Is New Orleans Safe? 4 Travel Safety Tips

The Big Easy is not known for being a particularly safe city, but what’s the real deal for travelers on the ground? Jesse Chard breaks it down.

Photo © Brian Rapsey

Like most people who are going to a new city or country, I went to the internet to do some research. I won’t quote what I saw verbatim, but needless to say, from the comments and advice I read, if I felt compelled to go to the local bakery to pick up some King Cake, I shouldn’t wear anything less than full body armor, and be armed with several AK-47’s, Machetes and Katana blades if I was to emerge with my sugary treat unscathed.

When I arrived on the ground in New Orleans, the reality was far different. But, I want to level with those people concerned about safety in the big easy.

New Orleans Crime

First thing I want to get out of the way is the crime rate. It’s high. There are a lot of gun-point robberies, and a lot of murders in the largest city of Louisiana. The murder rate in New Orleans has dropped however during 2017, placing it 4th behind Detroit, Baltimore and St Louis. 

Random shootings can and do happen. A short while after I left New Orleans, to come back to Australia, there was a major shoot-out in Bourbon Street that left nine people injured (see some CCTV of the incident here). And Bourbon Street is one of the most visible, highly populated streets in New Orleans. So if this kind of business happens so brazenly in the main thoroughfares, it’s not difficult to imagine what goes on in the back streets.

More recently in November 2016, another shooting took place in Bourbon Street which instigated a US$40 million public safety plan. Rolled out in January 2017, the plan has seen the installation of 50 new CCTV cameras with a further 250 cameras to come. Along with a new real time monitoring center, license plate scanners in police cars and a US$12 million road improvement to Bourbon Street. Since actioning this plan, there has been a notable increase in safety in and around Bourbon Street.

Now, we can understand that this is very, very concerning for people visiting. But should it stop you from visiting? No way.

Essentially speaking, if you get caught in a dangerous criminal situation in New Orleans it will be for two reasons.

  • 1. You are getting robbed by a poor person who simply wants your money or valuables
  • 2. You are caught in the crossfire of a gang dispute due to accidently wandering into an unsafe neighborhood.

We will be honest with you, option number one can and does happen often. There are a lot of poor people in New Orleans, which leads to desperate measures.

This is why it is important to carry few valuables on your person, and don’t make wanton, ostentatious displays that could catch the eye of a thief. (We are talking flashing expensive cameras, smartphones and jewellery). It’s also important to maintain a certain level of vigilance, and know where you are going. Do your best to avoid walking alone in dark back streets, and try not to get so drunk that you become an easy!

If you are targeted, give up your valuables or cash quickly. If you make it difficult for a thief, especially one with a gun, you bring yourself into a higher risk of being attacked. Your money and valuables can be replaced (especially if you have, your health or wellbeing is harder to repair.

For option two, unfortunately this is a case of wrong place wrong time. It’s also a pretty rare event to see open display of gang warfare in the French Quarter. There are a LOT of police around, especially during Mardi Gras. So this is not something you should concern yourself with too much. You would be VERY unlucky to get caught in gang crossfire.

Stepping out with the Crowd

New Orleans loves throwing beads around during festivals, so watch your step so you don't go sliding or at worse, break an ankle. The greater risk however, is being hit in the head by flying beads from parade vehicles.

Police in New Orleans

New Orleans police deal with a lot of drunken lunatics, especially around Mardi Gras time, and especially around the French Quarter/Canal Street area. You can see the ‘I’m-not-going-to-put-up-with-any-bullshit’ looks on their faces. From what I understood during my time there, if you are acting like an anti-social asshole in any way, you will get a tap on the shoulder and get hauled out in a squad car for some time out in the lock up.

Watch Out for Scammers

Most of the crime in New Orleans comes from the fact that its city and tourist areas are small compared to other cities. Add in thousands of visitors during celebrations like Mardi Gras and you have a haven for petty criminals.

In areas like the French Quarter, there are a number of different ways that unscrupulous scammers can help you part with your cash. Cards are accepted everywhere and sometimes encouraged to use. Should you also lose or have your card stolen, it is easier to stop and replace than cash. 

The most common one, by far, is the “I know where you got them shoes” scam. Essentially, you get asked this question on the street, if you respond, they will say:

“You got them on your feet!”

They will then demand money for their genius. If you don’t give them money, things can get tetchy.

I encourage people to just sharpen up their senses when it comes to things like this. You don’t want to be closed off for chance opportunities with fellow revellers, but anything that feels like a solicitation is usually recipe for a robbery.

If you feel that, eyes forward, and walk on.

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12 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.

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