When it comes to festivals, newcomers to New Orleans will be spoilt for choice. From festivals that centre around food, music, heritage or sport, New Orleans boasts a vibrant and diverse annual calendar of events.
With over 100 festivals taking place each year, New Orleans residents always seem to have a reason to celebrate and new arrivals are sure to find an event that is right up their street.
Annual events in New Orleans
Mardi Gras (February)
Traditionally, Mardi Gras was a celebration of Fat Tuesday, but most New Orleans residents regard the entire season from Epiphany until Ash Wednesday to be a celebration. Even though it is often viewed as a parade of debauchery and revelry, Mardi Gras is, in fact, a family-friendly affair. Festivities centre around the French Quarter, Marigy and Bourbon Street.
St Patrick’s Day Festival (March)
New Orleans goes all out for St Patrick’s Day. This annual celebration of Ireland’s patron saint features a colourful parade through parts of downtown New Orleans including Bywater, Marigny and Bourbon Street, as well as a the nearby suburb of Metairie. The city streets are awash with emerald green as the masses come out in force to enjoy a festive day of music, dancing, Irish stew and, of course, Guinness by the gallon.
Tennessee Williams Literary Festival (March)
The Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, TWFest, as it is more commonly known, is a prominent five-day literary event in New Orleans. As the name suggests, the festival is dedicated to the famous American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tennessee Williams, who lived and worked in the city. With readings, presentations, book signings and workshops this is a must for any bookworm.
French Quarter Festival (April)
Held in New Orleans’s oldest neighbourhood, this four-day festival is the largest free music event in Louisiana. Almost 750,000 visitors attend each year and the event has gone from strength to strength over the last three decades. Over a thousand acts take to various stages scattered across the French Quarter. Whether a fan of blues, Latin, jazz, swing or rock, there is bound to be a performance to tickle everyone's fancy.
New Orleans Food and Wine Experience (April)
When it comes to food, New Orleans doesn’t mess around. For over 20 years, NOWFE has served to showcase the city’s best culinary experiences along with fabulous wines from around the world. With demos by top local chefs and some international names, this is a serious event for foodies. There is also a range of seminars, wine pairings and breakfast events to keep festival goers occupied throughout the day.
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (April/May)
An established event on the New Orleans events calendar, the Jazz Fest has been going for over half a century. Held over two weekends, always the last one of April and the first weekend in May, this musical extravaganza features multiple stages featuring an array of acts from jazz and blues to gospel, Cajun zydeco, rock, country and hip-hop. The atmosphere is complemented by food stalls offering local favourites such as jambalaya, gumbo and soft-shell crab po’boys.
Essence Festival (July)
Since the 1990s, the Essence Festival has been a popular music event dedicated to contemporary black music and culture. For three days every July, New Orleans welcomes both established and up-and-coming black musicians to its famous Superdome stadium. Spin-off events such as the outdoor market in downtown New Orleans and the Essence Marketplace at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center add to the buzz.
New Orleans Film Festival (October)
Since the early 2000s, Louisiana offered producers significant tax incentives for shooting films in the state. New Orleans’s film industry benefited tremendously from this move and the city is now often dubbed ‘Hollywood South’. The New Orleans Film Festival brings filmmakers, actors, producers and scriptwriters to the city to showcase local talent and celebrate diversity in the film industry. With over 200 movies on the circuit each year, this event is a must for any movie buff.
►For a list of the must-see attractions in the Big Easy check out our See and Do in New Orleans page
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