Mardi Gras Must-Dos While in NOLA

Mardi Gras—French for Fat Tuesday—falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. A centuries-old festival, Mardi Gras first took place in New Orleans on March 3, 1699 when French explorers came to present-day New Orleans, Louisiana (now termed NOLA) and held a modest celebration. However, since the first celebration, Mardi Gras has turned into a weeks-long festival complete with parades, street parties, and other lavish events. In Louisiana Mardi Gras is even a legal holiday so people can overindulge before giving up a vice (or two) for the forty days of Lent.

While it wasn’t during the official holiday of Fat Tuesday, I did visit New Orleans as its townspeople started ramping up for the Mardi Gras festivities ten days earlier, which happened to fall on the weekend of my birthday—February 16. Never had I seen so much excess: the alcohol was flowing freely, and no one was stingy about throwing purple, gold and green beads—it was one big party that only got bigger as the weekend progressed. I noticed it can be easy to get caught up in the festivities and miss some of the unique qualities that make New Orleans, specifically the French Quarter, one of the most visited placed in the world. I’m a planner though so I was not going to let that happen.

Classic New Orleans–style Mardi Gras decorations.

Steeped in a rich culture, New Orleans is a must-visit not just for the free-flowing booze and boobs on Bourbon Street, but also for its mysterious history and eerie location. If visiting New Orleans there are a few things you do not want to miss…

Boutique du Vampyre

As a vampire fanatic myself, I have always loved the stories that cast New Orleans as a scary town home to vampires, witches and other creatures that go bump in the night. If you like all things creepy-crawly, check out this shop and ask the store attendant about the hidden speakeasy.

Voodoo Authentica & Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo

No trip to New Orleans would be complete without a stop into one of its many voodoo shops. Voodoo Authentica and Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo are just two options. Walking around town you’ll find a few others that will definitely spark your dark side.

Jackson Square

Stroll through Jackson Square and find a psychic to read you your fortune, buy a timeless piece of artwork or watch a street performance. Jackson Square is also conveniently located just outside one of the most popular beignet places—Café du Monde.

Frenchmen Street

If you like jazz music, Frenchmen Street is the place to go. Blue Nile and Apple Barrel are just two of the countless jazz bars that litter the street.

Gumbo Shop

The award-winning Gumbo Shop is more than a restaurant, it’s a New Orleans staple. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, it is the place to enjoy a bowl of authentic gumbo.

Bourbon Bars & Cigar Shops

When in New Orleans do as the locals do—slump into any one of the many, many bourbon bars for a swig and cigar. Or grab your drink to go and duck into a cigar shop to find a specific flavor.

Carousel Bar

Inside the Hotel Monteleone is the Carousel Bar & Lounge, a one-of-a-kind revolving bar overlooking Royal Street. Take a spin (if you can find a seat!) and enjoy live music as you slowly spin around the room on a beautifully ordained merry-go-round.

Swamp Tour

See if you can spot an alligator or two from an airboat. Ghosts & Gators, a two-hour tour exploring the New Orleans swamp, was a memorable experience led by a local expert. Keep in mind that a swamp tour by airboat will get you more than a little wet so don’t wear your favorite dry-clean-only dress.

Gloomy-looking cypress trees looming in the river.

Cemetery Excursions

The most famous cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, is only accessible via guided, licensed tours. If you’re looking to stroll around without a guide, you’re better off choosing a different cemetery. Most cemeteries are open during select hours and closed on Sundays so plan ahead!

Above-ground tombs at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.
Above-ground tombs at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.

Until next time,

Leah Pinkus

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