In general, the United States is a crappy place to get around by public transportation. There are a few cities that are exceptions, however, and in some of those it’s actually pleasant. At the top of that list would have to be New Orleans, where people actually board the streetcars because it’s a fun ride.
I was in New Orleans a few months back for the first time in ages, on a post-convention trip eating my way through Louisiana. I was lucky enough to be there while an annual seafood festival was going on and as it so happened, that was taking place at the end of the green Canal Streetcar line. Then I hopped on another line that goes through the Garden District, with views out the windows of the grand homes in the nicest neighborhoods. See a video tour here:
Sure, staying, eating, and partying in the French Quarter is lots of fun, but you’re not doing the city justice if that’s the only part you see. Take a ride on the St. Charles Streetcar line and if you go far enough, you’ll see a huge levee holding back the Mississippi River. Grab a bite to eat or a beer there an imagine what it must have felt like to be there when Hurricane Katrina ripped through. You’ll also pass near Loyola and Tulane Universities. Another line goes directly to Loyola, while the red Canal line goes up to the above-ground cemeteries, where you can get some cool photos.
These are refreshingly creaky old cars too, not some aerodynamic modern marvels whooshing along on dedicated median strips. These are vintage cars going through real neighborhoods.
Not only is this an enjoyable way to see the city, but fitting to this blog, it’s also cheap. A normal one-time ride is $1.25 and transfers are free. Or you can buy a day pass (which also works for bus lines) for just $3. Pony up $55 and you can ride as much as you want for a whole month. In between are passes for 3 and 5 days. If you’re 65 or over, you only have to pull out four dimes to be on your way.
Parking in the French Quarter is crazy expensive, topping $25 a day at some hotels, so this is not a city you want to drive into and park. You’re much better off catching a taxi from the airport and then walking and using the streetcars after that. Or if you are doing some kind of cross-country journey, find a public parking lot or street parking near one of the streetcar lines and leave the car there until it’s time to leave.
New Orleans is a city where you actually want to take public transportation, so enjoy it! See the full scoop on the streetcars at norta.com and get more info on New Orleans at their official tourism site. (Yes, on my 4th visit to the city, I was hosted by them this time.)
Get some more in-depth ideas for sightseeing and walking tours in this GoNOMAD article on discovering the literary French history of New Orleans.
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