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Things to Do in New Orleans: Year at a Glance

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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!

Experience Mardi Gras Like a Local
Photo by David Fary

January – March

Twelfth Night
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. But in 2020, revelers will “stroll instead of roll” to the Elysian Fields stop at 7:30 p.m., then head back to Carnaval Lounge for their Twelfth Night Ball.

Mardi Gras
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. This year, Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, February 25, 2020. We could write a whole trove of separate articles on how to do Mardi Gras – heck, we already did! Check here and here to get started.

Tet Fest
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. 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. The date of Tet celebrations is based off of the lunar calendar, which differs from the contemporary Western calendar. This year, Tet Fest runs from February 7-9, 2020. Check the Mary Queen of Vietnam Facebook page for updates.

Valentine’s Day
Of course, Valentine’s Day isn’t unique to New Orleans, but the restaurants and general vibe of the city makes 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.

BUKU Music + Art Project
A mere nine years old in 2020, BUKU has already established itself in the firmament of can’t-miss New Orleans festivals. It’s the youngest major musical event in town and attracts hordes of millennials and under-30s.

Fans of any age can enjoy the shows if they groove to the cutting-edge sounds BUKU loves: electronica, EDM, hip-hop and indie music. Basically, it’s a curated underground house party experience with a ton of sweet art installations that kicks off in the surreal environment of Mardi Gras World. Join this year’s BUKU party on Friday, March 20 and Saturday, March 21, 2020.

Wednesday at the Square
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 Wednesday, March 11, 2020, 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 13, 2020, 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 around 7:30 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 is 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 March 17 itself and the weekends closest to that day. Numerous parades roll, including a Downtown Irish Club procession from the Ninth Ward to the Quarter, which also boasts its own Molly’s at the Market parade (be sure to get a Bailey’s iced coffee). King of ‘em all is the infamous 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.

Super Sunday
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 the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), which falls on Sunday, March 15, 2020 this year, 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.

There’s more background on this fascinating subject here, or at the Backstreet Cultural Museum in the historic Tremé neighborhood.

New Orleans Wine & Food Experience
The annual New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (March 18-22, 2020) 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.

Tennessee Williams Literary Festival
The Tennessee Williams Literary Festival (March 25-29, 2020) 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.

Crescent City Classic
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 11, 2020. 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 Jackson Square, 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.

Orleans has to offer. Runners take off from Jackson Square, run 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.

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.

French Quarter Fest
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.

Easter Parades
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 12, 2020.

The first parade of the day begins before Easter Mass services have even begun. Starting at 9:45 a.m., the Historic French Quarter Easter Parade winds its way from Antoine’s Restaurant to St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square via classic convertible cars and mule-drawn carriages.

This procession is followed by the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade, featuring the Crescent City’s own grande dame diva of singing, dancing, and general fabulousness, Chris Owens. She will proceed, along with a small army of attendants, tossing beads and plush bunnies from atop a float built for a queen, rolling from Canal and Bourbon to her nightclub and performance venue at 500 Bourbon Street.

The final parade of the day is the Gay Easter Parade, which rolls at 4:30 p.m. from the Esplanade end of Rampart St. This family-friendly affair is a long-standing tradition of the New Orleans LGBT 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.

Jazz Fest
The biggest musical 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 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.

Jazz Fest celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019, when it added an extra day to its schedule. This year’s festival opens on Thursday, April 23, 2020, and runs through Sunday, May 3, 2020.

Bayou Boogaloo
The Bayou Boogaloo (May 15-17, 2020) 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 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.


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.

Louisiana Cajun Zydeco Festival
Visitors to Louisiana often assume Cajun people, music and food exist across the state, but in fact, the true Cajun heartland lays in Acadiana, which is located about three hours west of New Orleans proper. Thus, it’s kind of a treat when the city gets to host a party that celebrates the culture of the country’s largest French-speaking community. Presented by the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, the Cajun Zydeco Festival is a free weekend event in held in late June at Louis Armstrong Park (2020 dates TBA).

Independence Day
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’s 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.

Essence Festival
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 worldclass 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 celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019 and is scheduled for July 1-5, 2020.

San Fermin in Nueva Orleans
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 July 11, 2020 (exact location
TBA). But the folks at NOLA Bulls have a full slate of events lined up throughout the weekend of July 10-12, 2020. Runners are asked to register and buy tickets to participate in the Bull Run, with all proceeds from the event going to charity.

Tales of the Cocktail
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 21-26, 2020.

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.

Satchmo SummerFest
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 July 31-August 2, 2020.

Hancock Whitney 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, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019. 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 1, 2020. 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.

Red Dress Run
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 8, 2020, opens in April, with all proceeds going to local charities.

Dirty Linen Night
The more rebellious sibling to White Linen Night, Dirty Linen celebrates its 20th anniversary on August 8, 2020. It’s also 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.

Southern Decadence
Held over Labor Day weekend, New Orleans’ largest LGBT 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, September 3, 2020, and picks up steam throughout 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).

Tremé Fall Festival
This is one of our favorite neighborhood parties in a city that knows how to throw a neighborhood party. Held the first Saturday in October (October 3, 2020), 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.

Restaurant Week New Orleans
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). Held in mid-September, the 2020 dates are TBA.

Hundreds of beers from large-scale breweries, microbreweries and homebrewers alike are tapped at this annual celebration of suds, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in September, 2019. (2020 dates TBA). 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.

Art for Art’s Sake
Since 1980, Art for Art’s Sake has grown and into a citywide phenomenon. Held the first Saturday in October (October 3, 2020), it’s a night when all of the city’s galleries open their doors and put on major shows. An estimated 30,000-plus guests will sip wine and cocktails as they saunter between big openings at Julia Street galleries like Arthur Roger, George Schmidt, and Jonathan Ferrara. A few blocks away, galleries, restaurants and shops on Magazine Street also open their doors for the browsing and dining pleasure of the masses.

Crescent City Blues & BBQ
Presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, this nationally-renowned blues festival always sports an eclectic lineup of artists, consistently booking a mix of young talent alongside seasoned blues veterans. And that’s before you even consider the wide variety of BBQ vendors that surround Lafayette Square throughout the third weekend of October (October 16-18, 2020). The central location of the event makes it an easy walk from the CBD or French Quarter.

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 24, 2020), 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 a Saturday in early November between the 8100 and 8800 blocks of Oak Street in the Carrollton neighborhood. (2020 dates TBA). 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.

Boudin, Bourbon and Beer
Boudin, Bourbon and Beer is one of the more enduring event legacies chef Emeril Lagasse has given New Orleans. The one-night food and drink festival has cigars, Abita beer in copious quantities, brown liquor courtesy of Buffalo Trace, lots of live music, and – surprise! – boudin prepared by a gallery of some of the city’s top chefs. Held in early November (2020 date TBA).

Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation puts on plenty of events in New Orleans, but the Creole Gumbo Festival is a 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 the creolized culture – and place (the Tremé) – that produced the dish. Held in mid-November at Louis Armstrong Park (2020 dates TBA), this free weekend festival features a stellar lineup of some of the city’s finest musicians. Really, you have no excuse not to attend.

Bayou Classic
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, the LUNA Fête light show illuminates part of the New Orleans Central Business District, on and around the Lafayette Square, 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.

NOLA ChristmasFest
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 the New Orleans’ only ice-skating rink, which measures a whopping 52 x 140 feet.

Celebration in the Oaks
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 (though it closes for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day until 6 p.m. and New Year’s Eve.)

New Year’s Eve
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.