Feb 15, 2023 - Things to Do

Mardi Gras returns: Our guide to a last-minute New Orleans road trip

women dressed in gold-colored gowns during a parade

The 2023 Krewe du Kanaval parade on Feb. 11 was part of the build-up to a big Mardi Gras week in New Orleans. Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images

The countdown to Mardi Gras Day on Feb. 21 is in single digits. The Carnival season reaches a fever pitch this weekend, with multiple daily parades throughout New Orleans beginning Wednesday.

Why it matters: Major parades will run the full length of their routes for the first time since 2020, meaning it's back to the usual shenanigans for the greatest free show on Earth.  

  • But it doesn’t come easy (for the city, anyway). The New Orleans Police Department doesn’t have a deep enough roster for its usual crowd-control requirements, so the city has imported law enforcement from other state municipalities.

How to party like a local: Axios has landed in New Orleans, with a new Local newsletter starting there soon. Until then, here are the best tips for an unforgettable last-minute Mardi Gras, from born-and-raised New Orleans reporter Chelsea Brasted. 

Getting there: Hit the road from Houston and you're looking at six hours in the car.

  • Traveling on a weekday? Plan to arrive before 3pm to avoid the worst traffic as parade floats and after-school and after-work travel combine.

Where to stay

Some hotels still have availability for this weekend, but book ASAP. For the best walkability, stick to neighborhoods like the CBD and Warehouse District.

  • If you're booking a short-term rental, look for a permit number before finalizing your reservation, which indicates the host has verified their listing is up to city regulations. (This is a hot-button issue here.)
  • A few options we found in those neighborhoods include the Hyatt Regency, the Sheraton New Orleans on Canal Street and the JW Marriott

What to wear: Let your freak flag fly. We highly encourage costumes and outlandish 'fits. Wigs, glitter, sequins, wacky colors and patterns — let 'em rip. 

parade-goers at Mardi Gras reach for items tossed from floats
Parade-goers reach for a signature hand-decorated coconut as the 1,500 members of the Krewe of Zulu made their way down St. Charles Avenue during the 2022 Mardi Gras. Photo: Michael DeMocker/Getty Images

What to eat

Carnival began Jan. 6, so it's a bit late in the game for dining reservations, but experts know it's best to avoid making firm plans during Mardi Gras anyway. You can really only have good intentions, because navigating the city can be tough when most of it is partying in the streets.

a float makes its way down the street at a Mardi Gras parade 2022
The Kings Jester float rolls down St. Charles Avenue on Mardi Gras Day 2022. Photo: Michael DeMocker/Getty Images

Do whatcha wanna

Mardi Gras can be as family-friendly as you'd like it to be. It just depends on where — and how — you spend your time. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Kid-friendly fun: Stick to daytime parades and set up camp on the neutral ground (as medians are known here) Uptown. The local paper has more on the basics.
  • Adults-only: Think late nights on Bourbon Street or singing karaoke at Kajun's Pub.
  • LGBTQ+: Get tickets to Choke Hole, the drag queen wrestling show, or the wildly artistic Dad's Ball. Find Le Societe de Sainte Anne on Mardi Gras Day.
  • Black History: Celebrate African-American traditions by watching Black Masking Indians step out on Mardi Gras in ostentatious and beautiful hand-beaded suits, or see the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade through the city.

Don't ... spend the weekend in jail: That means no public urination, don't cut across parades through the middle of bands, dance teams or between floats, and really don't touch a police horse without permission.

The bottom line: New Orleans is at its brightest and most beautiful this week. Just remember: This is a real city with real people who carry out real lives, so enjoy our playground, but respect our traditions. Be patient with traffic. Tip your servers. And try to plan ahead next year. 

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