The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: A Spectating Guide

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The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City is one of our nation’s biggest and most beloved Thanksgiving traditions. The event has been the kicking off the holiday season for 92 years. Still growing strong and gaining ground with each season, spectating in person may seem like a daunting thought. I’m here to tell you that with a little planning and forethought, your family will feel as if they’ve walked into the holiday classic, Miracle on 34th Street.

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Things to know before you go

Parade Stats

Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City                                                                                                                                                                                       

Photo by: Flickr/slgckgc

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City is on Thursday, November 22. It starts at 9am. More than 8,000 people participate in the festive spectacle. They include balloon handlers, marching bands, drill teams, performers and more. Along the parade route, more than 3.5 million people turn out to see it all in person. Aside from the famous giant balloons, there are numerous floats to enjoy, celebrities to spot — even Santa Claus makes an appearance!

Viewing the Parade

Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City


Showing up early is going to be key for this and other memorable events surrounding this parade. To get a good viewing spot for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, many spectators arrive before 6:30am. Allow for extra time. If you aren’t already staying in a hotel on the route, public transportation is advised. Chairs and strollers are not recommended as their bulkiness gets in the way. Blankets for sitting on the curb are a good idea as is a thermos of hot chocolate or hot apple cider. Be sure to dress in warm layers as it can be quite cold outside. Once you’re settled in, don’t leave or you will lose your spot to someone else.

Parade Route and Duration

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade travels down Central Park West from 77th Street to Columbus Circle. It then moves along Central Park South to 6th Avenue then down 6th Avenue to 34th Street before arriving at Macy’s Herald Square on 34th Street. Its duration depends on where you are. If you position yourself near the beginning of the route, it will last about 90 minutes. If you’ve claimed a spot closer to Macy’s, you’re in for about a 3-hour affair.

A Word About Parade Safety and Security

Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City

Photo by Flickr/Rick Howe

Last year’s Thanksgiving Day Parade rolled out with some of the tightest security ever seen. Despite there being no credible threat, the NYPD was out in force. After reading news coverage, my family discovered that they were out in greater force than we ever knew. There were security measures we never noticed.

There are simple safety measures parents need to keep in mind. They are so simple, they are also easily forgotten when there is so much to distract.  With everyone looking up at the balloons, it only a takes a second to lose sight of a little one wandering off. Also, we’ve all heard this next tip I’m gonna give you a million times, “If you see something say something.” If you see anything suspicious, the NYPD wants to know about it.

Things to do Pre and Post-Thanksgiving Day Parade

Parade Balloon Inflation

Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City

On Thanksgiving eve, head over to the area near the American Museum of Natural History just off Central Park West between 77th and 81st Streets to see the famous parade balloons come to life! Last year, the viewing area opened and closed 2 hours earlier than it had historically (1PM- 8PM). Inflation begins before the opening time so arrive early! My family went last year, arriving around noon. We walked out of Central Park and into the viewing area with ease. Along with about a dozen other early birds, we enjoyed ourselves for a good 45-minutes before the NYPD closed down the area. Everyone needed to be screened. The screening line looked long and crowded, so we opted to leave the area altogether. We’d already enjoyed close-up look by that time because we were there early. Bringing in large backpacks, chairs, coolers, alcoholic beverages and umbrellas is prohibited.

Parade Float Transport

You won’t find this next parade-related activity listed on any travel blog or guidebook. I mention it because I’m certain there are families out there like mine who would find the humor in it — transporting the floats to the parade start point. We stumbled across the scene by accident.

Leaving the Hummus Place on Amsterdam Avenue around 8:30PM, we encountered streams of trucks racing by, toting trailers behind them. Under police escort, each trailer brimmed with parade float parts, some had partially constructed floats fastened to them. Soon others gathered to watch the mass transport cracking jokes about assembly, hoping that the parade staff has better luck with the floats than they had with their Ikea furniture! Again, this is not a scheduled activity but if you happen to be around Amsterdam Avenue after the balloon inflation this could be a sight to see! My daughter jokingly called it, “The Unassembled Thanksgiving Day Parade.”

Post Parade Holiday Fun

Thanksgiving day parade in New York City

As soon as the Thanksgiving Day Parade passes, Manhattan’s Christmas spirit kicks into high gear. Walk off Thanksgiving dinner with a stroll past the elaborate windows of New York City’s most iconic department stores. Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor, Barney’s New York, Bloomingdales, and Macy’s pull out all the stops decorating their windows. My favorite was Saks Fifth Avenue where the entire facade of the building was transformed into a dazzling light show reminiscent of Elsa’s ice castle in Frozen.

Where to Stay Along the Parade Route

Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City

Photo by: Katie Bodell 

If you wish to stay along the parade route, here are few suggestions:

The Hilton New York Midtown

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade passes right by the front of this property but, that’s not all that is great about it! The Hilton New York Midtown is located a short walk from the Museum of Modern Art, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center and many other iconic New York City spots, making it a convenient home base.

Warwick New York

Located five blocks from Central Park, if you manage to nab one of the Avenue Suites at the  Warwick New York, you are golden!  They face Sixth Avenue, the processional route during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

JW Marriot Essex House New York

The stunning city views from the JW Marriot Essex House New York look out over the parade route down Central Park South.

Mandarin Oriental New York                                                                                                                 

Located in the upper floors of the Time Warner Building, overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park, if you’re lucky enough to get a room with a parade view at the Mandarin Oriental New York it will be a bird’s eye view of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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Lead Image:  Photo by Flickr/Anthony Quintano

About the author

Kristine Dworkin is one of Trekaroo’s Travel Experts located in Northern California. She's also a mom to a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house, traveling is a competitive sport (I'm getting on the plane, I'm getting on the plane first!). With a triathlete, a soccer star, and a baseball player in the house what else could one expect? Since her active family obviously doesn't do sitting still very well, they're always out exploring the world.
1 Response
  1. Elaine Masters

    I love a good parade especially with guidance. Great post!

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