New Orleans Survival Guide for the First Time Visitor
Most travel blogs written about New Orleans tend to focus on things to do; What to see, where to eat and who to hear. Some may even go into a little more detail and make packing recommendations. This is usually because the bloggers are themselves travelers and write from the perspective of a traveler. I am a born and raised native of the Crescent City. Since 1997, I have worked in the French Quarter as club security, bartender, waiter, buggy driver and currently as a tour guide. It didn’t matter where I was employed, each week I would meet people with lists of all the places they should visit, but otherwise unprepared for the many pitfalls the ‘Big Easy’ has for the unsuspecting visitor. This guide is must read for the first-time visitor to New Orleans. These are the important facts of life every native was raised with the knowledge of and you should acquaint yourself with before visiting.
Learn how to hold your map
I spend a lot of time watching people turn their maps different directions and spin themselves in circles trying to figure out which way to walk. In most cases, they are trying to use north as a reference point. This can often present a problem for folks that believe the French Quarter is on a grid related to points of the compass as most colonial cities would have been designed. It is not. Our city is designed in relation to the bend of the Mississippi River. The block of the French Quarter closest to the river is in front of Jackson Square. Take a look at the 1817 map below. Using the compass drawn over the River, you can see the true direction of north.
So, how do you use a map without orienting yourself to the north?
1. Locate the tall buildings. There is only one direction in the French Quarter you can see
the buildings. Congratulations! You just located Canal Street.
2. Face Canal Street. The Mississippi River is located to your left and Rampart Street is to your right. Behind you is Esplanade Avenue and the Faubourg Marigny.
There are only four directions you can walk in the Quarter; towards or away from Canal Street and towards or away from the Mississippi River.
Pay Attention to Local Weather
New Orleans is considered a sub-tropical region. That means it is normally hot and muggy. Our hottest months are July, August and September. Heat indices can reach above 110 degrees. It is very important to know your limitations in regard to the sun and heat. You should pack light clothing, large brimmed hats, sun tan lotion and anything else to give you protection. When you get into New Orleans you may want to stop in one of our French Quarter Boutiques and acquire a parasol, an umbrella for the sun. The surprise for most people are our winters. The humidity in New Orleans works both ways. It will make the hot days feel like someone is sitting on your chest; on the cold days it gives the cold teeth. I have met many visitors from Michigan surprised at how much bite our 40 degrees has compared to drier climates. The winters can also have dramatic 20-degree swings in temperature in either direction. My advice is for you to pack clothing that can be worn in layers. Another part of living in sub-tropical New Orleans is the rain. It rains here a lot. Sometimes it lasts for days and sometimes minutes. The entire city can be affected or just one little area. Check in with local weather daily while you are in town. If rain appears inevitable you are going to want to be prepared. It is not uncommon to experience sideways rain. Depending on the severity of the storm a combination of poncho and umbrella is recommended.
Pro Tip: carry a couple of zip-lock bags for your cell phone and wallet.
Fortunately, New Orleans does not have the same traffic concerns of hours of rush hour traffic. It is not more than a 30-minute drive from the Louis Armstrong International Airport to the French Quarter. Unless you are planning on driving to the surrounding areas of the gulf coast, do not rent a car. They can be more problematic than helpful. One the first things you may notice upon entering the quarter is the narrow streets with limited parallel parking options. For many the parallel parking alone, is a deal breaker. On street parking is also very regulated. Parking too close to corners, crosswalks, cab stands, and a dozen other infractions will get you towed. There are many paid parking lots around the Quarter, but their prices are seasonal and can fluctuate from very cheap to not worth it. Each block of the Vieux Carré is only three hundred feet long. Nearly everything in the Quarte is in walking distance. If you are not able to walk great distances, there are numerous bicycle taxis continually circling the blocks. Speaking of bicycles…..
Blue Bikes ride share was a brand new addition to our city last year. The bikes can be found at docking stations around the city and can be rented via an app. Bicycling is the easiest way to travel the French Quarter, Treme, Garden District, Marigny and Bywater faubourgs (neighborhoods). If you rent one of these or have your own, check out the Lafitte Greenway. It is about a two-mile bike path from the French Quarter to City Park.
And of course there are our famous streetcars. Before the 1940’s we had over 150 miles of track. Today it has been reduced to 23 miles. The are several lines that service locals and tourists alike. The St. Charles line has been in continual service since 1834. It is the longest running street car in the world! This classic street car will take you uptown through the Garden District to Tulane University and Audubon Park. The Canal Street Line will take you to City Park. The Riverfront car travels between the French Market and the Morial Convention Center. Our newest line is the Rampart streetcar. It begins near the City Hall and Superdome and ends on Elysian Fields in the Marigny. Cost is 1.25, but 3 or 5 day passes are the way to go.
New Orleans is one of the greatest cities in the world. Its influence can be seen, heard and tasted internationally. I hope that you will visit us in the Big Easy to experience it all for yourself.
If you want to hear more about my home town, check out my website www.storyvilletourco.com