The Ultimate French Quarter Guide to Christmas in New Orleans
During the holiday season in New Orleans, the city’s predilection for spectacle goes into overdrive. Here are some of the sights and shows that make for an unforgettable December visit, plus our picks on where to eat, including some of the best Reveillon dinners going on in the city.
What to See
Running of the Santas — This annual event brings a pack of St. Nicholi (that’s a word, right?) to the Warehouse District, running from the “South Pole” (Manning’s Sports Bar & Grill) to the “North Pole” (Generations Hall). The boozy run is followed by the open bar and costume contest at Generations Hall. This year, the event falls on Sunday, December 10, 2023 (2-11 p.m.)
St. Louis Cathedral Concerts — Throughout the month, some of the city’s greatest musicians, representing genres as varied as jazz, indie folk, zydeco, and gospel, put on shows in St. Louis Cathedral, situated in the heart of Jackson Square. These free holiday concerts are open to the public and generally last for about an hour.
Krewe of Krampus — Do you have a thing for the scary monster creatures from the Central European forests? Of course you do. Then you might want to check out the Krewe of Krampus parade through the Bywater (on Sunday, December 3, 2023). The parade starts at 7 p.m. on the corner of Royal and Lesseps streets by Parleaux Beer Lab, and ends at Bratz Y’All! (617-B Piety Street). Krampus and his army of mischief will be handing out lumps of coal and, most likely, behaving badly. New Orleans loves its counterculture holiday traditions!
Miracle on Fulton Street — The Fulton Street pedestrian corridor is transformed into a winter wonderland, whether the temperature is 40 degrees or in the mid-70s (not unheard of in this city in December). Light shows, enormous gingerbread displays, festive drinks, and general holiday illumination and goodwill will be present in enormous quantities. The event is free and open through December 26, 2023.
LUNA Fête — During the weekend of December 7-10, 2023, the LUNA Fête light show will illuminate the Convention Center, located within walking distance from the Quarter. The annual large-scale light and sound installations are breathtaking, and the fest is free and family-friendly.
Christmas Eve Bonfires — On December 24 every year, bonfires will illuminate the levees on the opposite side of the Mississippi River. This is a Christmas tradition that likely dates back centuries; for more information on where to find the bonfires, contact your hotel concierge.
Holiday Concerts at St. Augustine Church — One of the city’s oldest African American churches, located in the heart of the historic Tremé neighborhood, the gorgeous St. Augustine Church will host a few holiday concerts throughout the month of December. Feel the spirit at this intimate congregation, and enjoy music in the fantastic interior of this cornerstone of local heritage.
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Facebook
What to Do
The holidays are a busy time of year anywhere, but in New Orleans, our events calendar becomes particularly packed with festive things.
Jackson Square caroling — Every year, the Patio Planters organization pulls together a choral extravaganza in Jackson Square, located at the heart of the historical French Quarter. Hundreds of candles illuminate the square as the annual caroling event renews itself. Song sheets and candles will be provided; the gates open at 6:30 p.m. and singing starts at 7 p.m., but we highly suggest you arrive early, as this is a very popular event (held on Sunday, December 17, 2023, this year).
Ice skating — Throughout December, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center will be decked out with a million Christmas lights for NOLA Christmasfest, which will host an ice skating rink. We don’t often get to strap on skates in New Orleans, so expect to see a ton of locals sliding, slipping, and maybe even showing off some considerable skills on the all-too-rare ice.
Walk the French Quarter — The holiday light displays in the French Quarter are nothing short of magical. We’d recommend strolling Royal Street and Chartres Street for the best lights. It gets dark by 6 p.m., which is a perfect time to take in a brisk walk and a good dinner.
Explore New Orleans residential architecture — It’s always fun to explore the different architectural styles of New Orleans’ many historical and heritage residences. It’s even more fun to do so when those houses are decked out in all of their December finery. As such, try not to miss out on the annual Holiday Home Tour, conducted by the Preservation Resource Center (2023 date TBA).
What to Eat
The Christmas King Cake is, truly, a brilliant invention, and the one that gives us King Cake in the season before Carnival. Because folks, you can never get enough King Cake. You can find Christmas King Cake at any local grocery or convenience store.
Derived from the French word for “awakening,” Reveillon originally was a meal served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve in Creole households. Today, the tradition has been refashioned into elaborate set-course meals served at some of the city’s finest eating establishments.
Some of the best Reveillon prix fixe dinners going on in the city include:
- Arnaud’s (813 Bienville Street)
- Bayona (430 Dauphine Street)
- Broussard’s (819 Conti Street)
- Court of Two Sisters (613 Royal Street)
- Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse (716 Iberville Street)
- Gabrielle Restaurant (2441 Orleans Avenue)
- Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon Street)
- Luke (333 St Charles Avenue)
- Muriel’s Jackson Square (801 Chartres Street)
- Palace Café (605 Canal Street)
- Rib Room (621 St. Louis Street)
- Sylvain (625 Chartres Street)
- Tujague’s (823 Decatur Street)
For more on the history, tradition, and resurrection of the Reveillon, head here.
What to Drink
If you’re visiting from up north, you may be a little bemused by how much New Orleanians bundle up on a “cold” 60-degree day, but hey, the experience of the weather is a relative. What should be recognized as a universal good thing is liquid ways of warming up during the New Orleans winter.
If you need a pick-me-up that also happens to act as an internal hot blanket, pick up a steaming café au lait from Envie Espresso Bar & Cafe, which makes some of the finest coffee in the French Quarter. If you need a pick-me-up that will set you off in a not-quite-caffeinated but still pretty fun fashion, opt for a hot cocktail. New Orleanians tend to love traditional holiday drinks like mulled wine and hot buttered rum (the local version of the latter drink is always made with particular decadence).
Each year local bartenders create special holiday sippers to celebrate Reveillon on the Rocks. You can read about our favorite choices as we update them each year here. Good seasonal cocktails will also be on the menu at many of the area’s best cocktail bars, including Bar Tonique and Cane & Table, but even at casual Quarter dives, you’ll likely be able to score a nice frothy glass of “strong” eggnog — maybe not a hot drink per se, but sure to warm you up nonetheless.
Rudolph is great and all, but in South Louisiana, Christmas really calls for an alligator. Gaston the Gator joins Papa Noel for Cajun Holiday Tea with Papa Noel on the Paddlewheeler Creole Queen family-friendly outing. There’s holiday tea, face painting, costumed characters, and magic. (2023 dates TBA.)
The most decadent after-dinner drink in New Orleans — if not in the world, honestly — is café brûlot, a ridiculous concoction assembled from dark coffee, orange peel, lemon peel, cognac, brandy, cloves, cinnamon, sugar, and big old fireball. We’re not kidding: Café brûlot is made tableside by knowledgeable wait staff who put on what is frankly one of the great performances of gastronomic theater.
The end result is a citrusy, pleasantly spicy, very strong coffee drink that paradoxically works to knock you out and lift your spirits. It’s not necessarily a Christmas cocktail, but the flavor and look of the drink is très yuletide. You can find this drink at old-line restaurants like Antoine’s, Arnaud’s and Galatoire’s. This crowd pleaser is also typically part of the Reveillon menu at the Gumbo Shop.
Photo courtesy of Trashy Diva
Where to Shop
If you’re looking for unique gifts, the French Quarter is full of small shops and boutiques that simply cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Start at the French Market where you will find over six blocks of shopping with a wide assortment of gifts including spices, candy, cookbooks, one-of-a-kind art, fashion accessories, and home decor items.
Stroll down Royal Street, particularly the pedestrian mall part, to find the right souvenir or keepsake for a loved one. Royal Street (and to a somewhat lesser degree, Chartres Street) is filled with art galleries and antique stores, each business curated by creative professionals who impart their own unique aesthetic vision onto their goods.
Need a wig? Hey, we all need wigs, but we particularly need fabulously crafted wigs that represent the individual tastes of their creators and eventual owners — which is why we get the best wigs, and all sorts of other forms of beautiful accouterment, at Fifi Mahony’s.
Retro dresses and vintage wear from the ‘40s and ‘50s are pretty much a fashion lock, and if you agree — c’mon, you know you’d look right in that belted polka dot number — head to Trashy Diva, where fearless female fashion is the stock in trade.
Each December, the Arts Market of New Orleans holds its monthly public market at Palmer Park — an excellent opportunity to purchase a unique, locally made New Orleans gift. (2023 dates TBA.)
Also, check out the annual Piety Market at Beanlandia holiday market at 3300 Royal Street in Bywater. This market regularly attracts some of the city’s most creative artists and theater veterans, who come together to provide an utterly unique showcase of bohemian bric-a-brac. (2023 dates TBA.)
Finally, don’t forget that there’s a store in the French Quarter that is solely dedicated to Christmas year-round. Santa’s Quarters is where it’s basically Christmas all day, every day.
Photo courtesy of Prince Conti Hotel
Where to Stay
During the holidays in New Orleans, many of the city’s Christmas festivities understandably revolve around the French Quarter. As such, if you want to be close to the holiday spirit, it makes sense to book accommodation where the best of the Quarter is at your fingertips.
The French Market Inn is positioned on Decatur Street, just blocks from Jackson Square, the lively upper end of Bourbon Street, and the busy thoroughfare that is Canal Street. Hotel St. Marie, on Toulouse Street, is located in the heart of the French Quarter right around the corner from some of the busiest blocks of Bourbon Street.
Between Dauphine and Bourbon streets, Prince Conti Hotel is positioned just a few blocks from the beginning of the Royal Street pedestrian area, an area that’s brilliant for slow strolling and shopping. And just around the corner from Jackson Square, Place d’Armes has easy access to both the nightlife of Bourbon Street and the galleries and shops of Royal and Chartres streets.