Although Mardi Gras has its origins in Europe, the celebration moved to New Orleans in the 1700s, and has grown to one of the largest parties around the world.
The people of New Orleans call it “the greatest free show on earth,” and from the float parades to the extravagant costumes, this is a pretty accurate description.
This holiday has become so popular that businesses actually shut down for the occasion. The entire city joins in on the celebration. From picnics to music shows, there is a level of engagement for everyone.
Mardi Gras Dates & Location
Where: New Orleans, Louisiana
When: Fat Tuesday, February 28, 2017
The best time to visit for Mardi Gras is the weekend leading up to Fat Tuesday: February 24th-27th, as most of the festivities and parades take place all weekend.
Where: Most parade routes are in the French Quarter—a place of non-stop excitement and activity during the festivities.
Family Gras is a family-friendly celebration that takes place on the 17th-19th of February. It features outdoor concerts and events for kids.
Mardi Gras Traditions
Mardi Gras has several traditions that visitors should be aware of prior to attending the festivities.
A Krewe is an organized group of people that come together to celebrate and entertain during Mardi Gras. Each krewe has unique traditions and history, which are demonstrated during their parade performances. Krewes can be of political, social or historical origin.
Mardi Gras Floats are a staple part of the celebration. The floats follow the initiation of the parades, and have become increasingly extravagant ever since. Each krewe has its own theme and hundreds of members that engage the crowd and toss out beads and other “throws”, as is the tradition.
Throws are a very integral part of the Mardi Gras experience. This is when the parade riders throw trinkets, including the famous Mardi Gras beads, to the crowd. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no need to flash the marchers in order to get some throws. Just yell, “Throw me something, Mister!” and you’re sure to receive more prizes than you can handle.
King Cakes are a long-established tradition where hosts bake a doughnut-style cake that contains a tiny, plastic baby doll. The tradition originated as a method of honoring the 3 Wise Men in the story of the birth of Jesus. The cakes are decorated with the official Mardi Gras colors, and whoever receives the slice of cake with the doll inside is supposed to host the next party.
Mardi Gras Celebrations
Mardi Gras celebrations range from parades to picnics, music concerts and marches. The excitement is non-stop for anyone who attends or participates in the festivities.
Dancing Troupes and Marching Clubs are a large part of the celebration. Their whole purpose is to attract the crowd and make a scene. Parade goers are entertained by stilt walkers, roller derby teams, stompers, and others who march through the streets during Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras Parades
Parade celebrations begin right after the New Year on January 6th and continue into the Mardi Gras celebration.
The first official parade of Mardi Gras weekend takes place in the French Quarter on the morning of Friday, February 24.
You can get the full parade schedule here.
There are several parades every day leading up to Fat Tuesday. You might not be able to make them all.
Here are 5 Mardi Gras parades that you absolutely don’t want to miss:
Krewe of Edyminion
The Krewe of Edyminion is known as a Super Krewe for its elaborate use of visuals and technology. This parade promotes youth, fertility and attractive men. Not surprisingly, it has become quite popular over the years.
This parade takes place on Saturday, February 25 at 4:15pm.
Krewe of Bacchus
The Krewe of Bacchus is known as one of the most innovative parades in the carnival. It broke tradition when it featured large floats with Las Vegas-style light structures and its celebration of royal figures.
This parade takes place on Sunday, February 26 at 5:15pm.
Krewe of Orpheus
This parade is known for its integration of celebrity guests as well as the Trolley Dolly, a horse-drawn bus. This is also the largest parade during the festival.
This parade takes place on Monday, February 27 at 6pm.
Krewe of Zulu
The Zulu procession is an ode to African heritage within New Orleans and has some of the most extravagant costumes and lavish floats.
This parade takes places on Tuesday, February 28 at 8am.
Krewe of Rex
This parade is the centerpiece of the entire Mardi Gras celebration. Everything from costumes to decorations celebrates the preservation of native heritage in New Orleans.
This parade takes place on Tuesday, February 28 at 10am.
Where to stay for Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras 2017 will bring a large crowd and influx of tourism. Find the best places to stay near or around the Mardi Gras festivities here.
Mardi Gras Pro-Tips
Plan to arrive 3-4 hours early as parade routes fill up quickly.
Organize your route of transportation to avoid entering unsafe neighborhoods.
Carry a tote or bag to collect all your throws.
Step on the throws you want and pick them up when it’s safe.
Stay away from the street and direct parade route to avoid accidents.
Bring wet wipes to clean your hands and plan your meals ahead of time.
Coordinate a meeting point with your buddies.
Bring only what you absolutely need and dress comfortably; it’s a long, fun day!
Mardi Gras 2017 is a celebration of a lifetime, and one that every traveler should experience at least once. The best way to celebrate is to relax and enjoy the show. Book your accommodations, grab your friends and laissez les bons temps rouler!