Mardi Gras Fun Beyond the Parades

First, the good news: Mardi Gras – one of the world’s most epic celebrations – has officially started! January 6, known as “Three King’s Day”, the 12th Day of Christmas, or the Epiphany, officially marks the start of Carnival season!

Now, the even better news: There are more ways to join in the festivities that go beyond spectacular parades and floats.

The electric energy. The exuberant music. The dazzling costumes. The raucous spirit. Mardi Gras in New Orleans isn’t just a sight to behold, but an experience that needs to be wholly experienced and remembered.

Take our advice, as locals who have been celebrating Mardi Gras in the Crescent City for decades: There’s so much more to Fat Tuesday than parades.

Here are our favorite picks: 

Peek Behind the Curtain at Mardi Gras World

Mardi Gras World

Ever curious about the artistic geniuses behind the magnificent, fantastical parade floats? Go behind-the-scenes at Mardi Gras World and see where float masters design and work on up to 500 Mardi Gras floats all year round. Explore the traditions of Mardi Gras parades, music and balls, dress up in costumes and pose in front of your favorite float, then finish off the fun experience with a slice of King Cake.  

Do a Bakery Hop For King Cake

King Cake

Ask locals where to find the best King Cake and you’ll get 20 different answers. So, you’ll just have to devour  several and decide for yourself! This cake is a delicious and quintessential Mardi Gras tradition, an oval ring cake made of Danish dough, then covered with purple, green and gold sugar toppings. Inside, a small plastic baby doll is hidden (don’t swallow it!) and whoever finds the baby is then responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party!  Every bakery in the city (and then some) will be making King Cakes in droves, so you’ll never have to go far to get one.  

Cake not your thing? During Mardi Gras, you’ll find King Cake-flavored everything. King Cake lattes. King Cake cupcakes. King Cake cocktails. King Cake ice cream. Bring your appetite.

Get in on a Crawfish Boil

Crawfish Boil

There’s more to February in the Crescent City besides beads, costumes and partying. February also happens to be the start of crawfish season in Louisiana, so expect to see these Cajun crustacean dishes pop up on all the restaurant menus and the locals getting together on the weekends for backyard boils with family and friends. Get in on these goodies while you can.

Try on a New Identity for the Day


Transform into the mysterious monsieur or belle of the ball with elaborately designed Mardi Gras masks at Maskarade. Wearing masks during Mardi Gras was a way to erase all social standing and class, if just for a few days a year. This allowed everyone, no matter their class, to mingle and party together without revealing their full identity. Even today, float riders in Mardi Gras parades are required by law to wear masks!

Don’t stop with your face – dressing up in costume is the Mardi Gras way. So, pack something wacky, weird, outrageous, fancy, and extravagant when wandering the festivities. Or, risk standing out from the fun crowd.

Savor the Costume Spectacle at the “Most Famous Drag Queen Contest in America”

Bourbon Street Awards

So, you didn’t spend a painstaking six months to hand-craft an outrageously intricate costume to wow Mardi Gras crowds?  Don’t worry, you can come and watch those who did! The Bourbon Street Awards showcase hundreds of people in elaborate, colorful and flamboyant costumes competing for top honors on the corner of St. Ann and Dumaine streets, right at the heart of NOLA’s LGBT district. This flashy spectacle has defied imaginations for more than 50 years!

Rock a Mardi Gras Ball

Endymion Ball | Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Once the parades are over, krewes continue the party with Mardi Gras balls. While most are private and invitation-only by the hosting krewe, a few krewes have opened their indoor party extravaganzas to the public. Just be prepared to pay $100+ for tickets and pack your tuxedo and floor-length gown. Held at the Mercedes Benz Superdome, the Endmyion Extravaganza includes pyrotechnics, lasers, confetti’s and big-name performers. Harry Connick Jr.’s krewe hosts the Orpheuscapade Ball at the Convention Center, a black tie, BYOB affair that includes a performance by Connick himself.

Make the most out of your Mardi Gras visit and experience all that the city has to offer, on or off the parade route!