How to Experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras is a centuries-old cultural phenomenon that truly runs deep in the ethos of New Orleans. Many spend the entire year preparing for the month-long festivities. There is an actual Mardi Gras day (Tuesday, March 5 this year) and there are countless parties, parades, and events leading up to the culmination of the Carnival Season. Carnival is not only celebrated by New Orleans, but is also observed by several international cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Bracelona, and Barranquilla and additional U.S. cities such as Miami, Key West, and New York City.

While Carnival in New Orleans is a delicious food and alcohol-fueled amazing street party, it is important to remember Mardi Gras is in fact a religious holiday and has true origins as a family affair. First-time goers will be surprised to see plenty of children running around the streets and taking part (no alcohol of course) in the festivities. Much of the Mardi Gras reputation as a somewhat seedy event is incited by the tens of thousands of drunken and misbehaved tourists meaning it’s important to uphold some decorum and respect while taking part in the events.

If planning a trip to Mardi Gras, remember that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Veterans and locals have been participating in parades, parties, and events for a full month leading up to Fat Tuesday and are keenly aware of the benefits of pacing one’s self. That being said, you’ll find no shortage of options for alcohol throughout the city with bars and restaurants practically giving it away and pop-up drink stands littered throughout the city offering cocktails and Bloody Mary’s.

Parades are a big and important part of Carnival and as you might imagine, location is key if you’re trying to see the amazing street performances and floats throughout the city. The crowds will be thinner and the parades will be easier to watch and even take part in if you head uptown to St. Charles Avenue from Canal Street. Here, the streets are open and parade-goers can walk right up to carnival floats for a better chance at some of the most prized “throws.” You should also be able to participate in a house party or two. When heading uptown, keep in mind that getting around the city can be quite difficult during Mardi Gras. Cabs are scarce, ride share services will most likely be expensive, and tons of streets are barricaded, so plan accordingly and make sure to wear some good walking shoes.