New Orleans is one of the most famous cities in the United States. Renowned across the entire globe for its culture, music scene, particularly jazz, unusual dialects, Creole food, and perhaps most of all, Mardi Gras, its enormous Carnival festival of parades and partying that attracts nearly one and a half million people every year.
New Orleans is also famous for its historic French Quarter. Distinctive for its historic French/Spanish Creole buildings and the bustling nightlife that exists up and down the iconic Bourbon Street.
But when is the best time of year to visit New Orleans, this multicultural city that is called “Hollywood South”? In the following article, we will go over all of the different seasons in New Orleans. In order to help you determine which sounds best suited for you and your specific vacation desires!
Best Time To Visit New Orleans – The Quick Answer
Although it’s a vibrant and beautiful city that always has a great deal to offer, the short answer for the best time to visit New Orleans depends on your personal preference for crowds and a festival atmosphere.
If you want to experience the full-blown madness and joy of Mardi Gras, you’ll want to come between January and February. In addition if you want the best temperatures for sightseeing, along with the continued thrill of festivals, albeit not quite as packed as Mardi Gras, the spring season of March through May is your best bet.
If you are however after a more subdued time with the coolest temperatures of the year (which are still extremely moderate), autumn through the Christmas season is your best time of year to visit New Orleans. Really, the only time of year we don’t recommend you visit is the summer, which is extremely humid, muggy, and uncomfortable.
But now let’s go season by season, so you’ll know what to expect each time of year, starting off with Autumn…
Is Autumn The Best Time To Visit New Orleans?
When people think of the best time to visit New Orleans, Autumn may not be the first season to come to mind, but overall, it’s actually a lovely time to go, especially if the more chaotic and crowded atmosphere of the main festival season doesn’t appeal to you.
It also often affords a cheaper rate on hotels and resorts due to the fact that there are fewer events, while the more temperate weather makes it extremely pleasant for going out and sightseeing.
With that said, September can still retain a great deal of the summer’s heat and humidity, although generally to a lesser degree. The rainfall tends to lessen in September, meaning the humidity is less oppressive, but it will still be uncomfortably hot for some, with degrees often pushing 90 in the day and in the 70s at night.
For some people, September’s food-based events—mainly Restaurant Week and the Louisiana Seafood Festival—will make it worth going then regardless , whereas others might want to wait until October through November.
Restaurant Week is a time when more than 80 of New Orleans’ best restaurants, including the famous Galatoire’s Restaurant, Charlie’s Steak House, and Antoine offer discounted specially curated prix fixe menus showing off some of their most scrumptious food.
Another thing to be aware of is that hurricane season runs from June through November, with August through September being the height. And again, these chances drop even further in October and November, the best time to go to New Orleans in this season.
The temperatures at this point range between the mid-50s and mid-70s. You may even want a jacket in the evening, as it can drop to the low 60s.
There are also many culture events to participate in, including the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival, the New Orleans Film Festival, the Voodoo Music & Arts Experience, and of course Halloween.
The Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival is located at Lafayette Squark Park, and features two stage for musical acts, and a huge assortment of food options—many of them barbecue, as implied by the name—as well as an arts market. It’s presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation and celebrates the iconic music of the city.
The New Orleans Film Festival is thought of as one of the United States’ best film festivals. It’s often lovingly referred to as the “Cannes of the Mississippi”, referencing the world-famous annual festival in France. It’s been going for thirty years, screens Oscar-qualifying films, and awards cash and prizes of more than $150,000 to filmmakers.
Meanwhile, the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience happens in City Park over Halloween weekend every year and in past years has featured such legendary acts as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica. People attend in full costume to experience the music, the sights, and all of the amazing food served there.
Halloween In New Orleans
And speaking of Halloween, fans of the holiday will find this the best time of year to go to New Orleans when the city is at its spookiest. People have been drawn to New Orleans for Halloween for ages due to its ghost tours, along with its supernatural atmosphere helped by its famous crumbling cemeteries with above ground graves.
The historic buildings and the voodoo aspects of the culture also increase the vibe. This time of year, many of the old mansions have been turned into haunted houses for the occasion, and you’ll also find thing such as costumed bar crawls and nighttime tours of the famous Lafayette Cemetery, complete with dinner included!
Legendary paranormal writer Anne Rice also set her Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches book series here, in addition to having a house in the French Quarter, attracting lots of her fans to the city for Halloween as well.
In November, the days get down to the low 70s, but can drop to the mid 50s after the sun goes down. There are fewer events, but you can still check out the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, and on Thanksgiving Day, every year Celebration in the Oaks debuts: the spectacular holiday lights display hung throughout the huge oak trees of City Park.
Is Winter The Best Time To Visit New Orleans?
For many people, Winter will be the absolute best time to travel to New Orleans, thanks of course to Mardi Gras. But first off, of course, there’s Christmas. For starters, December is New Orleans’ coolest month with average highs in the 60s and lows in the mid 40s, making it perfect for those who don’t do well in the heat.
Beyond that, what may surprise some people is that New Orleans has actually been highly lauded for its Christmas season. In 2018, CN Traveler even listed it amongst their 23 Best Places to Spend Christmas, which is extremely impressive for a city in the South that doesn’t get the iconic winter weather that we expect from pop culture!
Around December, it isn’t overly crowded, the hotel rates are still much lower, the streets and stores are decked out in holiday decorations, and you can enjoy events including the aforementioned Celebration in the Oaks, which makes the entire park feel like it’s glowing with Christmas enchantment. Perfect for a family excursion or romantic stroll.
Christmas In New Orleans
They kick off the holidays with the Krewe of Jingle Parade, presented each year by the Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans and the Downtown Development District. It’s a big holiday parade that features floats, stilt walkers, marching bands, jazz, and appearances by Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, the Gingerbread Man, and Mr and Mrs Claus!
Christmas Eve itself is also celebrated in a particularly unique way in New Orleans. In an event called Bonfires on the Levee, along the Mississippi, cities from Baton Rouge down to New Orleans are lit up with massive bonfires made of huge log pyramids that are meant to light the way so Papa Noël, the Cajun Santa Claus, can make it to all of the homes in the area.
New Year’s Day then has the famous Sugar Bowl, which is the annual playoff game for the college football team. And on January 6th, Joan of Arc’s birthday is celebrated with the Krew de Jeanne d’Arc parade, featuring a medieval style procession down the French Quarter, culminating with the start of Mardi Gras celebrations!
And then, of course, there is Mardi Gras, when New Orleans transforms into wild wonderland and non-stop party.
Mardi Gras In New Orleans
The reason Mardi Gras is such a huge deal for Louisiana is it’s the only state in the country that has officially made it a legal holiday! The idea of Mardi Gras, which culminates on Fat Tuesday, is to revel in indulgence and celebration before Lent starts the next day on Ash Wednesday, which usually falls some time in February.
From the moment the Mardi Gras, season kicks off, you’ll find parades, masquerade balls, and costume parties all over the city. As the month leads to February, the party atmosphere increases exponentially. For some, the main Mardi Gras itself is the star attraction and the best time to visit New Orleans.
The biggest, most famous parades each year are called Rex, Zulu, Bacchus, Orpheus, and Endymion.
It’s also hands down the most expensive time to travel and stay there, however. Both air fare and hotel prices are astronomical, and it’s also so jam-packed with people that, crowdwise, it can feel like Times Square on New Year’s Eve—cool to say you’ve gone but not always particularly enjoyable to actually be there.
Our pro tip for the actual best time to travel to New Orleans during Mardi Gras is to go in January.
You will still be able to soak up most of the Mardi Gras atmosphere while not having to spend quite as much money nor be there when the city is so fully slammed with people it can be difficult to enjoy.
Plan Trip Early
One thing to be aware of, however, if you choose to go in January or February is that hotels often get booked up a year in advance, so you have to plan your trip very early.
Some of the most popular hotels and resorts that people choose to stay in this time of year (as well as others) include Hotel Monteleone, Windsor Court Hotel, The Roosevelt New Orleans, Royal Sonesta New Orleans, Omni Royal Orleans, and Maison de la Luz.
Also be aware that Mardi Gras is not necessarily the best time to visit New Orleans if you’ve never been before as a lot of the businesses and attractions are closed. Basically, if you go for Mardi Gras, you’re basically going only for Mardi Gras.
If you go this time of year, also make sure you pack warm clothes for the nighttime, as it does actually usually get well below freezing! You should probably also know that if you’re planning on going out in your own scantily clad costume!
Is Spring The Best Time To Visit New Orleans
While Mardi Gras may be the best time to visit New Orleans if you’re into partying, Spring might be the best time to travel to New Orleans if you want to really experience the city itself. Especially early in the season, the weather is perfect for sightseeing. The highs tend to stay in the low 70s and the lows are in the area of the mid-50s.
April warms up slightly more, but it doesn’t get too hot or oppressively muggy, unlike in the summertime. It’s the absolute best time to be a tourist in New Orleans.
You can stroll along the French Quarter, go boutique shopping in the famous Magazine Street, or try out the various bars and restaurants around Bourbon Street, wander the many art galleries, and soak up the history in complete comfort.
By May, it’s already getting fairly humid, which in New Orleans can be extremely unpleasant. It hasn’t yet hit the sticky heights of summer but trust us, you probably want to stick to March and April as the best time to travel to New Orleans in the Spring.
There are also a great deal of fantastic festivals and events throughout this time of year, and in fact, the most of any other time, which gives you all of the local culture you could want while, unlike during Mardi Gras, actually being able to move around.
The biggest events are the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, New Orleans Bourbon Festival, the French Quarter Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, and the Bayou Boogaloo.
The Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival has been running for thirty six years and is held over 5 days annually in the French Quarter, and attracts people from across the globe. The festival brings in over 130 writers a year to speak, and events include panels, tours, masterclasses, theatre, and more.
That same weekend, the annual Saints+Sinners LGBTQ Literary Festival is also held, run by the same organization, but focusing specifically on queer writers and literature.
The two music festivals are particularly special. The French Quarter Festival celebrates all sorts of New Orleans music from jazz to blues to zydeco while the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival brings together all sorts of musicians and music lovers for a huge celebration filled with music, delicious cuisine, and local arts and crafts.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans Bourbon History is a vast celebration of bourbon. Places to buy bourbon crop up everywhere, as in a 1920s speakeasy, and the city is full of bourbon tastings, dinners, history tours, and even burlesque shows!
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is sometimes shorted as Jazz Fest, and many people consider it the second best festival in New Orleans each year, right after Mardi Gras. Taking place over the course of two weekends per year, it’s known for a whopping fourteen stages of live music, as well as its delicious food.
Another great event is the BUKU Music + Art Project, a music and arts festival that runs two days a year annually since 2012 and is known for mixing a house party/underground vibe with a festival atmosphere. Indie rock, hip hop, and EDM are huge here, and past performers have included Megan Thee Stallion and Tyler the Creator.
In April, there’s also the iconic Freret Street Festival, which celebrates local businesses, fine dining, and again, live music, which is really the heart and soul of New Orleans.
If you do happen to come in May, that is the best time to visit New Orleans if you want to take a swamp tour, as the alligators are out of hibernation and so you can catch glimpses of them. There are just so many things to do in New Orleans in the Spring.
Is Summer The Best Time To Visit New Orleans
Really, the only season that we’d suggest isn’t the best time to visit New Orleans are the summer months, particularly June through August. There’s very little way to describe the weather as anything but being absolutely miserable. The heat and humidity are often unbearable, made worse by the sometimes almost constant rain.
New Orleans is very much a walking town. You won’t be able to enjoy or appreciate much of the city from being overheated and simply drenched in sweat. Hotel rates are low this time of year, which might make it seem the best time to visit New Orleans. Don’t be fooled.
In addition to the steamy temperatures, which reach the high 90s in the day and only fall to the high 70s, plus oppressive humidity, at night, the water and swamps also often attract a great deal of mosquitos and other unpleasant bugs.
And don’t forget, June is also the start of hurricane season, so you’ll also potentially have that to contend with as well, with rainfall often averaging to 8 inches. So if you do come this time of year, make sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, bug spray, and umbrellas! And bring plenty of water so you don’t dehydrate. And wear light cotton clothes.
With all of that said, for people who want to brave the heat regardless, there are some annual events worth checking out.
Events During Summer
The annual July 4th fireworks spectacular, Go 4th on the River, is a beautiful sight with a breathtaking display being set off from two huge barges on the Mississippi. For the best views, we recommend finding a spot at Jackson Square, Algiers Point, or Crescent Park.
There’s also the United States’ largest annual African-American music and culture event, the ESSENCE Music Festival. Each year, over the course of 3 days, New Orleans celebrates Black culture. With food, music, health, and beauty featuring musical performances, panel discussions, celebrities and more!
Earlier in June, New Orleans holds its Oyster Festival every year, in addition to one of the United States’ largest LGBTQ+ Pride parades. With the city having been voted numerous times as one of the most welcoming in the United States for queer people. It’s part of a huge event called Southern Decadence that runs 6 days each year.
And later in the month is Black Restaurant Week, celebrating the best restaurants owned by Black people in New Orleans. They have special menus as well as deals for the week.
There’s also the Running of the Bulls event, which puts a twist on a typical bull run as there are no animals. The role of the bulls are actually taken by the New Orleans Roller Derby Girls rolling down the street!
August also has Satchmo Summerfest, which annually honors New Orleans native Louis Armstrong’s life and music. Featuring musical performances, food, lectures, and panel discussions about the legendary jazz trumpeter.
When’s the best time to visit New Orleans is based on your own personal preferences. Whether you’re looking for the chaotic excitement of Mardi Gras or a more laidback, touristy experience will answer that question. Other than summer, there’s hardly a time that isn’t ideal to book your vacation and prepare for an adventure!