Best Fests and Parades in New Orleans

Winter

Christmas New Orleans Style. Throughout the month of December, Canal Street sparkles with the season's decorations, and historic homes across the city put on their holiday best. St. Louis Cathedral opens its doors for free weekly concerts, and thousands of carolers gather in Jackson Square to raise their voices by candlelight. You'll find specials at hotels, as well as holiday reveillon menus at restaurants. Celebration in the Oaks lights up City Park, and bonfires are set on the Mississippi River's levee from New Orleans into Cajun Country—a Cajun tradition illuminating the way for Papa Noel. New Orleans, Louisiana. holiday.neworleans.com.

Mardi Gras. The biggest event on the city's cultural calendar is also the oldest—it's been around for more than a century. Parades roll almost nightly for the last few weeks of the Carnival season, which starts on Twelfth Night and culminates on Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), the last blow-out party before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. The big day itself is a city holiday, with the streets taken over by costumed revelers, floats, marching bands, and throngs of partiers. Plastic beads are the currency of the day. Every year, Mardi Gras falls on a different date, but it's always in either February or March. New Orleans, Louisiana. www.mardigras.com.

New Year's Eve. Join the crowd for live music on Jackson Square, and help count down to the new year with the drop of a giant fleur-de-lis on the riverfront near Jax Brewery. A barrage of fireworks lights up the Mississippi as clocks strike midnight. French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana. www.neworleans.com.

Spring

Easter Parades. 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 the last an incredible gay parade that takes the festive bonnet tradition to a whole new level. French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana. www.neworleans.com/events/holidays-seasonal/easter.

French Quarter Festival. With stages set up throughout the Quarter and on the river at Woldenberg Park, the focus here is on free local entertainment—and, of course, food. A lot of locals consider this April festival the best in the city. French Quarter, 504/522–5730; www.fqfi.org.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Top-notch local, national, and international musical talent takes to several stages the last weekend of April and first weekend of May. The repertoire covers much more than just jazz, with big-name rock and pop stars in the mix as well as dozens of lectures, quality arts and crafts booths, 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. 1751 Gentilly Blvd, Gentilly, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70119. www.nojazzfest.com.

New Orleans Wine & Food Experience. Winemakers and oenophiles from all over the world converge for five days of seminars, tastings, and fine food each May. The Royal Street Stroll, when shops and galleries host pourings and chefs set up tables on the street, is especially lively. New Orleans, www.nowfe.com.

St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's Day. A couple of big parades roll on the weekend closest to March 17: one starts at Molly's at the Market and winds through the French Quarter; the other, in Uptown, goes down Magazine Street and turns the area around Irish Channel neighborhood bars Parasol's and Tracey's 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 NOLA tourism website for announcements of altars that you can visit. New Orleans, Louisiana. www.stpatricksdayneworleans.com.

Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival. The annual March multi-day tribute to the Streetcar Named Desire playwright draws well-known and aspiring writers, lecturers, and a handful of Williams's acquaintances, along with music and theater, both classic and original. It closes with contestants re-enacting Stanley Kowalski's big "Stella-a-a!" moment. New Orleans, Louisiana. 504/581--1144; www.tennesseewilliams.net.

Summer

Essence Music Festival. Held around Independence Day, this three-day festival brings in more than a half-million visitors and 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. Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 1500 Sugar Bowl Dr., New Orleans, Louisiana, 70112. www.essence.com/festival.

New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. Serious wine drinkers line up for this four-day celebration of Bacchus over Memorial Day weekend. Popular events include a series of vintner dinners at local restaurants, a wine-fueled stroll through the shops of Royal Street, and the two-day Grand Tasting, where nearly 75 restaurants serve food and 1,000 different wines are poured. New Orleans, Louisiana. 504/934–1474 ; www.nowfe.com.

Satchmo SummerFest. The August weekend-long tribute to the late, great Louis Armstrong honors Satchmo with jazz performances staged throughout the Quarter, seminars and discussions with Armstrong scholars, a Satchmo Club Strut down Frenchmen Street, and the Louis Armstrong Birthday Party. French Quarter, Louisiana. www.satchmosummerfest.org.

Southern Decadence. 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—along on Sunday, but Decadence parties and events start Thursday evening. New Orleans, Louisiana. www.southerndecadence.net.

Tales of the Cocktail. Each July, the annual Tales of the Cocktail, billed as "the most spirited event of the summer," brings thousands of experts and enthusiasts together for an internationally acclaimed, five-day celebration dedicated to the artistry and science of making drinks. In addition to enjoying some of "the best cocktails ever made," attendees participate in dinners, demonstrations, tastings, competitions, seminars, book signings, tours, and parties. New Orleans, Louisiana. 504/948–0511; www.talesofthecocktail.com.

Fall

Art for Art's Sake. Art lovers and people-watchers alike pack Warehouse District and Magazine Street galleries in early October for the annual Saturday-evening kickoff to the visual arts season. What's on the walls usually takes a back seat to the party scene. Warehouse Arts District and Uptown, New Orleans, Louisiana. www.cacno.org.

New Orleans Film Festival. Cinephiles can get their fix during this juried festival in October, which brings an influx of indie and film culture to town and commandeers screens at venues throughout the city. The Film Society, which presents the annual festival, also hosts screenings year-round, a French film fest, themed film series, and a gala. New Orleans, Louisiana. 504/309–6633; www.neworleansfilmsociety.org.

Voodoo Music + Arts Experience. Part music festival, part giant interactive art exhibition, and part Halloween bash, Voodoo Experience is a festival that's held the last weekend of October. It attracts eclectic young masses with its mix of edgy national acts, local bands, and art installations in various media. City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana. www.voodoofestival.com.

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