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Best Festivals and Parades in New Orleans
New Year's Eve
Join the crowd on the Mississippi River near Jax Brewery for fireworks, live music, and the annual countdown to midnight (marked by "Baby Bacchus" dropping from the top of the brewery).
Mardi Gras, February or March
The biggest event in the city's busy festival calendar has been around for well over a century, and for a celebration of frivolity, people here take Carnival very seriously. There are almost daily parades—even one for dogs (the Krewe of Barkus)—in the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, when pretty much the entire city takes the day off, gets in costume, and hits the streets. www.mardigrasneworleans.com .
St. Patrick's Day, March
A couple of big parades roll on the weekend closest to March 17: one starts at Molly's in the Market and winds through the French Quarter; the other, in Uptown, goes down Magazine Street. On St. Paddy's Day, the streets around Parasol's Restaurant & Bar, in the Irish Channel neighborhood, turn into one big, green block party. Two days later (March 19) the town celebrates St. Joseph's Day with home-cooked food and goodie bags filled with cookies and lucky fava beans. Check the Times-Picayune classified ads for announcements of altars that you can visit, and be prepared to make a small contribution to cover costs—$5 a person or so.
Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, March
This annual tribute to the Streetcar Named Desire playwright, who spent much of his career in New Orleans, draws well-known and aspiring writers, lecturers, and a handful of Williams's acquaintances. It closes with contestants reenacting Stanley Kowalski's big "Stella-a-a!" moment. 504/581-1144 www.tennesseewilliams.net .
Easter, March or April
Three fun parades hit the streets of the French Quarter on Easter Sunday: one led by local entertainer Chris Owens, another dedicated to the late socialite Germaine Wells, and a gay parade that takes the festive bonnet tradition to a whole new level.
French Quarter Festival, April
A lot of locals consider this the best festival. With stages set up throughout the Quarter and on the river at Woldenberg Park, the focus is on local entertainment—and, of course, food. 504/522–5730 www.fqfi.org .
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, April–May
Top-notch local and international talent take to several stages the last weekend of April and first weekend of May. The repertoire covers much more than jazz, with big-name rock and pop stars in the mix, and there are dozens of lectures, quality arts and crafts, and awesome food to boot. Next to Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest is the city's biggest draw; book your hotel as far in advance as possible. 504/410-4100 www.nojazzfest.com .
New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, May
Winemakers and oenophiles from all over the world converge for five days of seminars, tastings, and fine food. The Royal Street Stroll, when shops and galleries host pourings and chefs set up tables on the street, is especially lively. 504/529-9463 www.nowfe.com .
Essence Music Festival, July
Held around Independence Day, this three-day festival draws top names in R&B, pop, and hip-hop to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The event also includes talks by prominent African American figures and empowerment seminars. www.essence.com/essence/emf .
Tales of the Cocktail, late July
Every summer, heralded mixologists, distillers, writers, chefs, and cocktail connoisseurs converge in the city that gave birth to the Sazerac and the Ramos gin fizz—among other libations—for several days of cocktail competitions, seminars, tastings, pairing dinners, and many more spirited events. www.talesofthecocktail.com .
Satchmo SummerFest, August
This weekend-long tribute to the late, great Louis Armstrong honors Satchmo in the French Quarter, with jazz performances staged throughout the streets, seminars and discussions with Louis Armstrong scholars, a Satchmo Club Strut down Frenchman Street, and the Louis Armstrong Birthday Party. www.fqfi.org/satchmosummerfest .
Southern Decadence, early September
On Labor Day weekend hundreds of drag-queens-for-a-day parade through the Quarter. What began as a small party among friends has evolved into one of the South's biggest gay celebrations. The parade rolls (and as the day wears on, staggers) on Sunday, but Decadence parties and events start Thursday evening.
Art for Art's Sake, early October
Art lovers and people-watchers pack the Warehouse District and Magazine Street galleries for this annual Saturday-evening kickoff to the arts season. What's on the walls usually plays second fiddle to the party scene, which spills out into the streets.
Voodoo Experience, October
Part music festival, part giant interactive art exhibition, Voodoo Experience is an evolving festival held every Halloween weekend; it attracts eclectic young masses with its mix of edgy national acts, local bands, and art installations in various media. www. thevoodooexperience.com .
Celebration in the Oaks, late November–early January
City Park's majestic oaks, Botanical Gardens, Carousel Garden, and Storyland amusement park are awash in holiday lights and decorations during this popular weeks-long event. There are food and rides, a miniature train decked out for Christmas, and entertainment by local school groups. 504/482-4888 www.neworleanscitypark.com .
A New Orleans Christmas, December
The lighting of Canal Street kicks off this monthlong celebration. Royal Street shops and historic homes don holiday decorations, restaurants feature special reveillon menus, and thousands of carolers gather in Jackson Square for a candlelit sing-along. Around Christmas, bonfires are lit on the levee at various points along the Mississippi, from below New Orleans up into Cajun Country. Legend says the bonfires were lighted by the early settlers to help Papa Noel (the Cajun Santa Claus) find his way up the river. Steamboat tour companies offer special cruises for the occasion.
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