Posted February 14, 2023

Your Mardi-Gras Bucket List: New Orleans for Newbies


Looking for an epic party that’s chock-full of parades, food, costumes, music, and more? Mardi Gras in New Orleans is arguably one of the best festivals in the U.S., and a must-see for every adventure buff or culture-loving foodie.  

Never been to Mardi Gras? We’ve got you covered. (Photo Credit: Naveen Venkatesan)

Each year, over a million people flock to New Orleans to indulge in the city’s lively atmosphere during Carnival season, beginning on January 6th (a.k.a. The Epiphany, or Twelfth Night), and running until the final, biggest celebration on Mardi Gras (a.k.a. “Fat Tuesday”).  Aptly dubbed, Fat Tuesday commemorates a last opportunity to pamper yourself with all-things fun before abstaining (and behaving) until Easter. This year, Mardi Gras falls on February 21st, and though it’s just a few weeks away, there’s still time to plan a last-minute getaway.  

Never been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras? No problem. We’ve got you covered with our bucket-list activities to maximize the celebration. Now, all you need to do is book your travel and share your epic memories later.  

1. Mask Up (Mardi-Gras Style)

No, we’re not talking about face masks for pandemic purposes. Mardi Gras masks are a special part of its celebration, historically worn so people could mingle worry-free outside of their social classes. Today, people wear bright, sequined, glittered, and feathered masks in keeping with the tradition of mystery.  

Costumes for Mardi Gras are necessary. (Photo Credit: Nathan Bingle)

As they say: dress like the locals. So, head to the French Market, located in the French Quarter alongside the Mississippi River, and pick one out for yourself. You’ll look the part in no time.  

2. Attend the Parades 

Though New Orleans buzzes with processions all Carnival season long, most parades happen the two weeks leading up to, and on, Mardi Gras. Each parade is named after a “krewe”, or organization, that sponsors and themes it. Expect to see dozens of floats with costumed people aboard handing out gifts, or “throws”, to spectators. Throws vary from classic, colorful Mardi Gras beads, to hand-painted coconuts, and even decorative shoes. 

The best part of Mardi Gras? The parades, of course. (Photo Credit: Ugur Arpaci)

On Mardi Gras, parades commence as early as 8 a.m. Routes differ, so it’s smart to plan ahead to find optimal viewing points along the way. You can find a full parade schedule here. (Other tips: Wear close-toed shoes and carry a backpack to tote your throws for a hands-free experience.) 

3. Stick Around for the After Party

Consider this fair warning: Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras is absolute insanity. (But, that’s also the best part.) Thousands of people decked out in costumes, masks, and beads move through the street as they hoot, holler, and have a grand ‘ol time. If you’re not one for crowds, no worries. You can buy tickets for a Mardi Gras events package, which includes a reservation on a rooftop terrace or balcony at one of the street’s establishments, removing yourself from the ruckus so you can watch from above. (Think: Clean bathrooms, flowing beverages, and tasty food, all nearby.)  

All smiles during (and after!) the festivities. (Photo Credit: Dele Oluwayomi)

At midnight on Mardi Gras, hundreds of police officers process through Bourbon Street in its official closing ceremony—a signal the festivities are over, as a symbolic end to Carnival season. But, as you can guess, the party usually resumes after they pass.  

4. Indulge in Beignets and King Cake 

New Orleans is perhaps most famous for its Creole and Cajun cuisine. However, on Mardi Gras, travelers with a sweet tooth can satiate cravings to their heart’s content. Don’t miss munching on beignets (a deep-fried pastry) and king cake (a fluffy morsel with various fillings, named after the three wise men). Café du Monde, one of the city’s most renowned patisseries, has over a dozen locations, and is open late—perfect for an after party snack before heading back to your hotel.

When in NOLA, you grab a tasty beignet. (Photo Credit: Jennifer Shishmanian)

(Bonus: Hit Café du Monde’s airport shop to load up on goodies before you head home.)

Where to stay: Kimpton Hotel Fontenot in downtown NOLA.  


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