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Top Things You Should Know Before Your First Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras Travel Blog

Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana is an iconic celebration that welcomes nearly 1.5 million visitors each year, so it’s no surprise that planning your first visit to this world-famous holiday can be quite the daunting task. We had the joy of visiting our first Mardi Gras in 2023 and came up with a list of the top things that we think every Mardi Gras goer could benefit from knowing before their visit.

Side Note: While “Mardi Gras” (AKA “Fat Tuesday”) is technically a single day and “Carnival” is the season that surrounds it, the term “Mardi Gras” has become synonymous with “Carnival”, so you may catch me (and others) referring to “Carnival” as “Mardi Gras”. 

Be sure to watch our Mardi Gras travel vlog for a closer look at our experience!

If you’re looking for things to do outside of the Mardi Gras festivities while you’re in New Orleans, check out these tours from our friends at GetYourGuide!


Now... Let's dive into the top things you should know before your first Mardi Gras in New Orleans!

1. Mardi Gras History & Religious Significance:

While you don’t have to understand or know every little detail of Mardi Gras history to enjoy the festivities, we felt that having a basic understanding and knowledge of the celebration's cultural and religious significance brought a depth that enriched our experience tremendously. So, here’s my attempt at wrapping up thousands of years of Mardi Gras history into 5 short paragraphs. If you want a deeper understanding of Mardi Gras history, visit this site.

Ancient Roots: While it didn’t become known as “Mardi Gras” until it reached France and then spread throughout Europe, the celebration of Mardi Gras has ties to ancient pagan Roman and medieval European festivals that marked the arrival of spring. These festivals often included feasting, masquerades, and parades.

Christianity and Lent: As Mardi Gras evolved from its pagan beginnings, it was adopted by the Christian Church (Catholic) and is closely linked to the Christian liturgical calendar, particularly the period of Lent which is the 40-day season of fasting and reflection leading up to Easter. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the day before Lent begins and became a time for revelry and indulgence before the solemn observance of Lent.

New Orleans Mardi Gras: On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans and named it "Pointe du Mardi Gras" when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated openly in New Orleans, but not with the parades we know today. In the early 1740s, Louisiana's governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, established elegant society balls, which became the model for the New Orleans Mardi Gras balls of today, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that the modern and elaborate Mardi Gras celebrations that we associate with Mardi Gras in New Orleans began.

Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated in various forms across the globe, with each region incorporating its own cultural elements. While it retains its ties to Christian traditions, it has become a widely recognized and secular celebration of joy and revelry.

Mardi Gras Parade Float

2. Mardi Gras Is A Free Event:

No tickets are needed to attend and partake in many of the Mardi Gras festivities, including the most popular of all… parades! That said, balls are invitation-only or ticketed events. You can also buy passes to watch parades on grandstands, located all along the route (more on that in tip #9) but that is not necessary! The fact is, the city opens its streets to locals and visitors alike, inviting them to revel in the dazzling parades, colorful costumes, and energetic music that define the Mardi Gras experience. From the iconic floats adorned with elaborate decorations to the spirited marching bands and dance groups, this free-spirited celebration allows people from all walks of life to come together and embrace the joyous essence of Mardi Gras without any financial barriers, fostering a sense of unity and community throughout the revelry.

3. Mardi Gras Is Family-Friendly:

While Mardi Gras tends to be most well known for its lively and risque atmosphere, the majority of Mardi Gras festivities are actually quite family-friendly and many neighborhoods offer family-friendly events including kid-friendly parades and interactive activities such as face painting, mask-making, and live music suitable for all ages. That said… We do NOT recommend taking your children to Bourbon Street and/or the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. Although this is the area that most people associate with Mardi Gras, it really has nothing to do with the big-picture celebration. At this time of year, the French Quarter is simply an adult area where you can expect to see revealing costumes and flashing for beads. Contrary to popular belief, you do NOT have to visit the French Quarter to enjoy Mardi Gras in New Orleans!

Bourbon Street New Orleans

4. Dates & Duration:

As mentioned earlier, Carnival Season (AKA Mardi Gras) is not a single-day event but a season that begins each year on January 6th (AKA “Twelfth Night”) and culminates on Mardi Gras (AKA Fat Tuesday), which falls 47 days before Easter. It can get a little confusing as the dates vary from year to year, so be sure to check the calendar when planning your visit. Here’s a list of future Mardi Gras dates:

▪️ February 13, 2024

▪️ March 4, 2025

▪️ February 17, 2026

▪️ February 9, 2027

▪️ February 29, 2028

▪️ February 13, 2029

▪️ March 5, 2030

▪️ February 25, 2031

▪️ February 10, 2032

▪️ March 1, 2033

▪️ February 21, 2034

▪️ February 6, 2035

5. The Best Time To Visit Mardi Gras:

Visiting any time during the Mardi Gras season can be a memorable and fun time, but the biggest celebrations and parades begin one week before Mardi Gras Day. During this week you’ll find a plethora of super-krewes hosting parades and events every single night. Prior to that week, various parades roll in neighborhoods across the city (mostly on weekends) beginning on January 6th. The most historic parades include Proteus on Lundi Gras, and Rex and Zulu on Fat Tuesday. The largest parades are Endymion on the Saturday before Mardi Gras and Bacchus on the Sunday before Mardi Gras. Other fan favorites include Muses (an all-female krewe) on the Thursday before and Tucks, which rolls during the day on the Saturday before. Check HERE for the most up-to-date parade and event schedule!

6. Don't Wait Until January To Start Planning Your Trip:

If you wait until January or even December to start planning your Mardi Gras trip, you might end up in a world of disappointment when you’re met with skyrocketed prices or even worse, no availability. For this reason, most people start planning their Mardi Gras trip at least 6 months in advance. If you’re looking for accommodations for your Mardi Gras trip, check out these properties that we recommend:

⭐️⭐️⭐️ French Market Inn

⭐️⭐️⭐️ Residence Inn by Marriott

⭐️⭐️⭐️ Q&C Hotel

⭐️⭐️⭐️ Courtyard by Marriott

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ JW Marriott

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ The Eliza Jane

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Hotel Monteleone

Or use this search bar to find the perfect accommodations for you!

7. What Are Mardi Gras krewes?

Mardi Gras krewes are social organizations that play a central role in the celebration of Mardi Gras, particularly in regions like New Orleans. Each krewe has their own history and traditions. Some are men only, some are women only, and some are open to all! They often have a captain who leads the organization, which is a big honor. Krewes often have courts which are made up of a king, queen, maids, and dukes. The court usually changes each year. They are chartered as non-profit entities and financed by dues and fundraising. Each krewe typically has its own unique theme, costumes, and parade floats that usually change each year and are inspired by history, stories, legends, the news, mythology, entertainment, and beyond. For in-depth information regarding the various krewes, see here.

Mardi Gras Parade Float

8. Parades Schedule & Routes:

Parades run all throughout the Mardi Gras season on at least a dozen different routes with the number of parades ramping up the closer it gets to Mardi Gras Day and the biggest and best happening in the week leading up to Mardi Gras Day. That said, you will definitely want to have the parade(s) that you want to attend mapped out before setting out on your Mardi Gras trip, so be sure to check the parade schedule in advance to plan your visit around your preferred events.

Mardi Gras New Orleans Parade Route Map

9. Where To Watch Parades:

The best part of the Mardi Gras celebration takes place on the parade routes (which there are around a dozen of), but all of the main parade routes run down Saint Charles Avenue in the Uptown Neighborhood to Canal Street in the Central Business District (just on the edge of the French Quarter). Anywhere along this main route is a viable option to join the festivities, but we would recommend setting up somewhere on the northeast end of Saint Charles Avenue. And even more, we would recommend purchasing Grandstand tickets! Prices for Grandstand tickets range from $10 to $80 depending on the parade you wish to attend, but in our opinion, they are well worth the price tag. With your Grandstand ticket you get elevated, front-row seats to the parade PLUS a designated bathroom/port-a-potty that is only accessible by Grandstand ticket holders! Another pro tip is to download the Parade Tracker app so you know exactly where the parade is along the route so you don’t miss any of the action!

10. Get There Early:

If you decide not to go with our advice of purchasing Grandstand seats, then you’ll need to arrive about 4 hours ahead of time for the biggest parades rolling in the evenings on the weekend before Mardi Gras and probably 2 hours before the weeknight parades. And even if you do decide to take our advice and buy Grandstand tickets, you will still want to arrive at least 1-2 before the parade starts. Also, side note… If you are sitting in Grandstand seats or even in that general area along Saint Charles Avenue, the parade will likely take 2+ hours to get to you once it begins to roll. If you plan to attend the Sunday night Bacchus Parade (one of the biggest of the season) and want front-row seats, go ahead and plan to make a day of it, because people start arriving to claim their spots around 12 hours before the parade rolls! Again… We can’t recommend Grandstand tickets enough! Lol

Mardi Gras Parade Float

11. Mardi Gras “Throws” 101:

When you hear people talk about “throws” at Mardi Gras, they are referring to anything that is thrown from float-riders or krewe members during a parade. These throws include beads, toys, cups, doubloons (colorful aluminum coins stamped with the parading organization's name or theme), and more! Many krewes even have signature throws such as the Muses shoe, the Zulu coconut, or the Nyx purse. These signature throws are the most coveted of all Mardi Gras throws! We were fortunate enough to get a Nyx purse during our visit! Pro tip… Bring a large bag with you to the parade, because you will need something to store all of your amazing throws in. And if you’re flying in and out of New Orleans, we recommend making it a large duffle bag so you can check it on your flight home… like we did!

12. The Best Ways To Get Parade Goods:

The most common way that you’ll hear to get parade throws is to simply say, “Throw me something, mister!”, and while it does work, an even more tried and true method is to set up in the latter part of the parade route. Enthusiastic float-riders will shower you with throws with a single goal: get rid of all of the throws before they get off the float. I kid you not, we were being thrown entire BAGS of beads and left Mardi Gras with a duffle bag FULL of throws!

Mardi Gras Parade Float on Canal Street

13. Local Cuisine Is A Must… And that includes drinks:

New Orleans cuisine is a dynamic medley of Creole, Cajun, French, Spanish, African, and Native American flavors and traditions. From savory gumbo and jambalaya to spicy crawfish étouffée and buttery beignets and so much more, New Orleans cuisine is some of the most culturally rich cuisine you can experience. And while we could (and probably should) write an entire blog devoted solely to New Orleans’ incredible food scene, for the sake of this blog, we’ll keep it to some that we feel are a must on anyone’s Mardi Gras visit.

Kings Cake: King Cake is the official food of Mardi Gras. The festive Mardi Gras dessert is eaten for breakfast, afternoon snacks, and throughout the parades. The name comes from the Biblical story of the three kings that bring gifts to baby Jesus. It is a blend of coffee cake and a cinnamon roll with purple, green, and gold icing or sugar. Within the cake, a plastic king cake baby is hidden for fun. The custom goes whoever gets the slice with the baby in it has to bring the cake to the following year’s celebration!

Beignets: Did you even go to New Orleans without eating a beignet (or 3)?? If you’re unfamiliar with beignets… First off, I’m sorry… Second, put simply, they are square-shaped pieces of dough that are deep fried and generously sprinkled with confectioners sugar... Or Icing and Mardi Gras colored sprinkles during Mardi Gras season. The most popular place to indulge in this culinary treat is Cafe du Monde. And while Cafe du Monde is delicious, we’ve found that we generally prefer the beignets at Cafe Beignet, but really… You can’t go wrong with either!

Po’boys: The po’boy is quintessential New Orleans, and is traditionally French Bread filled with meat or seafood (or sometimes both), and then topped with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayo. For some of the best traditional po’boys, head to Johnny’s Po’boys. If you’re looking for a twist on the classic, look no further than Killer Po’boys.

Muffuletta: Invented at a New Orleans institution, Central Grocery, the Muffuletta sandwich combines the best of Italian and Creole food into one filling and very unique sandwich. It’s one of our favorite New Orleans classics!

Hurricane: The Hurricane is a fruity cocktail made with a mix of rum and Hurricane mix (lime juice, orange juice, passion fruit puree, grenadine, and simple syrup), and there’s no better place to get one than the place it was created… Pat O’Briens where they are still making these famous cocktails from the original recipe crafted in the 1940s.

Hand Grenade: Created at Tropical Isle in 1984 for the World’s Fair, the Hand Grenade is a cocktail drink made with what is said to be secret ingredients, but it’s thought to be made with vodka, rum, gin, melon liqueur, pineapple juice, grapefruit juice, and sweet and sour mix. It’s sold frozen or on the rocks in a tall, plastic, grenade-shaped cup and the authentic Hand Grenades can be found at only two locations… Tropical Isle and Funky Pirate on Bourbon Street!

New Orleans Cuisine

14. “Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler” is more than just a saying:

While this saying that means "Let the Good Times Roll" may be the unofficial motto of Mardi Gras, in reality, it’s more like a deep-rooted doctrine, and I’m not mad about it! So… If you’re visiting Mardi Gras, be ready to embrace the festive spirit, enjoy the music, and join in the celebrations!

15. Mardi Gras World Is A Must:

Started in 1947 by float designer and builder Blaine Kern, this vibrant attraction offers visitors an immersive journey into the heart of Mardi Gras culture. Inside, guests are greeted by a kaleidoscope of colors, intricate floats, and dazzling costumes that capture the essence of this iconic celebration. As the epicenter of Mardi Gras magic, visitors can witness artisans crafting magnificent floats, learn about the rich history of the festival, and even get a taste of the celebration’s most loved treat… King Cake! With its lively atmosphere and captivating exhibits, Mardi Gras World invites visitors to experience the joy and spectacle of New Orleans' most cherished tradition and is a must for any Mardi Gras goer!

Pro Tip: Mardi Gras World offers a complimentary shuttle with ten central pick-up spots for anyone taking their day tour. Click HERE to see shuttle pick-up locations.

Mardi Gras World tour


We hope that this guide has helped you make the most of your visit to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and if it has, we hope you’ll consider following us on Instagram and subscribing to our YouTube Channel for more travel content!

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