New Orleans loves to celebrate, and not just at signature events like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. We let the good times roll throughout the year! Foodies can feast at festivals devoted to almost every kind of delicious Louisiana cuisine, from po-boys to beignets to fried chicken, or experience high Creole culture at multi-course Reveillon dinners. And the streets are alive with local culture, from once-a-year extravaganzas like the Mardi Gras Indians’ Super Sunday to the Social Aid & Pleasure Club second-line parades that happen almost every Sunday. Read on for a season-by-season guide to don’t-miss events.
Holidays are a special time in any town, but New Orleans outdazzles them all. City Park lights up for the season with Celebration in the Oaks, LUNA Fête turns Lafayette Square into an eye-popping art installation, and visitors can skate and slide on ice next to the world’s tallest snowman at NOLA Christmasfest. Only-in-New-Orleans traditions range from bonfires on the levee to caroling at St. Louis Cathedral to a host of restaurants serving elaborate Reveillon dinners. Ring in New Year’s Eve in Jackson Square, or root for your favorite team on New Year’s Day at the annual Sugar Bowl in the Superdome. And the revelry keeps on going! New Orleans breaks out the king cake on Twelfth Night (January 6), which marks the beginning of the weeks-long Mardi Gras Carnival season with three parades.
New Orleans springs into full bloom in mid-March, when St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day converge. Multiple St. Paddy’s parades draw throngs of revelers, churches and private homes all over town create food-laden St. Joseph’s altars, and the city’s Mardi Gras Indian tribes celebrate Super Sunday with their own parade of feathery finery. In late March, crowds converge in the Quarter for the raucous “Stella!” shouting contest at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. Music-fest season kicks off in early April with the Freret Street Festival, and swings into high gear with the French Quarter Festival. Then comes the marquee music event: the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which showcases dozens of national headliners and hundreds of local artists. In mid-May, it’s Mid-City’s turn to shine with the Bayou Boogaloo, held on the picturesque banks of Bayou St. John, where festers also shout “opa!” during Greek Fest.
Summer used to be a sleepy season in New Orleans. Now summer’s joined the party, bigtime, adding a slew of new events to the annual Go 4th on the River, Essence Festival at the Superdome, and the smaller-but charming Creole Tomato Festival and Bastille Day Fete. Craft-cocktail aficionados belly up to Tales of the Cocktail in July, when the Big Easy Roller Girls don horns and wield paddles for the Running of the Bulls. Foodies graze on prix fixe gourmet cuisine at the city’s top restaurants during COOLinary New Orleans in August, when music lovers hit Satchmo SummerFest and art mavens flock to White Linen Night (or its cheeky cousin, Dirty Linen Night). Then it’s all hands on deck for the fabulous 24/7 Southern Decadence festival over Labor Day weekend, when anything goes.
Small wonder so many couples choose New Orleans for a destination wedding in the fall when cool breezes beckon guests to explore the city’s lovely parks and squares. There’s plenty on tap for the party-hearty crowd as well, from Boudin, Bourbon, and Beer to the Fried Chicken Festival and NOLA on Tap, the Gulf South’s largest beer festival. Fall is also Saints season, when “Who Dat!” fever takes over the town (and frequently infects visiting football fans). Blues mavens descend en masse for the Crescent City Blues & Barbecue Festival, and creative costumers don’t have to wait for Mardi Gras. New Orleans does Halloween like no other city, from the Krewe of Boo parade to the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in City Park. Pro tip: don’t miss Frenchmen Street on Halloween night, when all the coolest goblins come out to play.