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How to Do Mardi Gras Like a Pro

Our local editor shares his tips for a better Mardi Gras experience (including the best and worst places to watch the parades).

Mardi Gras comes to New Orleans just once a year (that's just often enough for locals who have to prepare to have their city besieged by revelers), and as one of the biggest rolling parties in the United States, no smart traveler should take Mardi Gras preparation lightly ... and we're talking about more than what you stock in your cooler.

To help us avoid some of the rookie mistakes that first-time Mardi Gras attendees make, we asked Where's New Orleans-based editor, Doug Brantley, for his tips on how to have the best Carnival experience. "First thing first, get out there into the madness, catch some beads and have some fun," said Brantley, who's been authoring Where's travel guides and magazines in New Orleans for 16 years. From where you can find a balcony to see the festivities to the city's family-friendly parades (yes, there are some), Doug gives us the pro tips that will get you through to Fat Tuesday. But you'll have to catch the beads yourself; we can't help with that.

Tip #1: Best Places to Watch the Parades

The Hotel Modern in Lee Circle provides a great view of the Mardi Gras parades.

Lafayette Square is where all of the parades and floats stop to salute the mayor, who has a grandstand right in the square. You can be a part of the mayor's grandstand or stand on the one right across the street. These popular spots are city issued and tickets run anywhere from $5 to $60.

The Intercontinental Hotel also has viewing stands with lobby access, with tickets from $25 to $80.

Tip #2: Find a Balcony 

Balcony during Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Balconies are a great way to experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans. (©gary yim/Shutterstock)

They aren't as much as for the Mardi Gras parades as they are for the craziness, but the balconies, especially those on Bourbon Street, are part of the Carnival experience and you don't want to miss out. 

There’s Bourbon Vieux, which boasts “biggest and best balcony on Bourbon,” and includes an open bar, catered cuisine and private restrooms. Tickets run from $100 up and quickly sell out.

The Bourbon Cowboy and Cat's Meow are bars with balconies that are great places to watch the festivities. If you're in Uptown, try Avenue Pub, which has balcony access over St. Charles Avenue.

Tip #3: Parking

This one is easy: Just forget about driving and stay parked at your hotel. Cabs, pedicabs and streetcars are your new mode of transport, especially if you're imbibing.

Tip #4: The Best Place Not to Watch the Parade

If you’re going to watch on Canal Street, then take Doug's advice and don't get into the neutral grounds or middle of the street—you won’t be able to get out of it once the parade starts, and will be stuck for three hours (good luck finding a bathroom).

Tip #5: Dress Up

Mardi Gras mask
Throw on a mask or costume to be a part of the Mardi Gras festivities. (©Janece Flippo/Shutterstock)

Get in the Carnival spirit and wear a mask or a costume—it really does change the way you approach Mardi Gras, and you’ll feel part of the celebration.

Find costumes: French Market Mardi Gras Mask Market (Feb. 24-27), Fifi Mahony’s on Royal Street (they have crazy, bizarre mile-high wigs), Funky Monkey or Uptown Costume on Magazine Street.

Tip #6: Best Family-Friendly Parade

Mardi Gras Barkus parade
The Barkus parade is full of pups in the Mardi Gras spirit. (©Wendy Kaveney Photography/Shutterstock)

Daytime Mardi Gras parades are perfect for kids—especially Zulu (Feb. 28) and King Arthur (Feb. 19), but the best one for children is Barkus (Feb. 19). This dog parade is full of pups, and with a name that sounds like Bacchus, it's sure to be fun. 

Visit New Orleans' Mardi Gras Parades Calendar for the dates and times of the parades.