For nearly 100 years, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a must-watch event for millions of people. In years past, more than 3 million people have come into New York to view the parade. The floats, the music, the pageantry. It’s an amazing spectacle. Picture huge balloons, thousands of dancers, bands from all over the country, clowns, and much more.
Have you dreamt about going but don’t know where to start? Are you intimidated by the crowds? Don’t know how to dress for the day? And, what about bathrooms?
This post is for you. We’ll tell you how to go and what you’ll need to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
1. Catch A Glimpse Of The Balloons Coming To Life
The balloons are always a hit of the parade. Imagine Pikachu, Astronaut Snoopy, and Ada Twist flying above you. This year, Tiptoe is expected to be the first balloon puppet to march (or prance) the route. If you loved The Mandalorian, Grogu will also be making his debut in 2021. The balloons are huge. Grogu is expected to be 41 feet tall, 29 feet long, and 37 feet wide.
Our favorite activity is watching the balloons come to life. It’s free to do in the day/evening before the parade. If you are in the city, head up to the Upper West Side where the balloons are lined up on the ground starting at 1 p.m. We used to go at 11 p.m. and just wander the streets watching as the balloons grew to their full size. Now it’s more organized and the hours are 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. It can be crowded in the early evening hours.
The balloon inflation takes place on the streets between 77th and 81st streets near Central Park West.
2. Don’t Watch The Parade Near Herald Square
Herald’s Square is the location of Macy’s flagship store and the energy in the crowd is infectious. It’s also the most crowded place to watch. If you decide to watch from near Herald Square, you may be far from the action even if you get there very early.
You don’t need to be super close to see the balloons, but if you want to see the performers — the Big Apple Circus, Jumpers United (national and international jump rope champions), Ballet Hispanico, clowns, marching bands, and others — you need to be able to see the street level.
3. Try Viewing On The Upper Westside
You may be able to find a closer view and fewer crowds on the Upper Westside section of the parade route. It’s where the parade starts at 9 a.m., so you’ll have to get there earlier. The parade will pass by earlier if you must be somewhere afterward. Anywhere along Central Park West is a good spot. Columbus Circle is also a good spot but it’s well-known and gets crowded.
4. Check The Parade Route
Most recently, the parade started at 9 a.m. near 75th and Central Park West and went south to Central Park South then east to 6th Avenue and down 6th Avenue to Herald Square. The route gets released on the website every year. Before you go, check the parade route on Macy’s website to make sure there haven’t been any changes to the route.
5. Decide Where You Want To Stand A Day Early
We like to decide our target location the day (or week) before the parade. We scout out the nearby bathrooms, places to eat (takeout), and the nearest subway stop. If you are new to the city, determine how long it will take you to get there very early in the morning. Will you take a taxi, car service, or the subway? Keep in mind that the subway doesn’t run as often in the very early hours of the morning.
6. Get There Very Early
The parade begins at 9 a.m. To get the perfect spot, you need to arrive at least 3 hours before it begins. Yes, that means 6 a.m. This is especially true if you’re going to Herald Square. They don’t sell any tickets or have any special areas for the elderly or for people needing accessibility.
7. Be Prepared To Wait
You’ll need to hold your spot and not move for several hours before the parade and for the duration of the parade. Being part of a group will make it easier. We recommend dressing in layers and bringing snacks and drinks. If you have children, you will need something to keep them entertained while you wait.
8. Learn About Balloons And Floats on the Parade 101 Page
We recommend viewing the Parade 101 page on Macy’s website before you go, especially if you plan to bring children. There are videos about balloon design and inflation and float building. In addition, you’ll find parade-themed coloring pages, games, word searches, and more that you can print out and bring with you during the parade.
9. Check The Weather Forecast
The parade takes place rain, shine, or freezing cold. There is one condition that does have a big impact on the parade — wind. Gusts of more than 34 miles an hour make it hard to control the balloons. They’ve been completely grounded only once — in 1971 — but sometimes the balloons are flown lower when it is windy.
10. Consider Watching From Inside
For a more comfortable experience, you may want to view the parade from indoors at a restaurant on the route or at The Shops at Columbus Circle. For restaurants, you might need to make reservations far in advance.
At the shops, you need to arrive before it opens to secure a good viewing location. The shops generally open at 10 a.m. but sometimes open earlier for the parade. In any event, you need to arrive at least 1-2 hours prior to secure a good spot. The downside to watching indoors is that you don’t feel the same energy that you’ll experience outdoors. On the other hand, you’ll be warm and have easy access to bathrooms.
11. Splurge On A Hotel On The Route
For a more comfortable and (very) expensive experience, you can rent a room at a hotel on the route. The Mandarin Oriental, the New York Hilton Midtown, Trump International Hotel & Tower, the Ritz-Carlton New York, and the Warwick New York are a few of the possibilities. You’ll need to book well in advance to secure a room. And make sure to double-check the parade route to make sure that nothing has changed. Some of these hotels will also have VIP areas on the street for viewing the parade.
12. Don’t Drive Into New York
Thanksgiving Day is a major gridlock day in New York City. It’s best to avoid driving into New York. Taking mass transit into the city will save you from hours in traffic coming in and leaving the city.
13. Hang Around After The Parade
We just recommended not driving into the city. At the same time, the trains and subways are massively crowded as soon as the parade ends. Consider making a lunch reservation a few blocks away from the parade so you can relax and warm up (and use the bathroom). Once you’re done with your meal, you have an easier time with the subways and trains.
14. Do It At least Once
We recommend going to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at least once. The balloons are fun to see. The performances are incredible. The bands play their hearts out. And the clowns will make you laugh. If you love it, come again and again.
If you have more time in New York City, consider these other options: