The Absolute Best Ways to Celebrate Mardi Gras 2022 in New Orleans
After an unprecedented hiatus, Carnival magic is back in action in the Big Easy.
If you haven’t yet experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans, you may not know what you’re missing. But for those of us that live here or make the pilgrimage each year to bid flesh farewell in this beautiful city on the bayou, last year’s Carnival cancellation was about as big a blow as losing Christmas, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve combined. Socially distanced revelry still carried on in the homes and hearts of New Orleanians, but as with so many things in this new pandemic normal, it was a far, far cry from the parties of years past.
Today, thankfully, the latest COVID variant has finally started to quiet and we’re full steam ahead. The bacchanalia, the debauchery, and the beauty are all back in action on March 1, and it feels so damn good, y’all. Grab your best sequined mask and let the merriment begin—here are all the best ways to bask in the Mardi Gras glow this year in New Orleans.
The most delicious Mardi Gras tradition can be found in almost every bakery and grocery store for just a few weeks each year. Before you sacrifice sugary indulgences for Lent, why not enjoy a delightful, decorative, cinnamon-laced, and sticky-sweet slice of King Cake? And, who knows, maybe you’ll even find the tiny plastic baby Jesus inside (pro tip: chew carefully). With seemingly hundreds of bakeries, versions, and local opinions flooding the city, selecting the perfect cake can be intimidating. However, the King Cake hub at Zony Mash makes it easier by stocking rounds from different Louisiana bakeries all season long. You’re welcome.
The original Mardi Gras-goers wore masks to hide their identity and escape the everyday societal and class constraints. Revelers wore whatever they wished and acted however they wanted and, thankfully, not much has changed. While purple, green, and gold hold significance and remain the standard color palette, it’s highly encouraged to utilize the entire rainbow when dressing to impress the Mardi Gras masses. So grab your glitter and your glue gun and get creative with your masks this year—and we don’t just mean those KN95s.
A word to the wise: It’s best to wake up early if you’re aiming to claim a spot along your favorite parade route. With famed processions like Zulu kicking off at 8 in the morning, even camping out overnight is not out of the question if you’re in the market for a coveted decorated coconut. Bring a ladder for the kids, beer for the adults, and chairs for the elderly—you’ll be there a while. Keep your eyes on the prize, as not paying attention is a great way to get beads and other party favors flung right in your face. Bring your A game and whatever else you think you might need for the day, because rain or shine, New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parades are back with a vengeance this year. Study up with this complete list of times, locations, and routes before setting out for the day.
There are more than a few ways to get to know Crescent City. Whether you feel like settling in for a scenic evening of riverfront jazz aboard the Steamboat Natchez, hopping onto a bus to ogle the Historic Garden District’s mansions and cemeteries, or simply grabbing a drink and cruising around the French Quarter on a haunted ghost tour, there is no shortage of views and vantage points in the city of voodoo.
Illuminated bike rides after dark bumping music down the block, horse and buggies strutting in the Quarter armed with more stories than stops, organized bar crawls down Bourbon Street where you’ll see enough in one night to last you the whole Carnaval season—you won't be disappointed with booking any or all of these terrific New Orleans-centric prominades.
While Carnaval and Mardi Gras might be the reason for the season, New Orleans is game to keep your heart warm and your stomach full throughout your entire stay. Renowned for its comfort cuisine loaded with Southern flair and hospitality, the city is home to some of the greatest bars and restaurants in the region. With over 60 bars and 60 restaurants inside the French Quarter alone, you’re bound to find a multitude of menus to fit any appetite, so you better come hungry (and thirsty).
If fighting for flying beads isn’t your scene, that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, the Crescent City can be quite peaceful, even quiet at times—as long as you know where to look. A stroll through Audubon Park or New Orleans City Park could be just what the doctor ordered after a late night out. And if your brain needs a little more stimulation than those green spaces can offer, The New Orleans Museum of Art, the Museum of Death, the New Orleans Jazz Museum, and Mardi Gras World are all great ways to learn more about the city without worrying too much about the three Ps: parking, partying, and parades.
One of the best things to come out of 2021 was the Krewe of House Floats. In true lemons-into-lemonade fashion, founder Megan Boudreaux tweeted: “Turn your house into a float and throw all the beads from your attic at your neighbors walking by.” The flashbulb idea ripped through the city faster than a hurricane, and within a few short months, over 2500 houses registered to have their humble and not-so-humble abodes professionally transformed into the most fantastic immoveable floats. The movement not only gave Mardi Gras artists opportunities to work while the pandemic put their world on pause, but also gave hope and happiness to a city that’s no stranger to disaster-fueled derailment.
While decorating your home has always been a part of the Carnaval calendar, creating your own parade route to enjoy the KoHF in any order you see fit will be a family favorite for a very long time. Find more information and plan your sightseeing adventure via their savvy interactive map here.
From bounce to zydeco and back again, music and New Orleans go hand-in-hand—especially during Mardi Gras, when countless performers bring their talents to the streets and the stages around town. Jackson Square is always a good bet for catching some impromptu tunes from singers, guitarists, trumpeters, and more, while live brass and jazz bands take over the entertainment duties most weekends at the Farmers Market Pavilion in the French Quarter. Elsewhere, second lines—roving groups of marchers equipped with instruments—often take to the streets for weddings, birthdays, and other big events. For indoor shows, check out Fritzel’s on Bourbon Street, New Orlean’s longest-running jazz club, for a steady stream of quality acts, or bar hop along Frenchmen Street, where the Spotted Cat, Cafe Negril, and the Maison beckon passersby with the siren call of infectious beats. And if you happen to hit the town a tad early, get your pregame on at Shorty Gras presented by the Krewe of Freret on Saturday, February 19, featuring headliners Big Freedia, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Thank and the Bangas, Lil Jodeci, and more.
After the widespread destruction left behind by Katrina back in 2005, Mardi Gras hit the ground running a mere six months later. Last year was the first time in over 40 years that Mardi Gras was officially—and responsibly—canceled. Needless to say, Mardi Gras and all the festivities surrounding it is way more than just a party for New Orleanians—it’s a way of life. Being able to celebrate the traditions, the resilience, and the magic of this city again feels almost unreal. The bars are back and busy with debaucherous bliss, the streets are teeming with cheering, costumed children of all ages, and New Orleans is once again sharing its stunning spirit with the world. So gear up, dress up, turn up, and laissez les bons temps rouler, y’all.