Thanksgiving has to be one of my favorite US holidays. Not that I particularly enjoy celebrating the sketchy history of the holiday itself, but I love having a day dedicated to family and food- two of my favorite things on Earth.
Growing up, the first thing my family would do on Thanksgiving morning was turn the TV on to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. It was always – and probably still is- one of my favorite holiday traditions. Watching the goofy floats, hearing the bands and singers, and getting a glimpse of some of the top musical numbers on Broadway just set the cheery mood for the rest of the day. So when I got the chance to actually go to New York City and see the parade in person, I was thrilled!
I have some family roots in New York City, so it wasn’t my first time in Manhattan. I didn’t really need to do the typical NYC visit: I was there to see the parade. That, and eat pizza.
If you are looking to cross a great American experience off your bucket list, you’ve got to head to Manhattan the day before the third Thursday in November. But first, here are some tips for seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
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When: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade starts at 9:00am EST on Thanksgiving Day in the US. Depending on where you are along the parade route, it may get to you anywhere between 9am and 10:30am. The parade generally lasts about 3 hours.
Where: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade begins at 77th and Central Park West, by the Museum of Natural History. It travels south on Central Park West, before turning onto W 59th at Colombus Circle. From there, it turns south again on 6th Avenue to make the stretch between 59th and 34th before rounding the corner and ending at Macy’s in Herald Square.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Tips
Stay in Manhattan the night before
Yes. It’s probably going to cost you a pretty penny. But it’s so worth it to be in Manhattan especially when you’ll have to wake up pretty early. If you want to save money on accommodation, book early!! You can also plan to go with friends and split the cost of the hotel room. There are also a few hostels in Manhattan that are a bit cheaper than a typical hotel room.
Scout out the parade route on Wednesday
This may sound a bit obvious, but you’ll want to make sure to scout out a few areas along the parade route. Have a few ideal places in mind before the morning, so that you’re not wandering aimlessly trying to find a spot.
My advice is don’t even try to get a spot down by Macy’s where the parade ends, as this is where many of the big televised performances are filmed, so it gets a bit chaotic down there.
Secure a spot early
If you’re committed to getting up early (like 4am) you’re likely to get a good spot at the beginning of the parade route, and probably even right at the front. This does mean you’ll need to stay in your spot for 5 hours until the parade actually starts, and then another 3 hours to watch the parage. Props to you people, because I personally prefer sleeping and being warm.
If you’re not too concerned about having the best view (I mean, most of the balloons and floats have you looking upwards anyway) you can get away with sleeping in until 6 or 7am.
Bring a friend or two
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of those things that’s just a little better when experienced with a friend or two. Not only can you huddle together to keep warm while waiting for the parade to start, but they can hold your spot if you need to find a bathroom, and help you belt out ALL the songs and Christmas carols that play as the parade goes by.
Prepare for the weather
When I saw the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City in 2018, it was the coldest parade day in New York since 1901. You guys, it was freezing. By the end of the parade, I could not feel my legs and it physically hurt to walk. But even if you aren’t visiting during a record-breaking cold spell, odds are it’s still going to be fairly cold. Perhaps even raining or snowing.
Make sure to prepare for the forecasted weather. Bring layers to keep yourself warm and dry- particularly your hands and feet as the extremities tend to get cold the fastest.
Do a little research
Before you go, you should research the line up for the parade. A quick Google search should find you the information. It’s helpful to know who the performers are in the parade because they’re not always recognizable on the floats.
Plan out food beforehand
Between the long hours of standing and the need to keep your body warm, this isn’t the best morning to skip breakfast. Buy some snacks or breakfast items the day before to eat while waiting for the parade to start. There may be some places open in the morning to find food, but odds are there will be long lines and many other places will be closed for the holiday.
Tough it out
Look, experiencing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade involves a lot of standing, waiting, shivering, crowding, and waking up early. It’s not the ideal way to spend a holiday morning. But when you’ve grown up watching the parade on tv and having it become a family tradition, seeing the parade in real life can be magical.
Let me let you in on a little secret: Many people in that crowd who got up early to secure a good spot are not going to last the whole parade. Families with small children generally bail about an hour into the parade. People don’t stay for the whole thing. If you’re able to tough it out for the full three-hour parade, odds are you’ll get a chance at a front-row spot eventually.
What to bring to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
You may be wondering if there’s any gear that might make your visit to the Thanksgiving Day Parade a little easier. Much of what you’ll want to bring involves staying warm and dry while outside. Here are a few ideas:
- Hand and Body warmers – A little extra help in keeping your hands, feet, and other body parts warm.
- Merino wool socks– Most effective for keeping your feet warm
- Thermal base layers – Warm layers to wear under your clothes for extra warmth
- Warm gloves – Keep your fingers warm
- Warm hat – Helps to keep your body heat regulated
- Lockable Backpack – Helpful to keep your things in and lockable for crowd security
- Thermos – Bring a warm beverage to sip on while waiting
- Snacks – Always bring snacks, no matter what you do
- Patience – This requires a good amount of waiting. Have some patience and go with the flow
- Holiday spirit – I mean, if you’re at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, you might as well get into the spirit of things!
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