Louisiana has made Mardi Gras a legal holiday, and it’s the only state to do so. That should tell you something about how seriously they take Fat Tuesday. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the rest of the world. As someone who spent a hefty chunk of my childhood in New Orleans, I’ll be the first to admit: there’s nothing and nowhere like it, especially when it comes to the most hyped-up celebration of the year.
The trouble is, with such a big celebration comes even bigger crowds. During Mardi Gras, the one thing that becomes most overlooked is the Big Easy itself. And there’s so much more to see and do than the parades that take over for a boisterous, beautiful, and completely overrun with tourism moment.
Here’s what to know about visiting New Orleans.
Jazz & Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest)
During April and early May, the Jazz and Heritage Festival rivals Mardi Gras for all the right reasons. Since it began in the 1970s, it has evolved into a globally-revered and locally-loved music extravaganza. It attracts nearly a half million people annually and top artists from every corner of the earth come to play.
Head to the fairgrounds for some of the absolute best jazz, gospel, R&B, and rock performances you’ll ever experience. Jazzy and joyous, the spirit of the city really comes alive during the Jazz and Heritage Fest. And of course, it wouldn’t be a NOLA blowout bash without celebrating the unmatched culinary scene and its rich culture. Come to eat, dance, and mingle with the locals all night long in the Big Easy.
French Quarter Festival
Jazz Fest is the creme de la creme of world-class jazz festivals, but the French Quarter Festival brings the local flavor in abundance. To date, it’s the largest showcase of Louisiana music in the world. From jazz and zydeco to New Orleans funk, local artists grace two dozen stages set up throughout the French Quarter.
Speaking of local flavor, make your way over to historic Jackson Square. The best restaurants in all of NOLA are cooking up more jambalaya, gumbo, and shrimp po’boys than you’ll know what to do with. And did I mention this fun-loving festival is free?
NOLA Foodie Festivals
Attention foodies: the time to visit New Orleans is June through fall. Just be sure to show up with an empty stomach. Starting in June, world-class food festivals take over the city. First, there’s the NOLA International Foodie Fest, followed by the New Orleans Food and Wine Experience.
After that, there’s the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival and the Oak Street Poboy Festival. There are also festivals specializing in some notable crowd-pleasers, like mac n’ cheese, fried chicken, and beignets. If you’re a fan of Oktoberfest, New Orleans boasts one of the best, yet slightly more under-the-radar options each year.
Read More: Most Popular Food Festivals on Earth
Spring (Late March Through Early May)
Obviously, spring is considered New Orleans’ peak season. The weather is warming up, but it’s not too hot yet. Flowers are in full bloom and the unique wildlife is starting to emerge. And of course, it’s crawfish season.
Even though the masses flock here primarily for Mardi Gras, there’s so much more to New Orleans than the overcrowded areas of Bourbon Street, especially in spring. Stroll down the cobblestone streets of the Garden District and ogle the mansions surrounded by pink and white azaleas. Go to Frenchman Street and listen to some of the best jazz in the city all rounded up on one strip.
Whatever you do, venture far beyond the packs of people and discover the local wonders that await you. New Orleans is a city packed to the brim with magic, mysticism, history, art, music, good people, and great food. So do yourself a favor and adopt a local mentality when seeking out its specialness.
Fall (September Through Early November)
If you go to NOLA in August, you’ll be just in time for HexFest. But if I’m totally honest, the sweltering heat feels like a humidity hex in itself. That’s why one of the best times to venture to New Orleans is from early September through early November. Temperatures begin dropping and the erratic weather of summer has mostly come to an end. In terms of climate, this period is widely considered the ideal time to go.
With Mardi Gras out of the way, you’ll also get to explore the French Quarter in the way it was meant to be explored. Depending on when you visit, you may also get to experience events connected to the Southern Decadence Festival, New Orleans Tattoo Arts Convention, the New Orleans Film Festival, and the Voodoo Music and Arts Experience. And I can’t think of a better time to visit one of the most haunted cities on earth than Halloween. Can you?
Read More: Most Haunted Major Cities in the U.S.