Drum roll, please (literally). What we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived: Mardi Gras! The main weekend of Mardi Gras — the days that immediately precede Fat Tuesday — is arguably the best time of the whole Carnival season. These are the days when parades roll back to back, when marching bands are in full force, and when you can catch the most coveted throws.
With GoNOLA’s 5-day guide, we can help you get the most out of the greatest free show on earth whether you are a visitor or a local. And bonus: if you are a visitor, there is still plenty to squeeze into your New Orleans visit both before and after parades.
Friday | Feb. 24 | Hermes, Krewe d’Etat, Morpheus
Friday is still a work day for most New Orleanians, so parades conveniently begin at 6:00 p.m. This gives visitors almost a full day to explore the city. If you are looking for a little shopping or window shopping, head over to Magazine Street. You’ll find dozens of shops within walking distance. If you are ready to start celebrating early though, head over to NOLA Brewing’s Tap Room which opens at 11:00 a.m. for some fine, locally brewed beer plus barbecue from McClure’s Barbecue inside NOLA Brewing (try the macaroni and cheese!).
Alternatively, head to Emeril’s Delmonico on the parade route right at 6 p.m. for King Cake Doughnuts served with strawberry compote and toasted pecans, and wash them down with one of the restaurant’s themed drinks: the “Muse” (made with regional vodka, fresh blackberries, cava, and local bitters), the “Hurricane Punch” (featuring local Rougaroux dark rum), or the whiskey-based “Barrel-Aged Vieux Carre.” If you time it right, you’ll likely finish just as Hermes rolls past the restaurant.
Where to watch: The Uptown parade route (most notably along St. Charles Avenue)
6:00 p.m. | Hermes
The Krewe of Hermes was founded during the Great Depression in 1937 and is the longest parading night krewe. The krewe’s name comes from the Greek messenger god Hermes.
6:30 p.m. | Krewe d’Etat
The Krewe d’Etat, unlike many other krewes who are ruled over by a king and queen, is overseen by “The Dictator”– the identity of whom is never revealed to the public. Their signature throw is a blinky skull bead, designed after their logo.
7:00 p.m. | Morpheus
The Krewe of Morpheus is a coed krewe named after the Greek god of dreams. The organization is relatively young, forming in 2000.
Stay Uptown and head to Tipitina’s to hear Foundation of Funk with Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter, Jr. Special guests include Anders Osborne and Jon Cleary. Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the door. Doors open at 10:00, and the show starts at 11 p.m.
Alternatively, head to Dos Jefes for a cigar and live music. There is no cover, but drink prices increase by $1 during shows.
Saturday | Feb. 25 | Iris, Tucks, Endymion
The Uptown Parades
11:00 a.m. | Iris
Where to watch: The Uptown route
The oldest all-female Krewe of Iris, named after the goddess of the rainbow, is approaching its 100th anniversary (though it has been parading only since 1959). One of their signature throws is hand-decorated sunglasses.
12:00 p.m. | Tucks
Where to watch: The Uptown route
The Krewe of Tucks parade has, let’s say, a bit of toilet humor. So get ready to catch some toilet paper, plungers, and toilet brushes! This year’s theme is “Tucks Happens” and includes aptly themed floats such as Pot ‘o Gold, Artsy Fartsy, Silent but Deadly, Crap Shoot, and Montezuma’s Revenge.
Post-Parade Uptown/Pre-Parade Mid-City
If you are sticking Uptown, head over to Audubon Park for some scenery and then snag a po-boy at Frankie and Johnny’s.
The Mid-City Parade
4:15 p.m. | Endymion
Where to watch: Mid-City
The Krewe of Endymion, one of three Super Krewes (along with Bacchus and Orpheus), celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with more 2,800 riders plus Pitbull and Steven Tyler as the musical celebrities.
Following the parade, walk over to either Finn McCool’s Irish Pub or Twelve Mile Limit for drinks. Twelve Mile Limit traditionally hosts an Endymion party running all day (and all night) with loads of music. Follow them on Facebook for updates.
Sunday | Feb. 26 | Okeanos, Mid-City, Thoth, Bacchus
Where to watch: The Uptown route (with a modified Uptown route for Thoth)
11:00 a.m. | Okeanos
The Krewe of Okeanos is a co-ed krewe founded in 1949. Named after the Greek god of oceans and fertile valleys, Okeanos originally paraded along St. Claude Avenue before moving to the Uptown route.
11:45 a.m. | Mid-City
The Krewe of Mid-City is the fifth oldest continuously parading organization in the city. Founded in 1933, each year it selects an honorary king and queen from children at the local Ronald McDonald House.
12:00 p.m. | Thoth
The Krewe of Thoth was founded in 1947 to include those who were typically unable to attend other parades due to illness or disability. Today, with a dedicated following of parade goers, its extended route passes several extended healthcare facilities.
5:15 p.m. | Bacchus
Where to watch: Either the Uptown route, or Downtown at Bacchus Bash, which starts at 12:00 p.m., at Generations Hall. The all-day block party features music including Flow Tribe, Mannie Fresh, and Big Sam’s Funky Nation. The Ugly Dog Saloon and La Cocinita food truck will be selling food. The event is free and open to the public, but VIP tickets are available for $100.
The Krewe of Bacchus is one of the three Super Krewes. Named after the Greek god of wine and ritual madness, Bacchus has some of the most well-recognized floats of carnival including the Bacchagator and the King Kong family.
Monday | Feb. 27 | Proteus, Orpheus
Start Lundi Gras off in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District with a 10:30 a.m. tour through Save Our Cemeteries ($15/adults, free/children under 12) or take a self-guided one. Then, hit Joey K’s for lunch, perhaps ordering red beans and rice — after all it is a Monday.
Where to watch: The Uptown route
5:15 p.m. | Proteus
The Krewe of Proteus, founded in 1882, is the second-oldest Carnival krewe. Catch a plastic trident from the son of Poseidon.
6:00 p.m. | Orpheus
The Krewe of Orpheus is the youngest of the three Super Krewes and was founded by the two Harry Connicks (Sr. and Jr.). Throws include light-up beads and stuffed dragons. Leviathan — a giant, fiberoptic dragon — and the Smokey Mary train are two of Orpheus’s most recognizable floats.
Walk over to Avenue Pub (Pro tip: three words — Dump Truck Fries). It’s open 24 hours, so stay all night and be ready to catch Mardi Gras parades in the morning.
Tuesday | Feb. 28 | Zulu, Rex
Start early at Igor’s with a Bloody Mary and walk back out, cup in hand, to the St. Charles Avenue parade route to prepare for two of the most beloved Mardi Gras parades.
Where to watch: Uptown (with a modified Uptown route for Zulu)
8:00 a.m. | Zulu
The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club grew out of a local African American community tradition of providing support, using membership dues, to its members when in need. Zulu’s prized throw is a painted coconut, known as the “Golden Nugget.”
10:00 a.m. | Rex
The Krewe of Rex is one of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes in New Orleans, founded in 1872 after the Civil War and during Reconstruction. It is due to Rex that we have the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold.
While away the rest of the best day of the year sipping on Frozen Voodoo Juice from Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest structure in the U.S. used as a bar and where pirates Jean and Pierre Lafitte are believe to have conducted their “business” (read: smuggling operation).
Pair this with costume-watching of the remnants of the Society of Saint Anne and other wildly dressed walking groups in and around the Marigny and French Quarter. Then, coat your stomach with some Popeye’s fried chicken (spicy dark meat, red beans, and a biscuit make for my personal hangover remedy).
If you have the energy to stay up late, you can view the symbolic ending of the Mardi Gras season at midnight when the police — on horseback — close down Bourbon Street. At that point, Ash Wednesday will have begun, so if you’re a practicing Catholic, get yourself to mass for those ashes and figure out your Lenten sacrifice (but mostly, start prepping for Mardi Gras 2018 on Feb. 13!).