Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, is the carnival celebration before Ash Wednesday and New Orleans is one of the best places in the world to celebrate.
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The festivities start almost a month before Fat Tuesday with different parades each weekend leading up to the Wednesday before Mardi Gras. From that Wednesday there are parades throughout the day until the biggest of them all on the actual Tuesday.
Normally there is a main parade followed by smaller parades, balcony parties, masquerades and of course King Cake parties. In the French Quarter the majority are walking parades, while around the city they have beautiful floats. In both, people will be throwing beads, cups, and some stuffed toys. The best are thrown to kids, so make sure to bring the whole family.
So what is this I hear about Krewes?
The first thing you need to know about Mardi Gras in New Orleans is what a Krewe is, which in few words is the heart of the carnaval. Krews are private clubs that organize for a whole year the parade and parties for Mardi Gras season. Each Krewe has its own parade and there are many Krewes in the city, so trust me you will have plenty of parades to enjoy. The Krewes are in charge of creating the floats, tossing the beads, cups and toys.
Our favorite krewes are the Krewe of Pontchartrain for the festive costumes and amazing throws, and of course the Krewe of Barkus the ultimate Mardi Gras experience for the dogs and dog lovers of New Orleans.
Where is the best to enjoy the Mardi Gras Parades?
Now that you know what a krewe is and what they are in charge of, the next thing you must know is what the route or each parade is and when they happen! We recommend you to download the free Parade Tracker App for iPhone and Android.
Also check the Mardi Gras official website with the maps and times of where the parade will be taking place. The app has the added value of new updates and videos.
Something to keep in mind is that the parades normally take place outside of the French Quarter unless they are walking parades, as the streets are quite narrow. If you want to see the big floats you will have to go to St. Charles Avenue. These parades are more family friendly than the ones in the French Quarter.
The Krewes make sure to bring plenty of stuffed toys for kids and forget about raising your shirt to get beads, they will throw them to you simply if you wave at them. People outside French Quarter do not drink nearly as much as what you see in movies. This parades are more for locals and tourists to enjoy with their family and friends in a more laid back way.
What else is there to do in New Orleans around Mardi Gras besides watching the parades?
Our first recommendation is to visit a plantation outside New Orleans. The plantations range from 30 minutes to an hour and a half away from the city. We visited San Francisco Plantation and fell in love with the building. We have heard good references from the Oak Alley and Houmas Plantation. We also recommend to visit the Tabasco Factory, which is almost a two and a half hour drive from New Orleans.
We love walking down the quaint Magazine Street! It is such a cute street with antique shops and beautiful boutique stores. In general I would walk around the houses surrounding Magazine Street and First Street, as the houses are so photogenic and beautiful.
Make sure to try some of the endless options for local seafood and cajun flavors. If you like Mexican food we recommend you enjoy a delicious meal and margaritas at La Carreta on Magazine Street. Another restaurant that we loved was Sake Cafe’ Uptown they seriously have the best sushi in town, especially when it is happy hour.
La Boulangerie has one of the best King Cakes in the city, which is also located in Magazine Street. King Cakes are colorful and festive cakes, traditionally filled with cinnamon, cream cheese or strawberry cream and a small plastic baby.
Ultimately, what we learned celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans is that there really is so much more to see, do, taste and experience in this vibrant city beyond the masks, parades and plastic beads.