If you plan on spending a full day or night in downtown New Orleans, you should take a ride on the Algiers Ferry. It offers a panoramic view of the city’s historic heart, and gives you an up close view of the lifeblood of New Orleans, all without paying a dime.
It’s a beautiful way to see one of the world’s natural wonders, the Mississippi River, as well as a way to see the French Quarter and surrounding area in its entirety. If you plan on walking around for the day, it can be nice to ride the ferry over and back and get some perspective on where exactly it is you’ll be walking, and even if you’re from the city, you can see the skyline in a new light from a new angle. It’s also great for a ride in the late evening into the night, as there’s always a nice breeze and cooler air than that which steams off of summer pavement. It leaves directly from the foot of Canal Street, in between The Aquarium of the Americas, and the Riverwalk.
I most recently took a ride during French Quarter Fest, as the crush of the crowd can be overwhelming near Woldenberg Park at the height of the Festival, so it was a good excuse to hop on the ferry and take in the sights from the river. You could hear the sounds of the stages and crowds carry across the water, and it offered a chance to relax and converse without getting run over by festival food foragers returning to their base camp with three beers and two plates of food impossibly balanced in hand.
Logistically speaking, the ferry shuttles vehicles and pedestrians from Algiers point directly to downtown New Orleans. It’s a key method of transport for many of the city’s service industry workers, and provides a key link between two of New Orleans’ oldest neighborhoods (Algiers Point offers a great place to spend a day in its own right and deserves its own future blog post). It runs every half hour from each side of the river; on the hour and half hour from the West Bank (Algiers side), and on the quarter hour from the East Bank (Downtown side), plus the trip is only ten minutes each way, with the last ride of the night leaving the East Bank at 12:15 am.
As a quick aside, every single time I’m on the ferry looking at the water, I’m reminded of an anecdote from the great book “Rising Tide: The Great Misissippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America.” The book is an incredibly detailed account of the disaster in 1927, and how it shaped policy across America (it can’t be recommended enough), but the anecdote I’m referring to is much smaller in scope. It lays out the process of how wrecked boats were at one point salvaged from the bottom of the river using only large diving bells and intrepid men of great aquatic strength and fortitude who would literally walk on the floor of one of the most powerful forces in nature. I can’t look at the river and not think of these men who braved rip currents and great depths all to cash a paycheck. I prefer standing on a boat floating across the water, not saving one that’s floundering in silt on a pitch-black riverbed.
I love the ferry and the experience of being on the water so close to my home, and it’s something most people don’t think of when deciding how to spend their time downtown. So if you’re looking for a different way to see the city, or way to appreciate the river that sparked the founding of New Orleans, take a ride on the Algiers Ferry. You won’t regret it.