Inside tips on visiting New Orleans Cemeteries
What would you like to see?
There are more than 40 cemeteries in the metro area, and they vary widely.
Would you prefer:
Posh, elegant tombs? Then Lakelawn Metairie's your destination.
Atmospheric, and less crowded with tourists? You'll want to take the Streetcar out to the end of Canal- a beautiful 20 minute ride that most visitors don't know about.
Simple and easily accessible from the French Quarter? St. Louis No. 1 is right at the edge of the busiest tourist area in the city.
Whatever you decide, bring your camera and be prepared to see things you'll not see anywhere else in the United States!
Before you set out, a little planning:
- WATER! This cannot be stressed enough- no matter the time of year, hydration is essential. Most of the cemeteries are all marble and concrete- you'll get thirsty and tired sooner than you'd expect. We've seen too many people pass out simply because they hadn't prepared, particularly if they've been partaking of Bourbon Street the night before and low on sleep. If you're able, throw a couple of water bottles in a freezer for several hours to keep them fresh and cool longer. There aren't many places nearby the cemeteries to buy more, and although there are faucets in the graveyards, the water is not potable.
- Be aware of the neighborhood- If you're planning to go further afield than the French Quarter, it's imperative that you have an idea of how safe the neighborhood is. Cemeteries here aren't called 'Cities of the Dead' for nothing- it's very easy to hide amongst the tombs and cause mischief. Check my cemetery listing to get a basic idea of what to expect. Always err on the side of caution.
- Keep your important numbers with you- energy can fall unexpectedly in the heat and it can be easy to get turned around and lost. Streetcars can get delayed for long stretches of time and you may not want to wait. Being able to fall into a temperature controlled cab can feel like a godsend. Two of the most reputable in the city are United Cabs ((504) 522-9771) and White Fleet ((504) 822-3800), and many of the hotels have shuttles that may be willing to come pick you up as well.
- Consider an organized tour on your first time out-if you're new to the strange local burial customs, you might want to take a professionally organized tour. They typically can be had for under $30 (less for children and students) and can provide a good overview in a few hours. Afterward you can take what you've learned and feel more confident farther afield.
- But do not, under any circumstances, mark X's on any tomb, anywhere! This is a custom started by some mercenary tour guides trying to inject some voodoo and mystery into the tour. It's hooey, of course, but the practice is quickly destroying tombs, particularly in vulnerable St. Louis No. 1 and Lafayette Cemetery.
Cemeteries around town
Size matters! Some of the smaller cemeteries, like St. Louis No.1 and Lafayette No. 1 are easily explored on foot, while others like St. Louis No.3 and Lakelawn require a car to see more than a tiny fraction.
Hours matter, too! Most of the cemeteries the Catholic Archdiocese oversee close at 4pm, and some aren't open on Sundays at all. Those that are overseen by the city theoretically close then at 4pm, too, but they're considerably more lax and many don't have proper gates to lock anyway. Those overseen by private clubs or organizations have their own schedules as well, so it's always a good idea to check before setting out.
- Check the Save Our Cemeteries website for special events- Save Our Cemeteries (SOC) is a local non-profit that works to stabilize and preserve historic cemeteries in the city. They run some of the best tours around and often have events around town.