Did you know that New Orleans hosts more than 130 festivals annually? Also known as The Big Easy, The Crescent City, and NOLA, New Orleans has a time-honored reputation of keeping the fun going all year long. Regardless of the time of year, New Orleans boasts of a wide variety of festival options, from music festivals, artistic events, and food and wine tastings to literature festivals. Read on to identify the top ten New Orleans festivals that have taken place over the years.

1.    Mardi Gras 

Mardi Gras attracts over 10 million people to the city annually. The festival celebrations begin when the 12 days of Christmas are over, and go on for roughly a month. It’s also called “Fat Tuesday” because it occurs the last day before Lent and many people eat fatty foods before fasting. Mardi Gras has been a fundamental part of the New Orleans culture since the 1830s when it was started. During Mardi Gras, the city comes alive with live music, colorful beads floats, food feasts, and parades. The official colors of Mardi Gras are gold (power), purple (justice), and green (faith). Mardi is fun-filled for the whole family, despite being known as an adult event. 

2.    New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Dated back to 1970, Jazz Fest is a long-standing tradition, which is why New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz. This annual music and cultural event showcases a large range of music genres, from jazz, country, gospel and blues, rock, bluegrass, rap and so much more. Being one of the biggest festivals in the city, it attracts some of the biggest names in the music industry and takes place over two weekends every spring. The music festival is held at the Fair Grounds Race Course, and while it ends at 7:00 PM, attendees still get to enjoy the incredible late-night shows that occur across the city. While there is a “no carnival food” policy at Jazz Fest, people still get to enjoy the local classics such as jambalaya.  

3.    Voodoo Music and Arts Experience

New Orleans does not just have a Voodoo Museum but also a festival that draws thousands of visitors annually. The 3-day Voodoo Music & Arts Experience festival came to the US with slaves from West Africa centuries ago. It celebrates the city’s voodoo history and is held in the City Park during the fall on the weekend around Halloween. It features nationally known acts, local Louisiana musicians and bands.  Also, it includes, a voodoo beer hall, large-scale and interactive art installations, and an artisan marketplace. The event also brings together the fun of Halloween, and great cuisine, art, and music.

4.    Essence Festival

Originally planned as a one-off event back in 1995, the Essence Festival is now the biggest event celebrating African-American culture in the US. In the daytime, panels and workshops free and open to the public, are available in the Ernest Morial Convention Center while the Superdome hosts a plethora of music genres in the evening. Also known as the “party with a purpose,” this is a New Orleans music festival you don’t want to miss.

5.    French Quarter Festival

This festival began in 1984 and celebrates New Orleans music food and culture. It’s the largest free music festival in America so it attracts over half a million people. The festival features awesome music from various genres like cajun and zydeco, classical, rhythm and blues, contemporary jazz, and rock among others. There are also some of the best New Orleans cuisines made by the top chefs in the city. It also hosts the world’s biggest jazz brunch in Jackson Square and Riverfront Park.

6.    Food and Wine Experience

In early summer, more than 100 restaurants and 250 wineries fuse and make the distinct menu and wine pairings for this event. This five-day food and wine show provides the best culinary experiences from both local and international chefs. There are also rare food and wine events, like the Bubbly Burlesque Brunch that allows you to sample local delicacies and rare wines. Fortunately, the proceeds of your expenditures go to various causes like; charitable organizations, career training in the hospitality industry, and supporting the arts. The Royal Street Stroll, a parade led by the Krewe of Cork, is the highlight of this festival. 

7.    New Orleans Film Festival

Also known as the “Cannes on the Mississippi”, this festival attracts thousands of film lovers and filmmakers. It takes place in the fall and promotes films and short stories from around the globe. Hence, it also creates plenty of opportunities for the discoveries of new stories and filmmakers via an “Emerging Voices” program that provides mentorship to inspire diversity in film.

8.    The Luna Fete

Held during the winter, this festival was made by the Arts Council of New Orleans in 2014, where an installation that projected spectacular light and video was put up in Gallier Hall to show the positive impact of art on communities. This unique festival stands for Light up NOLA Arts and it bridges New Orleans’s modern artwork with its incredible historic architecture. It features large-scale light installations that illuminate the city’s iconic buildings. Video mapping technology is also used to add to the decorations in the buildings participating in the festival. 

9.    The Crescent City Blues and Barbecue Festival

Initially, this was an initiative of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Foundation to create local jobs after Hurricane Katrina and to bring visitors to the city. Taking place in Lafayette Square Park, this award-winning event focuses on the city’s music and food, like Louisiana-style pulled pork, ribs, and brisket. It also features the works of local artisans such as paintings and photographs.

10. Tales of the Cocktail

Dating back to 2002, the Tales of the Cocktail began as a walking tour of local bars and grew into a collection of cocktail aficionados and professionals. The festival is an excellent get-together for the hospitality industry since it assembles bartenders and mixologists from around the world. The public attends the six-day event at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, where they engage in activities like cocktail-themed bus tours, tastings, competitions, workshops, and seminars, among others. Attendees learn a lot about mixology and can also engage in “Spirited Dinners” hosted by local restaurants. 

With such great New Orleans festivals to take your pick from, rest assured that there is likely going to be an awesome event when you visit. Check out one (or all) of these 10 festivals to get that phenomenal New Orleans experience.  

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Anthony Tilghman, is an 3x Award-winning Photojournalist, Education advocate, Mentor, and Published Author with years of experience in media, photography, marketing and branding. He is the Winner of the 2020, 2021 & 2023 Dateline award for Excellence in Local Journalism.

Anthony Tilghman

Anthony Tilghman, is an 3x Award-winning Photojournalist, Education advocate, Mentor, and Published Author with years of experience in media, photography, marketing and branding. He is the Winner of the...

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