How to Survive Mardi Gras While Living in New Orleans
I lived in New Orleans throughout February and March of 2022, which meant I got to experience the first Mardi Gras since the pandemic firsthand! And, like you can probably imagine, everyone was all too excited to get outside and celebrate Carnival.
If you’re going to be living in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, here are my recommendations for how to survive the season—and enjoy yourself!
Learn the schedule
The Mardi Gras schedule typically runs from the beginning of the year all the way to March 1—aka Fat Tuesday, the wildest day of them all.
Throughout this time, you’ll see many parades and floats across the city, all with their own themes. For example, the Krewe de Veux parade is known for being more risqué, satirically covering hot-button issues like politics and COVID-19. It also features Muses who are famous for giving out fabulously decorated shoes to only a few select attendees each year. (Fun fact: Two girls right in front of me BOTH got shoes, and I was ridiculously jealous!)
There are a lot of parades, so I recommend using the app Parade Tracker to keep up with when and where they are. This app shows you the entire schedule of parades and even has a tracker so you can follow along to see where it is on its path. Just a heads up, the parades move very, very slowly…
Don’t even think about driving
If you drove into the city, find a safe place to park your car and leave it there. You won’t be needing it.
New Orleans is a very walkable and public transportation-friendly city, so you can get wherever you want to go without driving yourself. Whether it’s a bus, streetcar, or Uber, you can easily travel around for a reasonable price.
Plus, the streets are very confusing and are riddled with crisscrossing one-ways and stumbling drunk parties, so you’re much better off letting a local or an expert drive you.
Make sure to dress up
Attending a parade? You’ll want to dress up! I’m talking about covering yourself from head to toe in as much green, yellow, and purple as you can manage—and the more glitter, sequins, feathers, and beads, the better.
If you think you’re overdressed, you’re not.
For my first parade, I wore jean shorts with green tights, a feathery boa, lots of beads, and a facemask. I thought I might be wearing a bit too much, but the second I stepped outside of my apartment, I saw a man riding by on a bike wearing a sparkling gold suit and a purple cape. Yeah…I was not drawing enough attention to myself in this city.
This is your chance to go all out and wear the wildest outfit of your dreams. Think of it like Halloween on steroids!
Don’t buy beads
I didn’t buy beads at all during Mardi Gras. Instead, I caught a bunch from passing parades and Bourbon Street balconies. I even gave a ton of beads away, but I still wound up with dozens leftover on March 2, along with other parade keepsakes like a toy alligator and Mardi Gras playing cards.
Instead, I caught a bunch from passing parades and Bourbon Street balconies. I even gave a ton of beads away, but I still wound up with dozens leftover on March 2nd along with other fun parade keepsakes like a fake boob, toy alligator, and Mardi Gras playing cards.
When watching the parades, you’ll want to be vigilant of people throwing things from their floats. Sometimes, they can throw heavy items, like a whole bag of beads, and if you’re not paying attention, it can easily clop you upside the head. Trust me.
Also, don’t flash the floats.
The parades are typically filled with family-friendly floats (except for Krewe de Veux), so they give out beads to everybody for fun. If you want to flash for beads, then you’ll want to head to Bourbon Street.
Even on Bourbon Street, I managed to get plenty of beads from kind people on the balconies. A lot of men wanted to see more of what I had to offer, but I just told them no and moved on to the next group. Often, people are just excited to throw you beads, whether or not you show them anything.
If you can find a balcony, stay there
There are plenty of balconies along Bourbon Street and parade routes, but most of them are full or blocked off for a private event. So, if you can find one that has room for you, hold onto that golden spot for as long as you can.
Being on the balcony gives you the vantage point to see all the excitement and entertainment on Bourbon Street. You can watch people dressed to the nines stumbling down the street, dancing, drinking, and enjoying Carnival. Being on the balcony also lets you throw beads to those down below, which is very fun!
What to do on Fat Tuesday
Fat Tuesday is the Mardi Gras day. Parades begin at 8 a.m. and locals dawn the craziest costumes. Like I said, Mardi Gras is like Halloween on steroids. But if you head to Frenchman Street on Fat Tuesday, it’s like another world.
Some friends and I went there dressed in our normal attire, complete with green, yellow, and purple. But when we got to Frenchman Street, we were absolutely blown away.
Everyone around us was wearing extravagant costumes that were plucked straight from their imaginations. We saw people dressed as flamingos, a whole brigade of men dressed as lunch ladies (complete with hairnets, cigarettes, and moles), and even a woman dressed like a sun goddess. It was unreal.
Never in my life have I felt so underdressed. And even still, everyone was so kind and sweet—they all just wanted to have a good time and share in the creativity they all exuded. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and I truly don’t think there is anything else like it.
If you plan to go to Mardi Gras, start working on your costume for Fat Tuesday ASAP. You definitely don’t want to miss this one-of-a-kind experience that will allow you to show off your creativity and imagination with so many like-minded people.
Indulge in the New Orleans drink specials
New Orleans is famous for producing wild and inventive drinks, such as the Sazerac and the Hurricane. I recommend trying these at least once while you’re out and about enjoying Mardi Gras festivities.
The Sazerac is like an Old Fashioned, but with an added twist of absinthe. I don’t really like absinthe (it tastes like black licorice), but I love this drink. It’s a New Orleans staple, so it’s important to try. And, if you want a taste of pure absinthe, I recommend heading to Old Absinthe Bar which has been serving up drinks on Bourbon Street since the 1800s.
The Hurricane is a rum-based drink that is very popular in New Orleans. It’s loaded with rum, punch juice, and cherries. Lots of people will tell you to get one from Pat O’Brien’s, but I suggest otherwise. Pat O’Brien’s is an old, authentic bar with a gorgeous beer garden and a dueling piano bar, but their Hurricanes are just not good. They’re a sugary, watered-down concoction that they slop into your plastic cup. Try anything else there and you will have a much better experience.
For a really good Hurricane, head to Lafitte’s Old Blacksmith Shoppe. It’s one of the oldest bars around, and it’s a regular stomping grounds for Nicolas Cage, Jason Alexander, and ghosts.
Lastly, you should try the Grenade. I’m not sure this drink needs much more of a description with a name like that, but this sweet, green beverage will have you feeling mighty fine after just a few sips.
Be careful though—it’s recommended that you don’t have more than five in one night! You can find these guys all over Bourbon Street at Tropical Isle locations. This company is also known for its “Shark Attack” drink, which is an experience!
And the best part of all these drinks? You can drink them in the streets! As long as your beverage is in a can or plastic cup, you can just waltz out of the bar with it. It’s completely legal to drink in the streets in New Orleans, even beyond Bourbon Street. Just make sure to finish it before trying to get into another bar!
The only option for late-night pizza
If you need a late-night bite during your Mardi Gras festivities, I highly recommend getting a slice of pizza. But be wary! There are plenty of businesses offering pizza slices, and they want you to pay $8 for a mediocre slice of cheese pizza.
After searching and searching all up and down Bourbon Street, I finally found the one company that actually sold good late-night pizza at a reasonable price! So if you’re feeling hungry, and you want your morning-self to be happy, head to Vieux Carre Pizza and get any of their pizza slices to tide you over. You’re welcome.
Take lots of pictures so you can remember it
You and your friends may have a hard time remembering all the details from Mardi Gras, but taking lots of pictures will help you reminisce. Ask friendly-looking people (not vendors) to take photos of you in front of the parades and on top of balconies. Your Instagram will thank you later.
But just be careful that if you take photos of street performers—like ladies holding snakes or men doing magic—that they may harass you for payment.
It goes without saying, but please don’t wander around New Orleans alone, especially at night. There are some areas that are not safe and are best to just avoid.
Make sure you travel with friends, or if you don’t know anyone, strike up a conversation with a group at a bar or parade. In my experience, everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming. I went to a parade by myself when I first moved to New Orleans, but immediately made friends with a group of people at a parade and we stuck together all night.
There’s safety in numbers, y’all!
Where to stay in New Orleans
Hotels and Airbnbs are very expensive during Mardi Gras season, but why only visit for a few days when you can live there, instead?
During my time, I lived in an apartment with Landing. They offer flexible leases for their modern, furnished apartments. Choose to stay for one or two months, or as long as you want!
Get the chance to witness all of Mardi Gras while living on your own terms. And trust me, your friends will all want to visit and enjoy it with you!
Want to learn more about how I spent my time in New Orleans? Check out my blog post, “Tales of a Digital Nomad: How I Spent Two Months in New Orleans.”