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The Insider’s Guide to Mardi Gras in New Orleans

What do, where to watch the parades, and more

Wear comfortable shoes and pack plenty of water for Mardi Gras in New Orleans; you\’ll be outside most of the day.
Laissez les bon temps rouler! It’s time for Mardi Gras, and New Orleans is getting ready to “let the good times roll!” This year, Mardi Gras falls on March 4, but the build-up to this lively annual party begins on February 15, with dozens of parades, parties, live music, food, and balls.

The climax, of course, is Mardi Gras day, when the city shuts down and indulges in a massive celebration, with lavish floats from which colorful beads and other trinkets are tossed, dazzling Carnival krewes (Carnival parade organizations), and Mardi Gras Indians who parade through the back streets, entertaining the thousands of costumed revelers. It’s a bacchanalian bash, for sure. But like the Big Easy, Mardi Gras is easy, especially with our Insider’s Guide to city’s most famous event.

What Happens Before Fat Tuesday?
It’s all about parades on the run-up to Fat Tuesday. The first parades begin on Saturday February 15, with Krewe du Vieux rolling through the French Quarter. On Sunday, the Little Rascals parade through the suburb of Metairie. On the weekend of February 21, some 20 parades roll though such neighborhoods as Uptown, the French Quarter, Westbank, St. Bernard, and Metairie. The city catches its breath on Monday and Tuesday, but on Wednesday and Thursday nights, five parades roll through Uptown including Krewe of Ancient Druids and the Knights of Chaos.

I’m Arriving the Weekend Before Mardi Gras – Anything Going On?
The weekend before Mardi Gras is an event onto itself. The Krewe of Hermes, one of the oldest parading krewes, kicks off the weekend celebration on Friday evening, parading through Uptown, followed by Krewe d’Etat. On Saturday morning, parades featuring such krewes as NOMTOC, Iris, and Tucks, roll through Uptown and Westbank. In the evening, the celebrity-studded Krewe of Endymion rolls through Mid-City, followed by Krewe of Bacchus parading through Uptown in the early evening.

What is Lundi Gras?
It’s the Monday before Mardi Gras, of course, and it’s a major event. The only parades today begin late afternoon, with the krewes of Proteus and Orpheus – and their celebrity riders – rolling along St. Charles Avenue to Canal Street. If you’re in Metaire, you can join the revelers to watch the Krewe of Zeus. But the main event is downtown at Spanish Plaza by the Riverwalk, for it is here that you can see the arrival of Rex, the King of Mardi Gras, by boat on the Mississippi River. There’s live music throughout the day and an impressive fireworks extravaganza over the Mississippi at night.

It’s Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday. What’s The Scoop?
It’s time to let the good times roll! New Orleans shuts down for the day, and festivities start early. The Krewe of Zulu, the oldest African-American parade, starts at 8am followed by the Krewe of Rex. These two parades are a must-see, as they are the two most spectacular, elaborate parading krewes. Six other parades follow later in the morning. When you’re not watching this stunning extravaganza, be sure to wander around and catch the Mardi Gras Indians. These costumed walking clubs, usually accompanied by brass bands, zigzag all over town, stopping in bars and handing paper flowers, strands of beads or doubloons. They parade through the back streets in vibrant costumes and crowns chanting traditional Mardi Gras songs (think Iko Iko). On Mardi Gras morning, the Uptown Indian tribes parade through the Garden District between Jackson and Washington Avenues; the downtown tribes wander around the Treme.

Where is the Best Place to Watch?
Where to watch the parades depends on what kind of experience you want. During the Mardi Gras parade, the entire route is filled with spectators, but you can find some places that are a little less crazy. Uptown is more family-friendly, and you’ll find plenty of places to catch throws along St. Charles Avenue. The Garden District is another good spot for families, especially around Third and Fourth Streets. The action picks up Downtown, and the Central Business District and French Quarter become a full-on party. Streets are jam-packed, especially Bourbon Street, where you’ll see a fair share of merrymakers drinking, exchanging beads, and strutting their stuff. Carrying alcoholic beverages is legal on the streets, but an increased police presence during this time keeps everyone in check.

What are Throws?
“Throws” – or gifts thrown from riders on floats – are the popular currency here, and those who collect them proudly show their spoils. The most common throws are strings of plastic beads, doubloons, stuffed animals, and aluminum coins. Parades generally consist of floats, bands, and walking groups.

Plan Your Trip
For the most up-to-date info on Mardi Gras and its corresponding events, visit LouisianaTravel.com.

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