Though Mardi Gras Day isn’t until February 13, 2024, the season actually begins on January 6. This means that there’s nearly six weeks of Mardi Gras magic, from parades and king cake tastings to Carnival exhibits and so much more. People flock to New Orleans in the week leading up to Fat Tuesday, but there’s so much more to experience by visiting early. In fact, it may be our best kept secret: visit New Orleans this January or early February, and you’re in for a treat.
Save on Mardi Gras hotel rates
Everyone knows, the closer you get to Mardi Gras Day, the more you’ll be paying to stay in New Orleans. Beat the higher prices by visiting earlier in the Mardi Gras season. Take a look at general hotel rates here and start planning. Read on below for all the reasons you should come for early Mardi Gras.
Catch an early parade
Some of the best Mardi Gras parades take place well before Fat Tuesday. First up is a slew of parades on January 6 to celebrate the start of Carnival season, including Funky Uptown Krewe, Phunny Phorty Phellows, and Krewe of Joan of Arc. Then there’s the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, a walking parade perfect for science fiction fans and creative minds, on January 20. Or you could check out the adults-only Krewe du Vieux, a raunchy, satirical, and irreverent French Quarter favorite, on January 27. There’s the adorable miniature floats of ‘tit Rəx on January 28. Find the full parade schedule here, and plan to catch these can’t-miss, early-in-the-season parades.
Eat lots of king cake
The best part about coming for early Mardi Gras isn’t necessarily beating the crowds for parades--it’s beating the crowds for king cake. Year after year, it just gets more creative, with bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops, and even breweries throwing their hat in the king cake ring. Get a traditional cinnamon or mix it up with a savory banana-peanut-butter-bacon option. Visit the King Cake Hub for options galore. If you don’t quite know where to start, just check out our Ultimate Guide to King Cake here.
Attend a Mardi Gras ball
Mardi Gras is about so much more than just catching beads from a float; it’s about the New Orleans community coming together during the best time of year. Consider attending a Mardi Gras ball that’s open to the public. It’s a great way to experience all the Mardi Gras magic, with food, live music, and entertainment included in your ticket. Krewe of Freret’s Royal Coronation Ball will be held on January 20. Krewe du Kanaval also typically has a ball before they march in parades. There are plenty of options to see a different side of Carnival by coming early.
Volunteer to sort beads at the Arc
Want to give back and get a behind the scenes look at the magic of Mardi Gras at the same time? The Arc of Greater New Orleans provides jobs for adults with intellectual disabilities, one of which is sorting and packaging donated Mardi Gras beads to resell to the public. Lend a hand and sign up to volunteer at the Mardi Gras Recycle Center here. It’s both a rewarding and educational experience, as you’ll come across beads and throws from every krewe in and around New Orleans.
View a Mardi Gras exhibit
To learn more about the history of Mardi Gras, take a step back in time at a museum. The Louisiana State Museums, particularly The Presbytère, is a great place to learn about Mardi Gras history. JAMNOLA is a fun museum for the whole family, with interactive exhibits centered on the joy, art, music, and culture of New Orleans. You can also learn more about second lines, social aid and pleasure clubs, and Black masking Indian culture at the Backstreet Cultural Museum.
Go to the Algiers Mardi Gras Festival
Now in its fourth year, the Algiers Mardi Gras Festival is fun for all. This community celebration will have food, music, art, and free admission. Hop on the ferry and visit historic Algiers (across the river from the French Quarter) on January 27 for a taste of this festival.
Go to Family Gras
Just outside of New Orleans proper, you’ll find Family Gras, a free, fun-filled event perfect for the whole fam in Metairie. From February 2-4, enjoy live music, an arts market, face painting, children's activities, and more. Past performers have included Cyndi Lauper, Rick Springfield, Fifth Harmony, and Zac Brown Band, and The Beach Boys. Stay tuned for the 2024 lineup.
See a live music show
Hearing the marching bands before they come into your purview is undoubtedly one of the best parts of attending a Mardi Gras parade, but you can also hype yourself up for the season by attending a show. Check out the WWOZ live music calendar for the latest brass band or jazz musician playing around town. There’s something for everyone.