New Orleans is renowned for its culinary and musical depth – and the best way to immerse yourself in it is at the many vibrant festivals that take place throughout the year. We’ve rounded up ten of the Big Easy’s best, each of which offer a taste of local culture and entertainment with an offbeat festive vibe you won’t find elsewhere.
Mardi Gras may not take the same format as other festivals in New Orleans, but it’s undoubtedly the Crescent City’s largest and most widely celebrated cultural event. While much fanfare revolves around Mardi Gras Day in March and the weekend preceding it, consider visiting earlier in the season to enjoy more of the smaller, alternative parade krewes, such as Krewe du Vieux or the ‘tit Rex fleet of shoebox-based floats.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Like Mardi Gras season, the city comes alive in a distinct way each year during the two weekends of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, aka “Jazz Fest,” in late April/early May. As the city’s largest festival, Jazz Fest first and foremost promotes the music, food, and culture of New Orleans and its regional neighbors. But the festival’s budget and attendance also enable organizers to bring major national and international headlining acts that appeal to both younger and older generations of music fans.
French Quarter Festival
Unlike many other local festivals, the annual French Quarter Fest isn’t contained within indoor venues or even larger outdoor spaces. Rather, this festival engulfs the entire French Quarter neighborhood for a four-day weekend each April. Since its founding, the festival’s mission is to remind locals and visitors that unbeatable food, culture, and entertainment options still line the streets of New Orleans’ most infamous part of town. Not only is French Quarter Fest the world’s largest showcase of Louisiana music and artists, but it’s also free and open to the public.
Voodoo Music + Arts Experience
If Halloween and the fall weather in New Orleans weren’t enough, Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, or “Voodoo Fest,” might be the final push to book your seasonal getaway. Held the last weekend of October each year, this three-day music, food, and arts festival has a little something for just about every alternative music lover. From under the moss-draped oaks in City Park, you can hear everything from alt-rock, metal, and indie rock to hip-hop, electronic, funk, and jam bands (all of which is a streetcar ride away from the Hilton New Orleans Riverside).
Hosted by ESSENCE magazine, the annual ESSENCE Festival attracts hundreds of thousands of attendees each July. By day, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center hosts free programming, from social activism seminars and celebrity meet-and-greets to soul food cooking and hairstyling demonstrations. At night, the ticketed event at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome features live acts from across R&B, hip-hop, jazz, funk, and more. ESSENCE performances include major headliners on the main stage and more intimate, club-style events in the lounge areas around the Dome’s edges.
BUKU Music + Art Project
BUKU Music + Art Project launched in 2012 as New Orleans’ first event to focus an entire festival around electronic dance music (EDM) and hip-hop. The festival lineup has since expanded to include more headlining and underground hip-hop acts, a wider range of EDM subgenres, and a handful of emo/rock artists as a nod to the genre’s local revival. Held each year in March at Mardi Gras World, BUKU also offers a distinct atmosphere and set of backdrops and art installations, from towering parade floats and industrial smokestacks to live graffiti art and the iconic Mississippi River.
The annual Satchmo Summerfest may occur at the peak of early August’s summer heat. But that doesn’t stop lovers of the festival’s namesake, the New Orleans-born and bred jazz trumpet legend Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, from celebrating his life and contribution to local music. This three-day marathon offers a host of live traditional and contemporary jazz performances, local food and drink vendors, and special events featuring speakers, chefs, and children’s activities.
Held each year over Labor Day Weekend, Southern Decadence and its vibrant attendees fill the French Quarter with color, costumery, and a host of special events in honor of New Orleans’ largest LGBTQ event. Much of the weekend’s action centers around the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann Streets, with special events including everything from big-name DJs and drag queens to sultry contests and dancing till sunrise.
The New Orleans InFringe Fest
While the New Orleans InFringe Fest itself is relatively new, the format imitates past iterations of citywide events meant to promote local and independent theatrical and performance arts. Each November, venues across New Orleans open their doors to everything from puppetry and burlesque to improvised musical and spoken word performances. Whether you’re in the mood for comedy, drama, musicals, or mind-boggling sideshows, this NOLA festival is sure to pique your interest for performance art.
Hell Yes Fest
New Orleans stands as an underrated comedic hub, which includes hosting the Gulf South’s largest comedy festival, Hell Yes Fest, over five days each November. Comedians from around the city and globe converge to charm and amuse NOLA audiences with a wide range of side-splitting entertainment performed at venues throughout the city. Programming can take the form of improv, sketch, stand-up, and film, or other less traditional formats, such as podcasts, food, and even video games.
Don’t miss out on these unforgettable events – book your New Orleans festival accommodation with Hilton.