Explore New Orleans

Mardi Gras Must-Dos in New Orleans

Can’t-miss, must-catch Carnival season happenings.

Uptown along the St. Charles Avenue parade route, deep down in the Bywater or smack in the middle of Bourbon Street? It can be hard deciding just where to position yourself to make the most of the Mardi Gras mayhem. Take our advice, and keep moving; pop-up parties and rowdy revelry are at every turn. But if you must make an agenda, add these fun festivities to your must-catch list.

Red Beans and Rice Parade New Orleans (©Shawn FInk)
What’s cooking at the Red Beans and Rice parade. (©Shawn FInk)

The Greasing of the Poles

Each year on the Friday before Fat Tuesday (March 1), the Royal Sonesta Hotel slicks up its balcony with petroleum jelly in an effort to deter unwanted revelers from shimmying up. What was once purely a preventive measure has since morphed into a massive street party, complete with live music and celebrity “greasers.” The Carnival kookiness kicks off at 10 am.

Greasing of the Poles (©Shawn Fink)
The Mardi Gras madness gets underway with the annual Greasing of the Poles. (©Shawn Fink)

Foot Parades

Sure, super krewes such as Endymion wow with their supersize floats, but it’s the season’s smaller parades that really charm. Make an effort to make it to the Marigny for ’tit Rex (Feb. 17 at 4:30 pm), in which entries are no larger than a shoebox, and the too-cute French Quarter kids parade along Royal Street (March 1 at 11:30 am). Legume lovers get their fill during the Red Beans and Rice parade, which kicks off March 4 at 2 pm from the Marigny (beginning at 725 St. Ferdinand St.), while the offshoot Dead Beans parade makes its way from Mid-City (starting at 1400 Moss St.) to the Tremé neighborhood, where the two groups meet up at the Candlelight Lounge. But the real show-stopper is the always creative Society of St. Anne, which wades into the Quarter from the Bywater on Fat Tuesday, starting at 10 am.

'tit Rex (©Shawn Fink)
Teeny-tiny, hand-pulled floats are the big draw at the ’tit Rex parade. (©Shawn Fink)

Battle of the Bands

Prior to the Bacchus parade (March 3), work your way to the corner of Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas streets where marching bands warm up with a little friendly competition. Hope you like horns.

Meeting of the Kings

Zulu and Rex roll on Mardi Gras Day, but their kings meet up at 6 pm the night before (Lundi Gras) at Spanish Plaza (Poydras Street at the river), where the mayor hands over the keys to the city. A free riverfront fest precedes the procession, beginning at 10 am.

Northside Skull and Bones Gang

One of Mardi Gras’ most elusive and hard-to-catch traditions is the Northside Skull and Bones Gang’s 5 am Fat Tuesday wake-up call. Wearing papier-mâché skeleton masks, members wind their way through the Tremé neighborhood, banging on doors and rattling residents, as they have for more than a century. Their annual greeting serves as a warning to children—and an admonition of adults—to live life right...because you never know when death might come knocking.

Skull & Bones Gang New Orleans (©Shawn FInk)
The Northside Skull and Bones Gang scares up a good time early on Fat Tuesday morning. (©Shawn Fink)

Bourbon Street Awards

Prancing peacocks, way-out Willy Wonkas, a walking Manhattan skyline: If it’s outrageous and over-the-top, you’re likely to see it—and then some—during “the most famous drag queen competition in America.” This campy costume contest draws thousands to the 800 block of Bourbon Street at noon on Mardi Gras Day.