Unless you’re planning extensive or far-flung explorations outside the major tourist zones (and, okay, this book does recommend a few outlying destinations), you really don’t need to rent a car during your stay in New Orleans. The town is flat, ultra-picturesque, and made for walking; there are plenty of taxis (also Uber, Lyft, and pedicabs) and decent public transportation. Indeed, a streetcar ride is as much entertainment as a practical means of getting around. Meanwhile, driving and parking in the French Quarter can be a hassle. Many streets are narrow, potholed, crowded, and one-way. Outside the gridded Quarter, streets angle in logic-defying directions in attempt to align around the curvy Mississippi. Street parking is minimal and parking lots, including those at hotels, are fiendishly expensive.
That said, all the major car-rental agencies have a presence in New Orleans, at the airport and scattered around town. Rates vary widely according to company, demand, and when you book your reservation. Plan in advance, and shop around. You’ll pay a premium to pick up a rental at the airport, but it may be worth the convenience. If your stay is lengthy, weigh the difference between renting from a lower-cost, in-town location vs. transfer costs to and from that cheaper locale.
If you’re visiting from abroad and plan to rent a car in the United States, foreign driver’s licenses are usually recognized, but it's probably wise to get an international one if your home license is not in English. Insurance and taxes are almost never included in quoted rental-car rates in the U.S., and they can be significant.
To rent a car in the United States, you need a valid driver’s license and a major credit card (and a passport for foreign visitors). Some will accept a debit card with a cash deposit. The minimum age is usually 25, but Enterprise and Budget will rent to younger people for an added surcharge; they may also require proof of ability to pay (check with them, but it's often paycheck stubs and utility bills). It’s a good idea to buy insurance coverage unless you’re certain your own auto or credit card insurance is sufficient.
If you’re in town for a while or drive in often, download the Parkmobile app. Once you complete the annoying set-up, you can conveniently pay for most street meters via smartphone (and add meter time from afar—a huge plus).
At press time in New Orleans, the cost of gasoline was about $2.40 a gallon including tax, but we all know how that can fluctuate. Generally, gas costs in New Orleans tends to be at or slightly below the U.S. average. Gas stations are readily available on major streets, but none are located within the French Quarter.
When driving in New Orleans, right turns on a red light are legal except where no right turn on red signs are posted, so keep your eyes open for those. Sneaky red-light cameras abound (as do speed cameras, espcially in school zones). Similarly, many major intersections restrict left turns. Drive past the intersection, make a U-turn at the next allowable place, then double back and turn right (a maneuver sometimes called the “Louisiana left”).
Streetcars run down the center of Canal Street and St. Charles, Rampart, Carrollton, and Loyola avenues, requiring motorists to cross their paths frequently. Look both ways for streetcars, yield the right of way to them, and allow ample time to complete track crossings. They’ll brake if you’re in their way, of course, but it’s best not to get stuck on the tracks and impede their progress.
It is illegal to have an open container of alcohol, including “go cups,” in a moving car, and, of course, driving while under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense.
Keep doors locked and never leave belongings, packages, or gadgets visible in parked cars.
By Taxi or Rideshare
Taxis are plentiful in New Orleans, and except during the busiest times (Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest) they can be hailed easily on the street in the French Quarter and in some parts of the Central Business District. They also usually line up at taxi stands at larger hotels. Otherwise, call and expect a cab to appear in about 5 to 15 minutes; much longer during peak times, events, and in residential areas. The rate is $3.50 when you enter the taxi and $2.40 per mile thereafter. During special events, the rate is $7 per person (or the meter rate if it’s greater) to the event site. From the French Quarter to an uptown restaurant or club, expect to spend $12 to $25; cash or credit cards accepted.
The cab behemoth is United Cabs; book by phone or the United Cab Passenger app (www.unitedcabs.com; 504/524-9606). There's also Carriage Cab, the slightly upscale sister to Checker and Yellow Cabs (www.neworleanscarriagecab.com; 504/207-7777). You can even hire a taxi for a few hours or day at negotiable hourly rates (usually around $30/hour), a hassle-free way to tour far-flung areas of the city.
Uber and Lyft (available only by app) are usually readily available, but can be slow to show in the midst of big events. Expect the fare to be slightly less than standard taxis till surge prices kick in (which is often).
We can’t stress this enough: Walking is by far the best way to see New Orleans (besides, you need to walk off all those calories!). You’ll miss the many unique and sometimes glorious sights if you whiz past them. Slow down, stroll, and take it in. If it’s just too hot, humid, or rainy, seek the shade or shelter of balconies and galleries, and there’s always a cab or bus nearby.
By Bike and Scooter
One of the best ways to see the city is by bike. The terrain is flat, the breeze feels good, there are new bike paths and improved driver awareness, and you can cover ground pretty swiftly on two wheels. But streets can be busy, bumpy, and potholed, so experience and comfort with city riding is a plus. Bicycle Michael’s, 622 Frenchmen St. (www.bicyclemichaels.com; 504/945-9505), is the oldest shop and still has good-quality, multigear hybrids and mountain bikes (most other rentals are cruisers) starting at $25 for a half-day (4 hr.), $35 a day. A Bicycle Named Desire, 632 Elysian Fields in the Marigny (https://abicyclenameddesire.com ; 504/345-8966), offers 4-hour rentals for $30, 24 hours for $35. At the other end of the French Quarter, American Bicycle Rentals, 318 N. Rampart St. (www.bikerentalneworleans.com; 504/324-8257), has super-sturdy, well-maintained, cushy-seated single-speed bikes with coaster brakes for $10 an hour, $30 for a half-day, $40 for 24 hours. If you’re staying uptown, hit Mike the Bike Guy, at $30 per day (open to close) (4411 Magazine St.; www.mikethebikeguy.com; [tel] 504/899-1344). Rates cited above usually include a lock and optional helmet. All offer longer-term rentals; multi-day minimums may apply during Mardi Grass or Jazz Fest. (Desire and American also offer tours.)
Launched in 2018, the convenient Blue Bikes bike-sharing system has more than 500 bikes available to rent by the hour at 60+ “hubs” around the city. After creating an account tied to a credit card, you can grab and go at leisure for $8/hour, pro-rated (use the 60 min. over any length of time). Park the bike back at a hub or at any rack (within the system) for an extra $1. Bikes have lights and a lock but no helmets (not required but recommended in NOLA). Maps and details on the website and app. (www.bluebikesnola.com; 504/608-0603).
Avenue Scooters, 1134 St. Charles Ave. (www.avenuescooters.com.; 504/609-3838), will fix you up with a Lance PCH50. It's a fun, easy way to get around. Rates start at $60 for 3 hours; $80 per full day including helmet and lock. They get up to about 35 mph so you ride in car lanes (and get no love from four-wheeled drivers) and follow all traffic rules. Watch those potholes.
These rickshaw-like tricycles will get two people from A to B via pedal power (a driver’s, not yours). They’re easy to hail in the French Quarter and occasionally seen in other tourist parts, or you can call to request one—try Bike Taxi Unlimited (504/891-3441) or NOLA Pedicabs (504/274-1300). Rates are $5 for the first 5 blocks, $1 per block per person after that (plus tip for your hard-riding driver). It’s a great option for fatigued feet or short hops; longer jaunts can add up fast so ask for the rate when you board.
The Canal Street/Algiers Ferry (www.norta.com/Maps-Schedules/New-Orleans-Ferry; 504/309-9789) is one of the city’s great assets for transportation to the old Algiers Point neighborhood and views of the city from the Mississippi River. It’s a down-and-dirty, working ferry, but it’s more than that at night, when the city’s glowing skyline reflects on the water. The 25-minute ride from the foot of Canal Street costs $2 each way, cash only. The ferry leaves New Orleans every 30 minutes Monday to Thursday from 6:15am to 9:45pm, Friday 6:15am to 11:45pm, Saturday 10:45am to 11:45pm, and Sunday 10:45am to 9:45pm. Check for schedule changes on holiday events and generally. It's pedestrians and bikes only, no cars. Note: A much-needed new ferry terminal and snazzy new boats are in the works, pending a 2020 launch. When you read this, a temporary, ADA-accessible terminal barge will be in use at the wharf just behind the Audubon Aquarium at 1 Canal Street.
By City Bus
New Orleans has a good public bus system that many locals rely on, so chances are there’s a bus that runs exactly where you want to go. The fare is $1.50; transfers are an extra 25 cents. You must have exact change in bills or coins, or you can use a JazzyPass. For route information, contact the RTA (www.norta.com; 504/248-3900) or pick up one of the excellent city maps at the Louisiana Office of Tourism New Orleans Welcome Center, 529 St. Ann St., in the French Quarter.
Besides being a National Historic Landmark, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar is also a convenient, scenic, and fun way to get from downtown to uptown and back. The iconic green cars click and clack for 6 1/2 miles 24 hours a day at frequent intervals and get crowded at school and business rush hours. Board at Canal and Carondelet streets (directly across Canal from Bourbon St. in the French Quarter) or anywhere along the line.
The tracks wind beyond the point where St. Charles Avenue bends into Carrollton Avenue, ending at Palmer Park (Claiborne Ave.). The original cars run on the St. Charles line, so it’s not air-conditioned or wheelchair accessible (and it’s a big step up). All other lines have A/C and lifts.
The Riverfront streetcar line runs the length of the French Quarter, from the Old Mint at Esplanade past the Convention Center to the Pontchartrain Expressway, with stops along the way. It runs daily 5:30am to 11:30pm, and is a great foot saver as you explore the riverfront. The spiffy, bright-red cars on the Canal Street line service two destinations. Check the sign on the front of the car: “Cemeteries” goes to several of the older cemeteries and runs daily 5:30am to 4am; “City Park” goes through Mid-City, to City Park/the New Orleans Museum of Art and Jazz Fest (expect jammed streetcars during Jazz Fest). The City Park route runs between 5:15am and 11:35am.
The Loyola line runs along Loyola Street, connecting the Union Passenger Terminal (and Amtrak and Greyhound passengers) with the Canal Street line, and continues to the French Market on weekends (Sat–Sun 6:30am–9:30pm).
The N. Rampart Street/St. Claude line runs from Elysian Fields in the Marigny past Canal Street to the Union Passenger Terminal on Calliope Street every 20 minutes.
The fare for any streetcar line is $1.25 each way. Add 25 cents to transfer to or from a city bus. All streetcars take exact change in bills or coins only, or JazzyPasses.
Discounted Rides with the JazzyPass
If you don’t have a car in New Orleans, invest in a JazzyPass, which allows unlimited rides on all streetcar and bus lines. It’s a bargain and a convenience at $3 for 1 day; $9 for 3 days; $15 for 5 days. Single-day passes can be purchased when boarding. Get multiday passes at vending machines at the streetcar stops at Canal at Bourbon; N. Peters; White; or City Park streets. You can order them online, but you'll need to allow a week for the physical card to be mailed to you. More info at Regional Transit Authority (RTA; www.norta.com; 504/248-3900).