It should come as no surprise that New Orleans does New Year’s Eve quite well. Both the city and the holiday are closely tied to the celebration, public revelry, and good fellowship. But many visitors may not expect how possible it is to have an intimate, (relatively) quiet New Year’s Eve in New Orleans. Of course, there are big celebrations within the French Quarter, but even in that storied neighborhood, a night out on December 31 can be both as raucous and as chill as you please.
Note that in New Orleans, the evening of the 31 is not a guaranteed chiller. While there have been New Year’s Eves in New Orleans characterized by heavy coats and cold winds off of the Mississippi, there is a chance the weather will be temperate, and even a little muggy. The point is: Bring cold-weather clothes but don’t be surprised if you won’t need them.
Here are some of our picks for what to do on New Year’s Eve in New Orleans.
Dick Clark Rockin’ New Year’s Eve
Every year, Dick Clark Rockin’ New Year’s Eve production hosts its official Central Time Zone party in New Orleans near the historic Jax Brewery starting at 9 p.m. The show is coordinated with parties in New York and Los Angeles, and features a musical lineup and special guests. The fleur-de-lis drop at Jax Brewery is live-cast.
This is the big, obvious New Year’s activity in New Orleans — our version of the Times Square ball drop (although the actual ball drop is a fleur-de-lis drop, and that event has a party all of its own, see above). Jackson Square is a historic and iconic meeting space of the city of New Orleans, and is always a linchpin for local events.
Every year, admission to the square is free, although you’ll want to show up early in the evening if you don’t want to be crowded to the edge of the square (depending on your crowd tolerance, the latter scenario may not be such a bad thing). Within Jackson Square, there are live music and general milling about. The end-of-the-year countdown culminates in the fleur-de-lis drop, followed by fireworks over the Mississippi.
For the Kids
If you’re traveling with young children and have made the reasonable conclusion that popping bottles of Moët at midnight and a child’s sleep cycle don’t mix well — but also don’t want your kids to completely miss New Year’s Eve fun — consider some of the family-friendly annual events in the Crescent City.
You could take your kids to Zoo Year’s Eve at the Audubon Zoo, which “parties” from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with a soda toast, costumed characters, and of course, the Audubon’s wildlife menagerie (the event is included in the price of admission).
Or you could head to the Louisiana Children’s Museum for their annual New Year’s Eve Kids’ Countdown to Noon, which lasts from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. That party typically includes noisemakers, paper bag hats, and music, all set against the backdrop of the Louisiana Children’s Museum’s considerable range of kid-friendly displays and exhibits, appropriate for children aged from 1-12.
If you’re looking for a more traditional night of French Quarter-style partying, be on the lookout for balcony bashes at area bars — located all up and down the (in)famous Bourbon Street nightlife strip.
A balcony bash is pretty much that — you’ll pay a cover and be allowed to plant yourself on a wrought-iron balcony overlooking the street below. Some bashes feature all-inclusive tickets that get you extras like an open bar and food. Either way, much bead tossing subsequently ensues.
With that said, a different take on the balcony bash is a French Quarter New Year’s Eve house party. Seeing as such houses usually have balconies that afford at least a decent view of the river, this is a good chance to see the fireworks while avoiding crowds. Of course, getting yourself into a house party is all based on your charm and who you know.
Allstate Sugar Bowl Parade
Need something to do during the day? Since 1935, the Sugar Bowl has been played in New Orleans, and while that event has since become the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the New Year’s Eve Parade associated with the game continues in more or less the same vein. The extravaganza is done Mardi Gras-style, so expect big floats, marching bands, plenty of throws (trinkets tossed to spectators), and a general overload of glitz and pageantry.
The parade begins at the “bottom” of the Quarter, where it meets Faubourg Marigny, at the intersection of Elysian Fields Avenue and Decatur Street, at 2 p.m. The parade proceeds into the French Quarter and rolls past some of that neighborhood’s most iconic landmarks, including the French Market and Jackson Square. At approximately 3 p.m. the parade passes the WDSU stage at the Allstate Fan Fest on Decatur Street inside the Jax Brewery parking lot, where all performers do a two-minute show. The parade ends at Canal St.
Want the best view of the fireworks? Local riverboats like Paddlewheeler Creole Queen and Steamboat Natchez offer an opportunity to ring in the new year with river cruises that include champagne toasts, live music, a dinner buffet, and party favors.
The French Quarter includes some of the oldest gay bars in the country, and a slew of venues in the lower portions of Bourbon Street, starting at around the 800 block, will be throwing New Year’s Eve parties. Expect DJs, dancers (of the go-go variety), and drag cabaret. If that kind of thumping nightlife experience isn’t your thing, consider an evening at one of the city’s more laid-back bars, like Mag’s 940 (940 Elysian Fields Avenue), The Friendly Bar (2301 Chartres Street) and Big Daddy’s (2513 Royal Street) — all friendly spots that will certainly be celebrating, but perhaps minus the laser show and speakers.
The Crescent Park is a public green space that has become a favorite spot for watching events take place on the river. Positioned as it is along the Mississippi, the park offers fantastic views of the water, which means you’ve got a clear vantage point onto the annual firework show. Usually, the park closes after dark, but on New Year’s Eve it will stay open to the public till 1 a.m. There are three entrances to the space in Bywater and Faubourg Marigny, and both of those neighborhoods are thick with venues to celebrate in after the last firework pops off.
Where to Sleep
We’ve given you plenty of options on how to spend New Year’s Eve in New Orleans, but let’s face it: Once the confetti has been thrown, the champagne uncorked and the noisemakers put away, you need a place to sleep (and possibly sleep in, depending on how much fun you’ve had). With that said, you want to pick the right hotel — one that has a mix of easy accessibility and cozy amenities.
If you’re celebrating near Jackson Square, consider a room at the Place d’Armes Hotel. Want to be near the action on Bourbon Street? Try Hotel St. Marie. Or position yourself near the river at the historic French Market Inn.