Mardi Gras New Orleans: Everything You Need to Plan the Perfect Trip

Fruity Zombie cocktails, tons of glittering masks, and the proud percussion of bass drums. It must be mardi gras time in New Orleans! A Big Easy celebration like no other, the extravagance of a New Orleans Mardi Gras is not to be missed.

From parades to sweet slices of King Cake, everything you love about New Orleans is amplified by the revelry of this medieval tradition. Follow along to learn everything you need to know about New Orleans Mardi Gras.

Trips to Mardi Gras may seem overwhelming, but with a little forethought, you can craft an epic party and parade itinerary.

From where to score a jester costume to the best places for Instagram-worthy content, our guide will spill it all.

Feel yourself swaying in time to the trumpets and trombones as you weave your way through Bourbon street and the dazzling decorated French Quarter.

Collect stacks of beads, indulge in a boozy hurricane drink the size of your head, or attempt to join the krewe du Vieux.

Ready to embrace carnival season in the city of New Orleans? Read on…

Mardi Gras Season: What You Need to Know

Also known as The Big Easy, New Orleans earns this moniker through its easygoing approach to life. Perhaps this laissez-faire culture is the reason why Mardi Gras Day gets bigger and better each year.

History of Mardi Gras

New Orleans became the epicenter of Mardi Gras celebrations in North America when French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Sieur de Bienville landed on U.S. shores on the eve of Mardi Gras in 1699. They introduced New Orleans to this fantastic tradition of enjoying music, dance, and food. The city improved upon it each year and molded it into the cultural phenomenon that it is today.

close up of detailed float at the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Louisanna, USAMardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras, or as the festivities are commonly called, the Carnival, spans from the day after the twelfth night of Christmas until the day before Ash Wednesday. The phrase translates to “Fat Tuesday” and has gradually expanded to represent the two months of festivity. Thinking about some pre-partying? Thanks to a little holiday called Lundi Gras, you can actually kick off your Mardi Gras revelry a bit early.

The Monday before Mardi Gras Day is referred to as Lundi Gras, “Fat Monday,” or “Shrove Monday.” Traditionally, this was seen as a day of rest before the merrymaking and debauchery of Mardi Gras. Recently, Lundi Gras has been converted into a fun day of pre-partying before the big events of Fat Tuesday. Today Lundi Gras even has its own events and parades. This year Lundi Gras will take place on February 20th.

How to Plan the Perfect Mardi Gras Trip

Mardi Gras New Orleans Packages

The first step in planning a perfect Mardi Gras escape? Skip the endless scrolling through travel sites and instead secure one of our Mardi Gras Vacation Packages.

New Orleans Mardi Gras Packages take the stress out of itinerary planning by combining your accommodations with other awesome New Orleans attractions. From gator-filled swamp tours to Paddlewheeler Creole cruises, Mardi Gras Vacation Packages help you make Vodoo magic out of any New Orleans plans.

Close up of four people in full green, yellow, and purple Mardi Gras costumes handing out beads in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
photo credit: Mandina’s Restaurant via Facebook

Mardi Gras Parade New Orleans

There is no right way to do Mardi Gras, but to get the most out of your ‘Mardi Gras Spirit week,’ you should plan ahead. The best place to begin is by picking the parades you want to attend. Carnival parades are organized by secret societies known as “krewes” and are a phenomenon in themselves. For the complete lowdown on the New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade schedule and the New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade route, click here.

Wondering when the parades will begin to roll through town or where to see the best New Orleans Mardi Gras floats? From Canal Street to the Zulu Parade, there’s countless ‘krewe’ action to capture. Parades will begin on January 6th this year, but our top picks for Super Krewes and Frenchman Street festivities are as follows:

Krewe du Vieux

This brash krewe is best known for their love of wild satire, adult themes, and political comedy. This ragtag gang of misfits was also the first group to march post-Katrina. Catch their parade on Saturday, February 4th.

Krewe of Bacchus

This massive group of revelers will follow St. Charles Avenue on Sunday, February 19th. Bacchus is the god of wine, and over the years, he has been portrayed during the parade by celebrities ranging from Bob Hope to Anthony Mackie.

people in costume on colorful float decorated with jester heads with crowd gathered at the side at night at Krewe of Boo Halloween Parade in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
photo credit: Krewe of Boo via Facebook

Krewe of Orpheus

Founded in 1993, this was the first Super Krewe to allow male and female riders. United for their love of music, their massive floats are known to throw sought-after medallion beads, stuffed dragons, and more. Catch these treasures Monday, February 20th.

Krewe of Endymion

Named after the Greek god of eternal youth, you might need some extra energy to keep up with the over 15 million throws sported by this krewe on Saturday, February 18th. Keep those dancing shoes on, and get ready to groove at Samedi Gras, the huge block party thrown by Endymion each year.

Krewe of Zulu

Want to follow in Satchmo’s footsteps? Partake in partying with the Krewe that was once ruled by Louis Armstrong. Over a century old, this krewe is famous for throwing hand-decorated coconuts. Get ready to get coco loco with this iconic group on Tuesday, February 21st.

Psst.. need a break from the Mardi Gras Tours and madness? Check out our other New Orleans attractions.

Peaking behind the Mardi Gras Curtain

Curious about the history of Mardi Gras, floats, masks, and more? Unearth the dazzling traditions and craftsmanship of this beloved event with a visit to Mardi Gras World. A ‘must-do’ for any first-time visitor, this edifice is an ode to creativity and allows you an inside look at where Mardi Gras artists complete their work year-round.

See show-stopping floats in progress, peek at paper mache-made props, and discover the magic of how Mardi Gras comes to life. Self-guided tours are offered seven days a week and include a 15-minute video presentation.

man wearing purple green and gold mardi gras costume at Universal's Spirit of New Orleans Mardi Gras Bash in Orlando, Florida, USADressing for Mardi Gras

Carnivals may as well be a synonym for “Costumes,” as you really can’t do one without being in one.
Let yourself be inspired by the Frenchmen who founded this famous festival and the various legends of how purple, green, and gold came to represent Mardi Gras. Or, take a trip to one of the best costume stores in the city and equip yourself with a fun pirate, jester, or royalty-themed costume.

Related Post: Current Festivals and Events in New Orleans

Pro Tip: Wear comfortable shoes and a wig in Mardi Gras colors to party like a Carnival maestro. 

Let Us Eat King Cake

The phrase Mardi Gras translates to “Fat Tuesday,” and the traditions of this celebration find their roots in the practice of using up all the fat in the home in preparation for Lenten fasting.

During the Carnival, New Orleans tempts the palates of all party animals with delicious jambalayas, gumbos, crawfish, oysters, pain perdu, and more. Still, the crowning glory of it all is King Cake’s purple, green, and gold. 

A delectable cinnamon concoction, each King Cake has a baby inside. Whoever is lucky enough to get the slice with the baby has to buy next year’s cake. Therefore, pick your piece carefully! 

Best Spots to Instagram the Festivities

Krewe floats are often several feet high so your best bet to photograph a parade is from a rooftop bar or restaurant. It is imperative that you are at least as high as the second floor to score the best shots. 

Head to popular French Quarter rooftop bars and restaurants such as Mambo’s, Rosie’s on the Roof, Monkey Board, and The Carousel Bar and Lounge in the last week of the Carnival to capture multiple parade floats and magical street party shots. 

Related Post: New Orleans Nightlife: Where to Go for a Good Time

Pro Tip: The Carousel Bar and Lounge is an actual spinning carousel, so plan enough time to take pictures inside the bar as well as the parade

Close up of a King Cake with yellow, green and purple sprinkles and Mardi Gras beads to the left of the cake in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
photo credit: Louisiana Cookin’ via Facebook

The French Quarter, Haunted New Orleans, Jazz

The Carnival may be the first thing that comes to mind when New Orleans is mentioned, but the city’s soul encompasses other equally spectacular components. 

The French Quarter

The French Quarter is called the “Jewel in the Crown” of New Orleans, and that is not without reason. It’s home to as much history, beauty, and intrigue as you may need to entice your spirit. 

The Quarter is like stepping into a strikingly scenic dream. Filled with colorful galleries wrapped around buildings, architectural delights, and floral planters.

Want to enjoy the French Quarter like a local? Take a walking tour! 

If you are a connoisseur of unique experiences, the French Quarter Carriage Tour will make for a cherished memory. 

Enhancing the carriage ride is a guided tour through the grey and white history-infused tombstones of St. Louis cemetery. Finally, walk through the resting place of NOLA’s Voodoo Queen Mary Laveau and experience the city from the viewpoint of another dimension.

Related Post: New Orleans on a Budget: How to Save BIG With a Go City Pass

Pro Tip: Wear your favorite floppy hat for some dramatic Instagram pictures with the carriage and cemetery. 

Indulge in some murder mystery and intrigue fit for a novel on the Mafia, Murder, Sex & All That Jazz Walking Tour where you meet the mobsters and madams of days gone by. 

Although the entire French Quarter is a treasure trove of Instagram-worthy nooks and corners, Cafe Beignet on Royal Street is a hidden gem. The cafe and its beignets both photograph beautifully and cannot be missed. 

Calling all photo fanatics! Treat yourself to the New Orleans Photo Walks, where you will be guided to the best Instagrammable spots and angles by a professional photographer. 

Bourbon Street balcony in New Orleans
View from the French Quarter in new orleans to Downtown

Haunted Corners, Spooky Tours, and Voodoo

You never walk alone in NOLA. If you feel a presence behind you, but you see no one… If you thought someone whispered your name, you are right. 

Everything you perceive is true as you are in the most haunted city in the U.S. Nevertheless, The Big Easy has taken this in stride and shared its ghosts with us. 

Dive into the city’s dark side while on the 4-in-1 Witches, Ghosts, Vampires & Walking Tour. Visiting sites of documented hauntings and paranormal activity. Alternatively, head back to the French Quarter to discover their ghosts in the History & Haunts Carriage Tours

Think you’re brave enough to introduce some Voodoo magic into your world? The top-rated New Orleans Ghost, True Crime, Voodoo, and Vampire Walking Tour adults-only experience promises to terrify the living daylights out of you. An absolute pleasure for those who love true crime and a good fright. 

……And All That Jazz

New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz, and the city is incredibly proud of this heritage. 

You can enjoy great jazz pretty much anywhere, but you cannot miss the Court of Two Sisters Live Jazz Brunch, where you can sample some Cajun-Creole delicacies while sitting in a courtyard bathed in Wisteria. 

You can take several Jazz cruises where you delight your palate, feast your eyes and treat your senses to this unique music all at once. 

 A couple of our favorites are the Steamboat Natchez Evening Jazz Cruise and a sunset cruise aboard the Paddlewheeler Creole Queen Jazz Cruise

Group of dancers and musicians performing at the Jazz Museum in New Orleans, Louisana
photo credit: New Orleans Jazz Museum via Facebook

Instagram Around the City

Your camera may be filled with thousands of Instagrammable photos. Nonetheless, for those that want to combine their love of photography, architecture, and floral enchantments, a trip to the garden district is an absolute must.

Try the Garden District & Lafayette Cemetery Combo Tour to get to the most jaw-dropping, stunning vantage points.

Try Garden District & Lafayette Cemetery Combo Tour. Enjoy two hours of soul-soothing beauty. You will also love this tour for the rare moments of peace you gain between the madness of the Carnival.

Whether you manage to tick off everything on this list or just enjoy the festivity’s food and take some photos. You will undoubtedly bring a little bit of Mardi Gras and New Orleans back with you. 

Related Post: 15 Totally Free Things to Do in New Orleans

Mardi Gras vacations have a habit of touching the soul of every visitor. Whether you spend a week or month snacking on beignets and collecting beads, you will never forget your first Mardi Gras in the Big Easy.

Ready to “Laissez les bons temps rouler” or “Let the good times roll”? Book your NOLA Mardi Gras escape today!

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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...

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