The Ultimate Guide to Partying at Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Party at Mardi Gras
The French Quarter
Mardi Gras is a citywide celebration and offers different fun to different people. For partygoers, the French Quarter is carnival central for Mardi Gras.
Head to Bourbon Street for an intense, all night party. Every bar and club there is poppin’ and the party spills into the streets until the streets themselves are packed wall to wall with people. It is not for the faint of heart, but Bourbon Street is oh-so-fun if you like to dance all night.
Though Mardi Gras is on Fat Tuesday, the celebration starts long before. Plan to arrive the weekend before Fat Tuesday and leave the Wednesday after to get the full Mardi Gras experience.
Mardi Gras is free! but plan for expensive hotels, nice meals, and a big bar budget to get the most out of your experience.
The hand grenade is the unofficial drink of the party. The bright green drink comes in grenade-shaped plastic cups and is available at every bar on the street.
What’s in it? They’ll never tell, but it’s sure to get you into the party spirit.
Each day, parades take over the streets of New Orleans. The processions range from marching bands to ornate floats to mobile armchairs flying down the street – each person celebrating to the fullest and in their own way. Beads are flung into the crowds from the processions and fists fly in the air to snatch them.
The parades are an awesome and essential Mardi Gras experience, but with parades come road closures.
Pay attention to parade routes and schedules each day and download the parade tracker app to keep an eye on where they’ll be. Processions might be standing between you and your hotel so be prepared to do some extra walking to get around the parade blockades and map your escape route in advance so you don’t get lost in the maze.
The beads of Mardi Gras deserve a special shoutout. They’re thrown from parade floats and given freely from one person to another on the street.
Strings of beads at Mardi Gras are not just the purple and gold strands you know from the party store. They’re giant, shiny balls, theatrical figures, cartoon characters. Everything you love is probably on a strand of beads at Mardi Gras and it is everything.
Balconies are the best vantage point for the Mardi Gras festivities. You can usually snag a spot on a balcony at restaurants or bars if you keep your eyes peeled for opportunities.
Public nudity is illegal in New Orleans and families come to Mardi Gras as well as party goers.
That said, the party on Bourbon Street gets wild. If you’re headed to New Orleans for an unforgettable party, keep it on Bourbon Street. Outside of that strip, remember there are more diverse crowds, including kids, and less tolerance for crazy behavior.
Mardi Gras is a big, chaotic party and comes with risk. There is increased crime in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras but the majority of the increase is from disturbances, theft and lost property.
Don’t wear valuables and put essentials like your keys and credit card in a safe spot and Mardi Gras should be safe enough to enjoy.
February in New Orleans has highs in the mid-60s and lows in the high 40s. You’ll likely get some sunny, beautiful days but plan for a slight chill at night.
- Party dresses, masks, headbands, even costumes. Do it up, everything goes here.
- Flat boots. The streets are disgusting during Mardi Gras. Cover as much of your feet as possible and plan to do a lot of walking. You’ll have trouble getting an Uber in the middle of the party.
- Crossbody bag or money clip. There’s increased theft during Mardi Gras. Bring only what you need while partying and keep it close.
- Street clothes and walking shoes for exploring Nola during the day.
The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold. Important only if you want to plan your outfits and makeup accordingly.
Experience New Orleans
N’Awlins During Daylight
New Orleans looks different in the daylight. Head back to the French Quarter to experience the other New Orleans.
During the day, there are remnants of the night before with cheerful beads swinging from balconies and lamp posts. The lively streets transform into a charming Southern scene with cobblestone, wrought iron balconies, and sweet music in the streets.
Performers of every style sit on street corners and you catch notes of jazz over here then blues over there and bluegrass down the street.
What to Do
Visit The French Quarter
Walk the streets of the French Quarter to see the beautiful buildings and street performers by daylight.
Stroll along the Mississippi River and stop by historic Jackson Square for a look at old New Orleans.
Watch Live Music
If you’re ready for a different kind of entertainment, drop by one of Nola’s many music venues for everything from Jazz to Blues to alternative music.
New Orleans Music Venues:
- Preservation Hall
- 21st Amendment Bar at La Louisiane
- The Spotted Cat Music Club
- One Eyed Jacks
Experience the Occult
There’s also an interesting element of the occult in New Orleans. You’ll see references to voodoo and the famous priestess Marie Laveau around town. You may spot signs of superstition like skipping the 13th floor in your hotel.
Pop into one of the voodoo shops or visit a psychic in the French Quarter. Psychics like those in VooDoo Authentica on Dumaine Street will give you an eerily accurate reading.
What to Eat
The food in New Orleans is as rich and comforting as the music. Every bite in N’awlins is a culinary experience.
What to Eat in New Orleans:
- Shrimp and grits
- Crawfish etouffee
- Oyster po’boy
- King Cake
King Cake is a sweet tradition during Mardi Gras. The green, gold, and purple pastry has rich icing and is eaten during the carnival.
Inside the cake is a baby Jesus figurine which symbolizes luck. The person who finds it in their slice is queen for the night. You can find King Cake at local restaurants or even grocery stores.
Where to Eat
N’awlins favorites can be found all over the city. Check out these restaurants for a taste of Louisiana in the French Quarter:
Café du Monde
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a stop at the famous Café du Monde. They serve beignets piled high with powdered sugar and chicory coffee in open seating. The huge café is always full and always worth the short wait. Bring cash! Café du Monde is inexpensive but cash only.
Where to Drink
Inside the lovely Hotel Monteleone, is a rotating bar in the shape of a carousel. Bar chairs sit around the periphery and the bartender slings drinks from the center as it slowly spins. Grab a midday cocktail here, seats fill up quickly.
This historical spot is very casual and offers a large menu of absinthe cocktails for the brave.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is one of the oldest bars in town. It’s been serving drinks since the 1700s and is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of pirate Jean Lafitte himself.
Where to Stay
If you’re here to party, stay within walking distance of Bourbon Street. Packed streets and road closures may make it tough to get a ride when you’re ready to head home, so be prepared to walk a lot.
Canal Street is a major parade route which may mean roadblocks if you stay in the business district (opposite the French Quarter on the other side of Canal Street). Choose a spot in or near the French Quarter for easy access to the festivities and lots of New Orleans charm.
- The Royal Sensonata – Located on right on Bourbon Street, this beautiful hotel is in the middle of the action. If you don’t mind the droves of party goers and late nights, The Royal Sensonata offers easy access to the party and an iron balcony moment.
- The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans – For partying and parades, stay at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. It’s on the French Quarter side of Canal Street (one of the parade routes) with easy access to Bourbon Street.
- Omni Royal – For the classic French Quarter feel off of Bourbon street, stay at the Omni Royal. Personal balconies mean you can overlook the streets of New Orleans, without having to be a part of every party.
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