Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Since the 1920’s, Macy’s has been bringing loads of magic to the streets of New York and to televisions nationwide on Thanksgiving Day. Giant inflatable characters, intricate displays on wheels and the singing Christmas tree make their way through the heart of the city, delighting the young and old while ringing in the season. If attending the parade is on your bucket list, we’ve got some helpful bits of information to make it a successful dream come true.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
No doubt, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is something we all dream of seeing up close and in person, however, it is a lot of work! Some opt to take it easy the day of, and get their peek of the balloons and floats the night before, at the American Museum of Natural History. Here, everything is assembled and inflated on Wednesday, and it’s a perfect alternative. You could still head over to the actual event, but wouldn’t have to be so panicked about getting a clear view—just relax and enjoy!
While everything kicks off at 9am eastern time, it’s necessary to arrive three hours early, around 6am to score a clear viewing point. Whatever you do, don’t leave your spot, because someone else will snap it up. Traveling in packs will ensure someone is there to keep things locked down if a potty break is needed.
It’s not uncommon for snow to fall in the city on Thanksgiving Day, so it most certainly will be freezing in the wee hours of the morning. Bundle well in thermals, hats, gloves and heavy coats. However, it’s wise to layer your outfit, so heavier garments can be shed if the day gets a bit warmer, which has happened before. Travel mugs with coffee or hot chocolate will help you keep warm as well, and at that point, might as well pack some festive snacks too, to avoid having to fight the lines when hunger strikes.
Things launch from West 77th Street and Central Park West at 9am, but people camp from very early to claim nearby spaces at West 75th and 59th Streets. Columbus Circle is known for being an excellent spot, thanks to multi-level shops where you can score a toasty warm indoor seat when things open at 9am. As another alternative, 59th to 38th Streets are good, too.
On the official website, there are a lot of details and information on the event. Probably the most helpful tool is the parade route map, which helps provide a mental picture of exactly where those prime viewing spots are. Most questions can be answered online.
Around 3.5 million people line the streets for the significant Thanksgiving tradition—as it’s the king of all parades. New York actually puts out an alert that downtown is basically gridlocked for the day, with multiple street closures and packed walkways. While extremely congested, there’s undeniable majestic energy with all those excited folks bustling around.
You can’t spectate at Macy’s Herald Square, even though it’s where Macy’s actually resides. The parade does finish up here, but media and cameras occupy the area, so it’s closed to the public.
Quite a few restaurants along the route host private and public events, or simply a meal, the day of. Call ahead, way in advance, to ask eateries if they’ll be open, then see if you can reserve a spot—it’s not going to be easy but nothing beats a prime viewing spot, a good meal, and warmth.
Unfortunately, most won’t get a bleacher spot, because these select seats are reserved for Macy employees and their families—fair enough. Many of those who put in the hard work to make the parade happen, and sacrifice the holiday prep time at home, get to enjoy this supreme location.
Standing right at the beginning, it would take 1 1/2 hours for the line of musicians and performers to pass by. However, it takes an entire 3 hours for the flashy line of excitement to completely trail off the streets of New York. In the time it takes to get there, secure a place to watch, and navigate back out of the city, you’ll find yourself spending a considerable amount of time—assume it will be an all-day thing.
Willing to pay often three times the normal rate for a room? Then you can watch the parade in ultimate comfort from various hotels in NYC. Mandarin Oriental is equipped with massive windows and spectacular views of balloons and floats, New York Hilton Midtown sits right in the midst of it all offering prime viewing packages in rooms that run 2k a night, and the Warwick New York Hotel, The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park, and The Quin are a few other lodging options that ensure places to gaze.
American households likely have been watching for generations via television, so most know what to expect. But if you are wondering, the magnificent spectacle features countless character balloons from our favorite movies, shows, books and so on, creative floats often carrying mesmerizing performers, over 1,000 dancers putting on mini-shows, at least a dozen marching bands from our country’s schools, celebrities, and of course, a big entrance by St. Nick to officially kick off the holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas!