Drum roll, please (literally). The season we have 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 season. These are the days when parades roll back to back, when marching bands are in full force, and when you can catch Carnival’s most coveted throws.
With GoNOLA’s five day guide, you will get the most out of the greatest free show on the planet 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 | February 21 | Hermes, Krewe d’Etat, Morpheus
Friday is still a work day for most New Orleanians, so the big parades conveniently begin at 5:30 p.m. This gives visitors almost a full day to explore the city. Start off with a hearty breakfast at one of many tried and true spots. Start celebrating early by heading to the French Quarter for the 10 a.m. Greasing of the Poles, which is considered the kick-off to Mardi Gras weekend. After that, catch the walking Krewe of Bosom Buddies parade through the French Quarter beginning at 11:30 a.m. For a more low-key afternoon, head over to NOLA Brewing’s Tap Room which opens at 11:00 a.m. for a brewery tour (2 to 3 p.m.) and some locally brewed beer before the evening parades.
Where to watch: The Uptown parade route (most notably along St. Charles Avenue)
5:30 p.m. | Hermes
The Krewe of Hermes was founded during the Great Depression in 1937 and is the longest parading night krewe (and in 1938 was the first parade to use neon lighting on its floats). Its name comes from the Greek messenger god Hermes. This year’s theme is “Carnival at the French Opera House,” and this year the krewe will debut a new signature float, Argephontes.
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, but stay on guard for the d’Etat Gazette (which has pictures of all the parade’s floats) as well as wooden doubloons.
7:00 p.m. | Morpheus
The Krewe of Morpheus is a co-ed krewe named after the Greek god of dreams. The organization is relatively young, forming in 2000. Their 20th anniversary is themed “Morpheus Dreams of Aquatic Adventures.” Try to get your hands on a bedazzled sleep mask.
Stay Uptown and head to music club Tipitina’s for “Mardi Gras Mambo” featuring Dumpstaphunk, with Omari Neville & The Fuel and Special Guest Big Chief Juan Pardo. The show starts at 11 p.m. (doors open at 10 p.m.), and tickets are $30.
Alternatively, head to Dos Jefes for a cigar and live music. There is no cover, but drink prices increase by $1 during shows.
Saturday | February 22 | Iris, Tucks, Endymion
To build your strength for the day, eat (and drink) like a king by enjoying a King Cake Latte from Community Coffee, a king cake donut from District, or La Boulangerie’s more traditional (French-style) king cake.
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 of existence (though it has been parading only since 1959). This year’s theme is “Iris Sees 20/20.” One of their signature throws is hand-decorated sunglasses.
12:00 p.m. | Tucks
Where to watch: The Uptown route
The Krewe of Tucks was founded over half a century ago by a few Loyola college students—and named for college bar, Friar Tucks (RIP). This year’s theme, “Tucks Hits The Sweet Spot,” will showcase floats with creative names based on candy. The Krewe of Tucks parade has, let’s say, a bit of toilet humor. So get ready to hail the royalty on their porcelain thrones and to catch some toilet paper, plungers, and toilet brushes!
Post-Parade Uptown/Pre-Parade Mid-City
Mosey on over to Mid-City to catch Endymion. If there is time, grab a po-boy at Parkway Bakery.
If you are sticking to Uptown, head over to Audubon Park for some greenery and ducks and then spend the evening on Freret Street between Jefferson and Napoleon Avenues, which offers ample restaurants (Ancora Pizza, Origami Sushi, and Liberty Cheesesteaks) and bars (Cure, The Other Bar, and Bar Frances) to while away the night.
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), features more than 3,000 riders and some pretty stellar musical celebrities each year. This year’s parade theme is “Endymion’s Historic Dynasties’.’ Arrive early to find a spot on the parade route.
Following the parade, walk over to either Finn McCool’s Irish Pub or Twelve Mile Limit for drinks. Twelve Mile Limit hosts an Endymion party running all day (and all night) with a dance party, a kitchen serving food all day, and no cover.
Sunday | February 23 | Okeanos, Mid-City, Thoth, Bacchus
Wake up early for breakfast or brunch at Cafe Atchafalaya, which has a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar.
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. Aim for a crawfish tray, the krewe’s signature float.
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. This year’s theme is “Heart Breakers and Head Bangers.” Keep an eye out for the krewe’s signature City Park float, a shout-out to the area of the city where they started.
12:00 p.m. | Thoth
The Krewe of Thoth was founded in 1947 to engage those who were typically unable to attend other parades in the city, and passed in front of 14 institutions that cared for people with illnesses or disabilities. Today, with a dedicated following of parade goers, its extended route passes several healthcare facilities. Grand Marshal Louis Prima Jr. will be performing in this year’s parade.
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 Mannie Fresh, the TOPCATS, Flow Tribe, and more. The event is free and open to the public, but VIP tickets, which include open bar, are available for $75 + fees.
The Krewe of Bacchus is one of the three “superkrewes.” 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 | February 24 | Proteus, Orpheus
Start the morning off on the Riverwalk with the Zulu Lundi Gras Festival, an annual fete that’s a pretty solid way to beat the Monday blues. Live music and fireworks will welcome the king and queen of Zulu at this free event in Spanish Plaza. Then, hit Joey K’s or Cafe Reconcile for lunch, perhaps ordering red beans and rice, a Monday tradition.
Where to watch: The Uptown route
5:15 p.m. | Proteus
The Krewe of Proteus, founded in 1882, is the second-oldest Carnival krewe. This year’s theme is “Feasts and Libations.” Catch a plastic trident from the son of Poseidon.
6:00 p.m. | Orpheus
The Krewe of Orpheus is the youngest of the three “superkrewes” 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. This year’s celebrity monarch is Bryan Cranston from “Breaking Bad.”
Walk over to Avenue Pub (Pro tip: Dump Truck Fries). It’s open 24 hours, so stay all night and be ready to catch Fat Tuesday parades in the morning.
Tuesday | February 25 | Zulu, Rex
Start early at Igor’s with a Bloody Mary and walk back out, cup in hand (plastic only—no glass), to the St. Charles Avenue parade route to prepare for two of the most iconic Mardi Gras parades.
Where to watch: The Uptown route (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. Perhaps the most prized Mardi Gras throw is Zulu’s 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. Rex is the reason that we have the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. This year’s theme is “Omens and Auguries.” As always, be on the lookout for the Boeuf Gras, the fatted ox, a tradition dating to Medieval times symbolizing the last meat before Lent.
10:30 a.m. | Krewe of Elks Orleans
Stick around for the Krewe of Elks Orleans truck parade, a massive parade with 50 decorated trucks and over 4,000 riders.
11:00 a.m. | Krewe of Crescent City
The Krewe of Crescent City, another truck parade, is the beginning of the end of the Mardi Gras season.
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 watch 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 thyself to mass for those ashes and figure out your Lenten sacrifice (but mostly, start prepping for Mardi Gras 2021 on Feb. 16!).