20 In Destinations/ USA

A Do’s and Don’t’s Travel Guide to New Orleans

There are certain places in the world that you shouldn’t go your life without seeing, and New Orleans is certainly one of them. It is entirely different to all the other American cities Ty and I have visited so far in our road trip across this great country, as it feels like it exists in a different time and place altogether. The bohemian spirit is palpable, the party vibe is intoxicating and its laissez-faire attitude are all what make it special and unique. But to be totally honest, New Orleans was very different to what we were expecting and we were left a bit underwhelmed by our time there. Let me explain!
I feel very conflicted about telling this story because I usually find the beauty in even the most hidden of places (I’m the eternal optimist) but at the same time, I feel compelled to tell it because if I could pass on some travel tips to my former New Orleans naïve self, then it might have made our time there more enjoyable. You see, safety is absolutely paramount to me when travelling and I guess that was my main issue with the city. Even during the day, there were times when we felt very unsafe, even in the touristy areas (and sometimes, especially in the touristy areas!) and I can’t even tell you how we felt after the sun went down. 
While there were definitely things we enjoyed and even loved about New Orleans, I want to share our real experience of it. I really hope you have the opportunity to visit one day and when you do, I hope this post will equip you with a few of the things the guidebooks don’t  i.e. a realistic idea of what to expect, areas to avoid, tourist traps to be wary off and how to stay safe when visiting New Orleans! So, without further ado, here is my list of New Orleans do’s and don’t’s.

Canal Street

Named for a canal that was never built, this is the line drawn to divide the American settlers and the French and Spanish who were living in the French Quarter before America purchased Louisiana from France in the 1800s. Today, it is home to many hotels, shops and restaurants.
DO start your exploration of the city here.
DON’T hang out on the French Quarter side of Canal Street at night unless you don’t mind being hassled by drunk riff-raff.
Beautiful palm trees line the extremely wide Canal Street
The Canal Street streetcar line runs right down the middle of the street, with traffic running on either side – it’s an extremely wide street!
French Quarter

The oldest, and undoubtedly the most famous, neighborhood in New Orleans, the French Quarter is a National Historic Landmark and a popular destination for tourists and locals both during the day and at night. The area boasts beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, a local bohemian artistic community of musicians and artists, a multitude of bars and restaurants and gorgeous historic landmarks. A visit to Frenchman Street is a must if you want to go to where the locals love their jazz music.
DO make sure you do your research and use common sense! Some of the unsafe and dangerous areas are extremely close to the major tourist sites (like only one street over), so know where the boundaries are and enjoy all the good that the French Quarter has to offer.
DON’T travel alone and don’t venture past the tourist areas – as a tourist you really have no business walking around those areas anyway. Definitely avoid Bourbon Street. According to the locals, forty years ago Bourbon St then was the Frenchman Street of now. The years haven’t been kind to Bourbon Street, which now closely resembles the stinking, dirty aftermath of the world’s largest frat party, is overrun with extremely drunk teenagers, tourists behaving badly and street walkers praying on the very drunk. If you want an authentic New Orleans experience with great bars and jazz music, skip Bourbon Street and head to Frenchman Street.
Beautiful Spanish colonial architecture of the French Quarter
Frenchman Street
French Market
Where the French Market differs from your usual collection of market trinkets and souvenirs, is all in its history and its food (so much so I dedicated an entire post to the New Orleans cuisine! You can read about it here.). Its history as the major trading post of native American slaves along the Mississippi River, makes it the oldest public market of its kind. While in the French Quarter, make sure you visit the Market. From a historical and cultural standpoint, it is a must.
DO eat jambayala while listening to the sound of jazz music every day of the week!
DON’T get sucked in to paying $9 for a daiquiri – a tourist trap for sure!
Interestingly, state law of Louisiana permits the drinking of alcohol in public areas and on the street. For better or worse, it’s an interesting part of the New Orleans culture and Ty and I bought daiquiris (yes, we paid $9 each 🙁 ) to drink while strolling through the market!
Jackson Square
A historic park in the French Quarter, Jackson Square is a definite must-see. In the 18th and early 19th century, it was the prime site for the public execution of disobedient slaves, but today is bustling with local musicians, artists, tourists and locals as it is the city’s most notable park and home to the beautiful Saint Louis Cathedral.
DO walk around the park and take lots of pictures! Its so beautiful.
DON’T make eye contact with the beggers lining the streets around the square (terribly hard for me because I like to smile at everyone) as they can become quite aggressive in their demand for money.
View of the Saint Louis Cathedral from our bus tour
We went back the following day to get an ‘up close and personal’ shot of the stunning Cathedral
St Charles Streetcars
The longest of New Orleans’ streetcar lines, St Charles streetcars are the oldest running of their kind in the world, and a great, novel way to get around the city. The St Charles streetcars run right down the centre of the historic St Charles Avenue, which is famous for its beautiful tree-lined streets and mansions.
DO take a ride on a streetcar. At only $3 a day, and with four operating lines running all over the city, its a great and novel way to explore New Orleans.
DON’T ride the streetcar to the end of the line as it terminates in a high crime area. Also, don’t ride the streetcar if you are a) in a hurry (so annoying listening to the people next to us complain continuously about this!) because they aren’t a particularly fast way to get around, or b) it’s the middle of summer because the St Charles streetcars are not air conditioned. This wasn’t a problem for us as it was a beautiful winter’s day, but I can appreciate how hot and uncomfortable the trip could have been if it was summer. Just a word of warning 🙂
Riding the St Charles streetcar was a trip highlight!
The Garden District
This brings us to the Garden District, of which St Charles Avenue runs through the middle. Given its name due to the large house lots that provided plenty of room for beautiful gardens, the Garden District is said to be the best preserved collection of historic southern mansions in the United States. A little way out from the city, but easily accessible by a 30 minute streetcar ride, Ty and I spent a morning wondering around and admiring the beautiful old mansions.
DO wear your walking shoes! The area has a safe, residential feel so take your time admiring the beautiful southern homes along St Charles Avenue.
DON’T forget to keep an eye out for the likes of Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Anne Rice or Nicolas Cage in the neighborhood!
The gorgeous tree-lined St Charles Avenue
One of the largest and most impressive mansions, apparently purchased for a staggering $12 million!
Some of our favourites
St Louis Cemetery #3
I’m not being morbid or macabre here, but a visit to one of a handful of New Orleans cemeteries is a must for any visitor! There is an extremely reasonable and non-creepy reason for people being buried above the ground that has nothing to do with New Orleans being “below sea level” (a widely believed myth) – it is due to its French and Spanish heritage and tradition. There are three St Louis cemeteries in New Orleans, but #3 was the one we visited during our city bus tour and is apparently in better shape and less run down than #1 and #2, despite being heavily flooded during Hurricane Katrina.
DO visit at least one cemetery while in New Orleans! And if you are a film fanatic, you’ll know that many movies have been filmed in New Orleans cemeteries, including Dracula and Double Jeopardy.
DON’T get lost – a very real possibility as each cemetery is huge! Also don’t go alone and don’t go at night – not only would that be incredibly spooky but some aren’t in the best parts of town!
Family vaults in St Louis Cemetery #3, some dating back to the early 19th Century
Remarkably, most vaults were left undamaged after the flooding following Hurricane Katrina, but a few show the signs of age
A beautiful tribute to Mother Teresa
New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
As two pharmacists visiting New Orleans, I’ll admit that the concept of this musuem probably interests Ty and I more than the average visitor, but I dare you to venture in! Located in an unassuming building in a relatively quiet part of the French Quarter, you could walk by completely unaware of this museum’s existence, but it would be such a shame! The first floor is an 18th Century apothecary, and with shelves and glass cases filled with all sorts of who-knows-whats, it appeals to most people’s childlike interests in all things shiny and mystical. An ancient marble and wood soda fountain stands in one corner, silver and gold coated pills line the shelves and all sorts of weird and wonderful medieval-looking instruments make you thankful for modern day medicine. Oh and did you know, pharmacists were the first inventors of soft drinks, to mask the bitterness of medicines? With my love of history and pharmacy, I was very much in my element here!
DO visit the museum and tag along on the tour. At the very least, it is a fascinating glimpse into the history, eccentricities, beliefs and way of life of our ancestors, and how much the world has changed in a relatively short period of time.
DON’T forget to leave a tip! The tour guide made the museum so enjoyable, with interesting anecdotes and a great passion for history! He even dressed the part (I love a good thematic outfit!).

My cute pharmacist outside the museum

1. Shelves upon shelves of weird and wonderful concoctions. 2. The beautiful marble and wood soda fountain. 3. Silver coated pills in a beautiful old bottle. 4. An original medicine cabinet. 5. Our guide, dressed the part, of course. 6. The compounding area had an air of mystery about it and was closed off from the public – all of this added to the perceived ‘magical and mystical’ abilities of the pharmacist!
The Mississippi River
OK, so it would be a little hard to miss this one! New Orleans is situated right on the bank of the enormous Mississippi River, so you’d really have to go out of your way not to see it!
DO check out the river and river walk during the day. Have your photo taken with the giant/mutant prawn (shrimp) at the end of Canal Street, just for a bit of fun!
DON’T hang around the river at night as it is a common congregation area for wanderers and thugs.
The giant prawn (shrimp) got a hold of my fiancé, but I managed to talk him down
The 9th Ward, Treme and The Musician’s Village
These neighbourhoods are eye-opening places to visit and provide a great insight to New Orleans history. The 9th Ward came to global attention for its devastation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and its slow process to rebuild. Sadly, damaged property and ruined lots are  still seen in this area. Musician’s Village is a new neighborhood built after Hurricane Katrina in an effort to house its population of musicians, many of whom lost their homes during the hurricane. It houses the majority of New Orleanian musicians today. Treme is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, and it is historically significant as, early in its history, it was the main neighborhood for ‘free people of colour’. It remains an important centre for Creole culture and the modern day brass band tradition.
DO plan a visit out to these neighborhoods. They are rich in culture and historic significance, both in early history and more modern times, and they provide a glimpse of real-life in New Orleans (i.e. not life on the tourist trail).
DON’T walk around these neighborhoods as some parts can be very dicey. They are best visited on a bus tour, where you can learn about their history, without the worry of wandering off in places you shouldn’t!
The Pelham Hotel
Finding a place to stay that ticks all the boxes, like price, location, comfort, etc, is always a difficult task. But if you ever have the opportunity to visit New Orleans, I know the perfect place you can stay! The Pelham Hotel is one street back from Canal Street, on the CBD side, which means it is perfectly located for exploring New Orleans. Not a day went by that Ty and I didn’t marvel at how lucky we were to have found a lovely, boutique-y hotel, that felt very safe (a major necessity for me), but still close to all the activities and attractions. I highly recommend it!
DO book the Pelham Hotel through Booking.com or a similar site – rates are much cheaper that way!
DON’T hesitate to ask the front desk about places to eat, tours to do, and just about anything else New Orleans related. You’ll get some great advice and insider tips!
Street scams and hustlers 
I know this goes on in just about any city you visit, but street scams and hustling is very common in New Orleans. Countless times, we were either approached or we saw other tourists and even locals being hassled by street scammers and hustlers. Knowing these commonly run scams in advance helps to know what you are up against and how you can avoid getting sucked in!
“I bet I can tell ya where ya got ‘dem shoes at” – the answer is “On my feet on (whatever street you are on) in New Orleans”, which you wouldn’t otherwise know, and then all of a sudden the hustler is demanding $20. Things can get pretty nasty if you refuse.
“I bet I can spell ya last name” – obviously they don’t know your last name, but the answer is “Y-O-U-R-L-A-S-T-N-A-M-E”. Then you’re expected to pay up.
The shoe shiner scam – a random person on the street approaches you, bends down at your feet, spritzes your shoes with a spray bottle and then shines them with a towel, while you stand there completely dumbfounded. At the end, the scammer pressures you for a very hefty tip of around $20.
DO follow the Gold Rule of the Streets: never play another man’s game, no matter what it is! and if you do decide to play, pay up to avoid any nastiness, threats or violence (but why would you willingly want to play, really?).
DON’T stop and engage anyone who approaches you on the street, no matter what they want. Just say politely but firmly “no thank you” and keep walking. Don’t lend anyone your mobile phone, no matter how legitimate the request seems, and don’t agree to let anyone who offers to take your picture take it, otherwise it’ll be ‘bye bye expensive camera’.
As you can see, we had lots of wonderful experiences in New Orleans, but a lot of these do’s and don’t’s would have been extremely useful to know before we visited! Unfortunately, we had to learn the hard way a few times, but I hope this post will help you to have an absolutely amazing time in New Orleans should you ever visit. And you definitely should!
Have you ever had a similar experience when visiting a city or place before?
With love, Carly xo
Linking up with Travel Tuesday today!
Travel Tuesday

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