Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and culture of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and culture of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans certainly lives up to its reputation as the largest free festival on Earth. The season is filled with unique sights, sounds and flavors, and New Orleans has firmly established itself as the premier destination for Mardi Gras enthusiasts.
The Carnival season is a celebration of the history, culture and traditions of our state, drawing visitors from around the world to join the fun! After partaking in New Orleans' festivities, we encourage you to explore Mardi Gras throughout Louisiana.
History of Mardi Gras in New Orleans
The roots of Mardi Gras run deep within Louisiana, particularly in New Orleans. Its origins can be traced back to the city's French and Spanish colonial and Catholic heritage, where the celebration marked the period of feasting and indulgence before the solemn season of Lent. Originating from the traditional "Boeuf Gras" revelry in France, Mardi Gras found its way to the colonies and, over time, transformed into the iconic festival we know today.
In 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville christened a piece of land near New Orleans "Pointe du Mardi Gras," marking the event's emergence in the region. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras had become an integral part of New Orleans life, evolving through elegant balls and processions of maskers.
The birth of the King of Carnival, Rex, in 1872, and the establishment of Mardi Gras as a legal holiday in 1875, solidified the celebration's significance. Mardi Gras krewes, emerging from exclusive social clubs, have shaped Carnival, ensuring its continuance for generations to come.
The Krewe of Bacchus' floats give a nod to the god of wine.
Float riders have just as much fun as the parade goers!
Float designs are planned months ahead of Carnival season.
Get ready to yell, "Throw Me Somethin'!" for some iconic throws.
Traditions and Customs
There are a number of traditions at the heart of the Mardi Gras. First, we kick off Carnival during Twelfth Night (Jan. 6) with King Cake. This cinnamon-laden pastry is the hallmark dessert of the season. Inside of the cake is a plastic baby figurine — if you're lucky enough to get it, it means you are a king or queen for the day ... and that you have to buy the next King Cake! You'll find it covered in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.
Mardi Gras krewes are the backbone of Carnival. Krewes are social organizations that orchestrate the parades, events and festivities. Each krewe boasts its unique identity, complete with its own theme, emblem and insignia. These groups invest months of meticulous planning, designing breathtaking floats that showcase elaborate visual effects and animations.
To put it simply: Parade throws are the must-have item on everyone's list during Mardi Gras. Throws are just that — items that are thrown off the floats to the crowd. They can including beads, doubloons and trinkets, or even sustainable items like kitchen utensils, coffee beans and seasonings. Many krewes are recognized for their specialty throws: The Krewe of Muses is known for their glittered, decorative high-heel throws, the krewes of Endymion and Bacchus for their light-up throws and the Krewe of Tucks for their bedazzled plungers (yes, you read that right).
You will also see Mardi Gras Indians, which are vibrant and elaborate groups that pay homage to the city's Native American and African roots. These tribes, known for their dazzling costumes and powerful chants, offer a glimpse into the significance of the African American and Native American community in local culture.
Can't-Miss Parades and Events
New Orleans Mardi Gras is famous for its grand parades that showcase creativity, storytelling and memorable performances. Among these, several parades are considered "cant-miss" by locals and visitors alike.
The days preceding Fat Tuesday are know for its "super krewes," which all contain more than 1,000 members who ride on larger-than-life floats. Iris, an all-female super krewe, rolls on Saturday morning before Mardi Gras. Known for throwing decorated sunglasses and accessories, Iris helps to kick off the weekend in a major way. Endymion, which rolls Saturday night before Mardi Gras, is known for its size, light-up throws and celebrity grand marshals. The next day, the Krewe of Bacchus rolls. Bacchus is known for its grandiose floats, sustainable and light-up throws and for bringing Hollywood flair to the city's streets with celebrity monarchs. The Krewe of Orpheus lights up the night with its extra-long floats on Monday, known as Lundi Gras.
Carnival would not be complete without the Rex and Zulu parades. Both krewes are steeped in rich tradition, and are considered by many to be the cornerstones of Mardi Gras elegance. On Lundi Gras, which is the day before Mardi Gras, the Zulu King and King of Carnival (Rex) meet along the Mississippi Riverfront and receive keys to the city as a symbol of the monarchs Carnival reign.
On Mardi Gras Day, the Zulu parade kicks off the festivities bright and early. Zulu highlights African-American culture, and is known for its costumes and decorated coconut throws. Catch a coconut of your own and you'll be quite popular among the crowd! Following Zulu, the Rex parade rolls, starting uptown and making its way downtown to Gallier Hall, where the King of Carnival shares a toast with the Mayor of New Orleans.
Second lines are processions down the street lead by jazz bands.
Papier maché flowers and decorations adorn the floats.
Mardi Gras Indians are a staple of Carnival traditions.
High school and college marching bands and dance teams prep all year for parade performances.
Beyond the Parades
To fully embrace the spirit of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, you'll want to go beyond parades and experience the cultural events that showcase the city's musical and artistic heritage. Jazz music, which was born in New Orleans, takes center stage during Mardi Gras. Brass bands, with their lively tunes and energy, create an atmosphere that compels even the shyest of souls to join the revelry.
The city's second line processions infuse the air with infectious rhythms and dancing, inviting everyone to join in. While you're busy second-lining your way to an after party, we hope you catch a second wind because the celebration won't stop there! Enjoy a host of live music options in New Orleans. From the French Quarter to Frenchmen Street, you'll be hard pressed not to find a local band's melodies filling the night air. Check out live-music performances here.
Planning Your Visit
For those eager to immerse themselves in Mardi Gras, meticulous planning is key to making the most of this extraordinary experience.
First, your timing is crucial. Mardi Gras falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which can occur anywhere from early February to early March. This period is what we know as Mardi Gras season, and when the city buzzes with balls, parades and events. We recommend booking your lodging well in advance and arriving a few days before the actual day to catch some of the prelude events and smaller parades that offer a more intimate glimpse into local celebrations. The weekend before Mardi Gras is when you can expect a bulk of the super krewes: Iris, Endymion, Bacchus, Orpheus and more.
Navigating the crowds requires a blend of patience and strategic planning. The French Quarter, with its narrow streets and historic charm, is a can't-miss spot. Be prepared for throngs of fellow revelers! Other hot spots include St. Charles Avenue Uptown or Orleans Avenue in Mid-City, both where you'll find a family-friendly locale, tailgating along the parade route, food vendors, DJs and more.
Insider Tips for Mardi Gras
To get the full Mardi Gras experience in New Orleans, it's worth delving beyond the well-known parades and events. Seek out the hidden gems — lesser-known parades that often embody a more grassroots, community-driven spirit, like Krewe of Red Beans or Krewe de Vieux. These smaller parades provide a unique opportunity to interact with locals and experience authentic traditions.
No visit to New Orleans is complete without indulging in its renowned culinary offerings. While beignets and po'boys are staples, Mardi Gras adds its own culinary delights to the mix. King Cakes dominate bakery shelves, while traditional dishes like gumbo and jambalaya warm the soul during the cool evening parades.
As you wander through the streets adorned with a unique throws and as you dance to the rhythms of local bands, remember that Mardi Gras is more than a spectator sport! It's an invitation to partake in a timeless tradition and create lasting memories.
Can't miss attractions: Whether you visit during the Carnival season or at any point throughout the year, there are countless opportunities to learn about the history and customs of Mardi Gras. We recommend that you check out Mardi Gras World, The Presbytere, the Backstreet Cultural Museum and the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture, and you'll be a Mardi Gras expert in no time!