Top 15 Cities to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in America
K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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On St. Patrick’s Day, just about everyone is a little bit Irish, but if you aren’t fortunate enough to be able to make it over to Ireland for the holiday, there are some great places to spend it right here in the United States. These top destinations offer some of the best opportunities to get in the Irish spirit.
One of the world’s biggest St Patrick’s Day celebrations, Boston’s parade officially began in 1901, but the celebration purportedly dates back 200 years prior to that. According to legend, the earliest celebration of the holiday in America took place here in 1737, when colonists of Irish descent marked the event with a modest parade. Today, it’s the biggest celebration outside of Ireland, with more than a half-million people coming to Boston for the Irish holiday. The highlight of the event is the parade, with lots of colorful characters, Irish bands, dancers, bagpipers, floats, and plenty of Irish cheer, as it makes its way through the streets of South Boston down a three-mile-long route. Stay and play at one of the many locations around the city offering great Irish entertainment, from classic tunes to Irish punk. Dropkick Murphys returns to the city on and around St. Patrick’s Day every year to perform.
The Nation’s capital does it up big when it comes to St. Patrick’s Day. It hosts the legendary Shamrock Festival, an all-day event featuring more than 50 Irish bands, dancers, games and all types of other activities. There’s something for everyone here, including carnival rides and an Irish village too. Constitution Avenue comes alive with its lengthy 2.5-hour themed parade, complete with marching and pipe bands, dancers, floats, military, police and fire departments. After the parade, you’ll find a number of local Irish pubs where you can listen to Irish music and chow down on Guinness stew or shepherd’s pie, paired with a pint of Guinness, of course.
The Windy City is well-known for another one of the most impressive St. Paddy’s Day celebrations in the country. In fact, Chicago even turns its river into an emerald green hue just for the holiday. If you want to watch the dying of the river, arrive early as it always brings out a big crowd. It initially looks orange, but using a little “leprechaun magic,” the river is transformed into a dramatic green, just like the lush hills of Ireland. The parade marches from Balbo Drive to Monroe Drive and includes lots of brilliant floats as well as bagpipers, bands, Irish step dancers and lots of green/white/orange flags to represent the Emerald Isle. Nearly everything and everyone will be in green, and you’ll find green beer everywhere you go.
Denver throws one of the largest parades west of the Mississippi. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the city’s biggest annual parade, attracting nearly a quarter-million viewers. It follows a circular route through the heart of the Mile High City and features 10,000 marchers, floats, marching bands, dancers and Irish-themed fun with a Western flair that includes horses and stagecoaches. There are a number of Irish pubs to celebrate here too.
If you want to enjoy an idyllic climate along with your Irish festivities, San Diego’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Irish Festival is one of the largest single-day events in the city and has been one of the most popular attractions for over three decades. Parade entries feature everything from antique cars and roller skaters to marching bands, floats, clowns, dancing groups, bagpipe contingents and equestrian entries. Imitating the Emerald Isle’s vibrant green scenery, San Diego covers 80,000 square feet of its city blocks with artificial green turf to kick off the day. Following the parade, an event-filled Irish Festival in Balboa Park features live entertainment in addition to craft and food booths, a beer garden and a Kids Zone with rides.
San Francisco may be famous for its Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars, but it was also the home to many Irish immigrants, especially around the time of the great gold discovery with the influx of all the “49ers” seeking the ultimate treasure. The St. Patrick’s Day parade here has been taking place for 160 years, attracting more than 100,000 visitors in recent years. Thousands of participants join in to honor Irish culture, including everything from Irish singing to traditional poetry, along with more than a hundred colorful floats, Irish dance troupes and marching bands. The parade starts at the corner of Second and Market, marching and making merry all the way to City Hall.
If you want lots of Southern charm with your Irish holiday, Savannah hosts the second-largest parade in the entire nation. In fact, its celebrations kick off at the beginning of March. The weekend nearest the holiday includes the city’s biggest party of the year, the St. Patrick’s Celebration on the River, which features non-stop live entertainment, games, food and beverages. The parade takes place in the Historic Park District, where the fountains are often dyed green for the occasion.
Kansas City celebrates all things Irish on St. Patrick’s Day with one of the nation’s largest parades. It follows a special Gaelic Mass and is led by a lone bagpiper. A mass of floats, dancers, bands and other performers follow, filling the streets with music and merriment. The city has been celebrating the holiday since 1873, drawing a crowd of more than 200,000 each year. The grand-prize winner of the best float in the parade gets two all-expenses-paid trips to Ireland, so people really go all out for this one, including getting their dogs in on the fun too. Afterward, tradition dictates heading over to the historic district to sip a good pint or two.
St. Louis holds another one of the country’s best parades. It takes place downtown at 18th and Market Street, working its way to Broadway and Market with lots of balloons, colorful floats, Irish pipe bands and a long line of marchers. After the main event, the Irish Village offers delicious food and live performances. There are special events throughout the entire week, including the Celtic Cross Ceremony and the Greening of the Fountain.
The Big Apple hosts one of the oldest and largest parades for St. Patrick’s Day on the planet. Celebrating Irish culture and the Catholic faith has been popular in New York City for centuries. The first New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade was introduced by Irish soldiers in the British army in 1762. Today, it showcases more than 300,000 marchers and draws three million spectators each year. The parade begins at 44th Street and proceeds up Fifth Avenue, past the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 50th Street. It concludes five or six hours later on 86th Street. If you haven’t had your fill of Irish by then, there are many Irish-themed pubs scattered throughout the city.
Phoenix has lots of Irish spirit come St. Patrick’s Day with its annual parade and the Irish Family Faire. The parade includes marching bands, bagpipers, Irish step dancers, floats, government dignitaries, police and fire vehicles and the Arizona Irish Colleen with her Court. Afterward, the fair begins, featuring entertainment provided by Irish dancers and Celtic rock bands on multiple stages, crafters, pony rides, a petting zoo and face painters. There are also plenty of mugs filled with green beer and other beverages as well as mounds of corned beef and cabbage.
New Orleans is one city that definitely knows how to throw a party, and it does it up right on St. Patrick’s Day, too, in an entire week of fun. The city claims to be the largest port of entry for Irish immigrants in the southern U.S., offering one of the biggest celebrations for the Irish holiday like it’s done since 1809. In the Big Easy, St. Patrick’s Day festivities include constant parades and block parties where standard Irish stew ingredients like potatoes, cabbages, carrots and onions, along with the traditional beads and flowers, are tossed out to the crowds. Music adds to the fun, with walking groups dancing to the beat as they head down the street.
Surprisingly, the city that may best be known as the setting for the hit TV series “The Office,” hosts one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the nation. Following a 10 a.m. mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral, families line the streets of Scranton as they have for over 50 years now to watch some parade participants, including bands, marchers, step dancers, bagpipers, celebrities and politicians. The 2008 parade even featured former U.S. Secretary of State and First Lady Hilary Clinton, drawing an estimated 150,000 parade viewers.
While there are a few cities around the U.S. that are named Dublin, none compare to Ohio’s Dublin city St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Its festivities, which have been held since the 1980s, begin with a big pancake breakfast and an “Inflation Celebration,” allowing attendees to watch the parade floats come to life. Once they’re ready to go, the parade begins, marching through the downtown area. Afterward, there is plenty of Celtic music to be heard throughout establishments in the Historic District, along with beer, Irish tea and potato chowder.
Philadelphia’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade started before the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1771. It is the second oldest of its kind in the U.S., surpassed only by New York City’s parade. It attracts more than a half-million marchers and spectators donning elaborate green costumes with a different theme each year. Previous themes have included “A Decade of Remembrance” and “Bless the American Worker,” with serious themes meant to balance the abundance of merriment and fun-inspired floats, bands and a variety of other performances. After the parade, people fill bars across town, like Fado Irish Pub, to continue the celebration.