New Orleans is one of the most beautiful cities in the United States. Its unique past, featuring extensive French influence, means that it has a culture, food scene, and even language unlike anywhere else in the country.
It’s no wonder that over 19 million people visit each year. Visitors to New Orleans certainly have a lot to see. Most flock to the French Quarter, the old European-style quarter featuring beautiful architecture and a vibrant street quarter.
Bourbon Street is a tourist trap, but for a reason, as you can’t find lively nightlife like this any other time. Time your visit right, and you’ll get caught up in the hedonistic crowds of Mardi Gras.
New Orleans is a gorgeous tourist destination, but it is still a big city with all of the problems a typical big city in the United States might have. It’s important to be mindful of your safety when you plan your visit.
But don’t worry — our travel experts have put together this comprehensive guide to help you plan your trip to New Orleans while keeping safety concerns in mind. Let us be your guide!
Is New Orleans Safe to Visit?
Many visitors to New Orleans don’t feel safe because of the city’s high crime rate, especially for violent crime.
However, the crime rate is stratified geographically, and most neighborhoods where tourists venture are safe from high crime.
The touristy parts of the city, such as the French Quarter, do see a slightly higher petty crime rate than elsewhere. In any case, however, New Orleans does suffer from a very high crime rate.
Common crimes include:
- Armed robbery
- Petty theft
A main cause of concern for visitors and residents in New Orleans is the high rate of violent crime. In New Orleans, you have a 1 in 72 chance of being the victim of a violent crime.
The 2022 crime data for New Orleans was particularly horrific, with the city being one of the only metropolitan areas in the United States that actually saw an increase in violent crime instead of a decrease.
According to some metrics, New Orleans currently has the worst homicide rate in the United States. When the statistics are this bad, you’re probably wondering why people visit New Orleans at all!
However, most violent crime is confined to certain poorer districts of the city, which truly have bad crime rates and thus drive up the citywide average.
That means most tourists are rarely affected by New Orleans’s bad crime statistics. The New Orleans weather is a far likelier threat to your health if you’re not careful. The city gets hot and humid beginning in early spring.
If you are visiting in the spring and summer, make sure that you wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and try to stick to the shade. New Orleans is one of the locations in the United States that is the most vulnerable to hurricane season.
Not only is it near the Gulf Coast, but it is also directly along the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, sometimes below sea level. When the levees, or the system of dams keeping the waters at bay, break, then New Orleans floods.
The most dramatic example of this occurred when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005. The storm killed 638 people and caused over $3 billion in damage.
Nearly two decades after the storm, New Orleans still hasn’t recovered completely. The population fell by nearly 30% as many people couldn’t return to their damaged homes or were afraid to return.
Some people are still waiting to rebuild their homes properly or for the return of important infrastructure such as hospitals and schools.
Few storms have been as damaging as Hurricane Katrina, but it is still a good idea to avoid traveling to New Orleans during the peak of hurricane season, which is from late August to late September.
Crime in New Orleans
The most common concern for visitors to New Orleans is crime — and with good reason. New Orleans has one of the highest crime rates in the country and is in the 98th percentile in terms of safety (that means it is less safe than 98% of American cities according to Neighborhood Scout).
According to the same source, the crime rate is 54.97 incidents per 1,000 residents, which is much higher than the national average.
The property crime rate in New Orleans is high, with residents having a 1 in 24 chance of being the victim of a property crime. Theft is the most common property crime, but rates of burglary and motor vehicle theft are also very high.
Far more concerning is the violent crime rate, which is also far above the national average. The homicide rate in 2022 was the highest in the nation.
And so far, 2023 is on track to be just as bloody, with homicide rates for the first few months already outnumbering the homicides in 2022 for the same period.
Activists are struggling to make sense of the violence and unpack the many factors, including high rates of poverty, unemployment, gang violence, and drug-related crime. However, as we mentioned above, crime in New Orleans is stratified greatly by location.
A map put together by local news shows the breakdown of crime by location, and while some neighborhoods have high homicide rates, others have no incidents at all.
The neighborhoods that tourists tend to frequent have very low violent crime rates, making it likely that your trip to New Orleans will be pleasant.
Although many visitors and people who regularly read the news panic about the high homicide rate in New Orleans, they are far more likely to be the victims of a more mundane crime.
Although most homicides occur outside of touristy areas, those are precisely the regions that attract the most petty thieves in the city.
Distracted (and often inebriated tourists) flashing valuables make the perfect opportunity for criminals, so make sure that you are not one of them. It is tempting to party it up on Bourbon Street, but pickpockets often target bars and clubs for distracted tourists.
If you go out to explore the New Orleans nightlife, make sure that you let loose in moderation. Divide up your valuables, leaving some money at your accommodation.
Never leave your bag or wallet unattended in a bar, as that is a great way to ensure that you don’t see it again. Pickpockets and bag snatchers also operate during the day, particularly in the French Quarter and other areas that attract tourists.
Be careful about flashing your valuables. You can take out your phone or camera to take a photo or look up directions but put it away securely instead of carrying it in your hand.
Put wallets and IDs in your front pocket, not your back pocket. Opt for a secure, discreet bag that zips well and fits across your body instead of a tote bag that doesn’t close well or a flashy designer purse.
Scams are also common in touristy parts of New Orleans. The official New Orleans tourism board website offers tips about recognizing tactics by scammers and thieves.
It’s common for people to walk up to tourists and say, “I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes,” playing on the city’s reputation for voodoo and divination.
Avoid those scammers as well as any shell games, street card games, or other people desperate to get your attention, as they usually work with accomplices who will rob you.
The biggest crime visitors to New Orleans worry about is homicide. Unfortunately, New Orleans made headlines in 2022, and not for the right reasons.
The city had high homicide rates in 2022, outranking cities notorious nationwide for their high homicide rates, such as Chicago and St. Louis. Analysts are still unpacking why New Orleans was affected so much by homicides.
Analysts cite post-pandemic uncertainty and a proliferation of guns, but that isn’t unique to the city. City police representatives say that the department is uniquely overwhelmed.
New Orleans has struggled with violence for decades, and advocates point to other societal factors besides poor police preparedness.
All the way back in 2016, activists, analysts, and local journalists warned that the city’s high inequality, poverty, and incarceration rates, combined with a poor social safety net and a lack of education, created the conditions of multidimensional poverty that allows violent crime, including homicides, to happen.
The homicide epidemic in New Orleans is a huge problem for locals, and it primarily affects locals. Most homicide victims are New Orleans residents, the majority of which are young black men.
Often, victims knew the perpetrator (as with most violent crimes) or were at least somewhat connected. Violence is also prevalent in certain neighborhoods and not in others. All those factors mean that tourists rarely are victims of homicide in New Orleans.
Avoiding Bad Areas
As we mentioned a few times, the crime rate in New Orleans is stratified drastically by neighborhood. That means that by avoiding bad areas, you can do a lot to protect yourself from violent crime.
Although most touristy areas are safe, there are certain parts of even these neighborhoods that are dangerous. In the French Quarter, be careful around Rampart and Esplanade, especially the north end of Esplanade.
In the tony Garden District, be careful when heading from Magazine toward the river, as that area gets a bit rougher. The New Orleans neighborhoods with some of the highest crime rates are 7th Ward, Saint Roch, St. Claude, Desire, and Central City.
The 6th District is also another area that saw an increase in crime, especially gang-related violence. These are just a few of the more dangerous neighborhoods. New Orleans, unfortunately, has more crime-ridden areas than we can list here.
But the good news is that they are far away from anywhere you as a tourist would want to go anyway. Ask your accommodations host or receptionist for detailed information, and trust your instincts as you wander around the city.
Things to Consider
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when visiting New Orleans:
- Take a taxi at night instead of walking alone or in a small group. If you’re using a ride-sharing app, confirm the identity of the driver before getting in, as criminals sometimes pose as Uber or Lyft drivers.
- Try to fit in as much as you can. That means removing convention badges, not carrying around bulky cameras, and not wearing Mardi Gras beads outside of Mardi Gras.
- If you visit during Mardi Gras, remember that picking beads up from the floor is considered bad luck!
- Despite its reputation for hedonism, New Orleans does have some strict alcohol laws. Don’t walk around with open glass bottles; ask for a plastic to-go cup instead.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other questions fellow visitors to New Orleans wanted to know:
Is the French Quarter safe at night?
The busiest parts of the French Quarter are safe at night because they are full of people, although you should still keep a firm grasp on your valuables. However, avoid more isolated areas or certain parts such as Rampart and Esplanade.
Is it safe to walk in New Orleans at night?
Certain parts of New Orleans are safe to walk at night, such as well-lit, busy streets. However, most parts are not safe to walk in New Orleans at night, so stick to taking taxis.
Is Bourbon Street safe at night?
Bourbon Street is fairly rowdy at night, but it is safe. It is always full of people, so there’s not much cover for criminals, and it is one of the most patrolled places in New Orleans in terms of police activity.
Is New Orleans downtown safe?
The downtown areas of New Orleans, which usually encompass the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, the Garden District, and other parts along the Mississippi River, are mostly safe.
However, be careful of petty crime, as criminals target tourists in these areas. The 9th Ward is sometimes considered downtown, and that is unsafe.
Where not to stay in New Orleans?
In New Orleans, avoid staying far away from the center. Many neighborhoods, including the 9th, 7th, and 6th wards, are dangerous as you move away from downtown.
So, Is New Orleans Safe to Visit?
New Orleans does have a high crime rate, and it is important to be aware of your surroundings as you move around and avoid any bad neighborhoods. However, the worst of the crime primarily affects locals, not tourists. Happy travels!