The Grown-ups’ Guide to Mardi Gras

Lonely Planet - United StatesMardi Gras Masks in New Orleans
Lonely Planet

This article was written by Katie Coakley on behalf of

Mardi Gras is as iconic an event to New Orleans as New Year’s Eve is to Times Square: you have to experience it for yourself to truly understand it. However, many of the common images of Mardi Gras include throngs of people hanging off of balconies, begging for beads, flashing various bits of skin, and indulging in every manner of debauchery. However, not everyone who visits for Mardi Gras is intent on devouring hurricanes and making questionable choices. For those who might be feeling a bit to, mature, for the Bacchanalian delights of Bourbon Street, there is a different side of Mardi Gras that is just as memorable.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

While most visitors to New Orleans will be standing six-people deep on the sidewalks, stretching for the strings of beads that are tracing ellipses over the crowds, the discerning diner will be making arrangements at some of the city’s finest restaurants. While places like Gautreau’s or Coquette maintain a business that requires advance reservations, parade times can be a great opportunity to slip off the streets and enjoy a world-class meal. Plan ahead and enjoy dinner at the historic Court of Two Sisters or take a look at these tips on how to skip the lines and snag a table at the best restaurants in New Orleans.

Listen to the Music

While Bourbon Street is ground-zero for much of the revelry surrounding Mardi Gras, it’s certainly not the only place to find the live music and merriment that New Orleans is known for. Nearby Frenchmen Street is packed with intimate clubs pumping out music that ranges from jazz to rockabilly to country. Spend an evening hopping from venue to venue; there’s enough to keep you entertained for the entire evening (and that’s just the people-watching).

Don’t Be Late to the Ball

One of the most noticeable aspects of Mardi Gras is the preponderance of krewes. Krewes, which are organizations that organize a parade and/or a ball during the Carnival season, consist of members who pay dues and usually participate in public service projects. Many groups have members who can trace their involvement back through several generations. Attending a ball is an once-in-a-lifetime event as most balls are invitation-only events—you have to know someone. However, tickets for some of the newer krewes’ balls are available to the public for a steep fee. For example, the Krewe of Cleopatra and the Krewe of Endymion open their parties to the public; tickets include live music, dancing, food and drinks.

New Orleans is always lively and vibrant; Mardi Gras is just one of the occasions that it puts on a bit more glitz. There’s plenty of entertainment to be had during Mardi Gras—for those looking for a party and for people that might be looking for a more grown-up experience. If you do decide to try your hand at bead accumulation, be sure to get a great seat: reserving a spot on the premium viewing stands is a must.

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