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Mardi Gras

January 6 - February 21, 2023

Mardi Gras: A New Orleans Tradition

If I asked you what comes to mind when you think of New Orleans, I’ll bet the first two words would be Mardi Gras. From the iconic parades to the elaborate floats to the glamorous balls, there is nothing like Mardi Gras in the Big Easy. Southern hospitality is on full display as the city comes alive to welcome locals and visitors in their annual city-wide festivities. If you’ve ever dreamed of experiencing Mardi Gras but don’t know where to start, this is the guide for you!

The History of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is a French term that translates to “Fat Tuesday,” which falls on the Tuesday before Lent in the Christian liturgical calendar. Historically, people would eat fatty foods leading up to Ash Wednesday, the first day of “fasting” in the 40-day Lent period. Hence, Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, was a day of feasting before the fast.

The origins of Mardi Gras trace back to medieval Europe in the 17th century. Surprisingly, the first Mardi Gras celebration in the United States was not held in New Orleans but in the nearby port city of Mobile, Alabama in 1703. By the 1730’s, Mardi Gras was widely celebrated in Louisiana as a society ball event. Over the next 100 years, Mardi Gras would evolve from exclusive balls for the New Orleans elite to a carnival of floats open to the public. In 1875, Fat Tuesday officially became a legal holiday in Louisiana. For a more in-depth look into Mardi Gras’s history, click here.

Mardi Gras 2023

Mardi Gras 2023 will be held Tuesday, February 21st, 2023. Since Fat Tuesday is considered a religious holiday which coincides with Easter, the time frame of Mardi Gras changes year-to-year. Carnival season begins a few months before Mardi Gras day on the Twelfth Night of the liturgical calendar, or January 6th, 2023.

From January 6-February 21, 2023, New Orleans will be full of parades, balls, and celebrations leading up to the grand finale on Fat Tuesday. The beauty of carnival season is that you could visit anytime in January or February and experience a taste of Mardi Gras. But if you want to visit in the peak celebration, the weekend leading up to Mardi Gras offers some of the most extravagant parades and events. Lundi Gras, or the Monday before Fat Tuesday, is an entire celebration of its own. A full list of 2023 Mardi Gras parades can be found here.

Experiencing Mardi Gras Like a Local

If you’re the kind of person who loves large, friendly crowds, all-day festivities, and endless entertainment, Mardi Gras will be the time of your life. But even if you’re not, we believe that Mardi Gras can be a special, one-of-a-kind experience with the right amount of preparation! We recommend having a few events planned ahead of your visit even if you are a spontaneous traveler so that you have a starting point.

Visit New Orleans at Peak Mardi Gras Season

The week leading up to Fat Tuesday is the best time to get the most out of your visit. This is when the major parades take place, typically with multiple parades happening on the same day. The super krewe and royalty krewe parades begin on the Saturday before Fat Tuesday and finish on Mardi Gras day, so planning a trip during that time is ideal. But don’t worry – if you can’t make it that week, there are festivities to enjoy for the whole carnival season!

Enjoy the Most Popular Mardi Gras Parades

There are typically around 80 parades during Carnival season, so you are bound to catch a few whenever you visit Nola. However, a few parades stick out as the most popular for good reason. Parades are thrown by Mardi Gras krewes, and the biggest organizations throw the most popular parades!

Royalty Krewes

The two royalty krewe parades that run on Fat Tuesday are the Krewe of Rex and the Krewe of Zulu.

The Krewe of Zulu parade kicks off Mardi Gras day at 8 am beginning in the Uptown neighborhood. Zulu was started in 1909 by a group of laborers that were part of a Black benevolent society. While the first Zulu parade was in 1915, the krewe moved to its destination of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street in 1968 and has been on that route ever since.

Traditionally, Zulu krewe members threw painted coconuts at parades. While the krewe has evolved over the years, it remains a premier Black organization locally, nationally, and internationally. You can find the full parade route here.

The Krewe of Rex follows Zulu starting at 10 am in the Uptown neighborhood. Rex is the longest-standing organization, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2022. This all-men’s krewe was the original inventor of day parades and Mardi Gras’s purple, green, and gold color scheme.

The Krewe of Rex marks the culmination of Mardi Gras season on Fat Tuesday. You can find the full route here.

Super Krewes

The three “Super Krewes” of New Orleans are Endymion, Bacchus, and Orpheus.

As the first of the super krewes, The Krewe of Endymion is a parade that runs on the Saturday night before Mardi Gras in the Mid-City neighborhood.

Krewe of Bacchus follows on Sunday afternoon in the Uptown neighborhood.

Finally, Krewe of Orpheus finishes out the three super krewe parades in Uptown on Lundi Gras, the Monday before Fat Tuesday. You can find a full list of the parade schedule here.

Indulge in Authentic King Cake

Carnival season also means King Cake season, and you don’t want to miss this delightful dessert when you visit. King Cake is a sweet pastry that is covered with icing and sprinkles, and often filled with cream cheese or another tasty filling.

Don’t be shocked when you find a plastic baby in your dessert – it’s there for a reason! Finding the baby is like winning the lottery in king cake world.

While you can find King Cake in any local supermarket from January-Ash Wednesday, New Orleans is home to some of the best hole-in-the-wall king cake bakeries.

Here are our top choices:

Manny Randazzo King Cakes

Dong Phuong Bakery & Restaurant

For more king cake options throughout the city, click here.

Visit Bourbon Street

After a full day of parades, there is nowhere more electric than Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Although not so much a local hotspot, during Mardi Gras it’s hard to get anyone to stay away.

Get ready for a good time as you make your way from Canal Street to Bourbon Street and enjoy all of the bars, bands, specialty drinks, and scenes you can only find in the Big Easy.

Pro tip: Most bars on Bourbon Street have access to a balcony. It is the best spot to enjoy the wild scene down below as you toss beads to your fellow Mardi Gras go-ers.

Wander the French Quarter

During the week of Mardi Gras, the French Quarter becomes a pedestrian-friendly zone where visitors can stroll from one street to the next by foot. It is the best time to explore the most iconic spots in Nola, try the infamous beignets at Cafe Du Monde, or check out Mardi Gras World next to the convention center.

Mardi Gras FAQ’s

What are Mardi Gras Krewes?

If you’re not familiar with Mardi Gras phrases, it might feel like we are speaking a different language! Mardi Gras parades represent various Mardi Gras “krewes,” or social organizations that organize a specific ball or parade in the Mardi Gras season.

Each krewe has their own history, traditions, events, and themes. Krewes are typically made up of a captain, who leads the organization, and a royal court, including the king, queen, maids, and dukes.

The court is honored throughout the Mardi Gras season, but receives special recognition during the krewe’s annual Mardi Gras ball. Parade themes vary year-to-year. They are inspired by history, the news, entertainment, myths, and more.

Are there any parade rules?

Below are the parade rules that visitors must adhere to according to the New Orleans City Council:

  1. There can be no ladders or other personal effects, like grills and coolers, closer than 6 feet to the curb.
  2. Parking on Napoleon and St. Charles will be prohibited on both sides of the neutral ground starting 2 hours before parades.
  3. There is a ban on roping off territory via chairs, tarps, or anything else if you are in the public right of way. This includes neutral ground.
  4. There can be no private portable toilets in the neutral ground or other public property.
What is transportation like during Mardi Gras?

Transportation throughout the city during Carnival Season is incredibly difficult due to road closures and large crowds. The best way to get around during Mardi Gras is on foot, bikes, or public transportation.

We recommend mapping out your desired parade routes and planning your transportation method from there. You can find more information on the public transportation options here.

P.S. There are parking tickets galore during Mardi Gras season! If you plan to drive to parades, triple check your parking spot to ensure it is not in front of a driveway, fire hydrant, or water meter.

Is Mardi Gras family-friendly?

Yes and no. Just as the city of New Orleans is diverse, you can have a totally different Mardi Gras experience based on what neighborhood you are in and what parade you attend.

For family-friendly parades, we recommend the Uptown neighborhood routes along Carrollton and St. Charles Avenue.

What do I wear for Mardi Gras?

Another unpredictable part of carnival season is the weather. Mardi Gras could be hot, cold, rainy, or sunny. And it will change day-to-day!

We recommend packing layers, a rain jacket, and comfortable walking shoes for your all-day parade festivities.

Do I need tickets to attend Mardi Gras events?

Mardi Gras parades are free to the public. No ticket is required. We recommend getting to the parade route early so that you can snag a close-up view of the parades and have the best chance to collect those beads!

Mardi Gras balls often require an invitation, but some tickets to open balls at the Cajun Superdome can be purchased here.

Future Mardi Gras Dates

Can’t make it this year but want to stay with us in the future? Go ahead and mark your calendar for upcoming Mardi Gras celebrations.

  • Mardi Gras 2023: Tuesday, February 21, 2023
  • Mardi Gras 2024: Tuesday, February 13, 2024
  • Mardi Gras 2025: Tuesday, March 4, 2025