March is an action-packed month in New Orleans, Louisiana, offering visitors and locals plenty of things to do. A handful of holidays fall throughout the month, including St. Patrick’s Day—which finds paraders tossing cabbages and potatoes off floats in the Irish Channel neighborhood—and St. Joseph’s Day, which includes special celebrations for New Orleans’ substantial Sicilian/Italian community. In some years, Mardi Gras lands in March (in 2020, the event was in February), transforming the city into a nonstop party for the celebration. After a week or two of recovery, all but the strictest Lenten fasters are ready to get rocking again.
During this busy holiday month, the nice weather starts to make a comeback. The sun comes out, flowers of all kinds bloom, and the festivals begin. In the middle and final parts of March, there is a bit of a dip in the tourist season. Mardi Gras visitors are long gone and JazzFest tourists are still a month away, so locals get a chance to boogie down on their own terms at some of the smaller events that take place during March.
The moderate and changeable temperatures of March in New Orleans mean that your best bet is to bring lots of layers: Pack jeans or lightweight long pants or skirts, short-sleeved shirts, and cardigans or hoodies. As always, good walking shoes are a must.
There are parties—and then there is Mardi Gras. The biggest event in New Orleans is an annual celebration that officially lands the day before Ash Wednesday every year, which can fall in March or in February. In 2020, Mardi Gras took place on February 25.
Mardi Gras is a grand blow-out to let off steam before Lent starts, but the revelry begins about two weeks prior to Fat Tuesday with epic parades and city-wide parties each day.
The most popular time to go is the weekend prior to Fat Tuesday when the two biggest parades of the season, Bacchus and Endymion, wind through the streets of the city. Grab a mask, beads, and a costume and join the fun.
On March 20 and 21, 2020, the Buku Music + Art Project festival takes place at Mardi Gras World, featuring indoor and outdoor stages, art exhibits, local food, plenty of drinks, and thousands of neon-clad young people enjoying the festivities. Although the event has only been around since 2012, it has established itself as a major boutique destination festival for fans of electronic dance music, hip-hop, and indie rock.
St. Patrick’s Day brings the Downtown Irish Club’s foot parade on March 13, 2020, through the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods and into the French Quarter, straight down Bourbon Street. Each year on March 17, partiers swarm the city to enjoy this alcohol-centric holiday, and since you can drink in the streets (though not from a glass or bottle), you're likely to see a lot of partying all day no matter what part of the city you visit.
There are lots of St. Patrick’s Day events the week of the holiday throughout the city, but the most boisterous is the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 14, 2020, which finds green-clad riders on redecorated Mardi Gras floats rolling through NOLA’s historic Irish neighborhood (adjacent to the more famous Garden District). Along with beads, riders throw fixings for boiled dinner from the floats: cabbages, onions, potatoes, and other veggies.
The Feast of St. Joseph is celebrated by all Catholics, but in New Orleans, it's a particularly big deal for Italian and Sicilian-Americans, of which New Orleans has an enormous population. Traditionally Italian Catholic parishes all over town set up St. Joseph’s altars: giant display offerings of baked goods, dried beans, and fresh produce, thanking the saint for relieving hunger. Often, a free meal is served to visitors. In the evening, a parade of gentlemen in tuxedos marches through the French Quarter and distributes beads and good-luck fava beans. The altars are later broken up and the food is distributed to the hungry. In 2020, the celebration takes place on March 14 at 6 p.m., starting at the intersection of Convention Center Boulevard and Girod Street.
Super Sunday is the second most important day of the year for the Mardi Gras Indians who have traditions dating back to the 1800s. New Orleans’ homegrown “tribes” of African-Americans deck out in intricate Native American regalia, complete with enormous feathered headdresses and beaded outfits. They sing and dance while marching through the streets in a (mostly) friendly competition to see which Big Chief is the “prettiest.”
Super Sunday finds tribes marching all over the older parts of town, but particularly in the Tremé neighborhood, with events starting at noon on March 15, 2020.
From March through June 2020, the Audubon Nature Institute invites guests to celebrate the environment at Party for the Planet presented by Entergy, a series of family-focused events. Activities start with the free Spring Into Action! on March 28, 2020, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center. Visitors can experience nature during a night sky demonstration in the Planetarium and meet local conservation neighbors.
A celebration of the famous U.S. playwright and the place to be for "readers, writers, and theater lovers," the Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival will take place on March 25–29, 2020. This gathering features, among other things, poetry and play readings, book signings, and workshops that cater to both the literati and the public. Plus there is the ever-popular Stella-screaming contest, where would-be Stanleys (named after characters from the Williams play "A Streetcar Named Desire") rip their shirts off and wail forlornly for their lost love.
On March 15, 2020, The Allstate Sugar Bowl St. Patrick's Day Classic course takes place starting at 10:00 am outside Gennaro's bar on Metairie Road in Metairie, a suburb only about 15 minutes by car from New Orleans. Enjoy the 2-mile course before the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. Attendees will proceed down the parade route on Metairie Road and end just before the train tracks, celebrating with a party at Winston's Pub & Patio. Register online or in person on the day of the event.