The city goes into hyper-drive during Carnival season, which starts January 6 and runs through February 25 this year. That means that the month of February is packed with Mardi Gras festivities, in addition to small, local festivals and more far-reaching events like the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day. Plan your schedule in advance with our February guide (time to order that new 2020 planner!) to make sure you can make the most of this short but lively month.
1. Spend a day at the opera
The New Orleans Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s grand opera ‘The Maid of Orleans’ (Joan of Arc) on February 7 and 9 at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts. The opera tells the story of Joan of Arc’s humble beginnings, to her heroism and leadership during the siege of Orléans, France, to her execution based on charges of witchcraft and heresy. New Orleans is named for Orléans, France, so Joan of Arc holds a special place in the local consciousness.
2. Learn and remember during Black History Month
Start off the month by attending mass at or simply visiting the St. Augustine Church, historically a place of worship for the black community of Tremé and the surrounding area. For a glimpse into the lives of free people of color, visit Le Musée de f.p.c. to view paintings, lithographs, sculptures, photographs, and other historical artifacts. For a deep dive into culture, plan to spend an afternoon at the Backstreet Cultural Museum amongst colorful feathered costumes learning about Mardi Gras Indian traditions. For more ways to celebrate Black History Month in New Orleans, check out our guide here.
3. Attend some unusual Mardi Gras parades
Make sure to catch some of the city’s larger Mardi Gras parades that run along St. Charles Avenue. However, the Carnival tradition in New Orleans is constantly expanding as creatives add their own ideas. Take ‘tit Rəx and Barkus as two such examples of this. ‘tit Rəx is a minuscule parade in which decorated shoe box floats are the central attraction. Barkus, a play on the carnival krewe (parade organization) named Bacchus, is essentially a mass dog walk, albeit with dogs in costumes and a canine monarch. ‘tit Rəx “rolls” on Sunday, Feb. 9 and Barkus is scheduled for Sunday, February 16.
4. Ring in the Vietnamese New Year
Every year, Mary Queen of Vietnam Church hosts a three-day bash to celebrate the arrival of the Lunar New Year, Tet, and Vietnamese heritage. All are welcome for live music, delicious Vietnamese food, fireworks, games, dragon dances, and more. Dates for this year’s celebration are February 7-9.
5. Unleash your inner nerd at Chewbacchus
Chewbacchus, a relative newcomer to the Mardi Gras parade scene, is preparing for its 10th year. While the spectacle of professionally-decorated floats, unlimited trinkets, and marching bands of St. Charles Avenue parades is not to be missed, Chewbacchus offers a parade of a different color. This year’s parade, which rolls (er, walks) on February 1, speaks to the nerdy nature of the krewe. Catch plenty of interplanetary-themed sub-krewes like Trekkies, mythical creatures, Jurassic Park characters, Sharknados, and many more in out-of-this-world costumes.
6. Watch a Pelicans game at the arena
New Orleans Pelicans basketball games are a relatively affordable and fun way to spend an evening. Home games take place throughout the month at the Smoothie King Center, starting February 4 when the Pelicans take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Other home games include the Portland Trail Blazers (2/11), the Oklahoma City Thunder (2/13), and the Cleveland Cavaliers (2/28). Look out for the Pelicans’ team mascots—you’ll know them when you see them.
7. See Broadway in New Orleans with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Scratch your musical itch when Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes to the Saenger Theater from February 11-16. Based on the original Roald Dahl story of the nutty Willy Wonka and a young boy’s shift in fortune, this show will transport you to a magical land of candy and Oompa-Loompas.
8. Run in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon
Try your foot in one of this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll charity races, which “run” February 8 and 9. There are four race length options available: a marathon, a half marathon, a 10k, and a 5k. Live music spurs runners (or walkers) toward the finish line. The races raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
9. Celebrate love—in the midst of Carnival season
New Orleans already has a romantic air about it, making it the perfect place to spend time with a partner or significant other. In 2019, Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday in the middle of Carnival season. Spend the day enjoying quality time with a partner or a friend (or, follow Leslie Knope’s lead and celebrate Galentine’s Day with lady friends on Feb. 13). Take a stroll along Royal Street to window shop the many art galleries. Then, if the weather cooperates, rent Blue Bikes and ride to City Park. To close out the day, catch some parades, make a late dinner reservation at one of the many restaurants offering a romantic ambiance, and then check out some late night live music. See our date night guide for ideas.
10. Giggle at rude satire during Krewe du Vieux and krewedelusion
Many aspects of Mardi Gras are family-friendly (believe it or not), but the irreverent duo of Krewe du Vieux and krewedelusion are not among them (though an odd child has been spotted at the parades in recent years). Both parades, with their small-scale floats and walking sub-krewes (such as the Mystic Krewe of Spermes, if that tells you anything) wind through the Marigny and French Quarter on February 8.
11. Learn about climate change through photography
The New Orleans Museum of Art, broadly recognized as an art museum, presents a meditation on climate change and the environment in Tina Freeman: Lamentations through March 15. This exhibit juxtaposes photographs of Louisiana wetlands and the frozen terrain of the Arctic and Antarctica. While these landscapes are distinct and seemingly unrelated, the photo pairings offer insight into the linkage between melting glaciers and disappearing wetlands. The exhibit is a culmination of the artist’s photographs from the past seven years.
12. Dance at a Mardi Gras Ball
The counterparts to Mardi Gras parades are Carnival balls, which can require formal tuxedo or tails and can be full-on costume. Many old school carnival organizations have private, invitation-only debutante balls behind closed doors, but a growing number of organizations are hosting less formal events open to the public. Several organizations host balls where the parade literally rolls into the party, followed by big-name musicians to carry on into the wee hours: Endymion Extravaganza (Saturday, Feb. 22) and Orpheuscapade (Monday, Feb. 24), among others. The Krewe of Armeinius, part of the Gay Mardi Gras scene, recently opened its Bal Masque (Friday, Feb. 21) to the public. Though an affair that requires formal attire, exotic costumes abound during the tableau, or presentation.
13. Costume with strangers on Mardi Gras Day
Carnival season lasts from Twelfth Night (January 6) until Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras Day (Tuesday, Feb. 25), though just the final day of this glorious season, is a sacred holiday in New Orleans. For many locals, this means early morning parades Zulu (8:00 a.m.) and Rex (10:00 a.m.). For others, it means donning flamboyant, often handmade, costumes and convening with neighbors, friends, and strangers in the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods for what is essentially a very lively bar crawl and street party. The Society of Saint Anne is the most well-known of the Mardi Gras day walking group. If you somehow manage to remain awake past, say, 8:00 p.m., head over to Bourbon Street to watch the midnight sweep in which local law enforcement symbolically end carnival season.
14. Squeeze into the Smoothie King Center for a big act
The month of February also features several big-name musical acts coming to the Smoothie King Center. Tool is scheduled for February 1. If you have not heard of Tool, you may be in luck—Celine Dion’s Courage World Tour is scheduled for February 7, and Country Music Hall of Famer Alan Jackson takes the stage on February 15.
15. Indulge in Seafood during Lent
Ash Wednesday (February 26) is the start of Lent, the solemn period when Catholics divest themselves of excess. As part of Lenten observance, Catholics fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays, often opting for seafood. In New Orleans, this may or may not be considered a hardship because our seafood is seasoned to perfection and world-renowned. Either way, take the opportunity during March to eat out at one of the many local seafood establishments like Casamento’s, Frankie and Johnny’s, GW Fins, or Pêche. Alternatively, grab a fried shrimp or oyster po-boy at one of the many po-boy shops around town. Or, get real casual and enjoy a platter of crawfish (do as the locals do and suck the heads) at a neighborhood bar like Markey’s or Mid City Yacht Club.