The City of New Orleans was founded in 1718 by French explorers and colonists, but was ceded to Spain in the 1763 Treaty of Paris. Much of the city’s early development, centered in the present day French Quarter, was undertaken by the Spanish. The historic architecture in the French Quarter is, perhaps ironically, of Spanish design. New Orleans returned to French control in 1801, and was sold to the United States in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.
As Louisiana and New Orleans integrated into the American Republic, the city became a critical outpost for shipping and trade. With the Mississippi River running through the city and dumping into the Gulf of Mexico, it remains an important cog in international trade and shipping networks. The French and Spanish Creole culture permeated the city, inspiring both architecture and cuisine.
Today, New Orleans attracts many for its history, culture, food, music, sports and party scene. The city’s lax open container and drinking laws have earned it a distinction as a party city. Bourbon Street, at the heart of the French Quarter, is an avenue lined with bars, music joints and strip clubs. It is commonly seen as a center of drunkenness and debauchery, tracing its history to the Prohibition Era. Despite the party atmosphere in the French Quarter at night, “The Big Easy” has much more to offer: Beignets, jazz, creole food and Mardi Gras.
The public transportation system in New Orleans is largely, but not entirely accessible. Wheelchair users can adequately access the city via the bus network. Streetcars are also an option to get around, but not all routes are accessible. Information, including tips and guidelines for using the city transportation network if you have a mobility challenge can be found below.
City bus network
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) operates an extensive transportation network within the city of New Orleans. RTA buses are wheelchair accessible, with lowered floors and wheelchair ramps or lifts. RTA buses have wheelchair securement areas with tie down straps. The buses also offer priority seating areas for the elderly and disabled.
Because the New Orleans airport (MSY) is outside the city of New Orleans, public bus service to/from the airport is not operated by the RTA, but instead by the Jefferson Paris Transit JeT service. The JeT Express Bus, route E-2 offers service between MSY airport and New Orleans. Monday through Friday, JeT E-2 travels as far as the New Orleans central business district. Regardless of day of week or time, the JeT E-2 always offers connecting service to the RTA bus system in New Orleans. JeT buses are wheelchair accessible and offer the same accessibility features as those operated by the RTA. For more information on the JeT airport bus service, visit www.jeffersontransit.org. For information on connections between JeT and the RTA, visit www.norta.com.
Streetcar systemNew Orleans RTA operates a streetcar system, but not all lines and streetcars are accessible to wheelchair users due to steps. The RED street cars which operate on the Canal Street and Riverfront lines are accessible with motorized wheelchair lifts and securement areas. The green streetcars which operate on the St. Charles Avenue line are NOT wheelchair accessible. For more information on riding the streetcars with a disability, visit www.norta.com.
Fares, route maps and schedules
Fares on the New Orleans RTA bus and streetcar are $1.25 each way. Transfers between lines/routes are available for an additional $0.50, payable to the bus or streetcar operator. Senior citizens (age 65+) and disabled riders receive a discounted $0.40 fare and free transfers. For more information on reduced RTS fares and the disability fare application, visit www.norta.com.
Fares on the JeT E-2 airport express bus between MSY airport and New Orleans are $2.00 each way. Half-price fares are available to seniors (age 65+), medicare card holders and the disabled. For more information on reduced JeT fares and the application process, visit www.jeffersontransit.org.
- For bus times, schedules and directions, click here.
- For streetcar schedules and route maps, click here.
- For information on the city’s ADA Paratransit service and to see if you qualify, click here.
Due to the rapidly changing nature of accessibility of the world’s public transit systems, please use the comments section at the bottom of this page to share your experiences and any changes you may have noticed in New Orleans.
Accessible Taxi Services
New Orleans currently has only one wheelchair accessible taxi van with a lowered floor and wheelchair entry ramp, but many readers have reported it as unavailable. I would recommend that wheelchair users traveling to New Orleans develop alternate plans for getting around the city.
To request or the accessible taxi in New Orleans, use the following contact information:
Move NOLA Taxi Dispatch
Wheelchair taxis are charged at the same rate as a normal taxi. New Orleans city-approved fares are below:
Flag Drop — $3.50
Per additional 1/8 mile — $0.25
Waiting time (per 40 seconds) — $0.25
Each additional passenger — $1.00
Flat rate (Airport to/from downtown) — $33.00
Charges for luggage or use of the taxi trunk are not permitted. Additional charges for wheelchair handling are illegal.
Due to the fact that there is currently only one wheelchair taxi in New Orleans, wheelchair travelers should not rely on taxi service to/from the airport. A wheelchair accessible shuttle service, which travels between MSY airport and most hotels/areas in the city of New Orleans is a reliable option. The shuttle service costs $20.00 one way or $38.00 round trip. For more information on the New Orleans Airport Shuttle, visit www.airportshuttleneworleans.com. Wheelchair users should notify the company in advance to reserve an accessible shuttle at the desired time.
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is accessible to disabled travelers and wheelchair users.
The brand-new terminal concourse features ADA compliant restroom facilities. For accessible transportation options to/from the airport, consult the public transportation and taxi sections above.
Should you require a wheelchair at the airport or any other type of assistance, contact your airline directly prior to travel.
For any answers to questions about traveling by air with a wheelchair or disability, consult the Wheelchair Users’ Guide to Air Travel.
Accessibility of Sidewalks/Streets
Sidewalks in New Orleans are largely in a state of disrepair. Cracks are present on the majority of sidewalks, making one’s roll in a wheelchair uneven and bumpy. The roots of trees upend sidewalks, making the traverse quite difficult at times. Some sidewalks are not equipped with curb cuts, making them inaccessible to the independent wheeler.
Areas of downtown are better maintained, but far from perfect. The best sidewalks are located around new construction — casinos and hotels. Although the sidewalks will present challenges for wheelchair users, the city can still be accessed. A report from WWL TV Channel 4 sheds some light on the situation in New Orleans:
Attractions & Sights
New Orleans features a wealth of both free and paid attractions, museums and sights, the majority of which are wheelchair accessible. Listed below are many of these top sights and activities. All listed here are at least partially wheelchair accessible.
Bourbon Street is in many ways the essence of New Orleans. Located in the historic French Quarter, the street spans 13 blocks between Canal Street and Esplanade Avenue. Lined with bars, jazz joints and night clubs, Bourbon Street is full of action and entertainment. Most bars are accessible on the first level (some with portable ramps), but few offer elevator access to the upper floors and street balconies. The sidewalks are passable by wheelchair, with curb cuts at the majority of intersections. At night, the street is closed to traffic, allowing patrons of Bourbon Street (including those in wheelchairs) to walk/roll on the street itself. The street first opened while the territory was under French control in the early 1700s. A 1788 fire destroyed much of the city, but Bourbon street was rebuilt under Spanish control. Despite the city’s French heritage and creole culture, Bourbon Street displays extensive Spanish architecture and influence.
Cafe du Monde
Cafe du Monde is a coffee shop located in the city’s French Quarter. Ranked as one of the city’s must-see attractions, the cafe serves coffee in the French chicory style. Patrons can order a coffee or beignet and sit outside on the cafe’s patio. With a simple menu consisting of coffee, white and chocolate milk, orange juice and beignets, it does not require a large commitment of time. Lines are longest on the weekends, particularly during brunch hours. The cafe is wheelchair accessible, with no steps or barriers to entry.
Jackson SquareDeclared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, Jackson Square is a public green space located in the French Quarter. Small in size, covering about one city block, the square traces its origins to 1721. The city and region was then under French control. Originally named the Place d’Armes or “Weapons’ Square,” it was renamed Jackson Square following the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Then the general of the victorious American force, Andrew Jackson would become the 7th President of the United States. The square features at its center a towering statue of Jackson, erected in 1856 and sculpted by Clark Mills. The square is considered the “center” of the city, a gathering area for countless events and performances and is directly in front of the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis.
Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis, King of France
Located in the French Quarter, the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis is the Seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. The Cathedral was originally built in 1718, rebuilt from scratch in 1789 and again in 1850. The current structure, built in 1850, contains little of its 1789 predecessor, but remains one of America’s oldest Roman Catholic Cathedrals. The Cathedral has received two papal visits, the first by Pope Paul VI in 1964 and the most recent by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1987. The Cathedral is wheelchair accessible. For more information or Mass times, visit www.stlouiscathedral.org.
With construction completed in 1799, The Cabildo was built under Spanish rule. The building sits adjacent to the Cathedral of St. Louis at Jackson Square. In 1803, the building was the site of the Louisiana Purchase, which transferred the Louisiana Territory to the ownership of the United States. Once the headquarters of the New Orleans city government, The Cabildo became a museum in 1908. The Cabildo remains a part of the Louisiana State Museum and shares much about the history of the state with visitors. Adult admission is priced at $6.00. For more information on The Cabildo and the exhibits within its museum, visit www.louisianastatemuseum.org.
The Presbytere, located near The Cabildo and Jackson Square, was built in 1791 on land owned by Capuchin monks. Initially a site of commerce, the Presbytere later became a courthouse and, in 1911, a part of the Louisiana State Museum. The structure currently houses two exhibits, Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana and Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond. Admission to the museum is $6.00. For more information on The Presbytere and the exhibits within its museum, visit louisianastatemuseum.org.
Taking up more than 1,300 acres and more than twice the size of New York’s Central Park, New Orleans’ City Park is the 6th largest and 7th most visited urban green space in the United States. The park is home to many attractions, including a golf course, horse stables and amusement rides. The park is also home to the New Orleans Museum of Art and the New Orleans Botanical Garden. The park has accessible paths and well manicured lawns throughout, making access by wheelchair quite easy.
New Orleans Museum of ArtLocated within City Park and near the terminus of the Canal Street streetcar line, the New Orleans Museum of Art was opened in 1911. A fine art museum worth a visit, the NOMA houses some 40,000 pieces of art. Included in the collection are works by Braque, Degas, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Renoir and Rodin. The collection is made up largely of American and European works from the Italian Renaissance to the modern era. The museum also features a furniture collection and sculpture garden. The museum is wheelchair accessible and features ADA compliant bathroom facilities on the first floor. Access to the museum is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors aged 65+. The sculpture garden is free to the public and does not require a ticket to the museum galleries. For more information on the museum and its collection, visit www.noma.org.
Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel & Casino
Opened in 1999 and remodeled after Hurricane Katrina, Harrah’s is the only casino which legally operates in the State of Louisiana. The casino features more than 2,000 slot machines, 90 table games and a poker room. The hotel features 450 hotel rooms and suites. The entire complex sits a block away from the banks of the Mississippi River. Both the hotel and casino are wheelchair accessible. A limited number of the hotel’s rooms are equipped with accessibility features in the room and bathroom. For more information on the Harrah’s casino, hotel or other attractions, visit www.harrahsneworleans.com.
Aquarium of the Americas
Operated by the Audobon Institute, the Aquarium of the Americas is one of the top aquariums in the United States. Located along the banks of the Mississippi River on Canal Street, the aquarium is home to more than 10,000 animals representing 530 species. The aquarium focuses on aquatic life in the Americas, with popular exhibits showcasing that life in the Caribbean reef, Amazon, Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River. Tickets are $23.95 for adults and $18.95 for seniors aged 65+. The aquarium is wheelchair accessible.
Professional Sports Teams
Two professional sports teams reside in New Orleans, with both of their stadiums offering accessible seating and wheelchair access. The NFL’s New Orleans Saints and NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans each provide exciting game day experiences. Links to the team-specific accessibility information, stadium locations and ticket office phone numbers are listed below. Each stadium is accessible via public transportation.
NFL – New Orleans Saints
1500 Sugar Bowl Drive, New Orleans, LA
Website – Disabled Access Info
NBA – New Orleans Pelicans
Smoothie King Center
1500 Sugar Bowl Drive, New Orleans, LA
Website – Disabled Access Info
Wheelchair Accessible Hotels in New Orleans
Due to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the vast majority of hotels in the United States are wheelchair accessible and have rooms with roll-in showers. For individuals requiring an accessible hotel room with roll-in shower, we recommend booking with a major hotel chain such as Hilton or Marriott for the best experience.