Things to Do in New Orleans: Year at a Glance
Here’s a medley of annual events to look forward to throughout the year when you’re in New Orleans. Find a hotel and start making plans!
Photo by David Fary
January – March
Carnival season officially begins each year on January 6, known as Twelfth Night, or the Epiphany, and kicks off with three parades. Phunny Phorty Phellows board the St. Charles streetcar line Uptown at 7 p.m. and ride it to Canal Street and back, with toasts and revelry along the way.
In the French Quarter, the Krewe of Joan of Arc walking parade rolls at 7 p.m. from JAX Brewery and celebrates St. Joan’s birthday with medieval pageantry. Société Des Champs Elysée, Twelfth Night’s newest parade, traditionally rides the N. Rampart/St. Claude streetcar from Marigny to the CBD.
Though Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) always falls on, well, a Tuesday, the actual date of Mardi Gras Day changes every year. That’s because the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday is tied to the Catholic calendar, which itself incorporated elements of earlier, pre-Christian systems. Long story short: Fat Tuesday occurs exactly 47 days before Easter Sunday, which always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.
Confused? Look up future Mardi Gras dates here. You’ll see Mardi Gras always falls in February and March, specifically between February 3 through March 9. So if you visit during that window, you might arrive in time to catch one of the great spectacles of American folk culture.
We could write a whole trove of separate articles on how to do Mardi Gras – heck, we already did! Check here to get started.
New Orleans is home to one of the largest Vietnamese diaspora communities in the country. In Vietnamese culture, the Lunar New Year – Tết Nguyên Đán – is the largest festival of the year. The date of Tet celebrations is based on the lunar calendar, which differs from the contemporary Western calendar.
In New Orleans, the Mary Queen of Vietnam church in New Orleans East hosts an enormous public Tet celebration that includes games, lots of firecrackers, traditional dance, and a ridiculous amount of excellent Vietnamese street food.
Of course, Valentine’s Day isn’t unique to New Orleans, but the restaurants and general vibe of the city make for a uniquely romantic atmosphere. There are plenty of cozy spots to dine with a sweetie in New Orleans and in the French Quarter in particular.
Nothing bumps us over the midweek doldrums of hump day quite like a free music concert, which is exactly what’s on tap with Wednesday at the Square. Beginning on a second Wednesday in March, hundreds of revelers will pack into Lafayette Square to enjoy a free outdoor concert series sponsored by the Young Leadership Council of New Orleans.
The 10-concert music series runs through May, so if you miss one, there’s always the next week. Each concert usually features two performers, who start playing at 5 p.m. and wrap up at 8 p.m.
Wednesday at the Square is pet-friendly, as long as your furry friend is on a leash, but no outside food or beverages are allowed. All food and drink are sold via ticketed concessions, which keep Wednesday at the Square free. Concert-goers can also buy cool local art and handmade crafts from on-site vendors.
St. Patrick’s Day
It often comes as a surprise to first-time visitors to New Orleans that this city has a deep Irish heritage. This history is tied to the city’s status as a Catholic port of call, which was one of the main entry points for immigrants coming to the USA.
Because of this heritage, St. Patrick’s Day is an important holiday in New Orleans, both on the holiday itself and the weekends closest to that day. Several parades roll, including the Downtown Irish Club procession from the Ninth Ward to the Quarter.
The king of ‘em all is the Irish Channel Parade, where tipsy Irishmen clad in kilts trade paper carnations for kisses in between floats full of riders tossing beads and passing cabbages to the screaming crowds. For details and this year’s dates, check New Orleans St. Patrick’s Day Parades.
Hundreds of beers from large-scale breweries, microbreweries and homebrewers alike are tapped at this annual celebration of suds (March 18, 2023). Beer drinkers, dog lovers, and general party people flock to an event filled to the brim with good music, good food, and, of course, great beer.
Fun fact: Since 2009, over 20 new breweries have opened within the state, including several in New Orleans’ city limits: Port Orleans, New Orleans Lager and Ales (NOLA) Brewing, Courtyard Brewery, Second Line Brewing, Parleaux Beer Lab, and Urban South Brewery among them.
On select days throughout the year, the city’s Mardi Gras Indian tribes parade through the city, chanting, shouting and challenging each other to determine who is “the prettiest.” While Mardi Gras Indians have their set routes and parade areas, no one event packs the tribes into one public space like Super Sunday.
On Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), tribes gather at A.L. Davis Park, at the corner of Washington and LaSalle streets, and hit the streets of Central City around 1 p.m.
We can’t stress this enough: Be respectful if you go. Take pictures at a distance, and don’t get in the way of marching Indians or their friends, family and attached bands.
For visitors not familiar with this tradition: Mardi Gras Indians are African American New Orleanians who dress up (or in local lingo, “mask”) as stylized Native Americans. They take to the streets in fantastic costumes made of hand-stitched beads, feathers and sequins that cost thousands of dollars, weigh hundreds of pounds and require months of painstaking labor; no element of costume creation is automated.
The Tennessee Williams Literary Festival (March 22-26, 2023) celebrates the city’s love affair with the written word, as well as writers’ love affair with New Orleans. Notable authors will be in attendance, hosting seminars, workshops and lectures. Though only paid registrants can attend those events, anyone can participate in the annual “Stella” and “Stanley” shouting contest, and scream their lungs out recreating the iconic scene from A Streetcar Named Desire to appreciative crowds on Jackson Square.
April – May
These months sit in the sweet spot of New Orleans weather. It’s sunny and you can wear shorts on most days, but it’s (usually) not super hot yet. Come evening, when the thermometer starts to dip into the 70s, the air feels something like perfect.
This annual 10K run is one of the largest athletic events in New Orleans. Held on the Saturday before Easter Sunday each year, this year’s race falls on Saturday, April 8, 2023.
Partly because it is open to all, the Classic attracts a wide swathe of runners, from casual beginners to world-class pros. (Everyone must register to run).
The race is also notable for its route, which winds through some of the best cityscapes New Orleans has to offer. Runners take off from in front of the Superdome, continue through the French Quarter and the Tremé, then up Esplanade Avenue – one of the most beautiful streets in the nation – all the way to City Park.
French Quarter Festival is the largest free musical event on the New Orleans calendar, and according to organizers, the largest free music festival in the USA. As its name suggests, the entire festival takes place on stages throughout the French Quarter, where the streets run through one of the world’s great treasures of architectural preservation. This year’s FQF is scheduled for April 16-April 19, 2020, which tends to come with gorgeous weather.
New Orleans is one of the most Catholic cities in the country, and it celebrates Easter in a big way, although that celebration isn’t always as traditional as one might guess. Long story short: When the 40-day Lent period of fasting ends, New Orleans says, “OK, that was enough self-denial,” and throws three big parades, which roll this year on Sunday, April 9, 2023.
The first parade of the day, the French Quarter Easter Parade winds its way from the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel via classic convertible cars and mule-drawn carriages, eventually returning to the Omni.
This procession is followed by the French Quarter Easter Parade (formerly the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade named so for the late, great Bourbon Street entertainer Chris Owens, who also led the procession for decades). The parade also starts and ends at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel.
The final parade of the day is the Gay Easter Parade, which rolls from the Esplanade end of Rampart St. This family-friendly affair is a long-standing tradition of the New Orleans LGBTIQA+ community. The paraders ride in floats and horse-drawn carriages, rolling by many of the French Quarter’s most storied gay businesses. Be sure to bring the kids, as the Gay Easter Parade is famous for its generous throws and elaborate costuming.
The biggest music festival in the best music city in the USA, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is one of the marquee events on the annual calendar. Every year, on the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May, the city hosts hundreds of bands and thousands of tourists, who stream into the Fairgrounds from around the world.
Dozens of food vendors serve up the best of local cuisine, while artisans create and sell Louisiana crafts. On the days between the two festival weekends, some of the world’s great musicians will be partying (and often, playing) at gigs all around the city.
Jazz Fest is a giant event, but once you find your favorite stage and the preferred food vendor, and sit down with a cold drink and the breeze blowing across the Fairgrounds, it can also be very intimate – a means of annually connecting to New Orleans at a deep level. Be sure to pack a hat, sunscreen and rain gear, because that warm spring sunshine can get mighty hot, and it’s a rare Jazz Fest that isn’t muddied by at least one shower.
This year’s festival opens on Thursday, April 28, 2023, and runs through Sunday, May 7, 2023.
The Bayou Boogaloo (May 19-21, 2023) has become as much a fixture on the festival calendar as its Mid-City neighbor, Jazz Fest, and the city’s street-party season opener, French Quarter Fest. What started as a gathering of a few hundred festival diehards has grown into a massive event that attracts tens of thousands of guests.
Bayou Boogaloo is no longer free, but its bucolic setting as a floating party, with its flotillas of inflatables, paddle boats and kayaks, gives the three-day festival its own unique character, while its stellar lineup of local and visiting musical artists rivals those offered by its much-bigger older siblings. So does its ever-growing menu of fest-worthy food and drink.
June – August
Summer in New Orleans can be pretty tough to endure, but we’ve got a slate of festivals that will either cool you off, or at least keep your mind off the heat.
The annual New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (June 7-11, 2023) provides local and visiting epicureans and hobbyists an extended weekend of libations and culinary indulgence in a style that is uniquely New Orleans. NOWFE is designed to encourage participation in the full gamut of food and wine-centered experiences. The event offerings include package rates, activities, and dinners with something at nearly every price point with attire ranging from costumed to cocktail depending on the event and venue.
New Orleans loves to eat – and sometimes, its citizens live to eat. There were, at last count, over 17 James Beard award-winning restaurants in New Orleans, and many tourists and locals like to sample these spots during Restaurant Week New Orleans. Participating restaurants include James Beard luminaries like Bayona and Commander’s Palace, which offer set-course menus at a discount (often, a deep discount). The 2023 dates are June 19-25, 2023.
New Orleans celebrates July 4 like anywhere else in America, and also, with a flavor all her own. Of course, there will be fireworks and loud music, but the pretty lights pop off over the Mississippi River. There are plenty of great spots to watch the display, but a good French Quarter balcony is one of the most desired viewing spots in the city. You can also grab excellent vantage points along the Mississippi shoreline in the French Quarter, Marigny and Bywater, or across the river in Algiers Point.
There’s a lot to love about ESSENCE Festival, the largest annual African American music and culture event in the world. It brings a star-studded lineup of musical artists to a city already well-known for its gatherings of world-class musicians.
Beyond the marquee concerts that are held each night, ESSENCE Fest’s free daytime experiences include motivational seminars, beauty and style presentations, celebrity interviews, cooking demonstrations with top chefs, and lots more. Traditionally held over the long 4th of July holiday weekend, ESSENCE Festival is scheduled for June 29 – July 3, 2023.
Plenty of people know that the Running of the Bulls is a major event in the Spanish tourism calendar, but not as many folks realize New Orleans hosts its own bull run. Except here, the “bulls” are roller derby girls who whack the participants – dressed all in white with red scarves and handkerchiefs – with wiffle bats. Good times!
The actual “bull run,” which now features thousands of participants, starts at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 15, 2023 (location TBA). But the folks at NOLA Bulls have a full slate of events lined up throughout the weekend of July 14-16, 2023. Runners must register and buy tickets to participate in the Bull Run, with all proceeds from the event going to charity.
Some of the world’s most famous cocktails were invented in this city: the Sazerac, Brandy Milk Punch, and Ramos Gin Fizz, to name a few. Having a drink in New Orleans isn’t just fun – it’s also a celebration of our unique history.
Still, New Orleans can’t just let a cultural touchstone lay without holding a festival: Tales of the Cocktail, a celebration of mixed drinks in all of their vast diversity. With tasting rooms and seminars held throughout the Quarter, Tales draws thousands of bar owners, distillers, mixologists, authors, and tastemakers who are interested in networking, sharing knowledge and showing off their skills. This year’s event runs from July 23-28, 2023.
Coolinary is simple: Dozens of participating restaurants offer prix fixe menus at a discount during the dog days of summer throughout the month of August. Sometimes, a significant discount. Interested? Just check out the Coolinary website and see what restaurants are participating (and for which meals; some spots, for example, only offer a Coolinary menu during lunch). You don’t have to do anything else but show up and get fed.
An initiative from the folks at French Quarter Festivals, Satchmo SummerFest is a celebration of the city’s most famous musical son – Louis Armstrong, nicknamed “Satchmo” – and New Orleans music in general. As New Orleans festivals go, this one is pretty beloved; it’s family-friendly, kicks off within the French Quarter, and the lineup is truly local.
More than almost any other festival in this city of festivals, this one feels like a real New Orleans street party, and should definitely not be missed if you’re in town. Held the first weekend of every August, this year’s Satchmo SummerFest runs on August 5-6, 2023.
Fidelity Bank White Linen Night
Back in the days before air conditioning, New Orleanians kept cool and looked fresh in the face of August swelter by wearing light-colored linen clothing. In order to boost gallery attendance and showcase local summer fashion, White Linen Night was created. Held the first Saturday of every August, it’s since become a gala see-and-be-scene party.
This year, art galleries and restaurants in the Warehouse District will throw their doors open for a night of wine, art perusing, dining, and more wine on August 5, 2023. There’s also a free block party between the 300 and 700 blocks of the gallery-heavy Julia Street, with food and cocktail vendors and several stages of live music.
Probably the last thing any sane human being wants to do in the midst of a New Orleans August is run. Then again, the folks involved with the New Orleans Hash House Harriers (NOH3) have always been a little crazy; they’re a “drinking club with a running problem.”
Held the second Saturday of August, the Red Dress Run is your chance to see a bunch of locals of all genders don red frocks and go careening through the city on a madcap 2-3 mile course, kept secret until the day of the event. Registration for this year’s event, on August 11, 2023, opens in April, with all proceeds going to local charities.
The more rebellious sibling to White Linen Night, Dirty Linen is an evening of open galleries, but in this case, the galleries are located in the French Quarter along Royal Street. The vibe is a little looser and more counterculture, especially when Red Dress stragglers hit Dirty Linen to enjoy the wine gallery owners pour freely. Peruse art, grab a bite from food trucks, hit the bars for a cocktail, and enjoy an unbridled celebration of the creativity of the city.
September – December
Fall and winter bring cooling temperatures and a slate of events closely associated with the New Orleans cultural community.
Held over Labor Day weekend, New Orleans’ largest LGBTIQA+ event is a citywide party that celebrates the huge impact the local gay and lesbian community has on the city at large. The party kicks off within the Quarter on Thursday, August 32, 2023, and picks up steam throughout the weekend, spreading across New Orleans as more and more guests swoop into town for several days of… well, as the title says, decadence (including block parties and a parade).
This is one of our favorite neighborhood parties in a city that knows how to throw a neighborhood party. Held in October (October 21, 2023), the event takes over the streets of the oldest African American neighborhood in the country.
Centered around the historic St. Augustine Church, the oldest African-American Catholic church in the United States, the festival celebrates a culture that’s produced some of the city’s most talented musicians, many of whom are among the event’s performers.
The family-friendly festival is free, but suggested donations help raise money for church repairs and historic neighborhood landmarks, like the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.
Halloween in New Orleans is sort of like Halloween in your home city but multiplied by a few hundred degrees of awesome. We’re a city that likes to costume and make mischief, and if you’re going to miss Mardi Gras, you can get a taste of the chaos and costuming of that holiday – just head to the French Quarter and the Marigny on the Saturday night before Halloween.
Conveniently, this is also the evening of the Krewe of Boo parade (Saturday, October 21, 2023), which rolls from Marigny into the Decatur end of the Quarter and features a fine lineup of spooky floats and excellent throws.
Oak Street Po-Boy Festival
There is a po-boy for every budget and palate in New Orleans at this annual fest, typically held on the first Sunday in November between the 8100 and 8800 blocks of Oak Street in the Carrollton neighborhood. About 35 vendors will present more food that you could shake your fork at, while competing in several Best Of categories, with over 50 varieties of the delicious sandwich alone. Plus beer, specialty cocktails, and desserts.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation puts on plenty of events in New Orleans, but the Creole Gumbo Festival, combined in recent years with the Congo Square Rhythms Festival, is the perennial favorite. It’s not just a celebration of the city’s great contribution to the genre of stew; it’s a party that commemorates great music and culture – and the place (the Tremé) – that produced the dish. Held at Louis Armstrong Park (March 25-26, 2023), this free weekend festival features a stellar lineup of some of the city’s finest musicians. Really, you have no excuse not to attend.
You might wonder what holiday it really is on Thanksgiving weekend, when the Tigers of Grambling State meet the Jaguars of Southern University for the annual Bayou Classic in New Orleans. Each year, football crashes into the holidays for a four-day feast of events, starting with a massive Thanksgiving parade from the Superdome to the French Market, featuring some of the country’s absolute best marching bands.
Christmas in New Orleans
There’s a whole slew of events that accompany Christmastime in the Crescent City, from bonfires on the Algiers levees to City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks to Reveillon menus at some of the city’s classic Creole restaurants. But surely one of the most pleasurable events to be had during a New Orleans December is simply strolling through the French Quarter, marveling at the inevitably awesome light displays that are hung from wrought iron fences and elegant European-style balconies.
During the second weekend of December (December 7-10, 2023), the LUNA Fête light show illuminates the Convention Center, located a quick walk away from the Quarter. The annual large-scale light and sound installations are breathtaking, and the fest is free and family-friendly.
The annual NOLA ChristmasFest is the only indoor Christmas festival in the area. It takes place at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, starting in the third week of December and wrapping on New Year’s Eve.
Convention Center Boulevard is draped and dripping in holiday decorations with thousands of lights synced to holiday music, and the Convention Center itself is packed with attractions like giant slides, inflatables and rides. The focal point of the festival is New Orleans’ only ice-skating rink, which measures a whopping 52 x 140 feet.
This beloved New Orleans tradition has been around for over 30 years. It’s a dazzling display of holiday lights scattered throughout the 25 acres of the City Park, including the Botanical Garden, Storyland, and Carousel Gardens Amusement Park.
Stroll through the magical grounds swathed in hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights, take a train ride or a holiday picture by the iconic Mr. Bingle, listen to the caroling, do some holiday shopping, or ride the historic carousel.
The event typically opens on Thanksgiving weekend and runs through January 1.
From Dick Clark Rockin’ New Year’s Eve near the historic JAX Brewery, featuring a live fleur-de-lis drop at midnight to the countdown on Jackson Square (New Orleans’ version of the Times Square NYE party), it’s no surprise that New Orleans celebrates New Year’s Eve in a big way. Top it off with the fireworks over the Mississippi River and quite a few balcony bashes on Bourbon Street, and you’ve got yourself a night of revelry, New Orleans style.
If you’re planning to visit New Orleans anytime throughout the year, be sure to check out our resource for French Quarter Hotels.