African-American Travelers -- New Orleans’s African-American history is rich with important milestones, from the joyous nascence of jazz to the horrors of the slave trade to crucial civil rights achievements (to say nothing of the essential contributions to the city’s culture, cuisine, politics, and literature). The historic Tremé neighborhood is a touchstone in itself, with a number of worthy sights within its bounds. The statewide African American Heritage Trail is an excellent network of cultural and historic points; information and maps are available at www.astorylikenoother.com. A tour of the 9th Ward may be of interest (see “Organized Tours). The House of Dance and Feathers (1317 Tupelo St.; www.houseofdanceandfeathers.org; [tel] 504/957-2678) is essential for anyone interested in the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, though it’s open by appointment only. The Essence Festival is a huge draw, and the restaurant and music options relevant to black heritage could fill a weeklong vacation.
Area Codes -- The area code for New Orleans is 504.
Business Hours -- They vary, but most stores are open from at least 10am to 5pm; bars can stay open until the wee hours, and restaurants’ hours vary depending on the types of meals they serve. Expect breakfast to start around 8am, lunch around 11am, and dinner at 6pm.
Cellphones -- See “Mobile Phones.”
Crime -- See “Safety.”
Customs -- For U.S. Customs details and information on what you’re allowed to bring home, consult your home country’s customs services agency. In the U.S., consult U.S. Customs at U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20229 (www.cbp.gov; [tel] 877/227-5511).
Doctors -- See “Health.”
Drinking Laws -- The legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages is 21; proof of age is required and often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so bring ID when you go out. Due to recent crackdowns, nowadays pretty much everyone—even senior citizens—can get carded. Alcoholic beverages are available round-the-clock, 7 days a week. Bars can stay open all night in New Orleans, and liquor is sold in grocery and liquor stores. You’re allowed to drink in public, but not from a glass or bottle. Bars will provide a plastic “go cup” into which you can transfer your drink as you leave (and some have walk-up windows for quick and easy refills).
Warning: Although New Orleans has a reputation for tolerance, make no mistake: Public intoxication and “drunk and disorderly” are most definitely illegal, as many a jailed tourist can testify. Practice moderation and make smart decisions. And don’t even think about driving (car, motorcycle, or bicycle) while intoxicated: This is a zero-tolerance crime. Further, do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or any public area that isn’t zoned for alcohol consumption. The police can fine you on the spot.
Electricity -- Like Canada, the United States uses 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220 to 240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220–240 volts to 110–120 volts are difficult to find in the United States, so bring one with you.
Embassies & Consulates -- All embassies are in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Some have consulate offices in major U.S. cities, including a few in New Orleans. To find a consulate for your home country, call for directory information in Washington, D.C. ([tel] 202/555-1212), or check www.embassy.org/embassies. It’s always a good idea to enter this information in your contacts before you leave your home country.
Emergencies -- For fire, ambulance, and police, dial [tel] 911 from any phone (it is a free call). Calls from landlines (hard-wired phones) will route to the local emergency dispatch center. From mobile phones, immediately tell the operator your location and the nature of the emergency.
Family Travel -- New Orleans doesn’t spring to mind as the first place to take a child, but it offers plenty of activities and sights appropriate for children, who often get a real kick out of the city (and love Mardi Gras!). Summer months bring the heat but also the bargains, so weigh your family’s tolerance levels for a visit during school vacation.
Gyms -- Workout day passes can be had at two Downtown Fitness (www.downtownfitnesscenter.com) locations convenient to the French Quarter and Bywater (333 Canal Place, 3rd floor; [tel] 504/525-2956; or 2372 St. Claude Ave; [tel] 504/754-1101). The storied, elaborate New Orleans Athletic Club has a fabulous indoor pool, library and bar (222 N. Rampart St.; www.neworleansathleticclub.com; [tel] 504/525-2375). The enormous Health Club at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside has two pools plus tennis, squash, and racquetball for additional costs (2 Poydras St.; www.thehealthclub.us; [tel] 504/556-3742). Members of the Anytime Fitness chain can find multiple locations around town. All offer the requisite equipment and classes. Expect to pay $15 to $20 per day; bring hotel room key.
Health -- The widespread mold and floodwater-related illnesses that were feared after Katrina never materialized, and there have been no ill effects on air or water supply from the Deepwater oil spill. Booze and butter pose greater dangers.
If you have a medical condition that may require care, make appropriate arrangements before traveling to New Orleans. See “Hospitals” for hospitals and an emergency number. If you need a doctor for less urgent health concerns, try Ochsner On Call (www.ochsner.org; [tel] 504/842-3155 or 800/231-5257) or visit New Orleans Urgent Care, 900 Magazine St. (www.neworleansurgentcare.com; [tel] 504/552-2433; Mon–Sat 10am–7pm, Sun 9am–1pm) and 201 Decatur St. ([tel] 504/609-3833; Mon–Sat 10am–5:30pm). Also see “Pharmacies”.
Pollen, sun, uneven sidewalks, overindulgence, and mosquitoes (especially near the swamps and bayous) are the most common medical annoyances. Packing insect repellent, sunscreen, protective clothing, digestive aids, and antihistamines may help prevent minor health annoyances.
Hospitals -- In an emergency, dial tel. 911 from any phone to summon paramedics. For nonemergency injuries or illnesses, call or go to the emergency room at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center, 2700 Napoleon Ave. ([tel] 504/899-9311), or the Tulane University Medical Center, 1415 Tulane Ave. ([tel] 504/588-5263). Insurance -- Travel insurance is a good “safety net” idea if you think for some reason you may need to cancel or postpone your trip (or even if you don’t). Most medical insurance policies cover you if you are on vacation, but check with your policy before you depart.
Insurance -- Travel insurance is a good “safety net” idea if you think for some reason you may need to cancel or postpone your trip (or even if you don’t). Most medical insurance policies cover you if you are on vacation, but check with your policy before you depart.
Internet, Wi-Fi & Computer Rentals -- Nearly all major hotels have free Wi-Fi in their lobbies, as do many cafes, bars, and all Starbucks (there’s one in the French Quarter in the Canal Place Mall, 365 Canal St.; [tel] 504/566-1223). The vast majority of hotels also offer some form of in-room Internet access, usually high-speed, often wireless. Many now include the cost in the room charge; some add a daily surcharge of $10 to $20. Barring that, the easiest option is simply to boot up and see what signals you get; or walk down any commercial street and look for “Free Wi-Fi” signs. It’s a pretty well-wired city. Alternately, a concierge or front desk attendant should be able to direct you to nearby public Wi-Fi locations.
Most larger hotels have business centers with computers for rent. FedEx Offices with fully loaded rental computer stations with Internet access can be found at 555 Canal St. (tel. 504/654-1057); 762 St. Charles Ave. ([tel] 504/581-2541); and several other locations. Louis Armstrong Airport has free, so-so Wi-Fi coverage in all passenger areas.
Language -- English is spoken everywhere, while French, Cajun, and Spanish are heard occasionally in New Orleans.
Legal Aid -- If you are pulled over by the police for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to an officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. Pay fines by mail, or directly into the hands of the clerk of the court. If accused of a more serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer. Here in the U.S., the burden is on the state to prove a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and everyone has the right to remain silent, whether he or she is suspected of a crime or actually arrested. Once arrested, a person can make one telephone call to a party of his or her choice. The international visitor should call his or her embassy or consulate.
LGBTQ Travelers -- New Orleans is a very welcoming town with an extensive and active LGBTQ community. For resources, start with Ambush Magazine, 828-A Bourbon St. (www.ambushmag.com). The Big Easy Metropolitan Community Church, 6200 St. Charles Ave. (www.MCCNewOrleans.org; [tel] 504/270-1622), serves a primarily gay and lesbian congregation. The website www.gayneworleans.com provides information on hotels, restaurants, arts, and nightlife. The local Lesbian and Gay Community Center (www.facebook.com/lgbtccno; www.lgbtccneworleans.org) doesn’t currently have a drop-in location, but its websites have good info. Faubourg Marigny Art and Books (FAB) (600 Frenchmen St.; www.fabonfrenchmen.com; [tel] 504/947-3700) also serves as an unofficial info source. Also see “The Twirl,” a gay-history walking tour of the French Quarter from G L-f de Villiers Tours, is highly recommended. Also see suggested night (and day) clubbing.
Mail & Shipping -- At press time, domestic postage rates were 35 cents for a postcard and 49 cents for a letter up to 1 ounce. For international mail, a first-class postcard or letter stamp costs $1.15. For more information, go to www.usps.com. Always include ZIP codes when mailing items in the U.S. Use the lookup tool at www.usps.com/zip4.
If you aren’t sure what your address will be in the United States, mail can be sent to you, in your name, c/o General Delivery at the main post office of the city or region where you expect to be. (Call [tel] 800/275-8777 for information on the nearest post office.) The addressee must pick up mail in person and produce proof of identity (driver’s license, passport, and so on). Most post offices will hold mail for up to 1 month and are open weekdays 8am to 4pm, Saturdays 9am to noon. New Orleans’s main post office (701 Loyola Ave. in the Central Business District) has longer hours.
Medical Care -- See “Health.”
Medical Requirements -- Unless you’re arriving from an area known to be suffering from an epidemic (particularly cholera, yellow fever, and now measles and ebola), inoculations or vaccinations are not required for short-term visitors to the United States.
Mobile Phones -- Mobile (cell) phone and texting service in New Orleans is generally good, with the larger carriers all getting excellent coverage. Some dead zones still exist around the city and inside old brick buildings. International mobile phone service can be hit-or-miss (despite what you may have been told before you began your trip). If you plan to use your phone a lot while in New Orleans, it may be worthwhile to purchase an inexpensive, no-contract phone locally. You can get hooked up at Radio Shack, 717 Canal St. ([tel] 504/523-4827) or 6045 Magazine St. ([tel] 504/895-4765); or the Office Depot, 1429 St. Charles Ave. ([tel] 504/561-8846). Carefully compare the plans’ sign-on offers, roaming and data use charges, usage requirements, and limitations to make sure you’re not purchasing more extensive or longer-term services than you need.
If you have a computer and Internet service, consider using a broadband-based telephone service such as Skype (www.skype.com) or Vonage (www.vonage.com), which allow you to make free international calls from your computer. Neither service requires that the people you’re calling also have the service (though there are fees if they do not).
Money & Costs -- Frommer’s lists prices in U.S. dollars. The currency conversions quoted below were correct at press time. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.xe.com.
The Value of the U.S. Dollar vs. Other Popular Currencies
US$ C$ £ € A$ NZ$
1.00 1.27 0.64 0.91 1.34 1.50
Costs in New Orleans are generally right in the middle of, and sometimes lower than, other midsize U.S. “destination” cities—less than New York, for example, but more than Phoenix. Prices have crept up over the last few years, so it’s no longer the great value it once was, and costs vary greatly by season. You can often find good hotel deals in the heat of summer, while prices often soar during big events. December’s prix-fixe Réveillon deals can get you into restaurants for dinners that might otherwise be prohibitive.
With a few cash-only exceptions, major credit cards are accepted everywhere (some don’t accept American Express, Discover, or Diner’s Club). Cash is king anywhere, and ATMs are plentiful throughout the city (including inside many bars and souvenir shops). Expect a $2.50 to $4 charge to use an ATM outside your network. To avoid the fee, most grocery and convenience stores will allow you to get a small amount of cash back with your purchase (from $10–$100, depending on store policy).
What Things Cost in New Orleans US$
Taxi from airport to the Quarter 33.00 (for 2 people)
Shuttle from airport to the Quarter 20.00 (per person)
Cost of bus/streetcar one-way 1.25
Day pass for bus/streetcar 3.00
Standard room at Ritz-Carlton 259.00–599.00
Standard room at The Chimes Bed & Breakfast 128.00–250.00
Standard room at Drury Inn 139.00–289.00
Order of 3 beignets or cup of café au lait at Café du Monde 2.42
Dinner at Commander’s Palace (3 courses) 64.00 (per person)
Dinner at Meauxbar (3 courses) 46.00 (per person)
Muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery 16.00
Ticket to a show at Tipitina’s 10.00–30.00
Cost of a Hurricane at Pat O’ Brien’s with souvenir glass 12.00
Cost of a Pimm’s Cup at Napoleon House 7.00
Beware hidden credit-card fees while traveling. Check with your credit or debit card issuer to see what fees, if any, will be charged for overseas transactions, even if those charges were made in U.S. dollars. Check with your bank before departing to avoid surprise charges on your statement.
Newspapers & Magazines -- The city has two local papers: The Advocate (www.theneworleansadvocate.com), which publishes daily; and the Times-Picayune (www.nola.com), which publishes Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday editions...for now. Offbeat (www.offbeat.com) and Where Y’ at are monthly entertainment guides with live music, art, and special event listings. Both can usually be found in hotels and clubs, and get scarce toward the end of the month. Gambit Weekly (www.bestofneworleans.com), which comes out every Sunday, is the city’s free alternative paper and has a good mix of news and entertainment information.
Packing -- What to pack depends largely on what you plan to do while visiting New Orleans. But comfortable walking shoes are a must year-round. A compact umbrella will often be put to use, as will other raingear during the wetter months (and a sun hat for much of the year). A light sweater or jacket is needed even in the hottest weather, when the indoor air can get frigid. Casual wear is the daytime norm, but cocktail wear is appropriate in nicer restaurants, and some of the old-liners require jackets for gentlemen. Also see the suggestions under “Health” and “Safety”.
Passports -- Every air traveler entering the U.S. is required to show a valid passport (including U.S. citizens). Those entering by land and sea must also present a passport or other appropriate documentation. See www.dhs.gov/crossing-us-borders for more information. For more on passport requirements, contact the Passport Office of your home country. If you need to obtain or renew a passport, do this at least 6 months before your departure.
Pharmacies -- Pharmacies (aka chemists or druggists) are easily found. Large chain pharmacies, including Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens, operate throughout the city. There is a 24-hour pharmacies at the Walgreens at 1801 St. Charles Ave. in the Lower Garden District ([tel] 504/561-8458)
Police -- Dial [tel] 911 for emergencies. This is a free call from any phone. Calls from landlines will route to the local emergency dispatch agency. From mobile phones, immediately tell the operator your location and the nature of the emergency.
Safety -- It’s true that New Orleans has a high crime rate. But most (not all) of the serious crime is drug-related and confined to areas where tourists do not go. Still, we urge you to be very cautious about where you go, what you do, and with whom—particularly at night. In short, behave with the same savvy and street smarts you would demonstrate in any big city: travel in groups or pairs, take cabs if you’re not sure of an area, stay in well-lighted areas with plenty of street and pedestrian traffic, follow your instincts if something seems “off.” Stay alert and walk with confidence; avoid looking distracted, confused, or (sorry) drunk. In fact, avoid being drunk—that’s just a general good rule. Speaking of which, one way to ensure you will look like a tourist—and thus, a target—is to wear Mardi Gras beads at any time other than Mardi Gras season.
iPhones have become a target of grab-and-run thieves, especially since users, like those who text while walking, are frequently distracted. If you must check something on your phone, stop into a hotel lobby, bar, or shop.
When it’s not in use, put that expensive camera out of sight. Use camera cases and purses with a shoulder strap, carried diagonally over the shoulder so a simple tug won’t dislodge them. Consider using a money belt or other hidden travel wallet. Ditch the trendy enormous bag and invest in a cute little shoulder-strappy thing for clubbing, one you can dance with rather than leave on your seat (better yet, go purse-free). Never leave valuables in the outside pocket of a backpack and if you must store belongings in a car, store them in the trunk. Leave expensive-looking jewelry and other conspicuous valuables at home. And by all means, don’t look for or buy drugs or engage in any illegal activity.
On Bourbon Street be careful when socializing with strangers, and be alert to distractions by potential pickpocket teams. Use busy Decatur Street to walk from the French Quarter to Frenchmen Street.
Scattered sections of the Tremé, Bywater, and the Irish Channel section of the Lower Garden District are transitional and may be considered sketchy. This shouldn’t dissuade you from visiting, but you should keep on your toes.
Single Travelers -- Single travelers, both male and female, should feel comfortable in New Orleans. People are generally friendly, and many restaurants, including some of the city’s finest, serve meals at the bar—a personal favorite spot when dining solo (Emeril’s, Coquette, Cochon, and Acme come to mind). Still, single women travelers in particular should heed the warnings in the “Safety” section, above.
Smoking -- The city council instituted a broad-reaching law in 2015, banning smoking indoors almost everywhere including hotels, restaurants, casinos, nightclubs, and bars (cigar and vape bars are excepted). Places with patios or courtyards can designate them as smoking areas, but not all do. It’s okay on the street a few feet from restaurant or shop entrances, and in most parks.
Taxes -- The United States has no value-added tax (VAT) or other indirect tax at the national level. Every state, county, and city may levy its own local tax on all purchases, including hotel and restaurant checks and airline tickets. These taxes will not appear on price tags. The sales tax in New Orleans is 9.75%; hotel room tax is 13% (for properties with 6 or more rooms). There is also a nightly tax of 50 cents to $3 based on the property’s number of rooms.
On the upside, international travelers who purchase goods in Louisiana to take to their home countries can often get the sales tax refunded in full. When you make your purchase, keep your receipt and also request a “tax back” voucher (you’ll be asked to show your passport). Before you leave the state, bring your receipts and vouchers to the Refund Center in the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk mall or New Orleans Airport (main lobby of Terminal C; allow time before your flight). You’ll be rebated in cash up to US$500. Larger rebates are mailed; see www.louisianataxfree.com for instructions and more information. Not all stores participate, so ask first.
Also, many original works of art purchased in New Orleans are tax-exempt. Do inquire, as this applies in designated cultural districts only.
Telephones -- Hotel costs for long-distance and local calls made from guest rooms vary widely. Local calls range from complimentary to astronomically expensive; long-distance calls typically fall into the latter category. Calls to area codes 800, 888, 877, and 866 are free. If you intend to use the room phone, definitely inquire about phone charges. You may be better off using a mobile phone or a prepaid calling card. Public payphones are rare, but some (for example, at airports) accept credit cards. Most long-distance and international calls can be dialed directly from any phone. To make calls within the United States and to Canada, dial 1 followed by the area code and the seven-digit number. For other international calls, dial 011 followed by the country code, city code, and the number you are calling. For directory assistance (help finding numbers, aka “Information”) in the U.S. and Canada, dial 411. For other phone services, dial 0 to reach an operator for phone services within the U.S.; dial 00 for assistance with international calls. Also see “Mobile Phones”.
Time -- New Orleans is in the Central Time Zone (CST), which is 6 hours earlier than Greenwich Mean Time. When it’s noon in New Orleans, it’s 10am in Los Angeles (PST); 1pm in New York City; 6pm in London (GMT); and 5am the next day in Sydney.
Daylight saving time (summer time) is in effect from 1am on the second Sunday in March to 1am on the first Sunday in November, except in Arizona, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Daylight saving time moves the clock 1 hour ahead of standard time.
Tipping -- Tips are a very important part of certain workers’ income, and the standard way of showing appreciation for services provided (it’s not compulsory if the service is poor, but most people would leave a smaller tip rather than none at all). In hotels, tip bellhops $1 to $2 per bag ($3 if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff $5 and up per night (more if you’ve been extra messy). Tip the doorman or concierge if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining tickets or reservations), $5 to $20 or more depending on complexity. Tip the valet-parking attendant $1 every time you get your car; more if you’re driving something you need to protect.
In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff and bartenders 15% to 20% of the check, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $2 to $3 per vehicle. Some restaurants will automatically add a tip to the bill for larger parties (typically 18% for 6 or more guests, but this can vary). Check your bill or ask your server if gratuity has been included in your bill.
As for other service personnel, tip cab drivers 15% of the fare, tip skycaps at airports at least $2 per bag (more if you have a lot of luggage), and tip hairdressers and barbers 15% to 20%.
Toilets -- You won’t find public toilets or “restrooms” on the streets in most U.S. cities, but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, department stores, railway and bus stations, and service stations. Large hotels are often the best bet for clean facilities. Restaurants and bars may restrict their restrooms to paying patrons, but it never hurts to ask.
Tours -- New Orleans offers tours geared toward antiquing, literature, history, gay and lesbian culture, ghosts, and Voodoo, along with tours of the fabled, stunning swamps, plantation homes, cemeteries, and various areas of New Orleans.
Travelers with Disabilities -- Most disabilities shouldn’t stop anyone from traveling in New Orleans. Most public places are required to comply with disability-friendly regulations. Almost all public establishments (except a few National Historic Landmarks) and at least some modes of public transportation provide accessible entrances and facilities.
Still, a few places may be inaccessible, with regulatory allowances due to their historic nature. Before you book a reservation, call and inquire based on your needs. The city’s newer hotels, restaurants, and shops are fully accommodating, and many older ones have undergone excellent retrofitting.
The city’s bumpy and uneven sidewalks (and sometimes potholed or cobblestoned streets) can be challenging for wheelchairs and walkers, though most have curb cuts. The St. Charles streetcar requires a big step up and does not have a lift; all other streetcar lines do.
For paratransit information and reservations, call RTA Paratransit (www.norta.com/accessiblity; [tel] 504/827-7433).
Visas -- The U.S. State Department has a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allowing citizens from a long list of countries to enter the United States without a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Even for visitors from VWP countries and others for whom a visa is not necessary, online registration through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is required before departing for the U.S. They must complete an electronic application providing basic personal and travel eligibility information. Travelers from non-VWP countries and those with certain types of passports, usually older ones, may still be required to get a visa. Some travelers may also be required to present a round-trip air or cruise ticket upon arrival in the U.S. Canadian citizens may enter the United States without visas, but will need to show passports and proof of residence. Citizens of all other countries must have: (1) a valid passport that expires at least 6 months later than the scheduled end of their visit to the U.S., and (2) a tourist visa. For more information, check with the American Embassy in your home country at least 6 months before your planned departure. More information at www.travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/visit/visa-waiver-program.html.
Visitor Information -- Even a seasoned traveler should consider writing or calling ahead to the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2020 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, LA 70130 (www.neworleanscvb.com; [tel] 800/672-6124 or 504/566-5011; Mon–Fri 8:30am–5pm). The friendly staff can offer advice and help with decision-making; if you have a special interest, they’ll help you plan your visit around it—this is definitely one of the most helpful tourist centers in any major city.
The state of Louisiana’s New Orleans Welcome Center, 529 St. Ann St. ([tel] 504/568-5661; daily Tues–Sat 9am–5pm) has walking- and driving-tour maps; booklets on restaurants, accommodations, sightseeing, special tours; and more. Warning: Many of the tour offices and visitors centers scattered around the city are for-profit offices operated by tourism businesses hawking their wares. Rather than unbiased services that will recommend the best tour for you, these are commissioned sales offices. If you feel you’re getting sold something that’s not exactly right, you can always contact any tour company directly to buy tours.
Water -- Tap water is safe to drink in New Orleans, although bottled water is still popular.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.