Best Things to do in New Orleans During Mardi Gras
There are many things to do in New Orleans and the surrounding areas during the Mardi Gras season. It is almost hard to squeeze them all in! During the roughly six-week Mardi Gras celebrations, there are so many jam-packed fun things to do.
You can let the good times roll while you are visiting New Orleans, but check out all the activities and things to do.
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For this guide, the season of Mardi Gras is split into a few different sections to help you with your vacation planning.
Below you will learn all the fun things to do during Mardi Gras on January 6th, Early in the Mardi Gras Season, Mardi Gras Main weekend, and of course, Things to do on Mardi Gras Day.
What is Twelfth Night?
Twelfth Night in New Orleans is the end of the Christmas Season and the beginning of the Carnival Season, otherwise known as Mardi Gras. The official Holiday of Mardi Gras moves yearly, but January 6th holds a deep meaning to many New Orleanians.
Legend has it that a local group of New Orleanians came together on January 6th to dig into some king cake. After a while, they had a drunk king cake party which then turned into a parade. The rest was history, and Carnival Season officially started after Christmas was formally over.
Once the clock strikes 12:01 am on January 6th – you are more than welcome to wear purple, green, and gold, say “Happy Mardi Gras” to everyone, and best of all, eat a slice of your first king cake. January 6th is my favorite day of Carnival season because I can ruin my New Year’s diet with a delicious King Cake.
But when is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras changes every year, but it is technically always in Winter. The actual day depends on when Easter falls.
In Western Christianity, Easter Sunday falls on the next full moon after the Spring Equinox (March 20 or 21).
Ash Wednesday is 40 days and 40 nights, minus Sundays, before Easter. Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday.
This year, Easter is on April 9th, 2023, while Mardi Gras falls on February 21st, 2023. The short answer is that I google “Mardi Gras 20xx” each year to determine the date quickly.
No matter what day Mardi Gras lands on, it is the greatest free show in the entire city of New Orleans.
Things to do to Celebrate the Twelfth Night
Typically, New Orleanians will only allow people to buy or eat a King Cake on the Twelfth night because it is either a cardinal sin or your whole family will be cursed with the worst Mardi Gras.
The first few weeks of Mardi Gras start pretty light – restaurants bring out delicious cocktails, King cake is in every office, and some smaller colorful parades kick off the season.
1. Eat all the King Cake
King Cake is a significant part of Carnival, and early in the Mardi Gras season is the perfect time to get a couple of King cakes and try them!
The Big Book of King Cake is a great way to learn about King Cake or you can order some from GoldBelly.
2. Watch the Phunny Phorty Phellows Parade
The first parade of the season is the Phunny Phorty Phellows parade on the Green street car line. The small krewe boards a street car at the RTA streetcar barn. The krewe will ride up and down St Charles and shout out that it is finally carnival time!
3. Enjoy the Krewe de Joan d’Arc Parade.
The Joan d’Arc Parade happens annually on January 6th to celebrate the birthday of Joan d’Arc. This family-friendly parade begins at 7 pm with a few stops, including a visit to the Joan of Arc statue.
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Things to do early in the Mardi Gras Season
After the festivities on January 6th, there is typically a long lull of Mardi Gras activities to do. Visitors may expect a parade every day during January and February, but sometimes there are no structured events. Check out these fun things to do during the Mardi Gras season.
4. Visit JAMNOLA
Have you heard of the newest instagrammable museum in New Orleans? This is the perfect place for a rainy day or when parades are canceled.
They are introducing a few key Mardi Gras highlights to keep the museum as interactive as possible.
Even without the unique additions, JamNola is full of Mardi Gras murals, rooms, and fun.
Visiting JAMNOLA costs $29 for adults, and $20 for Children, Students, Seniors, Military, and first responders. Children 2 and under are free.
Get your tickets before heading out.
5. Check out the Mardi Gras Decorations
New Orleans citizens always love decorating their houses for holidays. In 2021, Mardi Gras parades were canceled by the Mayor of New Orleans, and many locals brought a game when decorating their homes. The tradition of turning your house into a house float has stayed.
You can get a book all about Porches on Parades from Amazon.
6. Visit Mardi Gras World
If the floats cannot come to you, you can go to the floats.
You can get up close and personal at Mardi Gras World with some of the most famous Mardi Gras floats.
It costs $22 for adults, $17 for Military, Students, and Seniors, and $14 for children to view the floats. You can also visit if you purchase the New Orleans Go City Pass.
7. Explore the Backstreet Cultural Museum
The Backstreet Cultural Museum is a permanent exhibit that displays the historic and beautiful costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians.
Exploring this museum helps support the rich African American culture within New Orleans.
This historical collection is $12 (cash only) and worth the experience.
8. Enjoy the Zulu Mardi Gras Costume Display
Every year at Lakeside Mall in Metairie, you can view the Zulu Mardi Gras Costume in the main shopping area!
Take this time to step away from the cold or a parade-free day to check out these beautiful costumes from one of the most historic Mardi Gras floats.
9. View the Arnaud’s Mardi Gras Museum
Arnaud’s Mardi Gras Museum brings together more than 13 queen costumes.
This priceless collection is free for the public to view during restaurant hours. If you want to see more Free and Cheap Things to do in New Orleans, check out this post!
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10. Attend a Mardi Gras Ball
If you can go to a Mardi Gras Parade – jump on it! Mardi Gras Parades are one of the most fun events of the season. Many parades guests have to wear full formal wear, but a few balls like Tucks and MOMs Ball are costume required.
If you are wondering what else you may need to wear while in town for Mardi Gras, check out my full guide on What to Wear at Mardi Gras.
11. Explore the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture
The Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture is a fun experience That allows you to explore the wonderful and majestic costumes of Mardi Gras. Each day there is a show at 2 pm, but doors are open from Noon – 4 pm on show days.
12. Explore a Mardi Gras Themed Bar
Barcadia is one of the bars in New Orleans that decorates each year with the best Mardi Gras decorations. They even have a specialized menu for cocktails and appetizers. Luckily Barcadia is also a family-friendly spot until 9 pm!
13. Go Mardi Gras Mask Shopping
Masks have always been a part of Mardi Gras. Now is the perfect time to invest in a purple, green, and gold cute face mask.
14. Watch the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus
Do you love Star Wars, Geek shows, and other science things? Then you want to watch the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus! This walking parade starts on St Claude, and through Elysian Fields ending at N. Peters and Conti St. Many throws are small and handmade, so you are bound to catch something thoughtful.
15. Party at the Krewe Du Vieux Parade
Are you into political satire and some things naughty? Krewe du Vieux might be the best parade for you! Krewe Du Vieux begins on the corner of Royal and Elysian Fields and goes through the French Quarter.
Things to do during Mardi Gras Weekend
Mardi Gras weekend can span from Thursday Muses through Lundi Gras. This weekend is a great way to experience everything about Mardi Gras, from parades to food. Just remember, this holiday is a Marathon and not a sprint.
16. Attend a parade
First, you cannot say that you did Mardi Gras in New Orleans if you do not attend at least one parade. Whether in a walking parade or the super krewes, you must see a parade while in town. My Favorite parades include Muses, Tucks, Thoth, Endymion, and Bacchus.
17. Have a happy hour with the Dumb society
Looking for something a little off the beaten path? From 5-6 pm daily, you can attend an afternoon tea party at the International House. This annual ritual runs the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras.
You will be served by silent animal waiters and will be able to don your make-believe animal nose while sipping on rum-tea punch. A tea party is a great place to escape the crowds and take a moment to enjoy Carnival.
18. Watch the greasing of the poles.
The Friday before Fat Tuesday is the Annual Greasing of the Poles at the Royal Sonesta. This tradition started as. Away to deter carnival goers from climbing up to the second-story balcony, but now has become a New Orleans Tradition with local celebrities.
19. Feast on a Friday Mardi Gras Lunch
Friday Lunch in New Orleans is a big to-do, so try to snag a lunch at one of the many fine restaurants in the French Quarter. Friday Mardi Gras is so famous that many restaurants have long waitlists that people battle to get on. Galatoire even puts its tables up for auction yearly to raise money for its foundation.
20. Get a Shoe from the Krewe of Muses
One of the most special throws the Thursday before Mardi Gras is a classic Muses shoe. Krewe members handcraft these glittered shoes, and it may take a little more than yelling, “Throw me something, sister,” to get one of them. Do note that Muses is an all-female krewe.
21. Get a plunger from Tucks
Looking for a practical throw, one you might need to use in a pinch? The Krewe of Tucks decorates toilet plungers to give to paradegoers! Don’t worry. These plungers are brand new and clean!
22. Catch a Super Krewe
There are two major Super Krewes during Mardi Gras – Endymion, which rolls through Mid City, and Bacchus, which rolls on the traditional Uptown New Orleans parade route.
Even though you must claim a spot at both parades early – do not try to do both the uptown parades and Endymion on the same day unless you want to have a headache parking or a sizeable uber bill.
These super Krewes are fun to attend because they have massive floats, and the parade is extremely long!
For Endymion, parking by City park and walking to your parade destination is best. These two Super Krewes have their Mardi Gras Balls immediately after the parade and are two of my favorites to attend.
23. Watch a parade from a Grandstand
Even though I prefer to catch all my parades on the Neutral Ground side of St. Charles Avenue, some Grandstands further uptown are friendly to rent if you do not have friends or family in town!
The prices of the tickets increase the closer you get to Mardi Gras Day. The best thing about the grandstand is that you have access to portapotties! There are some Grandstands available for rent in the Central Business District.
Things to do on Lundi Gras
The Monday before Mardi Gras is known as Lundi Gras. Many New Orleans locals spend this day catching up on work or resting for tomorrow’s big day. As a tourist, you can either rest up or do some sightseeing during the day that you would not have time to do during the weekend.
24. Find the Bead Tree
Every year a rare and mysterious bead tree blooms after Mardi Gras. You can typically find a few of them throughout the parade route, but my favorite one is on St Charles Avenue close to the interstate in front of Etre Cosmetic Dermatology & Laser Center.
25. Join the Krewe of Red Beans
The Krewe of Red Beans is a group that parades at 2 pm on
Lundi Gras. Krewe members take Red beans to decorate their suits and second line throughout New Orleans.
26. Grab beignets at Café Du Monde
Through the entire week of Mardi Gras, you may have yet to be able to grab some delicious beignets and cafe au lait from the parade routes. On Lundi Gras, give yourself a treat and grab an order (or two) of Beignets from the Cafe Du Monde in Jackson Square.
27. Walk through St. Louis cemetery no. 1
All Catholic Cemeteries are closed on Mardi Gras day, so taking a walking tour of St Louis Cemetery No 1 is perfect on Lundi Gras. Visiting the Cemetery on Lundi Gras will prepare you for the tradition of spreading ashes on Mardi Gras Day. You will have to take a guided tour through the cemetery, as guests are not allowed to wander around themselves.
28. Rest on Lundi Gras
If you plan on staying in town through Mardi Gras – do not worry and rest up! After clocking in all those steps, eating fried chicken and king cake, your body needs a bit of a break before waking up bright and early for Mardi Gras.
Things to do on Mardi Gras Day – Fat Tuesday
Unlike the other days of Carnival, Fat Tuesday starts at the crack of dawn. You are considered late if you are away from your designated parade spot by 8 am on Mardi Gras day! There are many activities going on all throughout the city, but the main parades will go down the traditional uptown route.
29. The Boot’s Tequilla Sunrise
In case you haven’t had enough alcoholic beverages throughout the weekend, there is a Mardi Gras tradition where the patrons of The Boot’s Bar and Grill stay up all night and drink Tequilla Sunrises at the dawn of Mardi Gras Day.
30. Find the Skull and Bones Gang
For over 200 years in the Treme neighborhood, just outside the French Quarter, the Skull and Bones gang left the Backstreet Cultural Museum and went door to door, waking people for Mardi Gras.
31. Run into Mardi Gras Indians
All year, members of the different Mardi Gras Indian tribes work on their elaborate costumes. On Mardi Gras Day, the Mardi Gras Indians come out in full attire and parade around the neighborhoods. Due to the secrecy of these groups, parade schedules and meeting times are never published ahead of time.
32. Join the Secret Society of St Anne
On Mardi Gras day, the Secret Society of St Anne starts at Vaughan’s in the Marigny and parades down to the river. Once parade goers meet at the moonwalk, the group then, one by one, scatters the ashes of their deceased loved ones into the Mississippi River.
33. Snag a Zulu Coconut
Zulu is one of the earliest starts of a parade! Starting bright and early at 8 am, you want to secure your spot for Zulu early. The goal is to get one of their famous painted coconuts.
34. Watch the Rex Parade
One of the most traditional Mardi Gras Parades is the Krewe of Rex Parade. It follows after Zulu and takes the traditional Uptown route. The Rex parade introduced doubloons coins in the 1960s, so make sure you try and catch one!
35. Ride in a Parade
A bucket list item for almost everyone’s New Orleans Mardi Gras bucket list is to ride in a parade! Out-of-town guests can either sign up to be substitute riders or even ride in a parade. There is nothing like riding in a Mardi Gras parade and seeing the crowds cheer you on!
In 2023 I am slated to ride a parade in Jefferson Parish and I cannot wait to experience riding in a parade!
36. Party on a Bourbon Street Balcony
If you have access to a hotel with a balcony on Bourbon Street, get ready to have a blast! Partying on a Balcony on Bourbon Street is one of the best ways to be with the crowd without needing to be in the crowd. A few bars and restaurants sell tickets to party on their balconies on select weekends and Mardi Gras Day.
37. Watch the Rex Ball on TV
If for some reason, you cannot pull yourself out of bed to celebrate Mardi Gras Day, you can always turn on the TV and watch the Rex Ball on TV. While watching, you can judge New Orleans’s societal culture and fashion.
38. Eat the last bit of king cake
On Mardi Gras Day, eat as much King Cake as you can! It is technically the last day you are legally allowed to eat King Cake again until the beginning of the next Mardi Gras season!
39. Close down Bourbon Street at midnight
Even though I am not a big fan of partying on Bourbon Street – the best way to experience Mardi Gras is by seeing the police close down Bourbon Street at midnight. This signals that Mardi Gras has ended, and the first day of lent is upon us.
Things to do in New Orleans During and around Mardi Gras
There are so many Mardi Gras things to do in New Orleans from Janaury-Mardi Gras day that you will have. A great time no matter when you come to visit the Big Easy.
If you are looking to book your Mardi Gras vacation during Mardi Gras Weekend, you may need to book it a year in advance due to the high prices of hotels.
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