Vibrant music, endless parades, lavish floats, and plenty of outrageous costumes—there is no celebration quite like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Also known as "Fat Tuesday"—a literal translation of the French mardi gras—the celebration springs from French-Catholic roots.
Mardi Gras always takes place the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent. You may think Mardi Gras is a one-day affair, but it actually spans weeks, sometimes starting as soon as Christmas ends. The main days of celebration take place the long weekend of Fat Tuesday. This year's celebration starts on Saturday, February 24, and culminates on Tuesday, February 28.
If you've never experienced the fantastic flurry of gold, green, and purple that is Mardi Gras in New Orleans, it's time to schedule a trip once and for all. Keep reading for five reasons why New Orleans's Mardi Gras is not a festival to be missed.
Watch the Parades
There are two types of parades to be enjoyed at Mardi Gras: walking parades and the traditional float parades. Walking parades are generally smaller and resemble marches. You can catch walking parades along the French Quarter and the Marigny in New Orleans. Check the official Mardi Gras parade schedule to plan out your day. You can even track the specific routes the parades will take.
See the Floats (And Collect Beads)
You've probably seen photos of the incredible floats that line the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but it's nothing like the real thing. Revelers come dressed in their most over-the-top gear, vying for beads and medallions thrown by performers. Floats can be decked out to resemble animals, Greek gods, carnival masks, and a host of other varying designs. Running from day to night, the Mardi Gras floats are one of the festival's most spectacular features. Remember: You will need a bag to catch all those beads!
Glitter, feathers, and plenty of sequins is the name of the game here. Before heading to Mardi Gras, be sure to come prepared with your most lavish costume. This is an excuse to go all out, so go for it! Some festival-goers come in masks, others choose showgirl-inspired pieces, or even a simple outfit of purple, gold, and green. Since costumes are typically elaborate and difficult to pack, you might want to consider reserving a day while you're in New Orleans to shop for your costume. It's important to note that rain is a definite possibility in February, so dress in layers. A small umbrella can also come in handy.
Catch a Concert
Music lovers, rejoice! A Mardi Gras celebration wouldn't be complete without the sound of music drifting through every corner of the city. Start your day with live jazz performances, particularly along the French Quarter, the Riverwalk, and the Brewery. Brass bands and funk music also act as the soundtrack to the festival's celebrations.
Dig Into King Cake
It isn't Mardi Gras until you've enjoyed your first bite of king cake. King cakes are typically made out of a sweet dough topped with colorful icing in traditional Mardi Gras hues. Baked inside the cake is a small figurine of a baby. Whoever finds the figurine in their slice of cake gets to be king or queen of the day. If brought to a Mardi Gras party, the finder has to host the next year's celebrations.
Shop Mardi Gras Picks
First time attending Mardi Gras? Check out our local's guide to New Orleans complete with places to eat, shop, and attractions that can't be missed.