Louisiana’s biggest city sits plum on the winding Mississippi River. It’s a melting pot of different cultures and cuisines, famed for its rocking music scene, its smoky jazz bars, its immersive French Quarter, and taste-bud-tingling Creole cooking. We’d say it’s up there with the bucket-list towns of North America. But is New Orleans safe?
That’s what this guide will answer. It’s a 101 to all the ins and outs of visiting and seeing those legendary Mardis Gras parades and big band jazz shows. It’s got details on the overall crime levels and the sorts of day-to-day dangers that might be an issue, along with the best neighborhoods (and the ones that should probably be avoided). On top of all that, we’ll home in on the risks of natural disasters in New Orleans – which is actually quite significant since the metropolis rests at one end of infamous Hurricane Alley.
Our aim is to give you an idea of what to expect when you jet over to the Big Easy so that you can plan a trip that goes as smooth as a Sazerac. That way, you can focus on the good things, whether it’s those unforgettable riverboat trips down the water or nights in the swinging drinking holes of Bourbon Street.
Is New Orleans safe to visit? An overall look for 2023
The picture isn’t all that good when it comes to safety levels in New Orleans. Check the stats: The town has a violent crime rate that is considerably above the national average and doesn’t do that well on murder rates or sexual violence rates, either. The numbers show that it’s actually considered safer than just 2% of other American cities on those counts, with a homicide occurrence of 5.2 in 100,000, only a touch better than New York City!
In fact, New Orleans is worse off than the national average in all four categories of violent crime – murder, rape, robbery, and assault. Most notably, the robbery rate is four times what it is across the country and the risk of assault is three times the national mean. And it looks as though murder rates are getting worse in 2022, too, with Louisiana’s fun-loving town currently running hot as the single deadliest town in the whole country! Yikes.
According to travel stat collator Numbeo, New Orleans can add to all that the dubious honor of having high drug-related crime rates, high corruption and bribery levels, and low safety levels when walking alone at night.
But it’s really important to put all that into perspective. First, there are several key caveats to the striking numbers above. Most notably, much of the serious crime occurs far away from the major tourist-draw neighborhoods of the French Quarter and Marigny. Second, there are serious risks like this associated with most all cities in North America, and they rarely put people off those once-in-a-lifetime breaks to the Big Apple and LA. Thirdly, an estimated 19 million people visit New Orleans each year and the vast majority of them have a fantastic trip without any issues.
Safe and unsafe neighborhoods in New Orleans
One of the key things to know about the safety of New Orleans is that things can change from area to area. The central parts of the town that draw most of the tourists are largely considered very safe, though they are worse for petty crimes and travel scams. Those include the fun-filled French Quarter, the artsy hub of Marigny, and – of course – the grand blocks of the Garden Quarter (one of the richest corners of town that’s worth a visit for its exquisite Antebellum architecture).
Then there are the more dangerous parts of the city. These are the areas that see the soaring rates of violent crime and homicide. Our advice would be to avoid them altogether and be sure you stay nearer the tried-and-tested areas that but up to the Mississippi River instead. We have a dedicated guide to the most dangerous parts of New Orleans, but here’s a quick rundown of the main places to know about:
- 7th Ward – Known for its pretty startling crime stats, this one has a violent crime rate that’s been over 300% the national average. It’s north of the French Quarter, butting up to the now-lively Bywater district.
- Saint Roch – Badly hit by Hurricane Katrina, Saint Roch has suffered seriously high crime rates on account of its soaring poverty rates.
- Central City – Things are slowly but surely changing in the Central City, a part of NOLA that was once seen as nothing more than a den of crime. There are now good Mardis Gras parades especially but also crime rates that remain stubbornly high.
Crime does happen in neighborhoods where hospitality is king, like the Central Business District, the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, and Freret, but it tends to be opportunistic. The same can be said for the nearby residential districts where tourists tend to lodge like Bywater, the Garden Districts, Treme, and Uptown, which are quieter at night. Still, petty theft on tourists is only likely to be an issue if the subject presents as a target; this means flashing their wallet, phone, acting distracted, or being inebriated.
Is New Orleans safe for solo travelers?
The adventurous energy, the nightlife, and the mixture of arts and culture here mean that New Orleans is a great place for solo travelers. With no shortage of affordable fun to be had, it’s a backpacker haven, and lone nomads will have a great time exploring the bar-fringed streets and getting to know the colorful characters. Solo female travel is also safe in New Orleans, but visitors should be aware of the extra dangers that come with going it alone as a lady, just as they should anywhere else on the globe.
You’ll likely meet accommodating locals and like-minded travelers if visiting New Orleans alone. But unaccompanied tourists attract more attention and make themselves more vulnerable to petty crime. Solo female travelers might also be hassled by men, especially in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras, when crimes are driven on by high levels of intoxication.
Walking alone is ill-advised after dark, and you should steer clear of poorly lit areas even if you’re with a companion. You should also avoid bad neighborhoods altogether if you’re traveling alone. Stay alert in the tourist hubs of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, too, since those are the main hotspots for petty crimes.
Is public transport safe in New Orleans?
The central neighborhoods of New Orleans are very compact, making them easy to explore on foot. But there’s more to see besides those, from the tree-lined groves of the Garden District to the rambunctious riversides of the Irish Channel. To get to those, there’s nothing for it but a ride in New Orleans’s efficient and famous public transit, which relies on those vintage and iconic streetcars!
The rail-guided tram network connects most of the city’s popular areas with four main lines. All cables run 24-hours a day for a fare of just $1.25 per person. This makes them a great and convenient option for getting around after dark when exploring on foot might be less appealing – but also less safe. Buses also operate between the French Quarter and most residential districts to the north and east. Taxis are also a popular choice, but be sure to ask your driver to run a meter or book through a verified cab service to avoid scams.
Generally speaking, New Orleans public transport is considered safe. The main concern of traveling on public transport in New Orleans is pickpockets and petty scammers. During busy times like weekends, and throughout the whole of the Mardis Gras celebrations, the streetcars and busses are likely to be full of tourists. This makes easy targets for thieves, so always keep your belongings zipped away and distributed across your person.
Hurricanes and natural disasters in New Orleans
Besides criminal activities, there is a real danger in New Orleans of natural disaster. The city was infamously devastated by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, with more than 80% of neighborhoods flooded, a mega $125 billion in damages, and over 1,800 deaths. Homelessness doubled following the hurricane, too, and there have been long-lasting social and economic effects. Today, the place has largely recovered thanks to community redevelopment initiatives, but New Orleans remains at risk from extreme weather…
Official estimations from weather institutions in Louisiana say that a hurricane hits this city once every 7-11 years on average. That’s a better picture than what it is for many places in the Caribbean, but it still makes the Big Easy one of the most hurricane-prone cities in the USA. A recent 2022 Hurricane report from CoreLogic said that this was the 13th most vulnerable place to storm surge damage and flooding in the event of tropical storms anywhere in the country!
Overall, we’d say that the chances you’ll get caught up in a major weather event in NOLA are low to very low. Disruptive hurricanes on the level of Katrina happen very rarely, although they are becoming more and more common in the wake of climate change. The best way to ensure you don’t have to deal with storms during your trip is to travel outside of the main hurricane season, which lasts from June to late November.
Is it safe to drink tap water in New Orleans?
New Orleans adheres to the same health and hygiene standards as the rest of the US. In practice, this means the tap water is safe to drink unless there is an active boil water advisory. The tap water is purified from the Mississippi River in New Orleans, and it is treated, tested, and monitored regularly.
Residents have reported drinking the tap water regularly and without issue in New Orleans. Yet, independent research from Louisiana State University suggests that in some homes, high levels of lead contamination were detected in their tap water, peaking at as much as 19 times EPAs threshold, which could be of concern.
When in doubt, bottled water is cheap and accessible all over the city. Consider investing in a refillable water bottle or purifier to reduce plastic consumption.
Our top safety tips for traveling in New Orleans
So, you’re traveling to New Orleans? Great choice. This jazz-swinging town of Sazerac cocktails and honky-tonk bars is sure to be one you’ll remember. Whiz up on these top tips to ensure your trip goes smoothly and safely before you jet off…
- Limit the valuables you carry – The more precious belongings you carry, the more likely you are to lose them. Leave valuables in your accommodation whenever possible and spread out your money so that opportunistic thieves don’t land themselves a fortune if they swipe your wallet.
- Choose transport over walking at night – Most of New Orleans is safe for walking, but you should avoid poorly lit areas and specific neighborhoods. Public transportation is quieter at night but highly safe. When in doubt, jump on a streetcar or hail a cab instead of wandering around after dark.
- Try to blend in – Tourists can stick out like sore thumbs, making them more vulnerable to petty crime. Leave the cargo shorts, flip-flops, and fanny packs at home and take a leaf out of the locals’ book. You’ll be less of a target that way.
- Know the local laws – A New Orleans holding cell is the last place you want to wind up on vacation. Avoid aggravating police and make yourself aware of street regulations. This includes no walking around with open bottles of alcohol, driving after 11pm if you’re under 17, and drinking under 21 if you’re unaccompanied.
- Do your research – Vacation rentals are on the rise in New Orleans, but always research the neighborhood before booking an Airbnb. Many are in residential areas, which could be inconvenient and unsafe, especially if you don’t know your way around. Read reviews and get to know the districts before you visit.
- Know your limits – There are a million reasons to stick to your limits, especially in a new city, but personal safety is a big one. Mardi Gras has a great atmosphere, but you’ll put yourself at risk if you’re not aware of your surroundings. The police also have little tolerance for drunk and disorderly behavior, especially at this time of year. Know when to call it a night, never leave your drinks unattended, and don’t accept alcohol or drugs from anyone.
- Keep an eye on the forecasts – The weather can be temperamental and dangerous in New Orleans. The city sees tropical storms, heavy rainfall, and scorching temperatures even outside of the hurricane season. Be aware of weather warnings and invest in travel insurance. Also, respect the sun. The temperature rarely dips below 80 degrees Fahrenheit once spring has begun. Wear sunscreen and stay hydrated, especially if you’re doing a lot of exploring or partying.
Is New Orleans safe? Our conclusion
Is New Orleans safe? Overall, this town is safe for visitors. Nearly 20 million people come and go to the Big Easy in a normal year. The vast majority of those enjoy the jazz bars and parades, the cocktail speakeasies and the riverboats without any worry. The chances are that you’ll join them. However, there are also some striking stats here. Not only is this town among the top 3% of places with the highest violent crime stats in the country, but it’s also among the cities with the highest rates of murder in the whole USA. Add to that relatively common petty theft and robbery and you’ll see why it’s important to have your wits about you when you come.
What should I avoid in New Orleans?
New Orleans is safe and exciting, but there are a few things you should avoid, whether it’s your first or 31st time in the city. New Orleans is so much more than its carnival season, and visiting just for Mardis Gras is the most common mistake tourists make. The French Quarter is a vibrant place year-round, but basing yourself here could result in sleepless nights and limiting yourself from what the rest of the city has to offer. Walking alone at night is also ill-advised, and you should avoid eating at chain restaurants as much as possible – you’ll get a taste of authentic Louisiana cuisine if you eat local. Also skip out on the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city.
Which areas of New Orleans are unsafe?
The most dangerous areas in New Orleans are generally far away from the main tourist attractions and primarily residential. Most violent crimes occur between people who know each other as a result of gang-related, drug-related, or territorial warfare, which means visitors shouldn’t be at too high a risk. Tulane-Gravier, Saint Roch, Seventh Ward, and Saint Claude have the highest crime rates, and visitors should avoid frequenting these neighborhoods if they’re concerned about safety.
When is the best time to visit New Orleans?
February to May is the best time to visit New Orleans because the weather is pleasant without being scorching hot, with Mardis Gras festivities in full swing. If you’re not interested in the carnival, December and January are great months to see the city with comfortably cool temperatures and low-season prices. Bear in mind the summer months can be unbearably hot, and hurricane risks are at their highest at this time.