Best Guide to Mardi Gras Carnival New Orleans 2022
Mardi Gras carnival New Orleans (NOLA) really does have something for everyone! Adults and children alike will wonder at the spectacular colors and costumes of the krewes, floats, and parades. Everyone, young and old, will be holding their hands high to try and catch as many Mardi Gras beads and throws as possible! There are so many fun activities, you can understand why Mardi Gras Festival New Orleans is at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists.
But, as the night turns over, a whole different experience awaits! The sound of jazz fills the air, and party-goers flock to Bourbon Street or the French Quarter to celebrate by partying until the early hours. So, if you happen to be in NOLA for Fat Tuesday, expect things to get crazy! But, one thing is for sure, whether you’re going for family fun or as a reveler, read my Mardi Gras guide for everything you need to know about Mardi Gras New Orleans 2022.
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Mardi Gras Carnival New Orleans | Quick links
Quick reference guide
What is Mardi Gras Carnival New Orleans
Mardi Gras festival is a 2-week celebration that happens in New Orleans, Louisiana. The festival originates from the French rule of the 18th century, but it is now firmly established in American Culture.
During carnival season, the streets are colorfully decorated with the traditional Mardi Gras Carnival colors of purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power), and the city is lively with the buzz of this popular event.
When is Mardi Gras? Fat Tuesday New Orleans Experience
NOLA Mardi Gras changes dates each year as the event coincides with Christian holidays but is typically in March. However, the event finale is always the date of Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday or pancake day as it might be known to others), and this is when you will see the best floats, jazz bands in the street, and everyone going wild.
The date of Fat Tuesday in 2022 is the 1st March, so the event will start from mid-February. However, if you’re heading to Mardi Gras New Orleans 2022, I recommend that you go for the full Fat Tuesday New Orleans experience. These celebrations can be that wild that NOLA locals have a public holiday on Ash Wednesday to recover!
Related Read: Complete Guide for traveling by bus from Baton Rouge to New Orleans
Mardi Gras Carnival New Orleans | Krewes & Parades
One of the most obvious things to do in NOLA during Mardi Gras is to watch the parades.
Several Mardi Gras Krewes privately fund the floats, bands, dancers, and costumes, and there are many different parades you can attend every day. The most spectacular floats and parades are saved until the 3 or so days running up to Lundi Gras (Monday) and Fat Tuesday.
Mardi Gras Guide to Super Krewes
There are too many Mardi Gras super krewes to list, so I’ve listed some of the best krewes and parades below. Interestingly, all float riders on these super krewes are male.
- Zulu is a major parade that has fantastic colorful costumes, exaggerated by large feather headdresses. This Krewe represents African Americans and is the only one that throws wonderful hand-painted coconuts!
- Bacchus is one of the most popular Krewes that hosts one of the largest parades in the evening with over 32 animated elaborate floats. The Bacchus Krewe also has a different celebrity ‘king’ that leads the parade every year!
- Endymion is another Krewe that hosts one of the infamous night parades that runs in the evening with animated floats and celebrity ‘Grand Marshall.’
Smaller Krewes at Mardi Gras Carnival New Orleans
One of the things you should do in NOLA during Mardi Gras is checking out the smaller krewes. Unlike the larger parades, some of the float riders are women and children.
Some of the best smaller krewes are:
- Athena is an all-female Krewe with high energy and you have a much greater chance of catching great throws!
- Iris is the first and largest all-female Krewe know for their unique throws. I caught so much from these ladies
- Morpheus is an inclusive Krewe that has male and female riders, which has more of an old-school vibe.
You should also look out for one of the 37+ Mardi Gras Indian tribes. Elaborate, enormous hand-made costumes are worn by the Mardi Gras Indian’s to symbolize the Native American history of this festival. Each Mardi Gras Indian tribe’s Big Chief’ decides which parade they will walk in, and it is different every time, so keep an eye out for Mardi Gras 2022.
Mardi Gras Guide to Local Parades
If you want to experience what the locals do for Mardi Gras day, there are smaller parades that you can actually join in with. The parade route is typically further out of the main city, but parade-goers party with the locals amongst the beautiful French-inspired houses.
I went to the red bean parade where NOLA locals made costumes made with… you’ve guessed it, red beans. Although the atmosphere was totally different from the super krewes, it was so welcoming and enjoyable that I had no issue joining the procession with the locals.
Mardi Gras Carnival New Orleans | Bourbon Street & the French Quarter
There are a lot of stories about the French Quarter and how crazy it can be. Well, a lot of what you hear is true. Bourbon Street is known for its lively party atmosphere, street decorations, and reputation for ‘flashing’ for plastic beads. Bourbon Street really is as crazy as they say, but it’s also a lot of fun!
Throw me something mister
Bourbon Street is within the center of the French Quarter, the most popular street in New Orleans. It has a long strip of bars, souvenir shops, and places to eat. Many of the bars have balconies that you can use to watch or get involved in throwing beads. Balcony spots in the French Quarter are prime locations, and numbers are controlled. So, if you want to be on a balcony, you might have a wait so go early.
Bourbon Street Tips – Things to do in NOLA During Mardi Gras
1) Catch beads on Bourbon Street
While some people do flash for beads on Bourbon Street, you do not need to and I guarantee you will catch many! That being said, the most interesting, unique or flashing beads will usually only be thrown to the people who flash (or dance).
2) Try NOLA’s signature cocktails!
- Hand Grenade – for about $11, you can get a tasty but lethal cocktail. Grab it at one of the 5 Tropical Isle bars, which are also lively venues that host a fun party.
- Hurricane – looks more upmarket and a bit more expensive, but a trip to Bourbon Street wouldn’t be the same without it. Grab it at Pat O’Brien’s pub.
3) Enjoy the nightlife, but get in the bars early
Pretty much all bars are free until 10pm, and after that, there is a $10 + cover charge. Partying goes on well into the early hours, so you will be sure to get your money’s worth.
4) Head to the LBGT district of Bourbon Street for the Gay Carnival
If you’re from the LGBT community or would just like a fabulous experience, head to the intersection of Bourbon Street and St. Ann Street. The music tends to be more dance/electro, which differs from the hip-hop / R&B that blasts out of the other bars in Bourbon Street.
Gay carnival is a glitz and glam experience in itself. So why not check out Lafitte-In-Exile, the oldest gay bar in Louisiana when you visit.
5) Get a balcony view of the police sweep of Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday
On Fat Tuesday, at around 10pm or so, get onto a balcony on one of the Bourbon Street bars so you can be ready for the police sweep that officially ‘closes’ the Fat Tuesday celebration. A large procession of Police marching, police cars, and police on horses will walk down Bourbon Street to signify the end of Mardi Gras New Orleans.
The police really make it look like they’re closing Bourbon Street down, but once they clear off, the party continues for the final time late into the night.
Mardi Gras for Solo Travellers – Where to eat
One of the things you need to do in NOLA during Mardi Gras is try the local cuisine. If you’re a meat-eater, there are some fantastic-looking restaurants all over the French Quarter, and New Orleans is known for its seafood gumbo and Po’Boys.
As a vegetarian, though, it can be difficult to find a good selection of food. Unless you do research upfront, most places you pass by will only have bread or egg-based options like margarita pizza, omelets, or Veggie Po’Boys. However, I found an amazing Thai restaurant called Sukhothai at random, with a whole vegan menu! I had the red tofu curry, and it was delicious.
Basically, if you want to eat more than bread, potato and egg based foods, plan in advance. I found a great guide to veggie restaurants in New Orleans by ‘Veggie Every Day’.
Related Read: Best vegetarian dishes in the world
Where to stay for Mardi Gras Festival for Solo Travellers
Mardi Gras 2022 is a full bucket list experience and accordingly attracts a lot of solo travelers. If you’re traveling to Mardi Gras solo, it is important to stay close to the French Quarter so you can meet other people and not miss any action.
I stayed in the Hi New Orleans Hostel on Canal Street, which is a top location on the parade route and close proximity to the nightlife. I stayed in an 8-bed mixed dorm and met some awesome people who made my carnival experience. The rooms were clean, I had privacy and power in my own bunk, and free breakfast.
Meeting people is made easy. The common areas are well decorated and provide cool spots to shoot a few pool games and drink with your new friends. Plus, Bourbon Street is less than 10 minutes away! In fact, it’s so convenient that every day I met someone from another hostel, changing to this one!
However, there are great hostels and hotel options available so take a look at the interactive map below to understand the area, location, and prices. A recommended area if you want to stay outside of the French Quarter is St Charles Street. This is a leafy, affluent suburb with many iconic French-inspired mansions and prestigious hotels on offer.
Jazz on Frenchmen Street
No visit to New Orleans is complete without enjoying the jazz scene. Even if you’re not that into Jazz, you will find yourself loving it by the time you leave.
Although you can find Jazz all over New Orleans, Frenchman Street is the live music hot spot. Only 20 minutes walk from Bourbon Street, this is a smaller area that is more sophisticated and laid back. That being said, you can’t help but be pulled into all the various bars. There are so many excellent bands and fabulous singers that you can’t help but get carried away.
I finished Fat Tuesday on Frenchmen Street, and it was amazing. The roads were alive with street parties, and everyone was having a fantastic time. Live jazz bands popped up on the street corners. There were also people peddling mobile sound systems. Hundreds of revelers littered the streets and followed wherever the music was, dancing the night away.
Before we even got there, we discovered a random street party on the harbor. Local people had designed their own fantastic Mardi Gras costumes and made their own carnival parade. Speaking to the locals, they do this because membership to the krewes is expensive and difficult to obtain. So they make their own version of Mardi Gras, and I can’t say I blame them!
Some of the most popular jazz bars include:
- Cafe Negril – live music options with cool decor and vibe.
- Blue Nile Live – this was really busy when I went. However, it still felt like there was room to dance and enjoy the atmosphere.
- The Spotted Cat – one of my favourites, purely for the quality of the music I saw while I was there.
Mardi Gras Guide & Travel Tips
- Get to the parades early – Some people take the parades seriously and set up with chairs, coolers, and nets to catch the throws. If you want to get a good spot, go early.
- Wear comfy clothes – it’s not that warm, and you’re outside on your feet for a long time.
- Scope out where the nearest toilet is. We tended to set up near a bar to occasionally grab a quick drink, some bar food, and use the facilities.
- Keep your wits about you – Have fun at the parades and at Bourbon or Frenchmen Street, but always be aware of your surroundings. It is extremely crowded, and drunken tourists can be a target for easy crime.
- Leave space in your luggage – you will catch so many throws, and there will definitely be some you will want to keep as souvenirs. For any you don’t want, you will find many recycling points, or you can have fun throwing them back at people on Bourbon Street.
- Whatever you do, don’t skip Frenchmen street. Even if jazz music or live bands don’t sound like your type of thing, you won’t be disappointed!
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