New Orleans Mardi Gras

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Ronnie McCluskey

Ronnie McCluskey
HomeAway travel expert

Viva Mardi Gras!Whether you’ve been fortunate enough to experience it personally or not, chances are you’re aware of the majesty of Mardi Gras. Arguably the most famous carnival of its ilk, for around two weeks before Lent each year the Louisiana city of New Orleans is overwhelmed with visitors from all over the globe, each keen to sample the famously rapturous atmosphere. Purple, green and gold are the traditional colours that make up the visual wonder, but in truth the city bursts into life with every tinge you can imagine, as parades weave their way through narrow streets.

The festivities commence every January 6, and are pretty much nonstop until time is (reluctantly) called two weeks later, on Mardi Gras Day itself. That’s the somewhat less glamorous Pancake Tuesday to you and I! With hotels across the city packed to the rafters months in advance, the best choice of accommodation by far is a rental property. A quick search here at HomeAway will present you with plenty to choose from, but before you book, read on to learn what to expect from your visit to the Big Easy.



Top five New Orleans Mardi Gras attractions


Parades Parades

And lots of them! Almost every night for the duration of the carnival there is at least one parade of some shape or design, each more flamboyant than the last. Organised by “Krewes”, elaborate floats careen through the streets as those on board shower thousands of kerbside revellers with swathes of beads and doubloons. Despite the raucous reputation that these celebrations have been gained from the media, the vast majority of parades are family-friendly affairs, constructed to capture your imaginations of both young and old. 

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King Cake season King Cake season

One of the more obtuse Mardi Gras traditions, but also one of the most delicious, is that of the King Cake. Each year from the first week of January onwards, parties are held, and this enticing dessert is served up in keeping with historical convention. Cakes traditionally contain a small plastic baby inside, with the lucky recipient of said trinket generally encouraged to host the next party of the season. The aforementioned Krewes also take the opportunity to elect their Mardi Gras Queen for the year. The custom originates from the Feast of Epiphany, a commemoration of the three Kings who brought gifts for the infant Jesus.

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The colour run The colour run

OK, let's be honest: when you go on holiday the last thing you want to be thinking about is exercise. A holiday should, after all, be a fun, relaxing time. But don’t be fooled by this 5k, because whether you’re a fitness fanatic or a couch potato, it’ll probably be the most enjoyable jog of your life. You’ll begin the race decked out in a compulsory white t-shirt, but by the time you reach the finishing line the promoters promise you’ll closely resemble a Picasso painting. This is a relatively recent introduction to the festival calendar, but the experience of being pelted with multicoloured powder has already proven to be a surprise hit!

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Live music Live music

Any given day of the year is a great time to soak up the phenomenal musical heritage of New Orleans, but unsurprisingly the carnival period sees a particular surge of jazz and blues. You can scarcely go wrong on Bourbon Street, in the city’s infamous French Quarter, which in itself is the party hub for visitors - many of whom prefer their celebrations to last till the wee small hours. Share a drink with performers in between sets at d.b.a, or perhaps opt for a more sophisticated and traditional evening in the Irvin Mayfield Jazz Playhouse. Mr Mayfield himself has a Grammy award to his name, and can be found on stage here most nights.

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Mardi Gras Day Mardi Gras Day

All good things must come to an end, and unfortunately Mardi Gras is no different. Thankfully, though, the festivities go out in a style befitting the world’s largest party. The date of Mardi Gras Day itself varies depending on when Easter falls (it’s March 4 in 2014), but the celebrations are always much the same. No less than seven parades cascade through the city, culminating in the Meeting of the Courts, where the Krewes of the King and Queen liaise with a formal masked ball. The stroke of midnight signals both the official end of the carnival and the beginning of Lent, but you can be sure the party will rumble on for a good few hours afterwards!

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