Though Mardi Gras Day isn’t until March 1, 2022, the season actually began on January 6. This means that there’s nearly two months 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 coming early. In fact, it may be our best kept secret: visit New Orleans this January or early-to-mid February, and you’re in for a treat.

Save on 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 hotel rates here, and read on below for all the reasons you should come for early Mardi Gras.

Rebecca Todd
Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus

Catch an early parade

Some of the best Mardi Gras parades take place well before Fat Tuesday. There’s Chewbacchus, the walking parade perfect for science fiction fans and creative minds, on February 5. There’s Krewe du Vieux, a satirical, irreverent French Quarter favorite, on February 12. The family-friendly, all-female Krewe of Nefertiti is also on February 12. Then there’s the adorable miniature floats of ‘tit Rəx on February 13. 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. If you don’t quite know where to start, just check out our Ultimate Guide to King Cake here. Or, visit the King Cake Hub at Zony Mash Beer Project and take your pick.

Paul Broussard
Manny Randazzo's King Cake

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 as a whole 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. The Blush Ball, presented by the all-female walking krewe The Pussyfooters, is slated for January 28. Krewe of Freret’s Royal Coronation Ball will be held on January 22. 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. 

Rebecca Todd
The Presbytère

View a Mardi Gras exhibit

To learn more about the history of Mardi Gras, take a step back in time at The Historic New Orleans Collection. “Making Mardi Gras,” on view from January 6-May 8, features marching band uniforms, Mardi Gras Indians suits, photography, and more, sponsored by Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World and Kern Studios. The Louisiana State Museums, particularly The Presbytère, is another great place to learn some Mardi Gras history. An exhibit commemorating the milestone 150th anniversary of the Rex Organization will open on February 1. The Presbytère also has a permanent Mardi Gras exhibit. JAMNOLA is a fun museum for the whole family, with interactive exhibits centered on the joy, art, music, and culture of New Orleans.

Go to the Algiers Mardi Gras Festival

Now in its second year, the Algiers Mardi Gras Festival is free fun for all. This community celebration will have food, music, art, and free admission. Officials announced the festival’s food vendors, including the Gumbo Man, King of the Kitchen, and Off da Hook Catering, plus the entertainment lineup, including Kermit Ruffins, Brass-a-Holics, and the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. Visit historic Algiers (across the river from the French Quarter) on February 12 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 18-20, enjoy live music, an arts market, face painting, childrens’ activities, and more. Past performers have included Cyndi Lauper, Fifth Harmony, and Zac Brown Band, and The Beach Boys. Stay tuned for the 2022 lineup.

Rebecca Todd
Blue Nile - Kermit Ruffins

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. 

Catch the closing of Prospect.5

October 23, 2021 marked the return of Prospect, the contemporary art triennial back for its fifth installment. Prospect.5: Yesterday We Said Tomorrow, explores how history informs the present in a city over 300 years old. Until January 23, visit the exhibits all over town and attend a variety of events in Prospect’s closing days.