Do You Need a Car in New Orleans? What You Need to Know

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Welcome to the Big Easy! Before we headed down to New Orleans over Spring Break, I were scratching my head trying to decide if renting a car was necessary. Everywhere I looked, advice was vague or conflicting, leaving me more confused than ever. I couldn’t find a definitive answer to the question “Do you need a car in New Orleans?” – so, to be safe, I rented one.

After spending an amazing time soaking up everything this lively city has to offer, I want to make it easier for YOU to decide if you should rent a car, and spoiler: for most trips to New Orleans, you probably won’t need a car.

Whether you’re here to groove to jazz on the streets, feast on beignets, visit City Park or soak up the rich history (or like me all of the above), I’ve got the lowdown on why going car-free might just be your best bet. Let’s dive in and get you prepped for your own adventure in one of America’s most charming cities.

Statue in the French Quarter of New Orleans

Why You Should Consider Not Renting a Car in New Orleans

Why skip the rental car in New Orleans? Well, it turns out that in NOLA, your feet and a few smart transit choices might be all you need. First off, the heart of the city’s charm—the historic French Quarter—is totally pedestrian-friendly, and walking through those lively streets is half the fun.

Parking can be a headache and quite pricey, especially near major attractions and during big events like Mardi Gras. Plus, New Orleans’ public transit system, including its iconic streetcars, covers most of the must-see spots efficiently and affordably. Going car-free not only eases your travel stress and saves you money, but also keeps you right in the thick of the city’s never-ending energy and spontaneity.

So when you are planning your New Orleans travel itinerary, keep in mind that the city’s charm unfolds on foot and through inexpensive public transit, offering a more intimate and engaging experience than you could ever get behind the wheel of a car.

sign for the Frenchmen Art Bazaar in New Orleans

Pros of Having a Car in New Orleans

Here are a few reasons why renting a car might be a good idea when visiting New Orleans:

  • Flexibility: Go anywhere, anytime. Having your own wheels gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace and on your own schedule. I hate to feel “stuck” so this is one of the reasons I chose to rent a car.
  • Day Trips: Access to nearby attractions outside city limits, like historic plantations and mysterious swamps, becomes much easier with a car. Or if you wanted to combine a beach visit with your New Orleans trip. This was my other reason for renting – I was afraid we’d want to explore beyond the city and a car would be something we needed.
  • Families: Traveling with kids or elderly family members? A car can simplify logistics, making it less stressful to manage naps, snacks, and comfort stops.

🚗 If you decide to rent a car in New Orleans, check for the best rates at DiscoverCars.

deserted street in New Orleans

Cons of Having a Car in New Orleans

While renting a car in New Orleans offers certain perks, it also comes with its fair share of drawbacks:

  • Parking Challenges: Finding a parking spot in the busier parts of the city, especially the French Quarter, can be frustrating and expensive. Many streets have limited parking, and garages often charge premium rates. One of our hotels had valet-only parking at $49/night – this is a BIG extra expense (I was lucky my status with that hotel waived it)
  • Traffic Congestion: New Orleans has some pretty heavy traffic, particularly during major festivals or events. Navigating crowded streets can add unnecessary stress to your vacation, and driving in a place where you don’t know where you are going is stressful enough!
  • Cost: The cost of renting a car adds up quickly when you consider rental costs, fuel, and parking fees. This can take a significant chunk out of your travel budget, which could be used for more fun activities or dining out in the city.

Opting out of a car rental might just save you a headache and keep a little extra cash in your pocket for enjoying what New Orleans has to offer.

VIP tour bus in New orleans

Alternatives to Driving in New Orleans: How to Get Around New Orleans Without a Car

Once I got to know New Orleans, I quickly realized how unnecessary our car rental was. There are plenty of alternatives to driving, and unless we plan a lot of day trips, I won’t bother renting a car next time.

Public Transportation Around New Orleans

The streetcars are not only a great way to get to some of the major tourist spots, but they are fun and can be an attraction themselves. Plus, they are CHEAP – like $3 per day cheap. Almost every local we spoke to (even our walking tour guide) gave us the rundown on how awesome the streetcars are, so the locals recommend them too!

Walking

After our small bus tour, I had a great feel for how to get around New Orleans on foot and had the layout of the city and French Quarter in my head. At that point, we walked pretty much everywhere. Not only did it enable us to get to most of where we wanted to go, but it also allowed us to really soak up the NOLA vibes. Plus, many of the things we ended up doing were walking tours, so we were on foot anyway!

New Orleans Weekend Getaway

New Orleans Weekend Itinerary

Visit my Etsy store to get a “done-for-you” weekend itinerary for New Orleans with your teens. All the planning is done for you – just print it out and follow along!

LEARN MORE

Rideshares

There were two occasions where we took an Uber, and based upon the things we did, if we hadn’t had a car we could have used a rideshare to and from the airport and to brunch one morning. Other than that we could have easily taken the streetcar or walked everywhere we wanted to go.

🚗 Insider tip: if you don’t know where exactly to tell your Uber/Lyft driver where you are, walk to the nearest hotel before you schedule your pick-up. It makes it super easy to find your driver.

Tour Buses

In New Orleans, there are plenty of fantastic tours you can take, and I’d highly recommend indulging in a few (which is easier to stomach if you’ve saved on a car rental). Simply by taking a small bus tour for an overview of the city you’ll get a feel for where you want to go back to and can then either look for a bus tour to take you there or just take a streetcar or ridshare.

🚗 Book a fun small bus tour of the city like this one on your first day like we did and it will make the rest of your trip easier!

Group of ladies in the New Orleans Easter parade

Tips for Visitors Choosing Not to Rent a Car

If you’re leaning towards exploring New Orleans without the hassle of a car, here are some tips to make your stay smooth and enjoyable. First, consider booking your accommodation in neighborhoods like the French Quarter or the Central Business District (CBD). We stayed in both areas and found walking to where we wanted to go was easy and felt safe.

The Hyatt Centric is located in the French District and makes walking that area a breeze!

To navigate the city efficiently, download the RTA app on your smartphone. It’s a handy tool that provides real-time updates on bus and streetcar routes, helping you plan your travel around the city with ease.

Lastly, while walking is a great way to soak in the local ambiance, always stay alert and stick to well-lit, busy streets, especially at night. Remember to keep your valuables close to your body (as you would in any big city).

Following these tips can make your car-free trip not only feasible but also thoroughly enjoyable.

Nighttime view of the New Orleans skyline and superdome

My Experience: Do you Need a Car in New Orleans Cost Analysis

To really help you make your decision, I’ll share the cost analysis of our last trip – the exact money we paid with renting a car versus what it would have been without.

COST WITH A CAR: Car rental: $430 (it is REALLY expensive to rent a car in New Orleans); Uber: $32 (one night to Frenchmen Street from the French Quarter and back). Gas: $5 (cause we barely used it!). I didn’t have to pay for parking, but if I had, it would have been another $50. So total spent by having a car: $467

COST WITHOUT A CAR: Had we gone without a car, we would have taken an Uber to the hotel, so about $35 each way, totaling $70. Same Uber for Frenchmen Street: $32. Another Uber for brunch one morning: $30 and a final Uber to take us to the Garden District and back (or we could have taken the streetcar and saved even more): $33. Total spent if we hadn’t had a car: $165. That’s over $300 in savings!

Pat O'Brien's sign in New Orleans

FAQs: Do I Need a Rental Car in New Orleans?

Do I need a car in New Orleans?

Unless you are planning a lot of day trips, no!

Do you need a rental car in New Orleans?

No, you can easily depend on public transportation, walking and rideshares.

Is New Orleans walkable?

The main tourist areas of New Orleans are very walkable.

What are the main transportation options for getting around New Orleans?

Walking, the bus & street car, and rideshares

What is parking like in New Orleans?

Parking is challenging and expensive.

The Answer: Do You Need a Rental Car in New Orleans?

And there you have it, a full scoop on whether you really need a car in New Orleans. Going into our Spring Break trip, the decision to rent a car seemed like the best option. But after immersing ourselves in the city, it became clear that for most visitors, a car might just complicate things more than it helps.

From our adventures through the bustling streets to the quiet moments enjoying local cuisine, we learned that New Orleans is best experienced at a slower pace and without the burden of a car.

In retrospect, skipping the car rental on our next trip could save us a bundle and spare the headache of navigating through traffic and hunting for parking. The real charm of New Orleans lies in its walkable districts so you are going to find yourself spending more time walking than driving regardless.

Before you book that rental car, consider how you plan to explore the city. If your itinerary keeps you mainly in the heart of New Orleans and you’re up for a little walking, then you might find, like we did, that a car is something you can easily do without. Save that extra money for an additional plate of crawfish étouffée, a creepy cemetery tour, or a night out on Frenchmen Street—you won’t regret it.

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Do I need a car in New Orleans?