Cable cars are synonymous with San Francisco, as red buses are with London, so what exactly is the New Orleans streetcar? New Orleanians will be sure to tell you that the streetcar is a vintage electric rail vehicle and not a trolley. Hopping on a streetcar is a great way to ride around and view the historic city. We rented a car but didn’t want to bother with driving around and parking. The iconic streetcars, also known as W-2 cars, came about 60 years prior to the trolley during the early 19th century. Streetcars were originally operated in Melbourne, Australia. While visiting New Orleans in April, we had the pleasure, or shall I say experience, of riding down St. Charles Avenue on the St. Charles Line. The St. Charles Line is the longest of New Orleans’ streetcar lines. A little known fact, the St. Charles Line is also the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world! Basically, this means you can’t get lost because it goes up and down one street.
There are a total of four operating streetcar lines in New Orleans consisting of the St. Charles Avenue Line, the Riverfront Line, the Canal Street Line, and the Loyola Avenue Line. We only had time to ride he St. Charles Line; however, this post will provide information on all 4 lines. Tickets are available for 1, 3, and 31-day unlimited ride for just $3, $9 and $55.
The Canal Street Line~ The Canal Street Line discontinued service in 1944 and then a new Canal streetcar was reinvented in 2004. The Canal Street Line route spans 5.5 miles along Canal Street from the French Market into the mid-city filled with museums, art and farmer’s markets and finally ending at City Park for just $1.25 each way. The streetcar is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. City goers can connect on the additional lines along North Carrollton Avenue where tourists can visit City Park, botanical gardens and villages. Popular attractions along the Canal Street Line include the New Orleans Museum of Art, Sydney and Walda Bestoff Sculpture Garden, Fairgrounds Race Track, Jazz Festival and the Pitot Plantation Home built in 1799.
The St. Charles Line~ We walked a couple of blocks from our hotel, The Sheraton New Orleans, to St. Charles Avenue and hopped on the olive-green streetcar which runs approximately every 13 minutes up and down the avenue. Purchase an all day, round trip ticket for just $3.00 per person! Be sure to bring exact change, as the driver will not provide change. Walk up the steps and enter the streetcar to be greeted by the nostalgic decor of mahogany seats, brass fittings and exposed ceiling light bulbs. The iconic streetcar has been rolling up and down the avenue for over 150 years. We were able to find open seats in the morning, but in the afternoon it was standing room only. Be sure to hang on tight to those brass poles as the streetcar stops and starts up again pretty abruptly. We stopped off to visit the Garden District, where you will find multi-million dollar estates which are more than 100 years old.
Hop off the streetcar at the Garden District, cross the street and head straight until you run into the Commander’s Palace on your left hand side where you can pick up a map of the Garden District. Don’t miss the home from the movie Benjamin Button! The Garden District is also home to the Lafayette Cemetery with above-ground tombs.
The St. Charles streetcar takes passengers through the central Business District, uptown New Orleans, fine dining, Audubon Zoological Gardens, historic monuments and Loyola and Tulane Universities. Enjoy the scenic view around the river bend and through a tunnel of oak trees. After touring the Garden District, we were on a quest to find oysters and ended up at The Blind Pelican located at 1628 St. Charles Avenue. It was the perfect place to stop and grab oysters on the half shell and local beers on tap. They are famously known for their 25 cent oysters at happy hour. Upon walking out of the Blind Pelican, we noticed the St. Charles streetcar stop. Perfect!
Loyola Avenue Line~ The Loyola Avenue Line, which opened in 2013, is the newest line of the four streetcars rolling through New Orleans. The purpose of the new streetcar was to provide transportation for those who arrive or depart via Greyhound bus or Amtrak trains. The Loyola Avenue Line conveniently transports passengers from the station straight to Canal Street and the French Quarter. The Loyola Line differs from the other lines, as it is air-conditioned and has wider doors. If you aren’t commuting to a bus or train station but would like to take advantage of the sightseeing stops along the Loyola Line, stop off at Julia Street which takes you right to the Art District. City Hall and the Financial District are located at the Poydras Street stop and the Medical District and library can be found at the Tulane Avenue stop.
The Riverfront Line~ The first streetcar on the Riverfront Line was introduced in 1988, as New Orleans first large capital project. Take a ride along the French Market, RiverWalk Marketplace, Shops at Canal Place, Aquariums of the Americas and try your luck and Harrah’s Casino. Riding one of the four streetcars is a great way to see the city and snap pictures without having to worry about directions, GPS, getting lost, one way streets or driving.