You’ve never been to a real party until you’ve experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Fact. Loud, colorful, full of old world charm and the streets alive with music; the city is like nowhere else in the United States. It’s always a good time to visit but if you truly want to make it the trip of a lifetime, go and experience a New Orleans Mardi Gras and leave with a steamer trunk of stories to tell.
Always a feast for your senses, New Orleans explodes in a burst of color and debauchery for the entire month leading up to Shrove Tuesday and the city is full of parades and events where you can let your freak flag fly. The really big parties are on the weekend before Shrove Tuesday (also called Mardi Gras Day) and, of course, Mardi Gras Day itself. For those five days, the population of New Orleans almost doubles in size, as everybody wants to gatecrash one of the biggest parties in the world.
The festivities end promptly at midnight on Tuesday, when mounted police officers make a theatrical show of clearing everybody away from Upper Bourbon Street and announcing the beginning of Lent. Local festival-goers know to start their festivities early because the party really does end (abruptly) at midnight.
The multitude of Mardi Gras parades are organized by local social clubs called ‘krewes’ who each have a specialist theme. The theme is kept a close secret until the big reveal on parade day but you can expect plenty of handmade costumes, flashing sequins, rainbow colors and one-of-a-kind doubloons. Life is one big carnival in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and you’ll only have one worry: choosing which party to attend.
To help you get the most out of your fantastic festival, make sure that you note all of your favorite activities in your BUCKiTDREAM planner!
Fill Your Suitcase Full of Souvenirs Make sure you have plenty of extra space in your bag before heading to the parades to collect the throws that the krewes will give to the crowd during their parade. Mardi Gras wouldn’t be complete with wearing your own body weight in beads; keep an eye out for ones made with glass or LED lights to really brighten up your carnival outfit.
Grab a Costume Pick up a mask or costume to become part of the festivities rather than just a spectator. First-timers may feel silly but don’t worry, you’ll fit right in!
Attend a Masquerade Ball All the krewes hold a masquerade ball around Mardi Gras but for many of the older ones, it’s strictly invitation only. Others, however, have huge public extravaganzas for which you can buy a ticket. The Endymion holds theirs in the Superdome, or for something more formal try the Orpheuscapade.
Pick your Parade All the parades have their own unique draws but Orpheus, Bacchus and Endymion are the most famous, probably due to their hugely extravagant floats. Be sure to squeeze in at least one of these during your visit.
Check out the French Quarter For something a bit saucier, check out the smaller foot parades around the French Quarter. Not for children or the faint-hearted, they’re the only parades where you can book rooms with balconies to watch the parade go by, a feature that has made them popular with flashers.
Sit Back and Enjoy the Music Live music isn’t just an event in New Orleans, it’s a way of life and every part of the city is home to at least one renowned music venue. Pick up a local paper for the latest listings or spend an evening at the New Orleans Musical Legends Park.
Learn about Voodoo Take a quick detour to the tiny New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum to learn about one the world’s most misunderstood religions. A bargain activity at just $5, you can also get a reading.
Swamp Tour Get a glimpse of New Orleans’ otherworldly natural beauty by touring the swamp. Several companies will bring you out to the Bayou by kayak and you might even get a chance to see the alligators.
Be a History Buff It might surprise you but the world-renowned National WWII Museum is in New Orleans. Packed full of interactive exhibits and featuring a 3D film narrated by Tom Hanks, it’s an inspiring and perfectly executed tribute to history.
If you’re looking for old world charm in the USA, then New Orleans is your city and the Roosevelt New Orleans is your hotel. Decadently decorated in Gatsby style, it’s also home to the Sazerac Bar, a New Orleans institution which regularly makes the list of top bars in the USA.
Nestled in a quiet area of the French Quarter, the historic Grenoble House Hotel is decorated with charming antiques and warm, exposed brick. With a mere seventeen suites, this independent lodging aims to make you feel right at home the minute you step through the door.
Built in 1831, Madame Isabelle’s House is full of authentic details and cheerful Southern colors. Just minutes away from Bourbon Street, yet surrounded by Creole cottages, you can also enjoy a bar crawl or jambalaya night to get to know your fellow travelers.
New Orleans has a name for itself as one of the culinary capitals of the USA and for good reason. With a mouth-watering mix of French and Creole cooking and spices, this is the trip your taste buds have been waiting for.
You’ll find solidly satisfying po’boys, a sandwich filled with fried shrimp and dressed with mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickles, everywhere from corner sandwich shops to high-end restaurants such as Commander’s Palace (whether you recognize them as such here will be another matter, but they will certainly taste divine!). Keep an eye out for inventive fusion creations combining Asian influences with Southern chow.
Every restaurant in Louisiana will serve some version of gumbo, a slow-cooked, meaty stew, often created with family recipes passed down through generations. Everybody claims they have the best gumbo (and a lot of people agree with Gumbo Shop), so you’ll just have to try as many as possible. For science.
The seafood theme continues with New Orleans’ famous chargrilled oysters. Again, the varieties are endless but grilling them with garlic butter, cheese and herbs is a firm favorite; or you could try Trinity’s adventurous panko breadcrumbs and flying fish roe variety.
Drinks and Nightlife
With a refreshing lack of mandatory closing times, you’ll always find somewhere to grab a drink in New Orleans. Your visit won’t be complete without trying a Hurricane, a strong mix packed with rum and fruit punch. New Orleans loves cocktails and even hosts a Tales of the Cocktails July event, attracting the top bartenders in the country; get dressed up and challenge the bartender at Cure to make the best Tiki libation on earth.
The city’s original cocktails are best enjoyed with live music. Take a stroll anywhere in this town and follow your ears to find some of the most talented musicians in the world taking to the stage in small, dimly lit bars. Jazz, swing and rhythm and blues are New Orleans staples but you won’t have far to look to discover funk, rap, soul and pretty much anything else you can think of. Get down and dirty at the infamously decadent jazz venue The Spotted Cat Music Club or snuggle up with tapas and cocktails at the more refined The Three Muses…or literally wander into any other bar, order a beer and give your ears a real treat.
Tips and Culture
As one of the most laid back cities in the US, in New Orleans you’ll find the locals willing to chat and share a drink. The residents here love music and dancing and have a genuine joie de vivre with a distinct Caribbean vibe. Despite their laidback attitude, Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that it caused in 2005 is still a highly emotive topic for many locals, so avoid any jokes about this, even if they’re meant lightheartedly.
You’ll find it a lot easier to navigate if you learn the special New Orleans method of directions before you get there. Locals will only tell you to go ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘river’ or ‘lake’ depending on whether you’re heading uptown, downtown or towards the water.
Theres only one must-see in New Orleans: a fabulous Mardi Gras parade. Yes, you can jam-pack your schedule to fit in as many as possible but this is New Orleans so just go with the flow! Pick one parade that you absolutely must see, then spend the rest of your time wandering around and joining in with the fun. Mardi Gras is all about letting your hair down and going wild, so follow your instinct and let New Orleans surprise you.
If you’re serious about loving a party, you simply must place Mardi Gras in New Orleans at the top of your bucket list. There’s no better time to start planning, so start loading those exciting plans into your BUCKiTDREAM planner and remember – your colorful snaps on Instagram will help inspire other travelers to experience it for themselves!