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The Beginner’s Guide To Mardi Gras In New Orleans


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Kathryne Mathers



If there’s one festival that truly captures the essence of New Orleans, it’s Mardi Gras. This vibrant and colorful celebration has become synonymous with the city’s culture, attracting visitors from all over the world. Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, is a Carnival celebration that marks the day before the Christian season of Lent begins. It’s a time of revelry, indulgence, and letting loose before the solemnity of the religious observance.


From the dazzling floats to the mesmerizing parades, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a feast for the senses. The city comes alive with music, dance, and laughter, creating an atmosphere that is unparalleled. But Mardi Gras is more than just a party; it’s a centuries-old tradition deeply ingrained in the fabric of New Orleans.


The origins of Mardi Gras in New Orleans can be traced back to the early French settlers who arrived in the 18th century. They brought with them the traditions of Carnival from Europe and adapted them to their new surroundings. Over the years, Mardi Gras in New Orleans has evolved and grown into the grand spectacle that it is today.


What sets Mardi Gras in New Orleans apart from other Carnival celebrations around the world is its unique blend of cultures. The city’s rich history and diverse heritage, influenced by African, French, Spanish, and Caribbean traditions, contribute to the richness and vibrancy of the festivities.


Each year, thousands of visitors flock to New Orleans to be part of the Mardi Gras experience. The city’s streets are filled with costumed revelers, adorned with flamboyant masks and vibrant outfits. Music fills the air, as brass bands and marching bands parade through the streets, adding to the joyful chaos.


Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned Mardi Gras enthusiast, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know to immerse yourself in the magic of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. From its history and traditions to the best places to experience the festivities, let’s dive into the world of Mardi Gras and discover what makes it so unique.


History of Mardi Gras in New Orleans

The roots of Mardi Gras in New Orleans can be traced back to the early 18th century when the city was under French colonial rule. The celebration was brought over by French settlers who continued their annual tradition of indulgence and revelry before the season of Lent. The first recorded Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans took place in 1837, and since then, it has become a cherished tradition for locals and a major attraction for tourists.


Over the years, Mardi Gras in New Orleans has evolved and embraced a combination of cultural influences. The city’s diverse population, including French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean communities, has contributed to the unique flavor of Mardi Gras. These cultural influences are reflected in the vibrant costumes, lively music, and elaborate floats that make up the celebration.


One of the iconic symbols of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the Krewe. Krewes are essentially social clubs or organizations that plan and organize the parades and balls during the Carnival season. Each Krewe has its own unique theme and elaborate floats, often featuring breathtaking designs and intricate artwork. These parades have become the heart of Mardi Gras, attracting thousands of spectators along the designated parade routes.


Despite various challenges and interruptions, including wars, economic crises, and natural disasters, Mardi Gras in New Orleans has managed to persevere and thrive. Even during the time of segregation, African American communities formed their own Krewes and held parallel parades, showcasing their vibrant culture and identity.


Today, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a major tourist attraction, drawing over a million visitors to the city each year. The celebration has become an integral part of the city’s identity and economy, with hotels, restaurants, and local businesses benefiting from the influx of tourists during the Carnival season.


Mardi Gras in New Orleans is not just a one-day event; it is a season that begins on January 6th, also known as Twelfth Night or Epiphany, and culminates on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. The weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday are filled with parades, parties, costume balls, and other festivities.


While Mardi Gras in New Orleans has become synonymous with revelry and excess, it is important to remember the roots of this celebration. It has deep religious and cultural significance, marking the transition from indulgence to repentance as the Lenten season begins.


Understanding the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans adds depth and meaning to the experience. So as you immerse yourself in the festivities and soak up the vibrant energy of the city, take a moment to appreciate the centuries of tradition and the cultural tapestry that make Mardi Gras in New Orleans truly one-of-a-kind.


Significance and Traditions of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is not just a wild party; it holds deep significance and is steeped in traditions. The roots of this festive celebration can be traced back to ancient pagan rituals of fertility and the arrival of spring. As Christianity spread, it took on a new meaning as the last day of indulgence before the solemn season of Lent begins.


One of the key traditions of Mardi Gras is the use of masks and costumes. This tradition dates back centuries and was originally meant to allow people to partake in the festivities without being recognized or judged for their actions. Masks also carry a sense of mystery and an opportunity for people to adopt new personas during the celebration. From elaborate feathered masks to full costumes, the creativity and artistry displayed during Mardi Gras are truly remarkable.


Another iconic tradition of Mardi Gras is the throwing of beads and other trinkets from parade floats. This tradition can be traced back to the 19th century when Krewe members began tossing small objects to the crowds as a gesture of goodwill. Today, catching beads, doubloons, and other throws has become a coveted activity for both locals and visitors. It is said to bring good luck and is seen as a token of participation in the celebration.


King Cakes are another cherished tradition associated with Mardi Gras. These sweet pastries are baked in the shape of a crown and are often decorated with vibrant colors and sugar. Hidden inside each King Cake is a small plastic baby figurine. According to tradition, the person who finds the baby in their slice of cake is said to have good luck and is responsible for hosting the next Mardi Gras celebration.


The Mardi Gras Indians are yet another compelling tradition of this festive celebration. The Mardi Gras Indians are African American parade groups that dress in elaborate and intricate handmade costumes, paying homage to Native American culture. Each year, they unveil their new suits and participate in the parades, showcasing their artistry and creativity.


Music is an integral part of Mardi Gras. The city of New Orleans is known for its rich musical heritage, and during this celebration, brass bands, jazz musicians, and local performers take to the streets, filling the air with music and adding to the festive ambiance. From traditional jazz to lively brass band tunes, the sounds of Mardi Gras capture the spirit of the city.


Mardi Gras also has its own unique language and vocabulary. Phrases like “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” (Let the good times roll!) and “Throw me something, mister!” are commonly heard during the festivities. This language adds to the sense of camaraderie and communal celebration that Mardi Gras embodies.


These traditions and rituals are what make Mardi Gras in New Orleans so special. They have been passed down through generations, preserving the culture and spirit of this joyous celebration. So, as you join in the revelry and immerse yourself in the vibrant energy of Mardi Gras, take a moment to appreciate the significance of these traditions and the rich history they represent.


Planning Your Visit to Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a spectacular celebration that attracts visitors from all over the world. If you’re planning to experience the magic of Mardi Gras firsthand, here are some essential tips to help you plan a memorable trip.


1. Choose the Right Time: Mardi Gras is not just a one-day event; it is a season that lasts for several weeks. The peak of the festivities is the week leading up to Fat Tuesday. It’s important to check the official Mardi Gras schedule to determine the dates of the parades and other events that interest you.


2. Book Accommodation in Advance: Due to the popularity of Mardi Gras, accommodation gets booked up quickly. It’s advisable to make your reservations well in advance to secure a place to stay. Consider staying in the French Quarter or nearby areas for easy access to the festivities.


3. Plan Your Itinerary: With numerous parades, parties, and events happening throughout the Carnival season, it’s essential to plan your itinerary in advance. Research the different Krewes and their parade schedules to decide which parades you want to attend. Keep in mind that some parades take place on specific routes, so plan your location accordingly.


4. Be Prepared for Crowds: Mardi Gras in New Orleans attracts large crowds, so be prepared for the hustle and bustle. Arrive early to claim a good viewing spot for the parades, and be patient as you navigate through the crowded streets. Consider dressing comfortably and wearing comfortable footwear to make the most of your experience.


5. Stay Hydrated and Fuel Up: Mardi Gras can be an all-day affair, so it’s important to stay hydrated and fuel up with food. Carry a refillable water bottle and snack on local specialties like beignets and po’boys to keep energy levels up throughout the day.


6. Respect Local Customs: While Mardi Gras is a time of revelry, it’s important to respect local customs and traditions. Be mindful of your behavior, avoid excessive drinking, and remember that nudity and unruly behavior are not tolerated. Treat fellow revelers and locals with respect and kindness to ensure a harmonious celebration for everyone.


7. Stay Safe: Mardi Gras can be a lively and chaotic event, so take precautions to ensure your safety. Keep an eye on your belongings, stay in well-lit areas, and travel with a group if possible. Be cautious of pickpockets and be aware of your surroundings at all times.


8. Embrace the Spirit of Mardi Gras: Mardi Gras is a celebration of joy, music, and community. Embrace the spirit of Mardi Gras by immersing yourself in the festivities, interacting with locals, and enjoying the music, food, and culture that New Orleans has to offer. Don’t be afraid to dress up, join in the dancing, and create lasting memories.


By following these tips, you can plan a successful and enjoyable visit to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. So get ready to let the good times roll and experience the vibrant energy of one of the world’s most unique and captivating celebrations.


Best Places to Experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a city-wide celebration, with festivities happening in various neighborhoods and venues throughout the Carnival season. While the entire city is alive with the spirit of Mardi Gras, there are a few key areas that offer the best experiences. Here are some of the best places to immerse yourself in the vibrant energy of Mardi Gras in New Orleans:


1. French Quarter: The French Quarter is the heart and soul of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The historic streets come alive with costumed revelers, music, and colorful floats. Bourbon Street, with its lively bars and restaurants, is a must-visit for a classic Mardi Gras experience. Explore the smaller streets of the French Quarter for a more intimate and authentic celebration.


2. St. Charles Avenue: St. Charles Avenue is known for its iconic Mardi Gras parades, featuring dazzling floats, elaborate costumes, and marching bands. Find a spot along the parade route and watch as the Krewe floats pass by, throwing beads and trinkets to the crowd. The beauty of the historic mansions along St. Charles Avenue adds to the charm of the experience.


3. Garden District: The Garden District offers a more relaxed and picturesque setting to enjoy Mardi Gras. Stroll along Magazine Street, lined with charming boutiques and eateries, and soak in the festive atmosphere. Explore the beautiful historic homes and lush gardens that give the neighborhood its name.


4. Marigny and Bywater: For a more local and bohemian Mardi Gras experience, head to the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. These vibrant areas are known for their artsy vibe and lively music scene. Explore Frenchmen Street, lined with jazz clubs and street performers, and join in the spontaneous dance parties that often erupt on the streets during Mardi Gras.


5. Metairie: Located just outside of New Orleans, Metairie hosts its own Mardi Gras celebrations with parades and family-friendly activities. The parades in Metairie are known for their extravagant floats and enthusiastic crowds. This is a great option if you’re looking for a more suburban and family-oriented Mardi Gras experience.


6. Krewe Balls: Attending a Krewe Ball is a unique and exclusive way to experience Mardi Gras. These formal events are hosted by various Krewes and feature live music, elaborate costumes, and a grand ambiance. Tickets to these balls can be purchased in advance, offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of Mardi Gras royalty.


Remember, Mardi Gras is a city-wide celebration, and every neighborhood has its own unique charm and atmosphere. Feel free to explore and discover hidden gems that resonate with your personal taste and interests.


Wherever you choose to experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans, be prepared for an unforgettable celebration filled with music, color, and a sense of joy that can only be found in the Crescent City.


Parades and Floats at Mardi Gras

One of the most enchanting aspects of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the dazzling parades and elaborate floats that wind their way through the city streets. These parades are the heart and soul of Mardi Gras, attracting thousands of spectators and creating a magical atmosphere. Here’s a closer look at the parades and floats you can expect to see during Mardi Gras:


Mardi Gras parades are organized and led by social clubs and organizations known as Krewes. Each Krewe puts together their own parade, complete with themed floats, costumed riders, and marching bands. The Krewes spend months planning and designing the floats, making each one a unique work of art.


Floats are typically large, elaborately decorated platforms that are mounted on wheels and pulled by trucks. These floats serve as mobile stages for the riders, who throw beads, trinkets, and other Mardi Gras throws to the cheering crowds. The designs of the floats vary from whimsical and imaginative to elaborate and intricate, often showcasing vibrant colors, dazzling lights, and intricate details.


The most iconic parade during Mardi Gras is the Krewe of Rex. Known as the “King of Carnival,” Rex is one of the oldest Krewes and is responsible for many of the Mardi Gras traditions. Their floats and costumes often feature regal themes, with designs inspired by mythology, history, and cultural symbols.


Another legendary Krewe is the Krewe of Zulu. Known for their vibrant and lively parade, the Krewe of Zulu celebrates African American culture and history. Their floats are adorned with colorful and creative designs, and riders don traditional garb, including grass skirts and blackface makeup.


Other notable Krewes that participate in Mardi Gras parades include the Krewe of Bacchus, known for their celebrity Grand Marshal and jaw-dropping floats, and the Krewe of Endymion, famous for their large-scale floats and extravagant displays.


Each parade follows a designated route through the city, offering spectators ample opportunities to witness the procession. Spectators line the streets, eagerly awaiting the throws from the float riders. Catching beads, doubloons, and other Mardi Gras throws has become a cherished tradition and a popular activity for both locals and visitors.


It’s important to note that some parades require tickets for admission to certain viewing areas, while others are free and open to the public. It’s advisable to check the official Mardi Gras schedule to plan your parade-watching experience.


The excitement and energy of the parades and floats are what make Mardi Gras in New Orleans truly unforgettable. So, find a spot along the parade route, let the music fill the air, and marvel at the spectacular displays as Mardi Gras magic unfolds before your eyes.


Costume and Masking for Mardi Gras

One of the most enchanting and essential components of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the vibrant costumes and the art of masking. Costumes and masks play a vital role in the celebration, allowing participants to immerse themselves in the festive spirit and embrace the joyous atmosphere. Here’s a closer look at the significance of costume and masking during Mardi Gras:


1. Masks: Masks are deeply rooted in Mardi Gras traditions and hold both practical and symbolic significance. Historically, masks were used to allow people to partake in the festivities without being recognized, enabling individuals to engage in revelry without fear of judgment or consequences. Masks also added an element of mystery and excitement to the celebration.


Today, Mardi Gras masks come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. From delicate and elaborate feathered masks to simple half-face masks, there is a mask to suit every taste. Many masks are adorned with sequins, glitter, and vibrant colors, capturing the essence of Mardi Gras. Some masks even feature traditional symbols like fleur-de-lis or cultural motifs that reflect the rich heritage of New Orleans.


2. Costumes: Costuming is another cherished tradition during Mardi Gras. It offers participants an opportunity to step into a different persona and fully embrace the spirit of the celebration. Mardi Gras costumes can range from simple and casual to extravagant and flamboyant.


Popular costume choices include jester outfits, whimsical characters, historical figures, and cultural references. The key is to unleash your creativity and showcase your individual style. Donning a colorful wig, a sparkly sequined jacket, or a shimmering cape can elevate your costume and add to the festive atmosphere.


3. Beads and Accessories: In addition to masks and costumes, Mardi Gras accessories provide an extra touch of flair. Beads, in particular, are a staple of Mardi Gras, and receiving or catching beads from riders on parade floats is a much-anticipated part of the celebration. Beaded necklaces, bracelets, and headbands are popular accessories during Mardi Gras, contributing to the festive and joyful ambiance.


4. DIY and Craftsmanship: Many participants take pride in creating their own costumes and masks, showcasing their artistic skills and personal flair. DIY costumes and masks allow for customization and individual expression, adding to the vibrant and diverse tapestry of Mardi Gras. Craftsmanship and attention to detail are valued, as participants put in time and effort to design and construct their own unique ensembles.


Costume and masking during Mardi Gras not only enhance the visual spectacle but also encourage a sense of camaraderie and unity among participants. By donning masks and costumes, everyone becomes part of a larger, joyous community celebrating the spirit of Mardi Gras together.


Whether you choose to go all out with an elaborate ensemble or prefer a more subtle and understated costume, the key is to embrace the festive spirit, let your inhibitions go, and fully immerse yourself in the magic of Mardi Gras.


Traditional Foods and Drinks at Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is not just a celebration of music and costumes; it is also a gastronomic extravaganza. Traditional foods and drinks play a significant role in the festivities, adding flavor and indulgence to the Mardi Gras experience. Here’s a taste of the delectable treats and refreshing libations you can savor during Mardi Gras:


1. King Cake: Arguably the most iconic treat associated with Mardi Gras is the King Cake. This sweet and festive pastry is baked in the shape of a crown and adorned with vibrant colors of purple, green, and gold, representing justice, faith, and power. The cake itself is a cinnamon-infused dough, often filled with cream cheese or fruit fillings. Hidden inside is a small plastic baby, symbolizing luck and prosperity. Sharing a slice of King Cake with family and friends is a cherished Mardi Gras tradition.


2. Gumbo: No Mardi Gras celebration would be complete without a hearty bowl of gumbo. This traditional Louisiana dish is a rich and flavorful stew made with a combination of meat or seafood, vegetables, and a dark roux. Gumbo is often served over a bed of fluffy white rice, offering a comforting and satisfying meal amidst the festivities.


3. Jambalaya: Another beloved dish that captures the essence of Louisiana cuisine is jambalaya. This one-pot wonder is a flavorful mix of rice, onions, bell peppers, celery, and a variety of meats such as sausage, chicken, and shrimp. The combination of aromatic spices and ingredients creates a tantalizing dish that is sure to delight your taste buds.


4. Crawfish Étouffée: Crawfish season coincides with Mardi Gras, making crawfish étouffée a popular delicacy during the festivities. This dish consists of crawfish tails smothered in a savory and flavorful sauce thickened with a roux and served over a bed of rice. The succulent crawfish make for a delicious and indulgent treat, showcasing the flavors of the region.


5. Beignets: A visit to New Orleans would not be complete without indulging in the famous beignets. These pillowy squares of fried dough are generously dusted with powdered sugar. Served piping hot, beignets are a delightful sweet treat that pairs perfectly with a cup of café au lait. Be sure to visit the iconic Café du Monde in the French Quarter for an authentic beignet experience.


6. Hurricanes: When it comes to Mardi Gras libations, the Hurricane cocktail takes center stage. This rum-based drink gets its name from its vibrant red color and its potency, giving you the feeling of a swirling storm. Made with rum, passion fruit syrup, lemon juice, and grenadine, the Hurricane is a sweet and tangy drink that embodies the spirit of Mardi Gras.


7. Sazerac: For those who prefer a more classic cocktail, the Sazerac is a must-try during Mardi Gras. Considered the official cocktail of New Orleans, the Sazerac combines rye whiskey, sugar, Peychaud’s bitters, and a touch of absinthe. Known for its bold and robust flavors, the Sazerac is a perfect libation to sip while enjoying the festivities.


These are just a few of the traditional foods and drinks that add to the culinary delight of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. From the sweetness of the King Cake to the soul-warming flavors of gumbo and jambalaya, these treats are not only delicious but also play a significant role in the cultural heritage and gastronomic traditions of the region.


So, as you revel in the festive spirit of Mardi Gras, be sure to indulge in these mouthwatering delicacies and raise a glass of Hurricane or Sazerac to toast to the joyous celebration.


Safety Tips for Enjoying Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a vibrant and exhilarating celebration, but it’s important to prioritize safety and ensure a positive experience for everyone involved. Here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind while enjoying Mardi Gras:


1. Stay Connected: Before heading out to the festivities, make sure you have a plan in place and share it with your group or a trusted friend. Establish designated meeting points in case anyone gets separated. It’s also a good idea to have fully charged cell phones and agree on a designated communication channel, such as a group chat.


2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings: Mardi Gras attracts large crowds, and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. However, it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings at all times. Keep an eye on your belongings, secure your valuables, and be vigilant against potential pickpockets. Stay in well-lit areas and avoid isolated or unfamiliar places.


3. Dress Appropriately: Mardi Gras involves a lot of walking and standing, so wear comfortable shoes and clothing. Avoid wearing excessive jewelry or expensive accessories that could attract unwanted attention. Dress in layers to accommodate changing weather conditions, as New Orleans can have unpredictable temperatures during the Carnival season.


4. Hydrate and Eat Well: Staying hydrated is crucial, especially during Mardi Gras, when the festivities can be physically demanding. Carry a refillable water bottle and drink regularly throughout the day. It’s also important to fuel your body with nutritious food. Enjoying the traditional Mardi Gras delicacies is part of the experience, but make sure to balance them with healthier options.


5. Savvy Parade Viewing: If you plan to watch the parades, arrive early to secure a good viewing spot. Stay behind barricades and follow the instructions of law enforcement officers and parade marshals. Avoid standing or sitting on ladders or other unstable objects. Keep a safe distance from floats, and never reach for throws directly from the float itself.


6. Practice Responsible Drinking: Alcohol is a part of the Mardi Gras celebration, but it’s important to drink responsibly. Pace yourself, know your limits, and never drink and drive. New Orleans has strict laws against public consumption of alcohol, so be mindful and enjoy your drinks within designated areas or establishments that permit it.


7. Respect Local Customs and Laws: Mardi Gras is deeply rooted in New Orleans’ cultural heritage and traditions. Show respect for local customs, including costume and mask-wearing, parade etiquette, and community rules. Nudity and unruly behavior are not tolerated and can lead to legal consequences. Treat fellow festival-goers, locals, and law enforcement personnel with kindness and respect.


8. Plan Transportation in Advance: Parking can be challenging during Mardi Gras, so consider using public transportation or rideshare services to travel to and from the festivities. If you’re driving, be aware of road closures and limited parking availability. Designate a sober driver if needed, or take advantage of the city’s reliable public transportation options.


Remember, safety is paramount when enjoying Mardi Gras in New Orleans. By following these tips, you can have a fun and memorable experience while ensuring the well-being of yourself and those around you. Embrace the festive spirit responsibly and keep the focus on enjoying the vibrant culture and traditions of this unique celebration.



Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a celebration like no other. It’s a time when the city comes alive with vibrant colors, joyful music, and a sense of camaraderie. From the historic French Quarter to the lively parades and intricate floats, Mardi Gras in New Orleans offers a feast for the senses and an opportunity to experience the unique culture and traditions of this culturally rich city.


Throughout its history, Mardi Gras has evolved, adapting to the changing times while still maintaining its core essence. It’s a celebration that brings people together, transcending barriers and creating unforgettable experiences. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned Mardi Gras enthusiast, the festivities will captivate you with their charm and leave you with a lifetime of memories.


As you immerse yourself in the enchanting world of Mardi Gras, it’s important to remember to respect the local customs and traditions, ensure your safety, and celebrate responsibly. From planning your visit and experiencing the parades and floats to indulging in traditional foods and drinks and embracing the art of masking, Mardi Gras offers something for everyone.


Beyond the indulgence and revelry, Mardi Gras holds deep cultural and historical significance. It’s a time to honor the traditions of the past, celebrate the city’s diverse heritage, and come together as a community to express joy and unity.


So, whether you choose to don a vibrant costume, catch beads and trinkets, or simply immerse yourself in the festive ambiance, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime. It’s an opportunity to let go of inhibitions, embrace the spirit of celebration, and create unforgettable memories with friends, family, and fellow revelers.


As the saying goes, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” (Let the good times roll!) So, embrace the magic of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, enjoy the flavors, sights, and sounds, and let yourself be swept away by the joyous energy that permeates the city during this extraordinary celebration.