If you’re visiting New Orleans from January to March for the Carnival Season this year, then you’ll love our complete guide of things to do at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. This article is a part of our New Orleans Travel Guide

 

Welcome to the biggest party of the year! Every year, New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations are held on a grand scale. Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans is no joke and only complete preparedness will get you through the fantastic parades, krewes and super krewes, beads and Zulu coconut throws, hotel reservations, king cakes, house parties, hand grenades, car parkings, and more. Ideally visitors should plan their New Orleans Mardi Gras trip at least 6 months, if not an year, in advance. But chronic procrastinators that we are, we booked ours at the very last moment and so can you! Understand all the Mardi Gras terminology, explore things to do and find invaluable Mardi Gras in New Orleans trip planning advice right here. Our fun and handy guide will help you make the most of this historic New Orleans tradition!

New Orleans Mardi Gras parade jesters

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“It has been said that a Scotchman has not seen the world until he has seen Edinburgh;
and I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi-Gras in New Orleans.”
— Mark Twain

 

When is Mardi Gras this year?

Before we get deeper into this – Mardi Gras this year is on Tuesday, 5th March 2019. Yes, that’s just a few weeks from now and more reason why you need this Mardi Gras guide right now! Also the Carnival Season starts on 6th January – which means it has already started – so get down to your trip planning ASAP! This year’s Carnival season is almost 2 months long – which means more parades, more parties, and more fun.

Also Read: New Orleans 3 Day Itinerary

What is Mardi Gras?

If you are a devout Christian, you probably know everything about Mardi Gras and could teach us a thing or two on its religious importance. But if you are just a party-goer, then here is some Mardi Gras 101.

Mardi Gras is predominantly celebrated by Catholics all over the world. The story start at Christmas. Did you know that Christmas season doesn’t actually begin at Thanksgiving or at the beginning of December but on Christmas day itself? (You can read the history here – it’s fascinating!) The popular song ‘12 Days of Christmas’ refers to the period from Christmas to the Twelfth Night or the Day of Epiphany which falls on January 6th every year. That’s when the festive season of Carnival starts – and it ends on the day before the start of Lent or Ash Wednesday – which is Mardi Gras Day. So basically, Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday (because it falls on a Tuesday every year) is the Big Feast at the end of the Carnival Season before the beginning of Lent, a forty-day period of fasting which ends on the day before Easter. On Mardi Gras, revelers indulge in food, including meats, and drinks in anticipation of the austerity of Lent.

To sum it up, Christmas — (12 Days) — Day of Epiphany – Carnival starts – Mardi Gras Day (Carnival ends) – Lent starts — (40 Days) — Easter! Tada!

Mardi Gras parades have an exciting atmosphere – full of bubbles, music, paper confetti, and beads

New Orleans Mardi Gras History

As explained above, while Mardi Gras is just one day, the Carnival season is a long festive period that has been historically celebrated in the city of New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana with music, dances, and masked costumed balls. The city celebrated its tricentennial in 2018 and the Mardi Gras celebrations in the area have long preceded the city establishment. Fat Tuesday is an official holiday in Louisiana since 1875.

The early practice of processions, celebrations, wearing masks and costumes on the street during Mardi Gras gradually evolved into elaborate parades with floats and established krewes followed by formal balls for krewe members. The first NOLA Mardi Gras parade ever was held in New Orleans on Feb. 24, 1857, by the Krewe of Comus. Read more New Orleans Mardi Gras history here. Since then there are official Kings and Queens of the Carnival and elaborate ceremonies are held to mark the beginning and end of the Carnival season.

Fiery dragons in Mard Gras parade

When to visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras during the Carnival Season?

In 2019, New Orleans Carnival Season is from 6th January 2019 to 5th March 2019.

The first parade of the Carnival Season in New Orleans is held on the Day of Epiphany. After that, a parade is held on most days. The celebrations intensify two weeks before Mardi Gras Day with multiple parades, family events, masked balls and more.

The number of visitors, events held, and level of excitement all reach its peak during the last 5 days before Mardi Gras – that is, from the Friday before Mardi Gras to Mardi Gras Day – and is the best time to visit New Orleans to attend the celebrations. The best parades also take place during these last 5 days. The best parades are the longest, have unique themes and beautifully designed floats, famous celebrities, and most prized throws. Different parades have slightly different routes; find detailed parade schedules here.

New Orleans Mardi Gras season comes to a formal end with a ceremony called the Meeting of the Courts. In the Meeting of the Courts, Rex, the King of the Carnival, meets with Comus (from the Krewe of Comus) to mark the end of the Carnival.

How to plan a New Orleans Mardi Gras Trip?

Are you going to Mardi Gras for the first time? For many, attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a bucket list experience. During Carnival Season, over 200,000 visitors descend upon the city to participate in the unique festivities. The best way to experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans is through advance planning. Here are some New Orleans Carnival Season visitor tips to make the most of your visit:

New Orleans Mardi Gras parade revelers and krewes have interesting costumes

What is the ideal time to visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras?

As mentioned above, while the Carnival Season is from 6th January to Mardi Gras day, the celebration intensifies two weeks before Mardi Gras. That’s why the last weekend before Mardi Gras through Mardi Gras Day is the best time to visit to see the best parades, attend lots of parties, and flaunt your costumes. However this is also New Orleans at its crowdiest so advance hotel reservations and lots of pre-planning are a necessity.

Where to stay during Mardi Gras in New Orleans?

Snagging a good hotel deal during Mardi Gras is New Orleans is virtually impossible. If you are visiting on Mardi Gras Day then most hotels require 4 to 5 days minimum reservations. Most rooms sell for 3x to 4x their usual prices and  even motels have rates exceeding $150 per day. We recommend staying in French Quarter only for couples or friends whose main focus is partying. For families and those who want to keep out of the French Quarter, we recommend staying in Uptown, Midcity, or the Central Business District. Even suburbs like Metairie are good options for families.

Is renting a car during Mardi Gras a good idea? Where to park for Mardi Gras?

If you are flying in to New Orleans, we recommend not renting a car. Even if you are driving to New Orleans, we recommend parking at your hotel and taking the streetcar or Uber to the parade routes. Driving through the Mardi Gras traffic in New Orleans amidst route closures is a big headache. If you still prefer to bring a car, then we recommend parking outside of the French Quarter.

Parades are always family-friendly

How To Dress For Mardi Gras In New Orleans?

You can dress up if you like or attend Mardi Gras parades in casual clothes, it’s all allowed. You can never go wrong wearing something purple, green, and gold and even your most elaborate costume will blend in with the thousands celebrating Mardi Gras. Whatever you wear, you will soon be covered in beads for the rest of the day!

Where to watch the Mardi Gras parades? Which are the best places to see the carnival floats?

The most popular and hence, also the most crowded places to watch the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans are along Canal Street or close to French Quarter. For families, we recommend watching the parade in Uptown where crowds are less dense. The corner of Jackson Avenue and St. Charles Avenue is the favorite place to watch the parade on Mardi Gras morning for many locals. You can also buy parade tickets to watch the parades from the comfort of a grandstand. These tickets sell out in advance, so we recommend buying them soon.

Krewe of Tucks

How to attend Mardi Gras in New Orleans for cheap?

The best way to make the most of Mardi Gras and see it on a budget is through advance planning. We recommend booking your flights and hotels ideally in the summer of the previous year for the best deals. Another way to attend the celebrations on a budget is to visit on the penultimate weekend. That weekend still has lots of good parades but lesser crowds and lower rates. Also hotels don’t have the 4 or 5 night minimum stay requirements.

Other Mardi Gras trip planning suggestions

You should plan your trip according to parade schedules. If you are planning to watch a lot of parades, arrive early at your pre-decided spot and stake your place with lawn or beach chairs and coolers. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a large bag to store all the beads and trinkets that you will catch.

Sci-fi themed parade

Things to do at Mardi Gras in New Orleans

New Orleans is, without doubt, the best place to celebrate Mardi Gras in the United States. Mardi Gras celebrations in the city are like a FREE big fat never-ending party. There are so many things to do at different city venues that it is hard to keep up with all of them. There are Mardi Gras attractions and events geared towards families, couples, friends, and also LGBT travelers. Here are some of the best things to indulge in during Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Family friendly things to do in Mardi Gras New Orleans

What many visitors don’t realize is that Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a cultural tradition and has always been family friendly, except for the Bourbon Street and Royal Street parties in the French Quarter. You can absolutely take your kids of all ages and join in the fun. In fact, you will see many local families staking out various points along the parade route with lawn chairs or camping chairs, shades, carts, blankets, toys, and coolers filled with foods and drinks. For most New Orleanians, watching the annual Mardi Gras parades with your family is a long held tradition. Most krewes have special throws for children including candies, plush toys, trinkets and medallions directly. Children also enjoy the parades, floats, music, throws, and excitement of the carnival. You can see the parades near the beginning on St. Charles Avenue in Uptown New Orleans which is especially family friendly. Your family will love the unique celebrations. New Orleans also has many things to do for kids, you can check out the city’s popular attractions after or before parades. Here are the top family friendly things to do in New Orleans during Mardi Gras:

Laissez Boys – a beloved New Orleans Mardi Gras group  

Watch some of the most elaborate and fun parades in the whole wide world

When it comes to parades, very few countries and cities can compete with New Orleans – Brazil and Venice being the only exceptions. The city throws some of the world’s greatest celebrations and its parades are loved by everyone. The parades featuring outrageous costumes, music, dances, marching bands, colorful decorations, and never ending entertainment bring a smile to street goers faces. The parades are organized by Carnival organizations called krewes, the identity of members in each Krewe is closely guarded. Day and night parades have many different features – day parades focus on themes through satire, handheld messages etc while the night parades  focus on dramatic light effects. New Orleans has over 40 parades in the days leading up to the day of Mardi Gras; the most famous among them being the Krewe of Zulu, Krewe of Rex, Krewe of Endymion, and Krewe of Bacchus.

See beautifully constructed and uniquely themed parade floats

Intricate, themed parade floats have long been a distinguishing character of New Orleans Mardi Gras parades. The floats come in a variety of designs – some are elaborate, while others are satirical. The earliest Mardi Gras parade floats were designed in France and exported to the United States. Today most of the floats are motorized and made by Kern Studios in New Orleans. If you are more interested in behind the scenes process of float construction, you touring their museum/workshop at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans. The guided tours are about an hour long and filled with the history of Mardi Gras, unique look at traditions, and slices of king cake! At the studio, artists work on the floats for an entire year and krewes spend thousands of dollars to bring the amazing floats to life. Every year the social krewes vie with each other for the honor of having the most spectacular, elaborate, and biggest themed floats of the Carnival.

Colorful, themed parade floats

Observe intricate masks, costumes, and accessories

On Mardi Gras Day everyone is dressed up in elaborate masks, beautiful finery, dramatic and provocative costumes, and making a bold statement. Masks and costumes are an integral part of New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations. In fact, New Orleans Mardi Gras official laws require float riders to have a mask on at all times. The Carnival masks are of various types: some are half masks covering just the eyes while others are full head gears masking the entire face and extending even below the neck. The costumes are similarly beaded, feathered, and flamboyant. During old days, maks allowed revelers to escape their social position and constraints while enabling them to have a good time shrouded in the secrecy of their masks. Today, the masks are worn to add excitement and adventure to the magic of the day.

While you can see masks on display everywhere in the city, if you are interested in purchasing a mask for yourself – then we recommend visiting The Mask Store in French Quarter near Jackson Square. The Mask Store carries a large selection of masks made by renowned local, national, and even international artists. Here you will find Venetian style masks made in Italy, handmade leather masks, and one of a kind custom masks. Strolling around the store and trying on different masks is a fascinating experience.

Marching bands, troupes, and dancers

See incredible performances by bands, dance troupes, and krewe members

Apart from beautiful floats and parade throws, New Orleans Mardi Gras parades feature a variety of marching bands, dance troupes, acrobats, and other performances by krewe members. Each krewe tries to outdo others in providing thrilling entertainment for the crowds. So far we have seen jazz bands, hula hoop performances, school bands, gymnastic skits, horse riding maneuvers, stilt walking, and many other acts in the parades. There are also marching clubs that perform in between parades. These marching clubs are popular in their own right and locals look forward to their skillfully choreographed walking and dance performances. The performers practice their Mardi Gras acts several months beforehand and their dedication and enthusiasm is visible in the flawless performances.

Jesters throwing beads at the waiting crowd

Experience the thrilling skill of the Flambeaux

Watching parades in the flickering light of the flambeaux is a long-standing New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition. Flambeaux is derived from the French word ‘flambe’, literally meaning flames. In ancient times when LED and other modern lighting systems didn’t exist, flaming torches were used to provide light to the the Mardi Gras night parades; the torches essentially allowed carnival goers to see the parades. Over time, while the usefulness of the flambeaux decreased, they continued to survive as a part of parade tradition. Flambeaux walkers carry the heavy kerosene lit flames in spite of the smoke and heat; they earn anywhere from $50 to $250 for walking the parade routes. The flambeaux carriers have historically been slaves and free men of color. Today they are predominantly African Americans along with a mix of other races and genders.

The flambeaux bearing has gradually evolved into an art form – the torchbearers wave, spin and twirl their heavy blazing torches as they lead the way for parade floats. Watching them is a thrilling experience, the crowds ooh and aah at the spectacular performance and tip them generously for their dance. Children in particular, love looking at the flickering light in awe and amazement. So the next time you are watching a parade and a torchbearer walks past after his performance, praise him for his skills and pass along a $5 bill.

Flambeaux bearers

Collect the most prized throws and lord it over your friends

Mardi Gras throws are basically items thrown by float riders and other krewe members at the crowds when the parades pass by. Colorful beads are the most popular types of throws – each and every parade throws them in numerous quantities making them the easiest throws to find. These glass beads are the same as those available at any big box stores or dollar tree before Mardi Gras. Some krewes throw different shaped bead strings, pearl beads, or beads with medallions. So common are these beads that people often start throwing them away on the streets, because they are not unique enough.

Apart from the plastic and glass string beads, some parades have a variety of other throws including doubloons, homemade trinkets, plush toys, coupons, gift cards, t-shirts, even lingerie, wine, plastic cups, glasses, or other drinking containers, etc. The Krewe of Zulu is most famous for throwing hand-painted and beautifully decorated coconuts at the crowds; these coconuts are one of the most coveted throws during Mardi Gras. Catching one of these unique throws will be one of your most memorable Mardi Gras experiences.

Mardi Gras headgear

Spot your favorite celebrities on the floats

During Mardi Gras season in New Orleans, celebrities descend down upon the city. Having celebrities on the floats is an age old tradition. The jazz musician Louis Armstrong was the King of Zulu Krewe in 1949 and other Krewes soon followed the trend. Many of the top parades including Endymion, Bacchus, and Orpheus have Celebrity Grand Marshals for their parade. Popular bands and famous DJs come to perform at the Krewe Mardi Gras Balls and at various parties in the city while popular sports persons and TV stars come to enjoy the parades and other festivities with their families. Watching your favorite celebrity on the parade float is one of the most popular things to do in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Revelers love to catch throws from their favorite actors and sports personalities and cheer them on the route. Celebrity sightings in the French Quarter are also very common.

Celebrities attending parades

Dress up in traditional Mardi Gras colors

The honor of selecting the Mardi Gras colors goes to Rex, King of the Carnival and the Krewe of Rex in 1892. The colors decided upon were  purple, green and gold but wasn’t until 1892 that symbolism and meaning was attached to them. Since then Purple stands for Justice. Green is for Free. Gold represents power. Most revelers dress up in elaborate costumes in traditional Mardi Gras colors to participate in the Carnival festivities. Float riders enjoy throwing beads and other trinkets to revelers who are dressed in Mardi Gras colors or costumes.

Dance to the traditional Mardi Gras music and occasional jazz tunes

We can’t stress this enough; Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans is like a giant block party with no last call. Revelers enjoy drinking from plastic cups, dressing in costumes, jumping to catch throws, and dancing to the music. While the parades happen at assigned times, there is no dearth of entertainment in between parades. Marching bands, jazz musicians, drummers, and other performers can always be spotted somewhere and if there’s nothing else, there’s music! We have seen revelers playing music on their phones and having spontaneous dance party along the parade routes while waiting for the floats and krewe members. Even children love to join in with their unique moves!

Unique parades

Catch up on some quality time with your loved ones in between parades

Towards the start of the parade routes, you will find more local families camped out for the day. They often have food, drinks, and heated grills nearby and the children enjoy playing with frisbees, balls, bikes, and other toys in between the parades. The weather in New Orleans is mostly perfect during Mardi Gras – sunshine and warm temperatures are the norm with occasional rain showers making it a great time to be outdoors and enjoy the day.

Queen of the parade

Find the baby in the King Cake

Eating King Cake during Carnival season is a remainder of New Orleans’ French heritage and has been prevalent since the late 19th century. The King Cake is a sweet oval French pastry iced in Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold and has religious origins.

The Carnival Season starts on the Day of Epiphany which was when Jesus revealed himself to Three Wise Men who came bearing gifts to Bethlehem. To symbolize this day, a small plastic baby is hidden inside the King Cake. Sometimes other hidden treasure – beans or trinkets are hidden instead of the tiny plastic baby. During Mardi Gras parties, King Cakes are sliced and whoever gets the piece with the baby becomes the king for the day – that is, he or she is in charge of hosting the next Mardi Gras party with a King Cake and so on till the season ends.

Most bakeries and sometimes even street vendors in New Orleans sell King Cakes during the Carnival season. Apart from the traditional versions, you will also find brioche King Cake sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, King Cakes topped with pecans, King Cakes decorated with cream cheese frosting, and King Cakes with Bavarian Cream and other fillings! You can check out the best King Cakes in New Orleans on Eater.

Delicious King Cake

Eat Cajun and Creole delicacies including Po-Boys and gumbos

As yummy as the King Cake maybe, New Orleans has many other iconic foods. The city is a foodie’s paradise and you can sample some of its amazing delicacies while visiting the city during Mardi Gras. New Orleans is famous for its Cajun and Creole cuisine and dishes like Po-Boys, chargrilled oysters, Cajun boiled crawfish, and gumbo. New Orleans must eat desserts include Cafe du Monde’s beignets, banana foster French toasts, bread pudding, sno balls, and pralines. New Orleans also has many vegan and gluten free options for those with food allergies.

Attend a Mardi Gras Ball in your best ball gown

New Orleans Carnival Season is marked by high society masked balls hosted by the Mardi Gras krewes for their members. These balls are elegant and formal by-invite-only affairs. The super-exclusive balls are firmly rooted in old traditions and planned spectacularly by the Kings and Queens of each Krewe. The planning and execution of the Mardi Gras balls involve beautiful invitations, calling-out cards for dances, debutantes, formal courts,pages, maids, and jesters. Some Krewes hold balls only for members and visitors can’t attend them unless you know someone. However, some other Krewes including Orpheus, Bacchus, and Endymion throw “Super Krewe” Balls every year that are ticketed events and open to the general public. Tickets for these balls are expensive and sell out very fast, so advance planning is recommended.

Horses also participating in Mardi Gras parade

Enjoy the festivities along the Mississippi on Lundi Gras

Lundi Gras is a unique New Orleans tradition for Shrove Monday or the day before Mardi Gras. On this day, Rex – the King of the Carnival and the Zulu King traditionally arrive in the city via boats at the Woldenberg Riverfront Park in the French Quarter. Festivities are held throughout the day along the Riverfront Park and food vendors can be seen everywhere. There are concerts by well-known performers along the Riverfront and stalls featuring arts and crafts by local artists entice visitors. Lundi Gras is attended by over 150,000 carnival revelers and is one of the most popular things to do during Mardi Gras.

Beautiful parade floats

See the Mardi Gras Indians parade in Treme

New Orleans Mardi Gras is not complete without the Mardi Gras Indians parade in Treme. Mardi Gras Indians are black carnival members whose outfits and parades are heavily influenced by Native American culture. Whereas other carnival revelers are organized in Krewes, Mardi Gras Indians are organized in Tribes. New Orleans has more than three dozen tribes. Mardi Gras Indians have handmade flamboyant costumes and gorgeous feathered masks; their parades are stunning with chants and tribal music.

The Mardi Gras Indians have a fascinating history which is rooted in New Orleans unique black culture. Treme in New Orleans is the oldest neighborhood of free African Americans in the country – it is here that jazz originated and it is here that African culture blended with indigenous Native culture and French Mardi Gras traditions to form an interesting blend. The result is the tribes of Mardi Gras Indians and their unique costumes. Each Mardi Gras Indians parade suit costs thousands of dollars and is handmade; members work on their suit for six to nine months before the Carnival season. The suits have beads, ostrich plumes, other feathered headdresses, and Native American art patches. You can read more about the Mardi Gras Indians here.

The Krewe of Endymion is one of NOLA’s most watched parades

Witness memorable traditions and enjoy the greatest free show on earth

Mardi Gras Krewes and Tribes are big on keeping alive historic traditions. The parades are big, bold, and beautiful while the dramatic costumes are not for the faint of heart. The parade themes include history, tradition, pop culture, satire, and humor. Beautiful floats are the result of year-round dedication by artists and architects to the single biggest event of the year.

Did we mention that during Mardi Gras in New Orleans you get to experience all the above for free? The parades, floats, celebrities, and costumes cost thousands of dollars and take months to plan and prepare yet there are no entry tickets to watch the parades or participate in the festivities. The Krewes pay for everything out of their own pockets. Visitors have to simply line up along the street barricades to experience the most dramatic, bold, and colorful festival in the country. No wonder that New Orleans Mardi Gras is known as the greatest free show on earth.

Ride on a streetcar, have fun in Jackson Square, see the grand mansions in Garden District and explore New Orleans other top attractions

If this is your first visit to New Orleans, then you can use the free time in between parades to explore some of New Orleans famous tourist attractions including the beautiful architecture of the French Quarter, the renowned St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, the trendy Magazine Street, and unique above the ground cemeteries in the city. New Orleans is one of our favorite cities and has lots of things to do for families, couples and kids of all ages. We have been to New Orleans more than a dozen times and have a detailed itinerary for exploring the city’s highlights in just 3 days.

Also Read: 16 Best Things to do in New Orleans with teens

St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square

Adult things to do in the French Quarter for Mardi Gras

The parade routes do not even pass through the French Quarter and yet many tourists immediately think of the French Quarter when they discuss Mardi Gras in New Orleans for three major reasons – boobs, beads, and booze. Carnival celebrations in the French Quarter are decidedly risqué, tinged with drinking and debauchery, and solely for adults. For those who want to check out this side of New Orleans Carnival season, the action is concentrated in the two blocks of Bourbon Street and Royal Street area of the French Quarter. This area is not family friendly and should be avoided by those with kids or who don’t want to see inappropriate behavior and activities. If the French Quarter is your destination, then read on to find the top things to do in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras for adults. Consider yourself warned!

Drink the Hand Grenade or a Hurricane or other iconic New Orleans cocktails

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is like a big, never-ending party for one major reason – there are no open container laws in New Orleans and drinks come in to-go cups. The French Quarter also happens to be the birthplace of most of New Orleans iconic drinks and there is no time like the present to try them all.

The Hand Grenade in Bourbon Street

Revelers love to drink the famous Hand Grenade – supposedly New Orleans most powerful drink sold only by five licensed bars in the French Quarter. The drink comes in a green plastic container, is quite sweet but potent. Drink more than a couple and you are sure to wake up with a throbbing hangover. Still others love to try the Hurricane – a powerful fruit juice rum cocktail or a Sazerac – apparently the world’s first cocktail created in New Orleans itself for medicinal purposes.

Other popular New Orleans drinks include the Ramos Gin Fizz, Brandy Punch, and frozen daiquiris in every flavor. Whatever your choice of poison, you will find it readily in the many bars in the French Quarter.

Krewe members performing acrobatic acts

Party on Bourbon Street like there’s no tomorrow

Bourbon Street area of the French Quarter is particularly popular with millennials and college students for good reason. The street has innumerable bars, strip clubs, night clubs, and tons of partygoers. Inhibitions are shed faster in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras than most other places in the world. Unsavory or not, this side of New Orleans Mardi Gras is there to stay and if you wish to be a part of it – you should hurry down to Bourbon Street after the parades end.

Attend the Gay Mardi Gras celebrations

New Orleans is one the most gay-friendly cities in the country. The Big Easy always plans something special for Gay Mardi Gras. In 2019, the Gay Mardi Gras celebration is from Thursday, February 28th to Tuesday, March 5th (Fat Tuesday / Mardi Gras day), and will occur in the French Quarter’s largest gay nightclub, the Bourbon Pub / Parade, located at the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann Streets.

There are several gay Carnival Krewes including the Krewe of Petronius and the Krewe of Amon-Ra however not all gay Krewes parade. Some of the Gay Mardi Gras Krewes hold formal costumed balls with King, Queen, court, costumes, and debutantes. Other events include awards for best costumes and concerts by popular DJs.

New Orleans is a very gay-friendly city

Find college kids in crazy costumes enjoying spring break

Mardi Gras and the Carnival Season often coincides with spring break and hence, you will often find spring break ages tourists in the French Quarter. Most of the college aged revelers have on dramatic, creative and often daring costumes which add to the bold reputation of the French Quarter. We have seen a few really creative and satirical costumes that entertained and amused us during Mardi Gras.

Experience lowered inhibitions including women and also men flashing for beads

Flashing women are a long-standing French Quarter Mardi Gras tradition of sorts. Native New Orleanians insist that it is not a NOLA tradition – BUT for tourists and revelers it has become synonymous with it! Women on the streets flash and bare their breasts for the biggest beads, coconuts and other coveted throws. Similarly, flashers on balconies bare all to crowds that form on the street. The flashing is not limited to women, you will often find me flashing revelers as well. This behavior is usually limited only to those couple of blocks in the French Quarter and flashers elsewhere will quickly find themselves arrested by the police.

Mardi Gras celebrations in the French Quarter are not for children

Watch where you walk! And beware of sleazy visitors, pick pockets, and other creeps

While we enjoyed the time we spent in the French Quarter during the day at Mardi Gras, visiting it after the parade at night wasn’t my favorite for a couple of reasons: lots of drunks means lots of people getting sick. The stench in some places was overpowering and I had to watch where I stepped continuously – not easy when you have people walking all around you. Add spilled drinks, trash, and spilled food to the mix and there was literally no clean place to put your foot. Also there were many sleazy revelers who kept hassling girls to flash for beads and still others who leered at everyone. We also heard a lot of reports about people who got mugged on their way home. That’s why we would recommend everyone to be cautious when they are partying in the French Quarter and stay safe with friends or partners.

Stay out of the madness by partying on a French Quarter balcony

The crowd on the narrow streets of French Quarter gets crazy fast – if you want to stay out of the madness yet enjoy the experience, then you should try to get one of the balcony seats in the French Quarter. Many bars and nightclubs sell tickets to balcony events and parties. Some of them include open bars and gourmet cuisine in the ticket price. These tickets are quite expensive and sell around $200 per person but offer an unparalleled French Quarter Mardi Gras experience. Bourbon Vieux and Bourbon Cowboy both have tickets on sale for Mardi Gras 2019.

Balconies are the best places to enjoy Mardi Gras. Snag one if you can!

Explore the real French Quarter including its unique architecture in the morning

The rowdiness of French Quarter at night during Mardi Gras is a world apart from a leisurely stroll in the French Quarter at morning. If you want to appreciate the true beauty and character of French Quarter with its beautiful balconies framed with potted ferns, street musicians playing jazz, artists sketching a stunning likeness of the area, horse-drawn carriages, and families strolling by then you should take in French Quarter before noon.

Ultimately, French Quarter Mardi Gras is not what New Orleans Mardi Gras is about and we would urge everyone to check out the parades on St. Charles Avenue, spot the Mardi Gras Indians, and attend Lundi Gras at the Riverfront to understand this great New Orleans tradition.

Beautiful architecture of the French Quarter

Attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans was one of our memorable travel experiences. We loved all the different aspects of the Carnival Season and plan to take our kids to see the parades once  they are a little older. Our son already loves New Orleans with its ships, streetcars, and horses – I’m sure he will love Mardi Gras with its colorful costumes and parades.

Mardi Gras legends talk about visitors who came to New Orleans to experience Mardi Gras and never left. Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a fantastic experience for everyone regardless of age, gender or religion. Go to Mardi Gras for the sheer joy of this exuberant festival and you won’t be disappointed!

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