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How to get ready for Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Fancy going to one of the largest carnivals the world has to offer? Well, the annual Mardi Gras carnival in New Orleans, USA is the place for you! Beat the winter blues, gather your sequins and read our guide before you jet off!

What is Mardi Gras?

Well, it's French for 'Fat Tuesday' and refers to the Tuesday that falls before Lent commences – also known as Shrove Tuesday. People traditionally prepared to fast during Lent by eating lots of tasty food. With particular emphasis on the last day – hence 'Fat Tuesday'!

Though the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans originated from the Christian faith, it’s flourished into a huge festival in its own right.

The biggest parade happens on Mardi Gras day. The exact date can fall anywhere between 3rd February to 10th March.

Mardi Gras 2019 falls on Tuesday, 5th March 2019.

What do I need?

First things first, you'll need to apply for an ESTA to enter the USA. ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It's valid for two years and has been a requirement since 2010 to pass through US immigration. In the case that you already have a US visa issued by the US embassy, you won't need an ESTA so you're all set to go!

Apart from that, be sure to pack your sunblock, comfortable shoes and don’t forget those sequins!

What should I do at Mardi Gras?

Catch some beads

During Mardi Gras, krewes (pronounced ‘crews’) put on different parades and balls you can go along to. Join the party to watch parades of krewes float down the streets of New Orleans. Krewes to watch out for are the Zulu, Rex, Bacchus and Endymion. Be ready to catch the beads, jewels and many treasures thrown from the floats. This tradition stems back to the 19th century when the carnival king threw gems and rings to his 'loyal subjects'.

Try a King cake

You. Must. Try. King. Cake. It's a delicious brioche style dough, sprinkled with sugar and baked with a figurine of a baby inside. Wait, we can explain! Originally, the baby symbolised baby Jesus. Today, it represents luck and prosperity for whoever finds it in their slice.

Finders also must buy the king cake or host the party next year – seems fair.

Visit the Mardi Gras Museum

For some quiet time, head to the museum to learn more about the history of the festivities. The Mardi Gras museum is located in Arnaud's Restaurant. It's home to vintage Mardi Gras memorabilia including costumes, masks, and photos. It's free to the public and opens during the restaurant’s open hours so you can grab a bite to eat too.

What else should I explore in New Orleans?

Here are a few things you need to experience during your stay in New Orleans – Mardi or no Mardi!

Take a Swamp Tour

Take a break from the city parade and check out the wildlife in the nearby swamps and bayous. Many tour operators in New Orleans give tourists a chance to see wild boar, eagles and alligators. Who knows what you’ll find lurking in the murky waters!

Jam in Jackson Square

The French Quarter’s beating heart, also known as Jackson Square is a must-see city attraction. The picturesque park is home to the city’s creatives. Artists, musicians and performers gather from sunrise to sunset to keep the crowds entertained. From jazz to improv – the beautiful park mixes the history and talent that makes New Orleans the place to be.

Steam along the mighty Mississippi

There's no better way to see the city than on a steamboat cruise along the mighty Mississippi river. Board NATCHEZ, the historic stern-wheeled steamboat. Spend your afternoon aboard for lunch, stunning views and smooth symphonies from live jazz bands.

Visit beautiful houses and cemeteries

You’ve got to visit the Garden District – wander the oak-lined streets admiring the beautiful, Southern-style mansions. Drop by the grand Lafayette Cemetery, where you can get guided tours.

Where should I eat?

Head to the fancy dining hotspot Commander’s Palace for refined Creole food or Louisiana-style restaurant Atchafalaya for relaxed bayou dishes.

Amble through Lower Garden District and stop in at Mojo Coffee House. It's the perfect spot to soak in all the history of the area with delicious baked goods and rich coffee.

Find some time to experience beignets (like doughnuts but better!) at the famous Cafe Du Monde. It's also a great spot to look out over the working Mississippi.

If you’re a foodie make sure you don’t miss typical Louisiana eats, like po’ boys, spicy gumbo, jambalaya and the irresistible bananas foster.

Fact file

  • Time to fly direct from Heathrow: 10hr 10min approx.
  • Currency: Dollars

Helpful links:

The Official Mardi Gras website

WWL Mardi Gras Parade Tracker

Mardi Gras Parade Schedule 2019

New Orleans Pass

TripSavvy – best New Orleans Swamp tours

Steamboat Natchez Jazz Cruise

Can't wait to get going? Don’t forget your parking!

With rates starting from as little as £4.60 a day*, our parking at Heathrow couldn't be simpler. All our parking spaces are right at Heathrow Airport, with just a short walk or transfer to your terminal. So that means the only hard part of your holiday will be choosing where to go first.

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