit Adventures strongly recommends researching the crime rate where you are staying if you can’t find accommodation in the tourist areas. She ended up staying in a high crime area on one visit to New Orleans when she couldn’t find accommodation in her budget somewhere else. Taxi drivers refused to enter the area to pick up or drop her off.
Spend More To Stay Somewhere Safe
Every neighbourhood in NOLA is not equal. That is particularly true when it comes to safety. If you can’t afford to stay in the tourist districts like the French Quarter, Central Business District, or the Garden District, or other safe neighbourhoods, then save for a bit longer and wait until you can. Otherwise, be prepared to go over budget.
Beware of Pickpockets
The French Quarter offers endless amount of street entertainers and buskers all day and night. They are truly exceptionally talented. Make sure you save time everyday to savour the entertainment. However, keep an eye on your phone, wallet and other valuables. As people gather, it is an easy way to get pickpocketed.
Best Travel Tips To New Orleans For First Time Visitors
There is some advice that falls into lots of different categories. Accordingly, here are the rest of the best travel tips to the Big Easy.
Be Mindful Of The Weather
Summer is very hot and humid. Then, there is hurricane season from June to November. Make sure you understand how each will impact your trip and decide whether it is the right time to go.
Sidra, a local, recommends always having cash on hand. “Places will charge fees or they might not accept credit cards. You’ll need cash for food that’s not part of a standard restaurant menu, too. This also includes beers at happy hour prices.”
Watch Out For Alligators
Alligators are common sights in many roadways in Louisiana, especially in the swamps that surround New Orleans, so if make sure you pay attention when you are around water.
Take Your Beverage To Go
Jeff says, “One of the most bizarre New Orleans travel advice is that if you have liquor in your possession, you may request a to-go cup. It’s permitted to consume alcoholic beverages on the street in a disposable plastic cup (not in glass).”
No Closing Time
There isn’t any specific time that the bars must close. Some regularly stay open until 4:00 am or later. This is a recipe for disaster if you don’t know your limit.
Drinking Age is 18 Years Old
Louisiana is one of a few states that allow teenagers as young as 18 to drink alcohol provided they are accompanied by a guardian or spouse who is over 21 years old.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
New Orleans is a very walkable city. The tourist area is relatively small and flat so it is easy to walk and explore for many hours. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes so you can tour, eat and shop all day long.
Wear Stretchy Pants
Marquita from Marquitas Travels says, “New Orleans is not the place to come visit while on a diet. The city is known for its food. From the delicious chargrilled oyster and poboys, to the decadent pralines and beignets, and everything in between. Most guests leave the city vowing to eat more fruits and veggies when they return home.”
Be Aware Of Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is on a different date every year, so make sure you figure out that date long before you arrive. If you intend to visit during Mardi Gras or inadvertently book your trip just before, during or just after, you should book accommodation asap.
New Orleans is unlike any city in the United States. It is interesting and fun and offers something for everyone, including families. However, the Big Easy does things a little differently than most American places. This is exactly why it is one of the best cities in the USA to visit. If you follow these best travel tips for first time visitors to New Orleans, you should have an exciting and safe time. Arriving prepared will leave you stress free and ready for all the exhilarating experiences waiting for you.