Is New Orleans Safe? 4 Travel Safety Tips

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Along with letting the good times roll, New Orleans has a reputation for being dangerous. Local Joe Furey explains the realities of crime in the Big Easy and shares his tips on staying safe during Mardi Gras.

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Photo © Brian Rapsey

Mardi Gras will soon be upon us in New Orleans. COVID-19 put a stop to last year’s, something that even Hurricane Katrina couldn’t do, but “the greatest free show on earth” returns on 1 March 2022.

We’re undaunted. Not only have we been throwing this party – in more or less its current form – for 165 years, but we’ve been up to our ears in festivities for more than a month: although the date of Mardi Gras Day changes each year because it is tied to Easter, carnival season, of which it is the grand finale, starts on the same date each year, January 6 (aka Twelfth Night, aka Epiphany).

As Mardi Gras is really just everyday New Orleans writ large (okay, not just “large”, but in mile-high neon letters), it strikes me that now might be a sensible time to go over the measures you can take to improve your chances of having the best – that is, safest – time there possible.

Unlike New York and Chicago, the Crescent City genuinely never sleeps and there’s really no low season, thus the dangers posed by Mardi Gras are present to some degree all year long. Take just a little care, however, and they need not affect you.

As far as immediate safety concerns go, the city announced COVID-19 protocols for Mardi Gras this month, which require, at a minimum, all parade participants (including marchers, performers, and float-riders) to present proof of vaccination or a negative test within the previous 72 hours.

Crime and scams in New Orleans

According to figures published last year by Statista, New Orleans is currently America’s ninth most violent city. I’m not going to play that down. I’ve been carjacked, shot at, and held up, but I live in Hollygrove, Lil Wayne’s old hood, and that is assuredly not tourist territory. Serious crime of the kind I’ve experienced is, generally, highly localized, and I’d put it under the heading “turf war crossfire”.

Crime in those districts where hospitality is king (the French Quarter, the Central Business District, Faubourg Maringy, and Freret, where visitors routinely lose control of their faculties) and in the neighborhoods close by (Bywater, the Garden Districts, Treme, and Uptown, where they can be found fumbling with keys to their Airbnbs) tends to be opportunistic. These are mostly crowded areas, even late at night, so just make sure you don’t present an easy target – a thief will only strike if they believe they can boost your wallet, phone, or key quickly. It’s a muggers’ market – prospective victims are ten a penny.

The Quarter is known for its scammers. For the most part, they are color artists, part of the city’s frayed fabric, trying the same old ruses on the same old rubes, and if you decline to play along you won’t upset anyone. But don’t take short cuts across empty lots or down alleyways, as you’ll find a different class of “artist” there, and you’d be advised to do what they ask.

In such cases, you’ll wish that you had given some thought as to the distribution of your cash and credit/debit cards between your room, your wallet, and your person. I keep a dead card and just enough money (USD $50) in my wallet to make stealing it look like a result and a reason to run. And I keep an active card in a plastic folder in my shoe, or a covert money belt.

Phones are much harder to protect. Thieves sweep bar surfaces out of habit – so if you’re out in company, and likely to be intoxicated at some point, think about keeping yours safely tucked away at your lodging or on your person: drunk photos are rarely works of art, after all. In the Quarter, you’ll be asked for proof of ID – foreigners should take a photocopy of their passport.

Best neighborhoods to base yourself

Preparing for the worst is no way to have a good time, though. Preparing for the best is. Which starts with a base – a place where you can get away from it all if you need to and get into something else should you want. I can recommend a neighborhood northwest of the Quarter bordered by Esplanade and Tulane Avenues, and Broad and Carrolton Streets: Mid-City. It has City Park, an arthouse cinema, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Fairgrounds racetrack (where Jazz Fest will be held over two weekends in 2022, April 29 to 1 May and 5 to 8 May), plenty of well-regarded bars and restaurants, and is safely walkable till quite late, with very few opportunities to make wrong turns.

East of the Quarter, the latter half of Bywater (from Franklin to Poland Avenue, between Chartres and North Rampart Streets) warrants more than a mention. A hipster’s paradise on one hand, a genuine survivor of old New Orleans on the other, it has more in the way of shotgun architecture, street art, good coffee, antiques stores, and creatives’ spaces than you can shake a stick at, and it has Crescent Park, with its peerless views of the cityscape and the Mississippi, too.

Safety during Mardi Gras

The carnival season really gets going from 18 February in 2022, with parades in the Quarter, Mid-City, and Uptown happening every day but one. Parade routes have been shortened or altered so they can be adequately policed (the New Orleans Police Department recently said it is 500 officers short), but last week’s Krewe of Chewbacchus parade was marred by a series of vehicle break-ins at its main parking lot. Fancy dress, which is widely worn during Mardi Gras, gives criminals the opportunity to hide in plain sight, and can make them bolder.

 While watching the parades, where there are no barricades, don’t be tempted to wander. In 2020, two people were killed after being run over by a tandem float.

Getting Around New Orleans

For an American city, New Orleans is European-compact and walkable in those areas where it is safe to do so. Laid out for the most part in a grid system, it’s also easily navigable. As for trains and buses, Amtrak and Greyhound occupy the same station, a 15-minute stroll from the Quarter and CBD, and you’ll find taxis idling outside.

From Louis Armstrong airport, you can get a taxi (I usually offer to share one with one or two people), book an Uber or use the Flymsy shuttle service if you’re in no hurry and don’t have a lot of luggage. Ubers are plentiful, but taxis are considerably cheaper at times of peak demand (read: all carnival season).

For those with a soul, a short hop on a classic streetcar – there are four lines, all originating downtown – is about as essential as public transport gets. And there’s a bike-share scheme if you want to take advantage of the city’s 100mi (160km) of bike lanes and greenways.

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5 Comments

  • NOLA is safe! Dont worry!! said

    City is way safe! The Garden District is cleaner and nicer than most higher ranked cities.

  • My advice avoid New Orleans said

    I’ve been to New Orleans 3 times, and every time I’ve gone something always happens. 1st, been around a large crowd, me and my husband noticed that we are being fallowed. Probably planning on robbing us. We were not wearing fancy cloths, expensive jewelry, or any other expensive stuff. We let them know that we were aware that we are being fallowed. 2nd time we visited New Orleans, we went into a bar where they were playing live music. There were 4 off us, my husband notice that there were 3 guys watching us. We recognized that one of the guys we saw out side early. My son ran into him cause it was real crowded. The guy didn’t like it, so he fallowed us into the bar with his 2 other friends. They were all wherein jackets with hoods. We notice that they were not next to each other. They had separated and at the same time they put on their hoods. It meant some kind of a attack was going to happened. Lucky my husband spotted this and reported it to one of the guards by the door. They were getting ready to attack my son. Well, we left right away and went home. 3rd time it happened to my son. Him and his wife went to New Orlean to attend a Event. This happened yesterday, April 27, Saturday, 2018. They stayed at a very expensive hotel, it was paid for, and the hotel was surrounded by a outside mall. But the stores were very expensive store. That night, my son went across the street to gamble. As you can tell he felt safe. He sat at a poker table, talk to a few people that were playing too. He ordered a drink from the waitress. While he was playing, he notice a few girls coming up to him just looking and smiling. He started to feel weird, so he went outside to get some fresh air. Notice that one of the girls came outside and started to talk to him and mentioned I know you from the the poker table. Next thing you now he was hit on the head and dragged into a car. He had been missing for over 8 hours, his wife and friends went out looking for him and he was no where to be found. I got a phone call on Sunday and my daughter in law told me my son has been missing for over 8 hours. I can’t even express the feeling I felt, I went crazy, no not my son, no this can not happen to him. You see this in the movies. All these thoughts came into my head, that is the worse feeling a mother could ever go thru. An hour has pass by and I got another phone call that he has been found. I asked is he dead, is he still alive, and how bad is he hurt. Who ever kidnapped him had dumpped him at a fast food restaurant. He was drugged, kidnapped, beaten, and robbed. They were still using his credit card. Please don’t tell us that it is a safe place, because it is not. Once upon time I’m sure it was a safe place, but all I can read is that there are a lot of poor people. Some of it due to Katrina. I’m sure the waitress put something in his drink and it was a plan set to happened. The police did not help much, if anything they were probably protecting their city. So I’m done with New Orleans. My advice to all off you if you ever visit New Orleans. Be careful of your surroundings, watch everything and don’t trust anyone. If you order a drink, order it at a bar and take it everywhere you go.

  • Neauxla said

    Married guy gambles at Harrah's, sees girl smiling at him, goes outside and meets up with her, disappears for the night, tells family "I was drugged and robbed!".....2 weeks later comes down with mysterious UTI from "robbery"..... LOL

  • Illegal to feed Gators said

    Jane - You should know it is 100% illegal to feed alligators in ANY state where they are. Not only do you look like a tourist, you look like a STUPID tourist. You live an hour south of New Orleans in Louisiana and you don't know any better than to feed alligators? Oh, I forgot, you "just can't help yourself." That's one of the stupidest excuses for breaking a law that endangers other people that I've ever heard. You see, sweetie, when you feed gators, they come to associate humans with food - and alligators WILL attack humans for absolutely no reason at all, especially if they are hungry and are expecting them to have food. You're probably the reason some poor person was attacked by an alligator and you should be ashamed of yourself. STOP THIS.

  • Lovette said

    From Nigeria... Been dreaming and planning a trip to New Orleans! LoL!
    Have there been any scary confrontation with African tourists??
    What's the safest location to logde in New Orleans?
    Can one get a tour guide there?
    Where can one get amazing treats at fair prices?
    Which hotels are good with fair prices?

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