If you’re heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, it would be a shame to just party and see the parades. Sure, you’ll go home with an amazing collection of beads and memories, but The Big Easy is such a fabulous place, there is so much to see and do. Don’t just party hard. Try these things to do in Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
1 Linger a While in Jackson Square
The French Quarter is one of the prettiest parts of New Orleans and its heart is the historic park, Jackson Square. The lovely central park is surrounded on three sides by historic buildings including the original Spanish City Hall, the Cabildo. It’s a great place for people watching and seeing the entertainment of street performers, musicians, and painters.
2 Grab a Coffee at Café Du Monde
The most famous café in New Orleans is incredibly popular but also incredibly busy. If you can fight your way to a seat with your cup of coffee (the chicory blend for which it is famous is an acquired taste), you can easily while away an hour or two people watching. If not, grab a takeout (the line is shorter and moves quicker) and walk the short distance to Jackson Square to cop a squat.
3 You Can’t Have a Cup of Coffee without a Beignet
Beignets are deep fried crispy fritters covered in powdered sugar. They can be made from pate a choux (choux pastry) or a sweet yeasted dough but either way they are delicious and the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee. You’ll find them all over the city but you could treat yourself to a fabulous breakfast at Café Beignet and take some of the eponymous sweet treats away with you for later.
4 Perambulate along Bourbon Street
One of the most famous streets in the world, Bourbon Street is in the French Quarter. It’s an intoxicating place to visit at any time of year but it is the epicenter of the Mardi Gras celebrations in the French Quarter. Even though the parades no longer go through the French Quarter (fire and safety issues), it doesn’t prevent Bourbon Street being the place for raucous Mardi Gras celebrations. Beads will rain down on your head and music and dancers will assault your senses. Join in with your skimpiest outfit and outrageous makeup. You’ll feel right at home when sipping on the exotic looking drinks.
5 Eat Some King Cake
Although beignets are an essential food to try in New Orleans at any time of year, there is one food for Mardi Gras that you must experience and that is King Cake. King Cake is a brioche style dough (sweetened yeasted dough made with butter), covered in sugar and usually made in or decorated with the traditional Mardi Gras colors of gold, purple, and green. Hidden within the cake is a baby figurine and as the theory goes, whoever finds the baby in their slice of King Cake, has to throw the next party.
6 Visit Mardi Gras World
If you’ve ever wondered where the amazing floats of the Mardi Gras parade are made, the only place to head to is Mardi Gras World. This the main workshop for the massive floats and where some are stored. (Only some as they are too big for all in one place – there are 16 storage locations around the city – wow!). Take the guided tour and while you munch on a slice of King Cake, you’ll learn how it can cost $50k+ to create a float and that float riders purchase their own beads to throw to the crowds. There’s a free shuttle bus to take you to Mardi Gras World.
7 Take a Cemetery Tour
If you’re in the city for a few days, a cemetery tour should be on your itinerary. You might think huh?!? but the cemeteries are one of New Orleans top tourist attractions. Because New Orleans is built on a swamp, the dead are buried above ground and the graveyards are full of little “burial” houses of all different sizes and styles from very simplistic to highly elaborate and decorative. Lots of companies provide cemetery walking tours. You’ll even learn a little about voodoo traditions. Make sure you go with a licensed tour operator as the cemeteries don’t let just anybody in.
8 Enjoy a Riverboat Cruise
Can you really visit New Orleans and not go on a steamboat cruise on the mighty Mississippi River? It’s a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours, cruising down the river, eating a great dinner, accompanied by live jazz. The nighttime cruise on the Steamboat Natchez, a steam powered sternwheel boat, provides fabulous views of the city at night.
9 Go to the Mardi Gras Parade
… After all, this is one of the best reasons to visit New Orleans. Although the main parades happen on Mardi Gras day. The festival begins a few weeks before so there are plenty of parades and events in the run up to the big day. They wind through various routes across the city so it’s easy to find a good vantage point. Of course, the parades are the highlight but there are plenty of side events, especially musical events and fireworks of course, as well as street parties. Time to gather up them beads ladies.
If you want to see what’s happening, where and when, look on the official New Orleans Mardi Gras website.