Top 10 Summer Festivals in New Orleans

Looking for fun? These essential events will keep you grooving all summer long.

The calendar in New Orleans is a built around seasons, kicking off with Carnival—the weeks of revelry and parades culminating in Mardi Gras (also known as Fat Tuesday)—and closing with the holidays, from the city’s kooky Halloween shenanigans to rowdy Christmas parties in this traditionally Catholic town. But during the long months in between, a stretch known as “festival season” to locals, New Orleans doesn’t stop partying.

After a brief post-Mardi Gras lull (interrupted by an appropriately raucous St. Patrick’s Day), New Orleans starts up again with French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest, and Bayou Boogaloo in the spring. During the sultry months of summer, when the hot, humid air grows so thick you can almost drink it, the pace of the city slows down but New Orleans keeps the party going with one event after the next. These summer festivals in New Orleans are 10 of the hottest happenings the Crescent City has to offer.

Oyster Festival

There’s an old adage that it’s only safe to eat oysters in months ending in 'R', and that’s exactly why the New Orleans Oyster Festival is held in June, to dispel the myth—what was good advice in the age before refrigeration has long been obsolete. Featuring oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico served by restaurants across the city in numerous different preparations, both traditional—like gumbo, po’ boys and raw—and not—like tacos—Oyster Fest is a family-friendly celebration of the world’s favorite mollusk. If you’ve ever wanted to sample the legendary oysters at Drago’s, try the Oysters Rockefeller from Antoine’s where the recipe originated, and take a bite out of a raw oyster the size of a hamburger, all in one day, Oyster Fest is for you. When to Go: June 3-4, 2017

Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival

Southern Louisiana is home to a variety of rich, unique cultures, and on a weekend in June in New Orleans, one of them—Cajun—is on full display. The heart of Cajun country is in south-central Louisiana, but during the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival you can get a heaping helping of Cajun culture in New Orleans itself. Get ready to chow down on traditional foods like dark roux Cajun gumbo, boudin, and corn maque choux, shop for Cajun arts and crafts like artisan-made jewelry, and two-step to washboards, accordions, and lyrics sung in French from a lineup of some of the best Cajun and Zydeco bands in the world. When to Go: June 24-25, 2017


New Orleans holds a special place in African-American life and history, so it should be no surprise the city hosts the preeminent festival celebrating African-American music and culture in the United States. With free admission during the day, Essence Festival—organized by the African-American women’s magazine of the same name—is four days of dynamic speakers and a showcase of African-American artists. By night, the concerts feature some of the best black musical acts in the country, with this year's lineup including Diana Ross, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, and many more. When to Go: June 29-July 2, 2017

Running of the Bulls

New Orleans spent decades as a colony of Spain and the Iberian influence still shows—unbeknownst to many, the architectural style of the French Quarter is actually from Spain—and New Orleans’ annual Running of the Bulls is, in part, a nod to the city’s Spanish heritage. Unlike the Spanish festival in Pamplona, though, the “bulls” in “San Fermin en Nueva Orleans,” as the festival is also known, are not actual bulls but the women of the Big Easy Rollergirls roller derby team. They do chase down, and pummel with wiffle bats, any white-and-red-clad festival-goers bold enough to enter the fray though, so be prepared to run like a bull is chasing you. When to Go: July 7-9, 2017

Bastille Day Fête

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Essence hosts some of the best African American performers in the country.

Of course, no place that began as a colony of France could ever let Spain steal the spotlight for long, and New Orleans pays homage to its French heritage in its annual Bastille Day Fête, commemorating the day in 1789 when thousands of Parisians stormed the Bastille and set off the French Revolution. This family-friendly event is celebrated with happenings all over the city, including French language lessons, French food served around town and other celebrations of all things French. When to Go: July 14, 2017

Tales of the Cocktail

Legend has it the cocktail was invented in New Orleans, but whether this is true or not, the city has given birth to some iconic drinks—Sazerac, anyone? How about a Hurricane?—and it has certainly perfected the art of boozing. Tales of the Cocktail is a weeklong carnival of mixology for bartender and the bar patron alike, including cocktail classes, tastings, special menus at restaurants across the city and, of course, lots and lots of drinking. When to Go: July 19-23, 2017

Satchmo Summerfest

Like jazz itself, Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans and he’s one of the city’s unofficial patron saints. Armstrong earned the nickname Satchmo, short for “satchel mouth,” by securing coins he earned as a childhood street busker in his mouth, and Satchmo Summerfest is the day the city throws a party in honor of the venerated trumpeter. The three-day festival of music and New Orleans culture is a kind of smaller-scale and more fiercely local Jazz Fest. All of the performers are from the area, including many favorite jazz and brass bands, plus fantastic food from NOLA’s top restaurants. When to Go: August 4-6, 2017

White Linen Night and Dirty Linen Night

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Southern Decadence celebrates the gay and lesbian community of New Orleans.

In days gone by, the people of New Orleans survived the steamy months of summer without air conditioning by slowing down, staying in the shade and wearing loose-fitting white linen clothes. In homage to the city’s hot history, on White Linen Night, New Orleanians don the traditional attire and gather in the Warehouse District to peruse art galleries, have a cocktail and take it easy. In proper New Orleans fashion, on the following weekend, the city satirizes itself during Dirty Linen Night. The art galleries of Royal Street in the French Quarter open their doors to the public who gather again to drink dirty martinis and get another night’s use out of their now dirty linen duds. When to Go: August 5, 2017 and August 13, 2017

Red Dress Run

Though New Orleans isn’t a city people generally associate with healthy lifestyle activities like running, many locals do like to tie on their sneakers and hit the trail to keep in shape. They just do it New Orleans style: in costume and with a cocktail in hand. The New Orleans Hash House Harriers—a running club, sort of—are one such group and during their annual Red Dress Run they invite people citywide to take join in a three to four mile run that typically includes a fair amount of drinking along the way. The loose set of rules basically boil down to these: be nice, stay hydrated (it’s summer in New Orleans!), and everyone of whatever gender absolutely must wear a red dress. When to Go: August 12, 2017

Southern Decadence

The words “Southern Decadence” may be an apt descriptor for New Orleans itself, but it’s also the last big bash of the summer and the city’s very own celebration of its vibrant LGBT culture (sometimes people call it the Gay Mardi Gras). Held every year over Labor Day weekend, Southern Decadence draws people from around the world for a weekend of drag shows, DJs, and bawdy partying in the French Quarter, but especially in the city’s many proud gay bars. When to Go: August 30-September 4

Denver Nicks is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Travel and a big fan of New Orleans. Follow his journey on Twitter and Instagram.