While it’s true that Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, there’s a lot more to the city’s festival scene. This is the kind of place that likes to party all year round, so if you can’t make it in February, don’t despair – no matter when you visit there’s sure to be a celebration happening. If you’re staying in downtown New Orleans, you’re only a short walk or tram ride away from these eight must see New Orleans Festivals.
Related: Okefenokee Swamp photo essay
8 Must see New Orleans Festivals
Tennessee Williams Literary Festival
More than just a celebration of the writer’s life and work, the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival also recognizes the extraordinary contributions New Orleans has made to American literature, drama and art. Some of the city’s most acclaimed writers participate in five days of panel discussions, workshops, stage performances and book signings. Don’t miss the epic “Stella and Stanley Shouting Contest.” It recreates the famous scene from A Streetcar Named Desire.
French Quarter Festival
Part music festival, part arts festival and part foodie celebration, this event highlights the history and culture of New Orleans’ most beloved neighborhood. An impressive lineup of musicians from all genres is joined by food stalls, dance lessons, a STEM fair, and the obligatory parade. It’s a great opportunity to admire the French Quarter’s gorgeous historic architecture, shop at the French Market or get your fortune told in Jackson Square.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
End of April to beginning of May
Where better than the home of jazz to experience this world-famous spectacle? Jazz Fest draws in both international acts and local artists keeping the New Orleans tradition alive. The festival features more than a dozen performance tents. They play rock, blues, gospel, Cajun, and traditional and contemporary jazz. There are also hundreds of stalls showcasing folk crafts and serving up local delicacies like Crawfish Monica and Mango Freeze.
First weekend of August
Celebrate Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong’s birthday in style at this fun festival where traditional and contemporary jazz mingles with big-band music and established artists rub shoulders with up-and-coming musicians. Performers pay tribute to New Orleans’ most famous son while biographers and historians run lectures and workshops on his life and work. Armstrong’s favorite dish, red beans and rice, is on sale at stalls all over the venue.
Labor Day Weekend
The biggest LGBT event in New Orleans, Southern Decadence is a six-day extravaganza of parades, parties and bead tossing, with a different theme every year. Events are mostly focused on the French Quarter but take place at various venues throughout the city and include cabaret shows, karaoke contests, brunches and bar crawls. The big event is the Sunday parade filled with marching bands and drag queens in colorful costume.
New Orleans Film Festival
Theaters across the city screen more than 200 films by local and internationally acclaimed filmmakers at this Oscar-qualifying film festival. The festival has done exceptional work championing the voices of female filmmakers and filmmakers of color and every year produces more extraordinary movies. More than 30,000 people attend. In typical New Orleans style the celebrations include brass bands, parades, cocktail parties and live concerts in beautiful historic mansions.
Halloween in New Orleans is second only to Mardi Gras in its unrestrained decadence. During the day there are haunted houses to visit, cemeteries to tour and voodoo shops to browse. At night the Krewe of Boo parade dances its way around the French Quarter. Parties like the Endless Night Vampire Ball go on until dawn. Grab your wildest costume and get ready for a seriously spooky night.
Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival
Gorge yourself on spicy stew and rice at this mouth-watering food festival that celebrates New Orleans’ unique culinary delights. As well as the signature gumbo, which can be made with anything from shellfish to sausage, you can try local dishes like jambalaya, poboys, crabmeat beignets and deep fried bell peppers. Check out a cooking demonstration. This is the perfect way to learn how to recreate the perfect gumbo at home while taking in two stages playing jazz, gospel, blues and brass band music.
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