Dangers & Annoyances
New Orleans has a high crime rate, but the majority of violent crime occurs between parties that already know each other.
- Muggings do occur. Solo travelers are targeted more often; avoid entering secluded areas alone.
- The French Quarter is a secure around-the-clock realm for the visitor.
- The CBD and Warehouse District are busy on weekdays, but relatively deserted at night and on weekends.
- The B&Bs along Esplanade Ridge are close enough to troubled neighborhoods to require caution at night.
- Some areas of Central City can feel lonely after dark. At night, park close to your destination on a well-traveled street.
- Be wary before entering an intersection: local drivers are notorious for running yellow and even red lights.
- Drink spikings do occur. Do not leave your drink unattended.
The New Orleans pass (adult/child from $69/49) is a discount card that scores you either free or discounted admission at over 25 sights and tours, including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Audubon Aquarium and Mardi Gras World. The pass can be purchased and downloaded online (www.neworleanspass.com).
The electrical current in the USA is 110V to 115V, 60Hz AC. Outlets may be suited to flat two-prong (not grounded) or three-prong (grounded) plugs. If your appliance is made for another electrical system, you will need a transformer or adapter; if you didn’t bring one along, buy one at any consumer-electronics store around town.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|National Sexual Assault Hotline||800-656-4673|
Entry & Exit Formalities
US Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov) allows a person to bring into the US up to 200 cigarettes duty-free, and each person over the age of 21 years to bring in 1L of liquor. Non-US citizens are allowed to enter the USA with $100-worth of gifts from abroad. There are restrictions on bringing fresh fruit and flowers into the country, and there is a strict quarantine on animals. If you are carrying $10,000 or more in US and foreign cash, traveler’s checks, money orders or the like, you need to declare the excess amount. There is no legal restriction on the amount that may be imported, but undeclared sums in excess of $10,000 may be subject to confiscation.
Visas are required for most foreign visitors unless eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Note that nationals of waiver countries who have traveled in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen after March 1, 2011 are no longer eligible for the VWP. In addition, nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria no longer qualify for a waiver.
Apart from most Canadian citizens and those entering under the Visa Waiver Program, a passport with an official visa is required for most visitors to the USA; contact the US embassy or consulate in your home country for more information about specific requirements. Most applicants have to be interviewed before a visa is granted and all applicants must pay a fee. You’ll also have to prove you’re not trying to stay in the USA permanently. The US Department of State has useful and up-to-date visa information online at http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/visit.html.
If you’re staying for 90 days or less you may qualify for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP); citizens of roughly three-dozen countries are eligible.
New Orleanians tend to be a casual bunch, but good manners go a long way here, as is the case in much of the rest of the American South.
- Greetings It's bad form to just dive into the business at hand in New Orleans. Greet someone, ask how they're doing, and expect an honest answer in return; this city has a good attitude, but it also has an honest one.
- Conversation In a similar vein: New Orleanians like to chat. Be it small talk or rambling on a topic at hand, the citizens of this city are not, on balance, a reserved people. Don't be surprised if you hear a few uncomfortably long anecdotes or life stories within minutes of meeting someone.
Hurricane Katrina irrevocably changed New Orleans, and discussions about it can be charged. If you deem it a natural disaster, realize that many people here consider it (with some justification) more of a failure of human-made institutions. Some New Orleanians didn't even live here during the storm; some did and want to forget about it; and some will open their hearts to you. Judge your conversation carefully.
Louisiana is a culturally conservative state, but its largest city bucks that trend. New Orleans has always had a reputation for tolerance and it remains one of the oldest gay-friendly cities in the Western hemisphere, marketing itself as the 'Gay Capital of the South.' Neighborhoods such as the French Quarter and Marigny are major destinations on the LGBT travel circuit.
New Orleans is a pretty integrated city. Except for the lower part of Bourbon St, few areas or businesses feel exclusively gay. Rather, the queer vibe in the city seems to be strongest during major festivals such as the Gay Easter Parade and Southern Decadence.
New Orleans has always had a reputation as a city for outcasts, which for much of history has included the gay and lesbian population. Even today, in conservative states such as Alabama and Mississippi, gay and lesbian youth feel the pull of the Big Easy, where acceptance of their sexuality isn't hard to find.
Artists such as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Lyle Saxon, among many others, found acceptance and purpose here; Williams went so far as to dub New Orleans his ‘spiritual home.’ Gay Civil Rights battles were fought in New Orleans by groups such as the Gertrude Stein Society. In 1997 Mayor Marc Morial extended domestic-partner benefits to gay and lesbian couples who were city employees; in the same year, Louisiana became the first state in the Deep South to pass hate crimes legislation that covered sexual orientation. One year later, New Orleans pushed new boundaries by being one of the first American cities to list gender identity as protected from discrimination.
- French Quarter The Lower Quarter, from St Philips St to Esplande Ave, is a lively gay party.
- Faubourg Marigny and Bywater Quieter gay scene largely made up of established couples.
- Uptown and Riverbend An out student scene concentrated near Tulane and Loyola.
- Garden, Lower Garden and Central City While there are few dedicated LGBT hangouts, all of Magazine St is gay friendly.
- CBD and Warehouse District A mix of professional and artsy LGBT folks hang out at hotels like the Ace and Catahoula.
Need To Know
Gay Bars Never Close
OK, that’s not entirely true, but it’s safe to say that if you want a 24-hour party, the gay bars on Bourbon St (especially Bourbon Pub) are the place to be. Even the bars that aren’t technically open 24 hours are often still kicking around 5am, so it’s not like they attract the shrinking-violet crowd.
Best Gay Online Resources
Check out these websites for information on queer travel in New Orleans:
Gay New Orleans Online (www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/lgbt) Probably the most comprehensive collection of queer listings online.
Gay Cities (http://neworleans.gaycities.com) Listings, user reviews and LGBT-related content.
Ambush Magazine (www.ambushmag.com) Local take on queer news and issues.
Purple Roofs (www.purpleroofs.com/usa/louisiana.html) Reliable gay-travel resource.
For Gay & Lesbian Travellers
- Faubourg Marigny Book Store This bookstore is also a cornerstone of the gay community.
- Country Club Clothing-optional heated pool? Sounds good.
- Café Lafitte in Exile Oldest gay bar in the South.
- Southern Decadence One of the craziest parties in town.
- Bourbon Pub & Parade It’s 24-hour madness on Bourbon St.
Gay & Lesbian Bars
- Country Club Good drinks and food, and a pool in a tropical courtyard.
- Bourbon Pub & Parade A big, over-the-top gay bar that anchors the Quarter's LGBT scene.
- AllWays Lounge Frequently puts on cabaret and drag shows.
- Big Daddy’s Bar Laid-back 'gayborhood' bar with a down-to-earth vibe.
- Café Lafitte in Exile Six decades running and going strong; this is a bedrock of the Quarter gay scene.
Gay Dance Floors
- Southern Decadence The biggest GLBT event in New Orleans is always a party for the record books.
- Gay Easter Parade Bunny costumes, tea parties, dainty dresses and lots of fun.
- Mardi Gras Carnival's enormous arts and DIY scene features a strong GLBT presence.
- Halloween Many of the city's best costuming and masking events have overlap with the gay community.
- Gay Pride New Orleans Catch the parade and the spectacle, but note this event is decently family friendly.
- Green House Inn Adults-only accommodations close to a glut of fine bars and restaurants.
- Lamothe House Gay-friendly accommodations on the attractive end of Esplanade Ave.
- Lions Inn B&B Located in the cozy center of the Marigny; a locus for the gay community.
- W French Quarter Hip decor, fantastic on-site eating and the nightlife of the Quarter at your fingertips.
Foreign travelers may want to purchase health insurance before visiting the USA, as the cost of healthcare can be prohibitive (a single hospital visit can run to thousands of dollars). Other forms of insurance can cover the cost of changing tickets in the event of unforeseen developments during your trip.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Many hotels offer wi-fi and cable internet access. Wi-fi is available in almost every coffee shop in town, and all branches of the New Orleans Public Library (www.neworleanspubliclibrary.org).
Although it may seem that anything goes, New Orleans has its limits. Common tourist-related offenses include underage drinking, drinking outdoors from a bottle rather than from a plastic go cup, teen curfew violations and (most commonly) flaunting of private parts.
For people aged 21 years or more, the legal blood-alcohol limit for driving in Louisiana is 0.08%, however you can be cited for driving while impaired even when your blood-alcohol content is lower. For those under 21, the legal limit is 0.02%.
The legal drinking age is 21. Curfew laws are strict – if you are under 17, you cannot drive from 11pm to 5am unless accompanied by a licensed parent, guardian or adult who is at least 21.
Most bars will offer your drink in a plastic cup, so accept it if you’re going to wander off with your drink. Bourbon St flashers rarely get in serious trouble for flashing their private parts, but repeatedly doing so in front of the cops is asking for trouble. Don’t grope flashers. That’s a no-no and, we hope, rather obvious.
The legal age for gambling is 21 and businesses with gaming devices (usually video poker machines) out in the open are closed to minors. Even cafes with gaming devices are off-limits to minors, unless the games are contained within private rooms or booths.
Traffic cameras are becoming increasingly commonplace in New Orleans, especially around schools. If they catch you speeding, you’ll be sent a letter with a fine. The city is ruthlessly persistent about this enforcement.
During big tourism events like Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras, the city’s parking enforcement officers get pretty aggressive. At most times of year, parking too close to a stop sign or intersection might get you a fine or warning; during season in New Orleans, your car is likely to get towed.
Gambit (www.bestofneworleans.com) Weekly publication that covers arts, culture and music.
The Times-Picayune (www.nola.com) Broadsheet news and arts coverage three times a week.
The Advocate (www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans) More broadsheet news and culture writing.
New Orleans Magazine (www.myneworleans.com/new-orleans-magazine) Monthly focus on city society.
The Lens (http://thelensnola.org) Investigative journalism and culture coverage; online only.
88.3 WRBH Reading radio for the blind.
89.9 WWNO NPR (National Public Radio).
90.7 WWOZ Louisiana music and community radio.
91.5 WTUL Tulane radio.
93.3 WQUE Hip-hop and R&B.
96.3 Classic hip-hop and R&B.
102.3 WHIV Music and community radio with an activist bent.
ATMs are widely available.
With a Visa card, MasterCard or a bank card affiliated with the Plus or Cirrus networks, you can easily obtain cash from ATMs all over New Orleans.
Most major currencies are easily exchanged in New Orleans at major banks. You will also find various independent exchange bureaus. Places that cash traveler's checks are becoming rarer.
Credit & Debit Cards
Major credit cards are widely accepted by car-rental agencies and most hotels, restaurants, gas stations, shops and larger grocery stores. Many smaller restaurants and bars accept cash only. Many recreational and tourist activities can also be paid for by credit card. The most commonly accepted cards are Visa, MasterCard and American Express.
ATMs and debit cards have nearly rendered traveler’s checks obsolete, and younger waitstaff and shop clerks might be unsure how to react to them. If you want to use traveler's checks, talk with your bank to see if there are participating institutions in New Orleans that will cash them.
- Hotels A dollar or two per bag carried to your room.
- Restaurants Not optional! Standard 18% for good service, 20% for exceptional service.
- Cafes A tip jar is often left out by the register, but tipping isn't expected.
- Music It's good manners to kick in a few bucks when the band passes around a bucket or hat.
- Bars A good rule of thumb is to leave a dollar every time you order – more, if it's a complicated drink or large round.
- Taxi Tip 10% or round up the fare.
New Orleans maintains business hours similar to much of the rest of the USA, except when it comes to bars.
Banks 9am to 5pm Monday to Thursday, 10am to 5:30pm Friday. Some branches are open 9am to noon Saturday.
Bars Usually 5pm until around 2am on weekdays and 3am or 4am on weekends. Many bars stay open indefinitely, but on the flip side, they'll often close if business is slow.
Post offices 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday and 8:30am to noon Saturday.
Restaurants 10am or 11am to 11pm (sometimes with a break from 2pm to 5pm); usually closed Sunday and/or Monday.
Stores 10am to 7pm or 8pm.
New Orleans’ main post office is near City Hall at 701 Loyola Ave. There are smaller branches throughout the city, including in the CBD at Lafayette Sq (9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday) and Uptown Station at 2000 Louisiana Ave (8am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday and 8am to noon Saturday).
There are lots of independent postal shops as well, such as Fedex and the French Quarter Postal Emporium. These shops will send letters and packages at the same rates as the post office.
Postal rates have a tendency to increase frequently, but at the time of writing the rates were 49¢ for 1st-class mail within the USA and 34¢ for postcards.
It costs $1.15 to send a postcard or 1oz letter internationally.
The US Postal Service (www.usps.com) also offers a Priority Mail service, which delivers your letter or package to anywhere in the USA in three days or less. The price is begins at $6.70 for mailing an envelope.
If you don’t want to receive mail at your hotel, you can have mail sent to you at the main post office, marked c/o General Delivery, New Orleans, LA 70112. General Delivery is US terminology for what is known as poste restante internationally. General Delivery mail is only held for 30 days. It’s not advisable to try to have mail sent to other post offices in New Orleans.
If you have the correct postage, you can drop mail weighing less than 13oz into any blue mailbox. To send packages 13oz and more, you must take them to a post office or postal shop.
Note that when national holidays fall on a weekend, they are often celebrated on the nearest Friday or Monday so that everyone enjoys a three-day weekend. The following are all national holidays:
New Year’s Day January 1
Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January
Presidents’ Day Third Monday in February
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
Independence Day July 4
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Veterans' Day November 11
Thanksgiving Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
Indoor smoking is banned in New Orleans bars, but is still permitted in most outdoor gathering areas, including patios, courtyards and balconies.
Taxes & Refunds
New Orleans’ 10% sales tax is tacked onto virtually everything, including meals, groceries and car rentals. For accommodations, room and occupancy taxes, add an additional 13% to your bill plus $1 to $3 per person, depending on the size of the hotel.
For foreign visitors, some merchants in Louisiana participate in a program called Louisiana Tax Free Shopping (www.louisianataxfree.com). Look for the snazzy red-and-blue ‘Tax Free’ logo in the window or on the sign of the store. Usually these stores specialize in the kinds of impulse purchases people are likely to make while on vacation. In these stores, present a passport to verify you are not a US citizen, and request a voucher as you make your purchase. Reimbursement centers are located in the Downtown Refund Center and the Airport Refund Center in the main ticket lobby in Terminal C at the airport.
The area code in New Orleans is 504. In Thibodaux and Houma it's 985; Baton Rouge and surrounds 225; and Shreveport and the northern part of the state 318.
When dialing a number with a different area code from your own, you must dial 1 before the area code. For example, to call a Baton Rouge number from New Orleans, begin by dialing 1-225. Note that hotel telephones often have heavy surcharges.
If you’re calling from abroad, the international country code for the USA (and Canada) is 1.
To make an international call from New Orleans, dial 011 + country code + area code (dropping the leading 0) + number. For calls to Canada, there’s no need to dial the international access code 011. For international operator assistance, dial 00.
Local SIM cards can be used in European and Australian phones. Other phones must be set to roaming.
The USA uses a variety of cell (mobile) phone systems, only one of which is compatible with systems used outside North America: the Global System for Mobile telephones (GSM), which is becoming more commonly available worldwide. Check with your local provider to determine whether your phone will work in New Orleans and if roaming charges will apply.
Phonecards are readily sold at newsstands and pharmacies. They save you the trouble of feeding coins into pay phones, and are often more economical as well.
Toll-free numbers start with 1-800 or 1-888 and allow you to call free within the USA. These numbers are commonly offered by car-rental operators, large hotels and the like. (Note our listings omit the ‘1,’ eg 800-000-0000.) Dial 411 for local directory assistance, or 1 + area code + 555-1212 for long-distance directory information; dial 1-800-555-1212 for toll-free number information. Dial 0 for the operator.
New Orleans Standard Time is six hours behind GMT/UTC. In US terms, that puts it one hour behind the East Coast and two hours ahead of the West Coast. In early March, clocks move ahead one hour for Daylight Saving Time; clocks move back one hour in early November.
A recording by Benny Grunch, ‘Ain’t No Place to Pee on Mardi Gras Day,’ summarizes the situation in the French Quarter. While tour guides delight in describing the unsanitary waste-disposal practices of the old Creole days, the stench arising from back alleys is actually more recent in origin.
Public rest rooms can be found in the Jackson Brewery mall and in the French Market. Larger hotels often have accessible rest rooms off the lobby, usually near the elevators and pay phones.
Right next to popular Jackson Sq in the heart of the French Quarter, the New Orleans Welcome Center in the lower Pontalba Building offers maps, listings of upcoming events and a variety of brochures for sights, restaurants and hotels. The helpful staff can help you find accommodations in a pinch, answer questions and offer advice about New Orleans.
Information kiosks scattered through main tourist areas offer most of the same brochures as the Welcome Center, but their staff tend to be less knowledgeable.
Order or download a Louisiana-wide travel guide online from the Louisiana Office of Tourism (www.louisianatravel.com).
In the Tremé, you can pick up a New Orleans map and look at displays about city attractions at the Basin St Visitors Center inside Basin St Station.
Otherwise, New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau has plenty of free maps and helpful information.
Travellers with Disabilities
New Orleans is somewhat lax in this department. Sidewalk curbs rarely have ramps, and many historic public buildings and hotels are not equipped to meet the needs of wheelchair-users. Modern hotels adhere to standards established by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by providing ramps, elevators and accessible bathrooms.
Red streetcars on the Canal St, Rampart Riverfront and Loyola–UPT Streetcar lines are accessible to riders with disabilities. The green streetcars that run along St Charles Ave are protected from changes by the National Register of Historic Places and have not been made accessible (www.norta.com/Accessibility.aspx). Regional Transit Authority buses offer a lift service; for information about paratransit service (alternative transportation for those who can’t ride regular buses), call RTA Paratransit.
Travel with Children
New Orleans is a fairy-tale city, with its colorful beads, weekly costume parties and daily music wafting through the air. The same flights of fancy and whimsy that give this city such appeal for poets and artists also make it an imaginative wonderland for children, especially creative ones.
Need to Know
When traveling with kids in New Orleans, it helps to be aware of a few lessons.
- Pack From April until October it can be oppressively hot and humid. Bring cool, airy clothes and, if you have young ones susceptible to rashes, pack Gold Bond powder or topical creams. Whenever you head outside, take liquid for hydration.
- Stroller stress New Orleans' ill-maintained sidewalks are often horrible for strollers – you'll want to bring one that is both maneuverable and durable.
- High chairs Most restaurants have high chairs and booster seats and are happy to accommodate kids. Call ahead to make sure, as some places with liquor licenses cannot have patrons under 21.
Best Animal Encounters
- Exploring the Audubon Zoo
There’s wildlife from around the world in this attractive zoo, but the main attraction is the excellent showcasing of local critters in the form of the Louisiana Swamp. Out in this cleverly landscaped wetland, your kids will get a chance to mug next to a genuine albino alligator, as pretty as freshly fallen snow in a bayou.
- Undersea Adventures at Aquarium of the Americas
Dip a toe into the waters of marine biology at this excellent aquarium, where the aquatic habitats range from the Mississippi Delta to the Amazon River Basin. Kids and adults will marvel at rainbow clouds of tropical fish, and guess what? There’s a white alligator – ‘Spots’ – living here, too.
- Bug Out in the Insectarium
You’ve got to love a museum dedicated to New Orleans’ insects, where one display focuses on cockroaches, and another is sponsored by the pest-control business. Yet this isn’t a museum that focuses on the ‘ick’ factor. Rather, you’ll get a sense of the beauty and diversity of the entomological world, from gem-colored-beetle displays to the serenity of the Butterfly Garden.
- Wander Through City Park
The largest green space in New Orleans is undoubtedly also its most attractive. City Park has plenty of big trees for shade, lazy waterways filled with fish (and sometimes small alligators!), a model train diagram of the city built entirely of biological materials, and a wonderful carousel and sculpture garden that will be of interest to older kids. Plus Storyland – a nostalgic minipark with more than two-dozen storybook scenes reproduced on a life-size scale.
- Barataria Preserve
This green gem in the national-park crown is located just south of the city. Toddlers to teenagers will enjoy walking along the flat boardwalk, which traverses the gamut of Louisiana wetlands, from bayous to marsh prairie.
- Let’s Go Ride a Bike
Cycling in New Orleans is pretty easy for fit kids. Younger ones can be taken on short rides through the French Quarter or the Garden District. Older kids should be able to swing bike tours like the ones offered by Confederacy of Cruisers, which take in the city’s older Creole neighborhoods on big, tough, comfortable cruiser-style bicycles. Avoid riding through the traffic-congested CBD.
- Crescent Park
Need to run off some energy? Might as well do it with a front-row view of the greatest river in North America. The Crescent Park runs through the Marigny and Bywater, and follows the bend – or crescent – of the Mississippi. Watch ships ply their way up and down the mother of waters, and grab a picnic lunch from Pizza Delicious while you're out here.
- Jackson Square & the River
Jackson Sq is essentially a constant carnival. Any time of day you may encounter street artists, fortune-tellers, buskers, brass bands and similar folks all engaged in producing the sensory overload New Orleans is famous for (and kids go crazy over). The square is framed by a fairytale cathedral and two excellent museums, and nearby are steps leading up to the Mississippi River, where long barges evoke Huckleberry Finn and the Mississippi of Mark Twain. Drop by Café du Monde for some powdered-sugar treats.
History & Culture for Kids
- Under the City’s Skin
The Louisiana Children’s Museum is a good intro to the region for toddlers, while older children and teenagers may appreciate the Ogden Museum, Cabildo and Presbytère. Little ones often take a shine to the candy-colored houses in the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny and Uptown. The Latter Library on St Charles Ave has a good selection of children’s literature and is located in a pretty historical mansion. The city’s cemeteries, especially Lafayette Cemetery No 1 in the Garden District, are authentic slices of the past and enjoyably spooky to boot.
- Festival Fun
The many street parties and outdoor festivals of New Orleans bring food stalls and, of course, great music. Children will love dancing to the beat. Seek out festivals held during the day, such as Bayou Boogaloo (www.thebayouboogaloo.com).
- Mardi Gras for Families
Mardi Gras and the Carnival Season are surprisingly family-friendly affairs outside of the well-known boozy debauch in the French Quarter. St Charles Ave hosts many day parades where lots of krewes roll and families set up grilling posts and tents – drinking revelers aren’t welcome. Kids are set up on ‘ladder seats’ (www.momsminivan.com/extras/ladderseat.html) so they can get an adult-height view of the proceedings and catch throws from the floats. The crazy costumes add to the child-friendly feel of the whole affair. See www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/mardigras/mgfamilies.html.
Drunk men in the French Quarter and along parade routes often catcall or make lewd comments to passing women. This occurs on any Friday or Saturday night, not just during Mardi Gras.
The New Orleans branch of Planned Parenthood (www.plannedparenthood.org/health-center/louisiana/new-orleans) provides health-care services for women, including walk-in pregnancy testing and emergency contraception.
Literally hundreds of volunteer organizations descended upon New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Some did fantastic work; some acted with arrogance and left a sour taste. Almost everyone agrees that Common Ground Relief is one of the better organizations in New Orleans – it works with locals, is committed to best practices and has a good track record in town.