When it comes to festivals, New Orleans needs no introduction. And it makes sense — when your melting pot of music, culture, food, and dance is as rich and diverse as it is in Louisiana, you’re bound to have some incredible festivals. For events that celebrate everything from oysters to African rhythms, here are the best of New Orleans’ festivals.
New Orleans Jazz Fest
Seeing jazz, blues, and all kinds of live music in Louisiana is like eating pizza in New York — it’s the best place to do it. Unlike other traditional festivals like Coachella or Bonnaroo, New Orleans Jazz Fest is a full week-long production with tons of shows and activities that happen all around the festival. In fact, many people come to New Orleans during the festival (which is usually in April) and don’t actually buy passes because some acts make surprise appearances around local bars and venues. That said, if you’re looking for headliners like David Byrne, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Lionel Richie, be sure to grab some tickets. Also, the Coolest Jazz Clubs in San Francisco has some great gems for those on the west coast.
Mardi Gras — which means “fat Tuesday” in French — is a celebration that has origins back in Medieval Europe. Taking place on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, it started as a festival where people would consume rich, fatty foods to prepare for six weeks of fasting during Lent.
In modern-day New Orleans, Mardi Gras has ditched its pious roots and evolved (or devolved, depending on how you see it) into a nonstop, week-long procession of wild costumes and debauchery. Plan a visit to the springtime festival to soak in the sights, sounds, and flavors of one of the country’s most fantastic parties.
There’s now a spinoff of the classic Mardi Gras known as the ‘Gay Mardi Gras.’ Southern Decadence, which takes place in late August and early September each year, is a massive festival that combines aspects of traditional pride festivals with live music and New Orleans flavor. The 2018 festival shattered records with over 250,000 attendees. Each year has a theme as well, with last year’s being “House of Bourbon — Unleash your Beast”. Feel free to let your imagination run on that one. When you’re done down south, discover How to Prepare for Amsterdam Gay Pride — one of the world’s wildest pride festivals.
Voodoo is another one of New Orleans’ unique festivals that is definitely worth a visit. Taking place over Halloween weekend, it’s a wild experience that lies somewhere in between Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead Traditions will get you up to speed), a centuries-old circus, a modern music festival, and an interactive art exhibit. Describing itself as a ‘musical gumbo,’ it stirs together delicious culinary experiences with top-class performance acts and jaw-dropping art to make for one of the coolest-themed festivals around.
Since the mid-90s, Essence Magazine has been at the forefront of the African-American community. It’s mainly tailored towards women with content related to beauty, fashion, lifestyle hacks, and celebrity news, but its readership is extremely broad. Every year they host a Beauty and Style Expo in New Orleans, with tons of exhibits, product giveaways, style consultations, and celebrity meet-and-greets. There’s also music with over 40 artists performing over the three-day Independence Day weekend.
French Quarter Festival
Whereas Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest haul in international crowds that transform the city into a multicultural hub, the French Quarter Festival, or FQF, is a lesser-known gem that celebrates the true hometown heritage of New Orleans through music, dance, food, and culture. It dates back to 1984 and began as an initiative to get people returning to the French Quarter after some extensive repairs — and it worked, people have been flocking ever since. There are over 20 stages located throughout the Quarter with an incredibly wide variety of music, and it has been voted a ‘favorite food festival’ by locals and visitors alike. Oh and also, it’s free!
New Orleans Oyster Festival
Few places know oysters like New Orleans, so why not dedicate an entire festival to them? Taking place over the summer in June, the Oyster Festival hosts dozens of vendors selling every kind of oyster variation you could possibly imagine — raw, charbroiled, fried, stuffed, and more. There’s also music and lots of crafts exhibits, which makes this one one of the best family-friendly options on the list.
Congo Square Rhythms Festival
Celebrating the African music and dance traditions that have deep roots in New Orleans’ history and culture, the Congo Square Festival is a must-visit for anyone interested music. The rhythms heard here arguably formed the foundation of all things relating to jazz, blues, gospel, and rock that shaped American culture for centuries to come. There’s lots of live music, a large arts market, and a Soul Food Court with tons of exotic dishes.
NOLA Pyrate Week
What sounds like a goofy opportunity to dress up like a pirate is also actually the chance to give back to the community of New Orleans. The NOLA Pyrate Week was founded back in 2006 after the effects of Hurricane Katrina in an effort to couple the region’s history of pirate culture with the well-intentioned initiatives of local nonprofits. The week-long festival is structured in an a la carte format, so you can feel free to only attend the events that sound most appealing to you. Dress up in traditional booty-stealin’ garb and make a positive impact on the people and places of New Orleans.