Getting Around NOLA Style: All About the New Orleans Streetcar

Streetcars at night in the city near La Galerie Hotel

New Orleans is full of unique and interesting historical tidbits, and the classic streetcars are no exception. These beauties were one of the first passenger railroads in the United States, and today they are one of the oldest continuously operating street railways across the globe. 

In fact, the first streetcars ran on steam, until after the Civil War, when a former Confederate general replaced the steam engines with horses. Although not as efficient, they were quieter and stuck around for about 20 years. In 1893, electricity entered the picture as a way to power the streetcars, and it’s still used today.

The St. Charles Line

The St. Charles Line is one of four current streetcar lines in operation today, and it’s also the oldest. It started as a passenger railway in 1835, running between New Orleans and a town called Carrollton. Carrollton eventually became a part of the city, but the streetcar line remained.

Today, riders of the St. Charles Line are treated to a journey down this beautiful street with its impressive architecture, shops, and restaurants, reaching from the French Quarter and turning onto South Carrollton Avenue. You’ll pass stand-out sites like the Audubon Zoo, Loyola and Tulane Universities, and the picturesque Garden District

The classic green and red cars are considered National Historic Landmarks, sporting exposed lightbulbs, mahogany seats, and brass fittings. If you opt to ride the entire line one-way, you’ll enjoy a relaxing, 40-minute ride through history (not bad for a standard fare of $1.25).

The Canal Street Line

Once upon a time, mule-driven carriages were the way to get around what’s now the Canal Street Line, until streetcars took over in 1910. In 1964, buses became popular and replaced the Canal Line, but people missed the sense of history and authenticity of their beloved streetcars, and the line was restored in 2004. The new streetcars were modeled after the historic Perley Thomas Streetcars, adding wheelchair access and a much-welcomed modern addition -- air conditioning. 

Today, the Canal Street Line services the Central Business District, Mid-City, Bayou St. John, New Orleans Cemeteries, and the sprawling City Park. The line branches into two directions at North Carrollton Avenue; one line takes you to the historic cemeteries, and the other line takes you to City Park. A one-way ride on this line, no matter which path you choose, takes about 30 minutes. 

The Riverfront Line

Typically, this streetcar line travels along the New Orleans Riverfront, with stops along Canal Street, the Aquarium of the Americas, Riverwalk Marketplace, the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center, and the French Market. It was built in 1988, and it was the first new line in NOLA since 1926. Currently, the Riverfront Line is being serviced by the Canal Street Line. However, the Poydras and Julia Street stations are not open, so if you wish to travel between Canal and Julia, you might want to opt for a bus.

The Rampart Line

Opening in 2016, this streetcar is the newest addition to the bunch. Travelers can journey from Union Passenger Terminal to Elysian Fields Avenue through the Central Business District. If you’re visiting attractions like Louis Armstrong Park, the Mahalia Jackson Theater, or the Marigny, this is the line for you. A one-way ride takes roughly 30 minutes. 

The New Orleans Streetcar is operated by the Regional Transit Authority. For more information about schedules, passes, and route maps, check out the RTA’s site. Whether you want to tour some of the Big Easy’s most beloved neighborhoods, check out popular attractions, or enjoy some of the fantastic shops and restaurants, the streetcars are an excellent and unique way to get around town while enjoying a piece of history at the same time.