In early December, as I was reading everything I could find on the Internet about New Orleans, I found a mixed bag of message board posts, some of which claimed the French Quarter is more dangerous than ever, and others the exact opposite. I also ran across some comments referencing how poorly lit some streets in the French Quarter are. This alarmed me a bit, since I’m a woman traveling alone and also nightblind. Poorly lit streets are a magnet for crime, not to mention stumbling accidents due to holes or obstacles on sidewalks. The poor lighting is generally attributed to the fact that Hurricane Katrina destroyed thousands of street lights in the city. I was told ahead of time by people who knew the city to take a cab everywhere at night.
In reality, the lighting wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be. The lights in the French Quarter seem to have been repaired. Even nightblind, the major streets in the Quarter were well-lit enough for me to walk them, including Bourbon, Decatur, Chartres, Royal, and Canal–which is extremely well-lit. (However, not all the sidewalks are in the greatest of shape, so do watch where you’re stepping if you don’t want to take a header.)
That said, during my ghost tour, we were taken on some streets nearer the side of the French Quarter bordering Esplanade and the Marigny district. These streets were definitely darker, and I was very glad I was with a group of people. If you’re planning to stay at a hotel on that side of the Quarter, or headed over there from your hotel, you might consider taking a cab at night. I certainly would.
The other thing that impressed me and contributed to a feeling of security as I walked around at night alone was the police presence all over the Quarter. There were plenty of other tourists on the streets as well, and there is safety in numbers. That’s not to say there isn’t still the potential for pickpockets, muggings, or worse, but I think you can avoid being a victim of crime if you show some common sense: I didn’t get drunk, dress like a target (skirt, heels, jewelry), or stay out past 11pm. This is my SOP when traveling alone. It may not be your idea of fun, but it’s served me well so far.
The upshot is that everyone needs to make up their own mind whether or not they feel safe in a given situation, but I didn’t find New Orleans to be any less safe than any other city I’ve ever visited. If safety concerns are keeping you from traveling there, relax. Even if you don’t feel comfortable walking at night by yourself, it is very easy–and not expensive–to take cabs wherever you want to go. Don’t let fear keep you from visiting this wonderful city.
Oh, and yes–the water is safe to drink, too.