Destinations

2017 New Orleans festivals: Mardi Gras and beyond

Your expert guide to a year of the Big Easy's best celebrations and cultural events.

It’s impossible to say “New Orleans” and “festival” without everyone immediately thinking of Mardi Gras. Don’t get me wrong: Mardi Gras is unlike anything I’ve seen, and definitely worth braving the crowds to experience at least once; but there’s so much more to the New Orleans festival scene. While the bulk of the city’s festival season happens in the spring, there are celebrations year round worth taking in. Whether you’re looking for food, music, arts or some combination, you’ll find the festival for you (in fact, you’ll probably find several!).

If it’s local music you’re after, French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest and Satchmo SummerFest are good places to start. Voodoo Fest and BUKU Fest offer a broader range of genres: Voodoo has a little bit of everything, while BUKU is known for its electronic dance music. Hankering for some New Orleans cuisine? Have more than your fill of po’ boys, oysters, gumbo or Creole tomatoes (and tomato-based delights) at the aptly named Po’ Boy Festival, Oyster Festival, Tremé Creole Gumbo Fest or French Market Creole Tomato Festival. Anyone looking for the arts: head to Art for Art’s Sake, a festival dedicated to highlighting local visual artists, check out the artisans’ stalls at Bayou Boogaloo or witness live art creation at BUKU Fest. Or maybe you’re just after a good ol’ party in the street, complete with elaborate costume parades, sidewalk barbecues or “second line” brass bands: if so, get your fix at the Easter parades, St. Patrick’s Day (really St. Patrick’s Week) and, of course, Mardi Gras. While our fest-list is certainly not exhaustive, get a sense of our experts’ favorites and the most famous, enjoyable and unusual celebrations that the city has to offer.

Expert tips:

  1. Whichever festival(s) you choose, make sure to book travel and accommodation early -- particularly critical for the larger events. Browse top hotels across the city.

  2. If you want to beat the crowds, make sure to go early, especially to the better-known events.

  3. Always check out the smaller stages: it’ll not only give you a break from the crowds, but there’s usually some terrific local musicians featured there.

  4. Don’t be shy: get to know the people around you in the crowd! You’ll inevitably end up chatting with someone local who can give you insider perspective on what you’re experiencing or, better yet, who might just invite you to a neighborhood crawfish boil (“berl”).
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