In Louisiana, reasons to gather are plentiful. All that’s needed to bring people together is some bread to break, traditions to toast to, space to dance and the banner of one of 400-plus annual festivals held across the state. And what makes Louisiana an especially pleasurable place to visit is its unique brand of hospitality. What we mean to say is, there are no wallflower travellers here; there is no fly-on-the-wall festival experience; there is no watching from the sidelines. Expect a warm Louisiana welcome and then get ready to live life out loud and in colour. You won’t feel like a stranger, we promise, because even if the rituals, food and customs are unfamiliar, a Louisianan will show you how to celebrate. With more annual events than days in a calendar year, there’s bound to be a festival to stir your wanderlust, any time of the year.
But First, Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras – the raucous parades organized by costumed, beaded and glittered krewes (groups of Mardi Gras paraders), the float riders tossing throws into the arms of admiring crowds and streaks of green, yellow and purple – cannot be untangled from its New Orleans reputation. But did you know that Mardi Gras is not limited to a single day of celebration on Bourbon Street? Carnival is a season and in Louisiana, each community across the state celebrates its own unique flavour of it.
Travellers in Cajun County should time their visit for Courir de Mardi Gras, the traditional celebration. (Courir translates to “run” in Cajun French.) In this version of the festival, costumed and masked participants make their way through the neighbourhood, soliciting the ingredients need for a communal gumbo through song and dance. The last ingredient, and the highlight of the celebration, is the chicken, which is released for the chase. (Now you know why the chicken ran across the road!)
One of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations in the state is found in Lake Charles, located in southwest Louisiana. Visitors will celebrate alongside more than 50 krewes and can toast to its impressive, 140-year history. Be sure to gather at the sea wall to admire the Lighted Boat Parade as a string of boats and pleasure craft shimmer along the shore of Lake Charles.
In north Louisiana, Shreveport holds its annual Krewe of Barkus & Meoux Pet Parade. Operating with a mission to promote programs benefiting abused, neglected and homeless animals, this parade welcomes every pet from dogs and cats to horses, turtles and goats.
400+ Festivals for 365 Days
Yes, Mardi Gras is Louisiana’s biggest and most famous celebration – and worthy of a spot on your bucket list – but it only marks the start. Every month in the calendar year finds reasons to celebrate, too, from food to music to culture. Here are just a few of the noteworthy and unmissable festivals to inspire a spirited Louisiana getaway.
Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival
The annual Strawberry Festival, held in Ponchatoula, celebrates everything about this beloved and locally grown berry. There’s an eating contest, parade, live music and food vendors serve up every single interpretation of fruit you can imagine. Dates: April 3-5, 2020.
Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival
Brassy and loud, NOLA knows how to throw a music festival. Held each April, French Quarter Fest boasts more than 20 stages and 400-plus hours of live entertainment without charging you a dime. (Fun fact: it's the largest free music event in the U.S.) But do pack pocket money to indulge in some fresh festival flavours. We suggest taking part in the “World’s Largest Jazz Brunch.” Dates: April 16 – 19, 2020.
The Festival International de Louisiane is a five-day non-ticketed (free) celebration of the performing arts, food and culture, held each spring in Lafayette. The event showcases established and emerging international artists (think: Sudan, Morocco and Palestine) while incorporating all the unique sounds Louisiana has to offer. Dates: April 22 – 26, 2020.
Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival
Held each May, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival celebrates this abundant and native protein that’s at the heart of many Acadian recipes and traditions. (Ever heard of a crawfish boil?) At this festival, eat your weight in “mudbugs,” cut a rug in a zydeco dance contest, cheer for your preferred critter in a crawfish race and then sink into your lawn chair in front of a festival stage for an evening of incredible local music. Dates: May 1 – 3, 2020.
French Food Festival: This fall festival held in Larose celebrates the Cajun way of life, from dancing to boat building and with a special emphasis on the foods made in Cajun kitchens. BYO-appetite to sample traditional Bayou Lafourche dishes, like shrimp boulettes, crawfish fettuccine and tarte a la bouille, a custard pie. Bon appétit! Dates: October 23 – 25, 2020.
To learn about more of Louisiana’s festivals, visit Festivals.LouisianaTravel.com.
This article was presented in collaboration with