With the possible exception of July and August (unless you thrive on heat and humidity), just about any time is the right time to go to New Orleans. We love the warm, jasmine-infused nights and warmer days of mid-fall and spring best, and even relish the occasional high drama of a good summer thunderstorm.
It’s important to know what’s going on when, since the city’s landscape, and hotel availability and rates, can change dramatically depending on what events or conventions are on. Mardi Gras is, of course, the hardest time of year to get a hotel room, but it can also be difficult during major festivals (French Quarter Fest, Jazz & Heritage Festival, Essence) and sporting events (BCS, Sugar Bowl, Saints and LSU Superdome games). New Orleans isn’t particularly known as a holiday destination, but in December it’s gussied up with decorations, there are all kinds of holiday special events, and the weather is quite fine. Eager hotels often have good deals, and many restaurants offer special prix fixe “Réveillon” deals. Take advantage of it.
The average mean temperature in New Orleans is an inviting 70[dg]F (21[dg]C), but it can drop or rise considerably in a single day. (It can be 40[dg]F/4[dg]C and rain one day, 80[dg]F/27[dg]C and humidity the next.) Conditions depend primarily on whether it rains and whether there is direct sunlight or cloud cover. Rain can provide slight and temporary relief on a hot day; it tends to hit in sudden (and sometimes dramatically heavy) showers, which disappear as quickly as they arrive. In unimpeded sun it gets much warmer. The high humidity can intensify even mild warms and chill. Still, the semitropical climate is part of New Orleans’s appeal—the slight moistness makes for lush, sensual air.
New Orleans should be pleasant most of the year. During the muggy, bargain summer months, follow the natives’ example: stay out of the midday sun, shade-seek and duck from one air-conditioned locale to another. June and September can still be humid and warm; early spring and mid-fall are glorious. Winter is mild by American standards—but don’t expect Florida warmth—and punctuated by an occasional freeze-level cold snap. But unpredictable and flexible are the watchwords. The whims of the weather gods are at play, so be ready to adjust accordingly.
Hurricane season runs June 1 to November 30. Obviously, there are no guarantees, but despite the high drama of recent years, severe storms are fairly rare. In the height of summer, T-shirts, shorts, and tissue-weight fabrics are acceptable everywhere except the finest restaurants. In the spring and fall, something a little warmer is in order; in the winter, carry a mid-weight coat or jacket and pack a folding umbrella (though they’re available everywhere, as are cheap rain ponchos for unexpected downpours). The biggest summertime climate problem can be the air-conditioning overcompensation that chills rooms—especially restaurants—to meat-locker-like temps, so bring those light wraps along even on warm nights.
New Orleans’s Average Temperatures & Rainfall
Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
High ([dg]F) 62 65 71 78 85 89 91 90 87 80 71 65
High ([dg]C) 17 18 22 26 29 32 33 32 31 27 22 18
Low ([dg]F) 43 46 52 58 66 71 73 73 70 60 50 45
Low ([dg]C) 6 8 11 14 19 22 23 23 21 16 10 7
Hot Time in the City
If you can stand it, do consider braving the city in summer; the tourist business slows down a tad, which produces hotel bargains. On a recent July visit, high-end hotels were offering rooms from $89 to $129 (way, way below their regular rates), sometimes with additional perks thrown in. Plus, you can often get upgrades to fancy suites for a song—ask when you check in. In August, local restaurants run bargain, prix-fixe “COOLinary” specials (www.coolinaryneworleans.com). Yeah, it’s hot and humid, bearable for some, miserable for others—but there are always plenty of air-conditioned respites to duck into.