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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18 Comments

  • Joan Drummond said

    Thanks for your advice about crime and safety in New Orleans. The important thing that people forget when on vacation is that crime occurs in all cities, so they need to be on guard. When you are drunk and walking around uncrowded areas with your cell phone out and not paying attention to your surroundings, you are setting yourself up to be a victim. This happens all the time here. With the increase in AirBnB and other shared home companies, it's important to make sure you are staying in a safe neighborhood. It's better to stay at a hotel or regular bed and breakfast where it's safer and people can tell you which areas to avoid. Also, locals do not look favorably on visitors who stay in private homes because it is destroying neighborhoods and running up housing prices.

  • Gale Evans said

    No, New Orleans is not a "cash society". Every major credit card and debit cards are taken everywhere.

    I have attended 8 Mardi Gras and ridden in parades and have never seen or heard of anyone slipping on beads.

    Just use your common sense, be aware that neighborhoods in NOLA change character very quickly from street to street, and use Uber or a cab when in doubt of walking safety.

  • From a Resident said

    Yes, New Orleans is dangerous, but I say this & I say this sincerely, everyone who lives here that "I" have EVER spoken to wouldn't live anywhere else. We love our city & believe it or not, it's WELL worth the risk!
    I've been in dangerous cities in Europe, alone traveling in countries where I didn't speak the language nor know anyone. Maybe the citizens here are just gutsy like me. Maybe they know, as my daddy taught me, "You can only die once. Don't live your life afraid."
    Do your research of safe places to visit, come see us & you'll have a great time. Experience our Southern Hospitality & laid back, unhurried culture. I wouldn't leave for anything.
    As they say, "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?"
    If you don't, you should.
    Y'all come see us! It's a happy, vacation, place for all types of celebrations so there will be PLENTY of people having the time of their lives---& no, everyone won't be drunk.
    You keep coming back, I promise.

  • NOLA is safe! Dont worry!! said

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

  • Pay Attention Anywhere You Roam. said

    Unfortunately for the victim, he or she went where they would not have gone from whence they came.
    Too often, the person that gets hurt is "not from here". For instance, New Orleanians are taught from childhood NOT to feed or pet the squirrels. So when you read about a tourist getting bitten by this wild animal, they usually have a foreign sounding name. Likewise, the little locals are usually taught not to go into unfamiliar neighborhoods alone, nor without a good reason. Listen to your elders and when you are old enough to travel afar, don't do anything you wouldn't do at home.

  • 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.

  • WorldTraveler said

    TLDR;
    I advise ( if you’re Asian and more on the geeky / nerdy side to be with a group in NOLA ). Feels like I’m being sized up everywhere I go here even when minding my own business and I grew up in bad neighborhoods. No ding against locals, some are friendly, but just saying what it feels like when I’m here and I just came back from a trip to North Vietnam where I was expecting to be ripped off.

    The long version:
    First off I’m Asian around 5’8 160lbs and fit ( do cross fit ) but still smaller guy compared to others and travelled to quite a few places around the world and I have to say that I was excited at first to check out NOLA while scheduled to stay 7 days; coming for a conference “.

    The first day I stayed at Westbank and walked around to a Waffle House and dollar General to explore and while feeling a bit of an outsider (being the only Asian around) I experienced plenty of hospitality and friendliness from people I encountered although I felt a few stares I just kind of brushed it off as It’s not exactly odd when traveling ( although I had only expected that from foreign countries not in native US ). I even helped a nice African American lady who worked there. At the time I thought , “cool pretty safe place.”

    Then the next day I moved over to stay in the French Quarters and I decided go out and explore and I experienced a totally different attitude. I walked towards the Walgreens ( tourist area ) and just minding my own business dressed in shorts and short sleeves and I get odd comments and what appears to be derogatory comments from a group of African Americans guys I walked past and I brushed that off ignoring them, got my drinks at Walgreens and returned to my hotel. Okay that felt unwelcoming and I didn’t see them say anything to the plenty of Euro tourists or other Caucasians walking by, but whatever I brush it off as an odd occurrence.

    Then later that evening around 6pm I decided I would like to pick up a po boy, but took a detour to check out the Mississippi River first, so I walk by the Harrah’s Casino I assume the person in the other comment was talking about with her son being kidnapped. I didn’t see anything threatening and I didn’t go inside as I don’t gamble, so I walk past the casino to the bay and towards the po boys sandwich place. I get inside and shucks they ran out of bread, but the cashier told me to check out the other place 2.5 blocks away tucked inside a bar. Alright so I walk there and on the way there ( another tourist area with jazz and bars ), minding my own business, I just casually notice two African Americans were sitting down chilling kinda looking at me as I approached I didn’t think anything of it and I walk past them. Meanwhile, on the same sidewalk a family of another group of African Americans walk by to my left and I continue , but one of the younger gentlemen , while walking past me , felt the need to tell me, “don’t fear us, we’re just black folks just like anybody. You don’t need to fear us.” Not in a friendly tone but kind of more a provoking way. I’m like , “What? Which part of my walking normally towards my destination did I provoke such a response? .” In my head , I turned my head to make sure I knew he was talking to me and I just brushed it off and kept walking and just ignored him. I picked up my po boy at the bar then started returning to my hotel. On the way back to my hotel, I am on the other side of the street and I walk by the same two guys chilling and they shout across the street “Konichiwa” and the odd thing is some Caucasian guy ( tourist ) walks by and throws up his hand as he walks by thinking they were just greeting him , but being the only Asian person in the entire street at the time ( and I looked over and saw them looking in my direction as I heard the greeting ) I thought , “wait were they talking me???” I’m not even Japanese. Ugh.

    Never felt so unwelcomed and overtly racially ostricized in my recent traveling experience - just felt unexpected and somewhat indirectly threatening. And I don’t mean to pay any special attention to AA vs Whites/Causacians but no Cauasian has overtly done this to me in NOLA. Maybe me being solo made me more of a target, who knows. I advise ( if you’re Asian and more on the geeky / nerdy side to be with a group in NOLA ). Feels like I’m being sized up everywhere I go here even when minding my own business and I grew up in bad neighborhoods where I used to experience this unpleasantness daily so I recognize it. No knock against NOLA by any means , but be careful the experience is different for different people no matter how friendly or casual you try to be.

  • Kevster10 said

    Hi - we've just returned from a great vacation in New Orleans - I've written this article on Wordpress, which hopefully gives some sound advice https://neworleanstouristsafety.wordpress.com/

  • 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

  • Clemson86 said

    Lived in NO as a kid and have been back several times variously with my wife, kids and friends. I've stayed in nice hotels in the heart of the Quarter, a B&B on the fringes near Armstrong Park (Gentry House which was awesome), a B&B in the Garden district and an AirBNB on Bayou St. John near Parkway Tavern and Pal's Lounge (one of the best dive bars in the city). You see some crazy stuff but I've never felt the least bit threatened. Last time, I watched a guy at 9 a.m. on a Saturday pull a broom handle out of his coat and try to hit a cashier at a convenience store in the Quarter. Cashier grabs a samurai sword from behind the counter and backs the guy out of the store. Undercover cop sees the whole thing and arrests broom handle guy. As we're watching the aftermath from the sidewalk, a guy rolls by being pushed in a wheelchair. Tells the guy pushing him, "I can't even go in there no more." Guy pushing him says, "How come?" Wheelchair guy nonchalantly responds, "I tried to burn it down." Welcome to New Orleans. Enjoy the rest of your day. P.S. Neauxla, well played and it makes more sense than that Taken scenario.

  • Jane said

    I live an hour south of Nola and have been lucky thus. Been there during a shooting on bourbon but luckily it happened right after we left. I would suggest to take minimum cash needed, leave the rest in hotel safe etc., only bring 1 card, only go out at night in a group, anyone alone is setting themselves up. It is definitely worth the risk, there is no other place like NOLA! Also, i will admit i have slipped on many many beads! Tripped over some, been hit in the head so hard i was knocked to the ground by a float throwing beads, it’s part of Mardi Gras! WHen ur drunk you don’t feel none of that! :) I tried one parade sober and that’ll never happen again! AnywYs, I had to laugh at Neauxlas theory, pretty spot on! but sorry to the mom who’s son it was. Its very possible it really did happen, it is Nola and there’s always new plots to take advantage of tourist. so your son was alone and at a poker table, which means he had to take cash out of his wallet to hand the dealer, so I’m sure they were watching for a victim, saw he was alone and had a lot of cash on him. Easy target. It’s all about watching your surroundings. Oh and if u are robbed at gunpoint (or as I just saw on the news tonight by machete) please give up your wallet/ purse quickly! A couple tried running from machete man in the quarter and he got sliced a few times, finally gave up his wallet and attacker immediately ran off after! (All on video) Scary! So just follow all the suggestions everyone’s given and just be safe!! Oh don’t take side streets that are dark or secluded either and Watch your drinks don’t leave em unattended as I’m sure they still do that on bourbon. (Slipping stuff in drinks so they can rob u wen ur all looped up) just be cautious! Have fun!
    Oh and I must say I didn’t know not to feed the squirrels as I try every time Im near Jackson square! Pigeons too! Glad to know I must look like a tourist when I’m there! I feed the gators when we go fishing here too I just can’t help myself when I see an animal! ????

  • 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?

  • Marbles said

    I just read a comment of this "WorldTraveller" from 2 years ago saying that he was
    "unwelcomed". You call your self a "World Traveller" without researching about a place's culture? You were "minding your own business" but you didn't know that New Orleans has this thing about greeting people anywhere, everywhere. Not greeting people passing by is weirder. That's why you got those looks and it's not because you're Asian. They said "Konnichiwa" because as usual, from the Western countries, they can't tell Asians apart. I think you were just being sensitive and hypervigilant, but you can't blame the city for feeling left out and not feeling the hospitality if you can't even open your self to it.

  • Gina Jay said

    Gamblers gotta gamble. Most of the time they are ripping themselves off! TV shows play this obvious scenario pretty often, but the guy gets way more than VD.

  • Shoestring Time Traveler said

    I live in NOLA...I'm from Chicago, I've lived in TX and MN, I've lived in China, and I've traveled to many "less developed" countries with my Swiss wife, who aside from living in Switzerland and the USA, lived in Israel. Yes, NOLA has crime...but so does most larger cities throughout the world. While, you should always be vigilant when traveling, even within your own city, very few places are so bad you should simply avoid them. If you're not dumb and you are aware of your surroundings and not acting like an out of place tourist... you'll do just fine in NOLA. As far as being Asian, there is a HUGE Vietnamese population and culture down here...I highly doubt a local gave a crap you were Asian.

  • Shoestring Time Traveler said

    And one more thing: I'm sorry, some.of these responses tell me, many of you are not World Travelers or World Nomads... advice to those if you that NOLA scared you or whatever the issue was... continue taking your group tours and all inclusive vacations! 😂

  • Chelsie said

    Never saw so many strange individuals in my life everyone I came into contact with was so weird and was all on some either scamming or kidnapping stuff🤦🏽‍♀️My experience was terrible and I don’t plan on ever returning if you’re not from there just go stay out a few hours and get in doors where it’s safe and this back roads don’t listen to nobody theirs n telling where you’ll end up especially being a female I was scared for my life

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