If New Orleans’ biggest party conjures images of drunken tourists stumbling down Bourbon Street and flashing for beads, you need to think BIGGER. “The Greatest Free Show on Earth” doesn’t take place on one street alone. It’s a city-wide affair. There are as many flavors of party as there are neighborhoods, each with their own charms and traditions. (Most are surprisingly family friendly.) To help you sample a little of each, we offer this Mardi Gras neighborhood guide.
The vibrant heart of the party
Among the hundreds of bars, restaurants and venues in these 78 blocks, you’ll find the biggest crowds, the most incredible street entertainers, top tourist attractions and fabulous little holes-in-the-wall that are pure magic to discover. We won’t sell you too hard, since chances are good you’ll end up here anyway. But know this: While big float parades graze the Quarter along Canal Street, the real action are the foot parades that take place deeper in. Locals pass out hand-made throws – ahem, the perfect souvenir! – to onlookers as they parade (and stumble) through the Quarter’s narrow streets.
French Quarter Hotspots:
- Royal Street. An artists’ row with the best street performers. It’s perfect for a day time stroll.
- Jackson Square. Obvious? Sure. But there are little treasures, like Pirates’ Alley and the balcony at Muriel’s, that you won’t want to miss.
- One Eyed Jack’s. A bar and music venue known for an eclectic mix of shows, from burlesque to yacht rock dance nights.
The Mardi Gras most tourists miss
Just across Rampart Street from the French Quarter, this historically African American neighborhood famously gave us jazz and second lines. But two of its most dazzling and beloved Carnival traditions (which date back centuries!) are rarely seen by visitors, thanks in part to the area’s undue rough reputation. Mardi Gras Indians, including chiefs and their entourages, spend a year elaborately beading and feathering jaw-dropping suits to compete with each other in the streets. (There are no published routes. You just have to be lucky.) And before sunrise on Mardi Gras day, a skeleton-clad krewe called The Skull and Bone Gang roams the neighborhood banging on doors, welcoming the festivities to come.
- Backstreet Cultural Museum. Get the full story on Mardi Gras Indians (and up close with those amazing suits!) here. Bonus: The Skull and Bones meet here, pre-dawn.
- Armstrong Park. Always a hive of activity, this park gets especially busy when the Zulu parade rolls by Mardi Gras morning.
Pair this Mardi Gras neighborhood guide our Carnival calendar to make sure you don’t miss a thing!
Foot parade- and costume-lover’s paradise
This artsy neighborhood just across Esplanade from the French Quarter offers revelers a chance to let their imaginations run wild. Hipster or hippy, glam or grunge, long-time resident or weekend visitor – all are welcome for the festivities. Just don’t show up in a store bought costume. Here you’ll find street-side cookouts, dozens of music venues crammed into two short blocks, lively local bars and the very best foot parades complete with the most mind-blowing hand-made ensembles in the city*. The crowning glory of all this creativity? The Saint Anne Parade on Mardi Gras morning.
- Frenchman Street. Yes, it will be crowded. But there’s no better place to catch a little jazz on your Mardi Gras adventure. Spotted Cat and d.b.a. are personal faves.
- Mimi’s: Big and centrally located, most of the good stuff lingers for a while in the Mimi’s intersection Mardi Gras day.
*Not counting the Mardi Gras Indians. Those guys are big league!
The perfect home base for families
Even outside of Mardi Gras, this centrally located neighborhood is one of the city’s most family oriented. There’s sprawling City Park, plenty of pocket parks, kid-friendly restaurants and residential-style accommodations. Plus, it’s where superkrewe Endymion launches its epic journey the Saturday before Mardi Gras day. All this gives the fam a chance to pop in and out of festivities as they need to. Because we all know toddlers follow no schedule but their own.
- City Park. Putt putt, sno-balls and revamped Storyland (along with carnival rides, when running) keep kids entertained. (Check for closures on Endymion Saturday.)
- Angelo Brocato. One of the nation’s oldest ice cream parlors also offers killer cannoli.
This Mardi Gras neighborhood guide can tell you where to be. But to find out what to wear, check out our costuming how-tos.
Fancy homes, college kids and families
Uptown stretches from the Garden District to Audubon Park. Any area that large is going to have a lot of diversity. There are two universities (cue the 20-somethings!), the stateliest mansions in New Orleans along St. Charles Avenue (pinkies up!) as well as the bustling shopping district of Magazine Street. During Carnival season, most of the big float parades roll through Uptown. Homes along the route throw epic parties. Other revellers – including a lot of families – carve out space for themselves on the sidewalk side of the street or in the neutral ground (what we call medians) for days on end. The party is lively. Tip: If you want a more relaxed parade experience, set up in a residential area. Commercial stretches of the parade route draw rowdier crowds.
- Avenue Pub. Not only does this local hangout have one of the best craft beer selections, but it’s also right off the parade route.
- Tipitina’s. World-renown music venue with plenty of Mardi Gras programming.
- Superior Seafood. This crowded corner is where big parades turn, meaning more chances to catch something good.
Trendy and crowded party chaos
Starting just across Canal Street from the French Quarter, these two areas are home to many of the hottest new hotels, bars and restaurants in the city. Grab cocktails at a chic rooftop bar (like Hot Tin) or sit down for a James Beard Award-winning dinner (at Compere Lapin, for example). The biggest parades end their runs here, meaning riders are throwing fast and furious. Expect huge, energetic crowds packed onto city streets during parades. Wear flats and head away from Canal on St. Charles early to find standing room. This is also your opportunity to watch from a grandstand or splurge on a hotel party along the route, where you can take advantage of their balcony.
CBD/Warehouse District Hotspots:
- (Lee) Circle. The parades turn toward downtown here along this roundabout.
- Harrah’s Casino. If you’re a gambler, the casino is extra lively at Mardi Gras.
- Civic Theater. This theater hosts several exciting Mardi Gras parties.