Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
- Macy's Parade in a Normal Year
- 1. Go the Night Before
- 2. Pretend You Are Going Skiing
- 3. There Really Are No Restrooms
- 4. Raid the Piggybank
- 5. Better Yet, Friend Someone Doing No. 4
- 6. Go to the Parade with a Talented Kid
- 7. Go for the Middle
- 8. Above all DON’T DRIVE
- 9. Leave Fido at Home
- Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Route
Thanksgiving traditions vary from family to family, region to region, but one thing is constant: you watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you are lucky enough to be in New York City, whether as a tourist or resident, seeing the parade in person is a badge of honor.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
New Yorkers who eschew the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are as common as those who have never been to the Statue of Liberty. Normally, this is one of the most crowded parade routes in the Northern hemisphere, and one of the best free things to do in New York City.
However, 2020 was about as far from a normal year as we have seen in the 94-year history of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Last year, the parade went on, but only for a TV audience via broadcast on NBC.
Macy’s Parade in a Normal Year
If you go to the parade in a normal year, you are as likely to chat up a New Yorker as you are a Midwesterner. Look, we New Yorkers like to pretend we are jaded, but we are all little kids when it comes to giant helium balloons and sleigh bells.
The first year of the Macy’s Parade was 1924, with a hiatus during World War II due to a helium and rubber shortage. It’s been enchanting NYers and tourists ever since, and is ideal for a Thanksgiving family getaway.
When it’s not during a pandemic, the best way to see the parade, in my opinion, is from your friend’s living room window. But real estate on Central Park West is among the city’s priciest – and it’s only on one side of the parade. The other side is Central Park, where hardy people line up hours ahead of time. (For the secret New Yorkers know, go the night before to watch them inflate the balloons.)
So how can you see the parade live (and not just on NBC) if you don’t have a friend with a $3 million-dollar view?
1. Go the Night Before
New Year’s Eve outranks New Year’s Day, and some people prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, so make Thanksgiving Eve your thing. The night before the parade, all those giant helium balloons are inflated and then tied down on the Upper West Side. You can go see flat balloons, spend an hour at the Central Park Zoo, or something else from our 3 day itinerary for NYC, then return and see some inflated.
Go to dinner, and come back. Even more parade balloons will be filled.
TravelingMom Tip: Although balloon inflation is from 74th to 81st streets, the only access point is 74th Street and Columbus Avenue.
2. Pretend You Are Going Skiing
Yes you are in NYC, but bundle up the kids, layer on the moisture-wicking fabrics and Smartwool. However warmly you dress, bring an extra layer. The first parade we took our kids to ended early for us when they got cold.
Bring a dry breakfast to the parade route. There should be no liquids consumed while you await the parade. Why? Because there are no bathroom breaks at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. That sweet old woman who smiled at your kids when they toddled on the empty Manhattan streets at 7 a.m. will assert her claim to your tiny bit of real estate if you even think of vacating for a restroom.
You may bring an emergency bottle of water, which might well freeze while you wait.
3. There Really Are No Restrooms
4. Raid the Piggybank
Sure, your kids want to go to college, but they are 5 and 7; college is years away. Splurge on a hotel room along the parade route. If you splurge enough (and book really, really early), you might snag a room with a view of the parade route and you can look down upon the festivities from the warmth of your room.
If that price is a little too steep, you can bundle up and head down to street level. There, you’ll get an unobstructed parade view, courtesy of the hotel’s doormen, who keep the section in front of the hotel open for guests and free of the general parade-watching riffraff.
5. Better Yet, Friend Someone Doing No. 4
Just make sure your friend vouches for you. My kids have a deep pocketed out of town uncle who loves the Thanksgiving Day parade and springs for a hotel room along the parade route.
Just be sure that the hotel is along the new route (see below). My brother-in-law switched hotels when the route changed.
6. Go to the Parade with a Talented Kid
All those marching bands and cheerleaders from across the country get to perform in the parade while their adult guardians and other hangers-on get to watch from a special viewing area. If your kid is super talented and in a Broadway show, Broadway performers also have floats.
Secret tip: Macy’s employees get access to closed areas along the route.
7. Go for the Middle
The beginning (Central Park West) and ending of the parade route (Macy’s Herald Square) are the most crowded spots. Head for somewhere midtown Manhattan, where you have the best chance of finding a viewing spot. See the balloonicles (self-powered balloons – some by bicycles) in relative obscurity.
8. Above all DON’T DRIVE
You will thank me later.
Even the day before the Macy’s parade, traffic is epic. The parade floats are built in New Jersey, then towed to the Big Apple for the big event. The Macy’s Thanksgiving parade is the time to get intimate with the NYC subway.
9. Leave Fido at Home
This is not the place to bring pets. The giant balloons can freak them out, the crowds are big, and if your dog poops, do you really want to hold a bag of waste until you can get to a garbage can?
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Route
Note: This is the route from 2019. We will update with 2020 route info once it’s released.
The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade starts at West 77th Street & Central Park West at 9 a.m. If you line up by 6 a.m on the west side of Central Park West from West 75th to West 59th Streets, you can get a great spot. But have to stay there for hours before the parade begins.
The parade turns on Central Park South at Columbus Circle, (which has no viewing spots) then heads south onto 6th Avenue. You can line up on both sides of 6th Avenue from West 59th Street to West 38th Street.
TravelingMom Tip: 6th Avenue is officially named Avenue of the Americas.
The Grandstand is located at Macy’s Herald Square, but you need tickets to sit in this viewing area and they are not available to the general public. If you’ve watched the parade on television, this is where the performances are filmed. Santa Claus brings up the rear, signaling the official start of the holiday season.
What are your favorite character balloons? Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy is a classic, but Macy’s adds new balloons each year. In 2018, Goku from Dragon Ball and Olaf from Disney’s Frozen made their debut.