If you want to head to New Orleans when it’s cheap, go there in summer. Hotels lower prices in August, and you can find round-trip flights from many parts of the U.S. for under $300. Why? It’s hot. It’s also hurricane season — a thing that’s not to be taken lightly in New Orleans. But if you can deal with the risk and brave the heat, it’s a great time to go. Crowds are smaller. Lines for restaurants are shorter. And there’s something about 90-degree weather that feels right in New Orleans — like it’s part of the city’s charm. If you’re heading down, here’s how to brave the heat:
1. Take a bike tour.
It might sound completely counterintuitive, but one way to keep cool in the Crescent City is to get moving. A bike tour, particularly in sprawling neighborhoods like the Garden District, can actually help keep you cool. You’ll cover more ground faster than you would on a walking tour, the helmet keeps the top of your head out of the sun, and the motion of the bike gives you an instant breeze. Our favorite tour at the moment is the one run by the kind folks at Buzz Nola. Their flat-seated cruiser bikes are easy to control, even for those with less biking experience, and they provide bottled water and sunblock.
2. Have a siesta.
When in New Orleans, make like the city’s European forebears and spend the afternoon’s hottest hours resting. From 3-5 p.m. each day, when the overhead sun feels hottest, head inside for a late lunch or an afternoon drink or tea, or make an appointment with your hotel bed. Besides avoiding a lot of sweltering heat, you’ll soundly recharge for an evening out in a city that’s famous for its nightlife. We’re big fans of the afternoon (non-) activities at the posh Windsor Court Hotel, where guests can purchase an upgrade package that includes afternoon tea, water and drinks, and snacks throughout the day. The salon where it’s all served also offers plush divans, magazines and newspapers, and 180-degree views of the Mississippi.
3. Make your own breeze.
New Orleans is not a fully air-conditioned city. The open-air French Market, where you can shop for knick knacks, and the patio at famous Café du Monde, for example, are decidedly AC-free. Same goes for the tiny, thrillingly atmospheric performance room at Preservation Hall, where you can see traditional New Orleans jazz performed without amplification (in a building that contains neither a bar, nor restrooms). All of these places should be on any first-time visitor’s to-do list — just come prepared. Pack a fan, or, barring that, a handkerchief to mop up the sweat.
4. Head to the pool.
Hint: Most major New Orleans hotels have swimming pools. The one at the aforementioned Windsor Court is situated on the rooftop and has water-spurting fountains in the shape of frogs. But wherever you stay, make sure your property of choice has one, and come prepared to use it. Bring a bathing suit to avoid an afternoon run to H&M to buy one (located near Jackson Square at 418 North Peters St., just in case you need to keep that address handy). Trust us, after a morning of walking around the French Quarter or Fauxbourg Marigny in the sun (and possibly with a drink in one hand, depending on what kind of traveler you are), an afternoon dip will do you good.
5. Time your sightseeing like a pro.
In New Orleans, the golden rule of sightseeing is as follows: Start early. If there are neighborhoods you simply must see on foot, try to get your wandering out of the way before noon. The hipster coffee shops — The Orange Couch in the Faubourg Marigny; Satsuma in the Bywater — open at 7 a.m., and Café du Monde in the French Quarter is open 24 hours, so you won’t have to go without your morning jolt of energy. Mornings mean (mostly) quiet streets, closed bars and clubs, and lots of light to see (and obsessively photograph) the city’s wrought iron, candy-colored, Grecian-pillared architecture.
6. Eat smart.
New Orleans cuisine isn’t exactly known for being light. Add an oyster-stuffed po’ boy, a bag of beignets, and a plate of jambalaya to a humid day and you don’t exactly have a recipe for comfortable sightseeing. If you must eat heavier fare (and trust us, you must), have it at dinner when the sun’s going down and your sightseeing for the day is over. If you’re in the middle of touring, choose wisely and go with raw or grilled seafood instead. If you’re in search of the city’s signature flavor without all the grease, try a restaurant in the burgeoning Warehouse District called Peche. The winner of two James Beard Awards, it offers dishes with classic New Orleans style and flavor — fried brussels sprouts with chili vinegar; fried bread with sea salt; shrimp and fontina croquettes — but won’t make you feel like you need a nap.
Whether you’re walking through Treme at noon or prowling Bourbon Street in the wee hours with a Hurricane cocktail in one hand, the cardinal rule of sightseeing goes double in New Orleans: Drink water — and lots of it. Between the humidity, the alcohol, the exertion of sightseeing, and the bleating sun, there’s almost no such thing as drinking too much water in New Orleans. Carry a water bottle during the day, and alternate one drink and one glass of water at night. You’ll likely see the effects of dehydration in full effect if you wander through the French Quarter any time after 9 p.m.. Don’t join the cabal on this one. You’ll thank us when you wake up the next morning.
8. Go indoors.
If you need a few hours of respite, New Orleans has several stellar indoor air-conditioned attractions. The city is home to the National World War II Museum, with a massive collection that includes uniforms, weaponry, personal documents, and even aircraft that’s good for hours of wandering, even if you’re not a history buff. Likewise, kids of all ages who need to beat the heat can head to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Head down the long “tunnel” tank to see fish from the Caribbean Sea swimming above and beside you.
A sunburn does not go well with Mardi Gras beads. Or with anything, for that matter. Pack sunblock and keep it handy while you walk around the city. Re-apply as often as every 30 minutes — one application at 9 a.m. won’t keep you protected throughout the day, and with so much to do after sunset, you don’t want to spend your evening whimpering in pain in your hotel room.