“Laissez les bon temps rouler” One city which swing like it undoubtedly is New Orleans. While the good times always roll here, the city live up to fullest in the season of its epic carnival – Mardi Gras. French for ‘Fat Tuesday’, New Orleans once capital of France Territory had the biggest ever celebration this year on the occasion of city’s tricentennial birthday. Beads, Krewes, King Cakes and of course Jazz is all over in The Big Easy’s best season.
New Orleans, Louisiana(NOLa) is known for round-the-clock night life and push its limits during Mardi Gras. Every year around one million people visit New Orleans making it the biggest hosting city for this carnival. City celebrates with hundreds of parades from January 6th (the twelfth day after Christmas) until Fat Tuesday, when the people eat to the fullest before Lent, a religious observance in the Christian calendar begins.
Here is everything Mardi Gras present us. Get ready to experience the craziest carnival in the world.
The first ever parade for Mardi Gras started in 18th century. Since then, parades have become the essential part of celebrations. They are true form of merry-making and festivity blended with gifts and music. Watching these parades is such a treat. They are decorated in Mardi Gras colors – green, gold and purple symbolizing Faith, Power and Justice. There is a at least one parade a day through out the Mardi Gras season. The famous ones parade in Metairie and Uptown areas.
Krewes (Crews) from various societies, organizations, companies and school parade thru streets of New Orleans. The most famous ones are Krewe of Zulu and Krewe of Rex. The groups used to be secret societies and so they cover with masks to hide the identity. That tradition still continues but mostly for the fun. While each parade has speciality of its own, the famous ones are long and fun to watch. Some famous parades are on the weekend before Mardi Gras, others on the big day.
Watch out for the schedule of the spectacular Krewe parades and get to the location at least an hour early.
No celebration completes without the music. It brings out the joy. And in New Orleans, the birth city of Jazz, it is certainly part of the tradition. People marching in parades with the drums and other instruments make the scene so lively and boost us to dance with rhythm. Jazz is every where in the city, it accompanies you on streets, restaurants and great theatre shows.
“Throw me somethin’, Mister!” It is very common to see people holding these cards. Krewes throw lot of goodies to cheer up the crowd. Throws usually are beads like in English Renaissance era. Other throws include doubloons(coins), masks, balls, lightning gifts, coconuts, cups and T-shirts. People crave for the Krewe’s most famous throws.
If you are into Mardi Gras, you are definitely dressed up. People entertain in various costumes and are found all over the city. Costumes are bonus to acquire the rare throws. If looking for the craziest costumes, go no beyond the Bourbon Street of French Quarter later in the night.
Yes, they do. Of course, it is NOT a Mardi Gras tradition and locals hate it. Usually shows up in Bourbon Street, after parades where people catch up drinks. Krewe of Zulu threw coconuts as gifts at some time but later stopped as it might hurt people. And… guess people never wanted to forget that tradition.
New Orleans Food is so yummy that a trip can be dedicated just to experience its varieties and still cant be done as your tummy wont help. Crawfish, Gumbo, Jambalaya, Cajun.. mouthwatering just thinking about them. One of our best experience is at Napoleon House, a historic restaurant serving classic Creole favorites from almost two centuries. While every item on the menu is a must try, their Jambalaya is so tasty we couldn’t resist to order the second one. Also try Sazerac, local’s favorite drink, if you are into them.
Beignets are another must try in the area. Any store around will do just fine. In Bourbon Street, when its time for late night food after several Daiquiris or Hand Grenade, Po’boy on the street corner is the right choice. Have fun drinking and eating right on street. Yes, its completely legal to have drinks on street here. For more traditional dinner choice, another local’s favorite just around downtown is – Bacchanal Fine Wine and Spirits in Bywater. A vintage wine store with variety food serving style and live Jazz music in its own courtyard will live as the best memory forever.
Surprisingly, these places are affordable and reservations are not required. But during Mardi Gras unless you are early to the restaurant, good luck standing in the line around the corner especially in French Quarter famous restaurants like Coop’s Place.
[Thanks to Conde Nast Traveler‘s Travelogue podcast for the amazing restaurant suggestions, right on time for Mardi Gras]
Don’t be in shock, if a baby showed up in a French Cake when bought. You are rather in luck as it symbolizes, another blowing tradition.
Things I learnt-
- Do not drive in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Even public transportation will be tough as the road closures will be all day long. Best to walk and book accommodation close to the famous spots.
- Do not pick up the beads from ground when ‘throw’n. Also do not open packed gifts right away. It is just not the tradition.
- Avoid restaurants which need reservations during Mardi Gras. There are several local cafe with great food options in French Quarter. Just look for Jambalaya or Gumbo and they can’t go wrong in New Orleans 🙂
- AirBnb is fairly cheapest for accommodation during Mardi Gras with several options in and around downtown.
- Do not mess up with Police horses in Bourbon Street 😀
What else to do?
Mardi Gras will not leave much time for other stuff to do around apart from parades, drinks and food, but if it did, there are tons of places to experience:
- Saint Louis Cemetery – If haven’t heard already, cemeteries in New Orleans are so famous for their huge above-ground tombs. Book a private tour to experience them in the best unique way possible – you have to see it to believe it.
- National World War – II Musuem
- Dare to drive on the largest straight bridge in the world – Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. After driving 15 miles over water, it will be hard to believe that there are 10 more miles to see the other end. Try hard not to sleep driving on it.
- Frenchmen Street for more authentic New Orleans.
Best time to visit:
Unless you love Mardi Gras, February is not the right time to experience genuine New Orleans. Late April can be the right time when the place is not too hot or out of the Mardi Gras madness. This can be the time when the prices wont be on surge too.
Laissez les bon temps rouler – let the good time roll 🙂