Already been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and think you can scratch it off your bucket list? Not so fast! Before you say you’ve seen it all, here are some specific must-dos. From quirky events to super-local traditions, here is how to have the ultimate Mardi Gras experience.
For many, the local marching bands are a highlight of the parade. High school, college, and military bands create some of the best beats in the city. Cheer them on from the side and dance along with their color guard, baton, and dance teams, too!
One of the earliest parades of the season, the Krewe du Vieux is the only parade that goes through the French Quarter or Vieux Carré. This adults-only tradition is famous for its wild satire, adult themes, and for showcasing the city’s best brass bands. It’s a fabulous night with lots of humor. The parade “sub-krewes," including the Krewe of Underwear, Krewe of L.E.W.D., and the Mystic Krewe of Comatose (a spoof on the old-line Krewe of Comus). And if you love Krewe du Vieux, make sure you catch the other “micro-krewes,” many of which are on this list.
Since 1819, the North Side Skull and Bone Gang has been rising before dawn, costuming as skeletons, and waking up the 6th Ward on Mardi Gras morning. It’s a bone-chilling tradition you shouldn’t miss.
These are the most treasured throws of Carnival, so it won’t be easy. Just remember, at Mardi Gras time, greed is good. Don’t give up untill you get what you want, but remember that, in the end, it’s all about having fun. Many handmade throws have hashtags from the people who threw them so you can thank them on social media after they’ve rolled by for their artistry – and aim.
While most krewe balls are “invitation only,” the Endymion Extravaganza after the parade is open to anyone who buys a ticket. Put on a ball gown or tux, and be there for the fun when the floats come rolling into the Superdome and then dance the night away.
King Cake parties where everyone brings a cake from a different bakery are becoming a new tradition. Try three or more and become part of the “who makes the best king cake in town" discussion. Check out our Ultimate King Cake Guide to see some of our favorites.
Tracing their roots back to a time when Native Americans helped shield runaway slaves, the Mardi Gras Masking Indians can be found parading down the streets on Mardi Gras day in their spectacular hand-sewn suits.
You need to find two things on Mardi Gras morning: A slice of king cake and a great spot to watch contestants in fabulously colorful costumes compete for top honors at the Bourbon Street Awards (a.k.a. “the most famous drag-queen contest in America”). For over 50 years, local and celebrity drag queen hosts give out group and individual awards for incredible feats of fashion. All are welcome to take part in this piece of New Orleans’s rich LGBTQ+ culture and history.
Yes, a parade of costumed dogs is also on our calendar. The Mystic Krewe of Barkus is one of the most imaginative events of the season. Come see dogs and their people costumed to the nines. Previous themes have included the “Wizard of Paws,”“Jurassic Bark,”and “Tails from the Crypt.” Only rescue dogs are eligible to be queen, and the king belongs to a member of the krewe.
When most people think about Mardi Gras, they think of mega-krewes or historic organizations such as Bacchus and Rex. However, several micro-krewes roll—or, more accurately, walk throughout Carnival season and are just as fun. The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus is a micro-krewe known for their Star Wars theme and sci-fi-loving members. 'tit Rex puts a unique spin on Mardi Gras traditions by building miniature floats out of shoe boxes and is full of both creative takes on Mardi Gras krewes and original designs. Both micro-krewes take place in the Marigny.
There are more than 30 colorful and often comical adult dance groups that take to the streets during Mardi Gras, including the legendary 610 Stompers, the Storyville Baby Dolls, the Merry Antoinettes, the Muff-A-Lottas, the Pussyfooters, Roux La La and more you just have to see to appreciate.
The day before Mardi Gras – Lundi Gras or Shrove Monday – is celebrated by its own array of parades and festivities that you won’t want to miss out on. Watch and party with the King of Rex and the King of Zulu as the mayor gives them symbolic control of the city at the Riverwalk’s Annual Lundi Gras, then stroll over to Waldenberg Park for the Zulu Lundi Gras Festival for even more food, music, and fun! Or, head over to the Marigny to take in the more avant-gard side of Carnival with the Red Beans, Dead Beans, and Feijao Parades, each featuring marchers decked out in costumes and accessories made with, you guessed it, beans! End the night with the Krewe of Proteus and the Super Krewe of Orpheus and catch as much of the Mardi Gras spirit to tide you over until next year.
Embrace the festivities that have made Mardi Gras so iconic worldwide and head to the French Quarter. Catch beads as you stroll down the street and hear bands playing live jazz, or better yet, toss beads to passersby from a Bourbon Street balcony. This isn’t just something you can put on your Mardi Gras bucket list, but your bucket list for all things iconic and adventurous. Find a list of hotels on Bourbon Street with balconies here & book your stay for an upcoming Mardi Gras! While you're there, check out the Greasing of the Poles on the Friday before Mardi Gras Day at the Royal Sonesta.
While the small krewes are wonderful, there’s nothing like the sight of the Super Krewes (Orpheus, Bacchus, and Endymion) rolling down the main thoroughfares of New Orleans with their enormous floats, celebrity guests, and world-famous marching bands. Don’t forget your bead bag because, with nearing 30 or more floats and hundreds of riders each, you’re bound to catch a bounty of beads and other loot at one of these show-stopper parades.
Each parade has a royal court, usually presented in the first couple of floats. Zulu and Rex have the most profound royalty of the season as the only two “traditional” krewes parading on Mardi Gras Day. Catch a coveted doubloon from one of their floats, and raise your glass to the kings of Carnival as they pass by.
If you’ve been to Mardi Gras before, you know that once the parades have come and gone, you’ve likely got more beads than you know what to do with. That’s where the Arc of Greater New Orleans – a local non-profit that supports people with intellectual and developmental disorders – comes in. One of the Arc’s many services is job-creation through its Mardi Gras Recycling Center, where volunteers can help the Center’s bead team sort through, repackage, and re-sell some of the hundreds of tons of beads that end up in landfills each year. It’s a fun, eco-friendly way to give back. If you can’t volunteer, consider donating some of your throws instead!
Greasing of the Poles is considered by many to be the French Quarter’s official kickoff to Mardi Gras weekend. The Royal Sonesta New Orleans began the tradition of greasing the building’s support poles to deter overzealous revelers from attempting to climb up to the coveted balcony space. Nearly half a century later, the practice has evolved into a star-studded and music-filled event, including appearances from Mardi Gras royalty!