Experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans

New Orleans’ Mardi Gras is undoubtedly one of America’s most anticipated events of the year. It’s more than just a celebration – it’s a cultural phenomenon that captures the essence of this vibrant city. Meaning “Fat Tuesday” in French, Mardi Gras has been celebrated in New Orleans since the early 1700’s. It has deep roots in French and Spanish culture and traditions and, over the centuries, has evolved into a unique fusion of European, African, and Creole influences, making New Orleans’ Mardi Gras a one-of-a-kind experience.

 In 2024, Mardi Gras falls on February 13 and the festivities promise to be bigger and better than ever – a memorable and vibrant celebration of culture, tradition, and revelry. Here are our top picks, from food to events to traditions, to ensure you have a spectacular Mardi Gras!

  • Experience the whole Carnival season: Carnival is celebrated around the world (sometimes spelled “Carnaval”) as the festive and indulgent period before the Lenten season begins, leading up to Easter. Wherever Carnival is celebrated – from Brazil to Barbados to Louisiana, it is known for its exuberant parades, costumes, and lively street parties. New Orleans sees Carnival festivities for several weeks leading up to the main Mardi Gras events the week of Fat Tuesday. So, make sure you expand your timeframe and see how New Orleans locals revel in the entire season!
  • Enjoy the exuberance of a Krewe parade: The heart of Mardi Gras in New Orleans lies in the krewe parades. These dazzling processions are led by various krewes (local social organizations and clubs) that design extravagant floats, create elaborate costumes, and throw a plethora of colorful beads and trinkets to the surrounding crowds. Be sure to catch parades by iconic krewes like Rex, Zulu, and Endymion, each offering a unique theme and spectacle every year!
  • Indulge in a king cake: One of the most beloved Mardi Gras traditions is the King Cake. This oval-shaped, colorful pastry is adorned with purple, green, and gold icing to represent justice, faith, and power. Inside the cake, a small figurine, often a plastic baby, is hidden (don’t worry, it was placed inside the cake after it was baked). The person who finds the baby is said to have good luck and is tasked with hosting the next year’s Mardi Gras party. You can’t leave New Orleans without indulging in a slice of this sweet treat, which you can find at any bakery in the city.
  • Explore the French Quarter: The historic French Quarter is the epicenter of New Orleans, especially during Mardi Gras! During this time, the streets come alive with live music, street performers, and a rousing atmosphere. In The Quarter, you can choose to visit some of the most popular watering holes in the country or find a dive that’s a local favorite, explore shops containing everything from oddities to Mardi Gras trinkets to antiques to Louisiana delicacies, or just wander a bit and see what catches your eye!
  • Participate in the revelry: Most visitors don’t know, but there’s more to Mardi Gras than beads! Dressing up in vibrant costumes, masks, and extravagant attire is a time-honored tradition during Mardi Gras. People take to the streets in elaborate outfits, making it a visually spectacular event that adds to the city’s lively and surreal atmosphere. Local children liken the Mardi Gras season to a second Halloween! But, don’t get us wrong, beads have to be part of the equation! Position yourself along the parade route, and shout “Throw me something, mister!” to revel in the excitement of catching colorful beads, plastic cups, doubloons, and other trinkets are tossed from the passing floats. 

Mardi Gras 2024 promises to be a dazzling and unforgettable celebration of tradition, culture, and color. So, immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Mardi Gras by participating in these cherished traditions, attending dazzling events, and savoring the delectable local foods. With a slice of King Cake in one hand and a handful of colorful beads in the other, you’ll truly understand why Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a cultural phenomenon unlike any other.

The Carnival

Carnival, sometimes spelled “carnaval”, is celebrated around the world as the festive and indulgent period before the Lenten season begins. It’s well-known for its lively and amazing parades, costumes, and street parties where people come together and go wild! There’s so much energy in town that you’ll be caught up in the swirl, no matter your mood when you first arrive! And, even better, it’s a party that goes on for literally weeks before the main Mardi Gras celebration! So make sure that, when you plan your trip to New Orleans, you’re there for enough time to celebrate Carnival as well as Fat Tuesday!

The Krewe Parade

There’s nothing like the experience of participating in a Krewe parade! These exuberant processions are led by different krewes, which are local social organizations and clubs. They design extravagant floats, create elaborate costumes, and throw a plethora of colorful beads and trinkets to the crowds as they cheer with joy and excitement! Some of the most well-known Krewes are Rex, Zulu, and Endymion. The Rex is one of the oldest Krewes in New Orleans, and they formed while the city was still recovering from the Civil War. Their founding enticed people to come and visit the city and celebrate its culture. The Zulu Krewe is predominantly African-American, and is known for its grass skirts and unique throw of hand-painted coconuts. The Endymion Krewe is the largest in New Orleans, and it attracts the biggest crowds when it comes time for the parade. Whatever you decide to see, you’ll come away having experienced fantastic sights and incredible sounds!

The Deliciousness of a King Cake

One of the most beloved Mardi Gras traditions is that of a King Cake! It is an oval-shaped and colorful pastry that is so delectable that you surely won’t want to miss tasting it! It is adorned with purple, green, gold icing, and they represent justice, faith, and power. After the cake is baked, a small figurine is placed inside, normally that of a plastic baby. There is a very interesting superstition that whoever finds the baby is granted good luck for the year to come, and they are also given the task of hosting the next year’s Mardi Gras celebration! It’s a great honor! Any bakery in New Orleans makes this sweet treat, and you definitely can’t end your vacation without indulging in it!

The French Quarter

The French Quarter is known for its history, and it’s home to a ton of tourists and locals alike. It especially comes alive during Mardi Gras, and it’s the place to be! The streets are filled with live music and a celebratory atmosphere that will catch you in its vortex. There are many dive bars and watering holes to choose from, and there’s plenty of chances to shop for souvenirs for you and someone you care about. You’ll find trinkets that specifically celebrate Mardi Gras, along with many antiques, Louisiana delicacies, and many other wonders that might suit your fancy! 

To Revel in the Vibrancy

If you feel like dressing up in a fancy, elaborate costume, now is the time to do so as you wander the streets of this breathtaking city. Put on a mask and some extravagant attire, and look upon all the other people who have decided to do the same! You won’t be able to stop smiling as the surreal atmosphere of the city steals your breath and only leaves you wanting more. It’s a spectacular sight to see! Children compare Mardi Gras to a second Halloween, and there’s certainly plenty of treats as well as tricks along the way! You’ll get caught up in the excitement as you walk along the parade route, and there’s absolutely no shame, only encouragement, in yelling out, “Throw me something, Mister!” You’ll revel in the excitement of catching colorful beads, plastic cups, doubloons, and other trinkets!

In summation, Mardi Gras in 2024 promises to be a time of pure celebration, revelry, and joy. Whether you’re munching on a delectable King Cake, marveling at the magnificent floats and partaking in the traditions of the incredible parades, exploring the magic of the French quarter, or simply just basking in the celebratory atmosphere, there’s something awe-inspiring about this event. You’ll develop a rich understanding of why Mardi Gras has become so essential to this vibrant, amazing city.