These 15 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips will help you have the best time at one of the most famous events in America! Now wave to the camera, Hi mom!
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is an annual tradition dating back to 1924 and it’s one of the absolute must-do things in New York City. Plus, chances are you’ve been watching it since your diaper days. But there is nothing like experiencing it in person.
And though it seems pretty straightforward (I mean, we’ve all been to parades before), the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade requires a little bit more planning, preparation , and tenacity than usual. Check out these 15 proven tips for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for an unforgettable holiday:
1. Study the parade route beforehand
On the official parade website they post a map of the upcoming parade route each year. Using this you can map out the best spots to watch the parade, where you’ll want to stay during your visit to New York City, how you’ll get to the route, and more.
For the best chance of getting a prime parade-watching spot, be sure to have a solid plan (and a backup) before heading out. But you don’t have to wait until November to plan. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade follows the same general 2.5-mile route every year.
- It begins up on 77th Street in the Upper West Side, near the Natural History Museum
- Then heads south, turning left at Columbus Circle
- Takes a right on 6th Avenue
- Continues all the way down to Macy’s at 34th Street
Best places to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Though the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Route is long, you’ve got to remember more than 3 million people attend in person. (With not nearly enough sidewalk space) Also, some spots are better for viewing than others, by popular opinion. The best spots to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are:
Central Park West, between 72nd and 61st St
Crowds tend to be thicker the farther south and into Midtown you get, so watching near the beginning is the best idea. (Though the parade officially starts at 77th St., public viewing of the parade isn’t permitted farther north than 72nd.)
Corner of 6th and Central Park South
Here, next to Central Park where the parade turns down 6th Avenue, is a great spot to watch the parade. (The corners are great for balloon viewing.)
Where NOT to watch the Macy’s Parade
Likewise, there are also spots you’ll want to avoid. Here’s where NOT to try and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade:
- Central Park West between 72nd and 77th Street – Again, no public viewing
- 6th Avenue between 38th and 24th Streets – The bulk of the parade’s televised broadcast happens here. This makes it virtually impossible to get even remotely close.
If you’re wondering where to eat Thanksgiving dinner in NYC? Check out my NYC Thanksgiving dinner cruise experience! Trust me, yams on a yacht is the way to go.
2. Check the weather, dress in layers
Given that this exciting event takes place in November… in New York City… it gets cold. And you’re going to be outside in it for hours.
The good part is that when the parade gets started, you’ll be bumper to bumper in a massive crowd, dancing and jumping, and entirely distracted from your frozen digits.
The bad part is that you’ll be waiting outside, not moving at all, and concentrating only on your pitiful state for about three to four hours. Before the sun comes up. When New York City is at its coldest.
So, be sure to prepare for both scenarios. Dress in thin layers you can remove one by one but that won’t be too bulky to hold onto during the parade.
During my Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade experience I froze my tuchus off before the start. However, by the end of it I was down to a thin short-sleeved top because the temperature had reached a miraculous 65°F!
3. Get to the route by 6 AM for the best viewing spot
Yes, the parade does indeed start at 9 AM, but you’ll need to secure yourself a prime viewing spot at the front of the crowds if you want the best experience. As you’ll discover in this post, you most definitely want the prime spot next to the barriers.
Some sites will tell you to arrive by 7, some say 6:30. But the most crucial of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips I’ve got for you is to get there before 6 AM.
Before my first time at the parade, I was told 6:30 is a good time to show up. So naturally I took it a step further and vowed to arrive at 6. Then, on the morning of, my anxiety took over and I upped this to 5:45. For a 9:00 parade. As a childless adult.
Well, because of a couple of subway snafus, I actually ended up arriving to the parade route in Midtown at the late hour of 6 o’clock as originally planned. And guess what? I was one child back from the barricade. One child who got there at, you guessed it, 5:45 as a stand-in for her mother who was sleeping in.
So, unless you have a child you can send in as a placeholder, get to the parade route before 6 AM. Go big or go home. Second behind the barricade is first loser, everybody knows that.
4. Don’t take the subway to the parade route
The moral of the story here is to walk to the parade route. Taxis are iffy since many of the streets are closed for the parade. The subway is simply unreliable on holidays and in the pre-dawn hours. Get a hotel near where you want to watch the parade and don’t even bother with public transportation.
Originally, I had aimed for a spot up at Central Park West near the start of the parade. Since my morning began at the Pod Hotel (Pod 51) at 51st and 3rd Ave, I decided I would take the subway to the Upper West Side.
The New York City subway—I may be the only one who has ever said this—has never let me down. Until now. We waited half an hour for a train that never came.
So, we exited the station and walked two blocks straight to the parade route. We snagged a spot right there at the corner of 6th Ave and 52nd St.
I realize now that this was what we should’ve done in the first place. But if I had done everything perfectly this wouldn’t be that helpful of a post, now would it?
At that point (6 AM) the route was already lined with people as far as the eye and my 50x zoom lens could see. So, we just picked a corner and broke out the muffins. They actually might have been Pillsbury, hoo-hoo!
5. Don’t splurge on an overpriced hotel
Many sites offering Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips will encourage you to book one of the (way overpriced) hotels that overlook the parade route, so you can watch it from the warmth of your own high-priced room.
I strongly disagree with this. If that is your plan, you might as well save the $1000 and watch it on your 60-inch TV from the warmth of your own house. It will not be any different.
The point of attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person is to actually experience it and be part of the action. You can’t hear the bands and performances from the hotel rooms. A clown can’t dump a bucket of confetti on your head if you’re in a hotel room. You can’t know the fear of a giant Kool-Aid man speeding right at you if you’re up in a hotel room.
For that, you’ll have to be down there on the street with the clowns, marching bands, and celebrity-driven floats.
6. Stay at a hotel near the parade route
To arrive at the parade route by 6 AM you will need to stay overnight in Manhattan on Wednesday. And for the easiest way to get to the parade early, stay at a hotel near your chosen spot on the parade route.
Hotels near the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Instead of the above, book an otherwise affordable hotel a block or two from the route so you can easily walk there in the morning. Luckily, there are countless hotels along the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route for the choosing.
However, as far as hotel-related Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips go, I would advise you to book as early as possible. Remember, 3.5 million people are also attending. And though most of them probably live in New York City, the rest are booking the hotels along the parade route.
I’m a big fan of the Pod Hotels (see my full, honest Pod Hotel review here), and Pod 51 is perfect for a Macy’s Parade trip.
If you’re in town for just a couple of nights for the parade, this hotel offers simple rooms at great prices. Plus, it’s a straight shot to the parade route just a few blocks away.
Book your stay at Pod 51 here.
Search for hotels here
Take a look at the parade route, then go to this Booking.com New York City page. In the upper right, click on “Map View.” From there you can easily find hotels along the parade route.
To make it even easier, on the lefthand side of the map page you can filter the results by rating, hotel type, neighborhood, etc. I always filter by “hotels” and start with a rating of “Awesome: 9+” and go from there.
7. Watch them blow up the balloons
If you arrive early enough the day before the parade, head up to Central Park West for the Inflation Celebration. Near the start of the parade route the Wednesday before Thanksgiving you can watch up close as they blow up the balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The Macy’s parade balloon inflation takes place between 1 and 8 PM the night before the parade and the public is welcome to attend. This is such a fun, behind-the-scenes look at this famous event.
8. Pack food, make friends
You’ll be confined to your chosen spot for about six hours, unable to move, because someone hijacking your space is an all-too-real probability. Sometime in that span hunger will strike (there are a lot of food-themed clowns at the Macy’s parade), so you need to be prepared.
Pack whatever you would for, say, an epic hiking adventure or jury duty. Personally, I baked a bunch of muffins, threw them all into a Ziplock bag, and shoved them into my backpack. (I may be able to give you Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Tips but I never claimed to be Martha Stewart.)
Don’t forget to share your goodies with the friends you’ve made on your street corner who didn’t bring anything more than their stories of life in small-town Minnesota. Muffins are great, people will like you.
And, trust me, you’ll want your sidewalk neighbors in your parade posse when latecomers start trying to sneak, shove, and squeeze in front of you. Or crawl through your legs which is an actual thing that happened to me.
9. Bring something to sit on
Six hours in the cold is one thing, but sitting on the filthy New York City sidewalk the entire time is another. Since I basically went into my Macy’s Parade experience blind, I brought only a blanket to sit on, which I thought I would also use for warmth during the parade. (Joke’s on me I guess!)
Can you bring chairs to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?
Yes, chairs are permitted at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. However, keep in mind that as the crowd grows and the start of the parade inches closer, you’ll have to stand. And when you stand, you’ll have to either carry the chair, ditch it, or prop it up against the barricade if you’re close enough. (You’ll also have to keep it as unobtrusive as possible lest you anger the masses.)
With that in mind, you’ll want to consider chairs like: (As you can see, there are many creative solutions here!)
10. Bring something to stand on
As the short girl who always gets stuck behind the super tall guys at concerts, when choosing something to sit on at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, you may want to look for things that can double as a stepping stool for when the parade gets going.
Unless you get the prime spot next to the barricade, you might have a hard time seeing the action from within the crowds. Pick up a small, foldable stepping stool to give yourself a little boost that you can also sit on beforehand.
Just don’t make it too high or you’re now the tall guy at concerts. And be sure it’s something you can easily pack up.
11. Limit your beverage intake
You should know, there is nowhere to pee during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (and even fewer places to do the other thing). Plus, you certainly will not be vacating the spot you woke up at 5 AM for.
I read many Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips before my trip that said things like, “Bring a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee.” And to that I say, “With this bladder?!”
I brought my reusable water bottle for dire moments of dehydration and that. is. all. Do not, I repeat, do not bring a thermos of coffee, a known diuretic and laxative. (I betcha didn’t think you’d see the word ‘laxative’ in this post!)
12. Get into the parade spirit
I thought waiting six hours in the dark early morning hours was going to be a drag so I brought a book to pass the time. And I didn’t read a single page. Sure, the parade is the reason we’re all here, but even the hours leading up to the parade are SO FUN!
The people watching is phenomenal. You’ll make friends and spend hours playing “What’s That Cop’s Job?” where you try to figure out an officer’s position within the NYPD based on how they’re dressed and what type of vehicle they arrived in. (Way more fun than it sounds.)
What I’m saying is, take it all in! Watch them set up for the parade, watch the people pour in, enjoy the build-up. You’re at an event you’ve been watching since you acquired the ability to lift your head and point it towards a TV. Now you’re here.
Stop trying to look cool and let your inner dork free! The dancers and clowns and miscellaneous brightly-dressed characters will interact with you and throw confetti on you; you’ll join in block-wide chants and sing-a-longs; and the celebrities on the floats will totally wave back at you! Plus, you’ll get to see parts of the parade you never knew existed.
Just appreciate it for what it is
By that I mean, don’t try to make sense of the stuff you’re seeing. Seriously, I don’t know what to make of the clown troupes at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I never saw these on the TV broadcasts.
Honestly, I really liked the giant pencils and the breakfast clowns. But the old men dressed as babies? That’s my weirdness limit for the day. Also, there was one really big clown that just scared the bejeezus out of everyone in Manhattan. (Everyone within earshot: “Oh god he’s looking right at us!”)
13. Be assertive
After the parade gets underway, there will be many a latecomer who will show up and try to push all the people who got there at 5 AM. They’ll think they’re being smooth, but you’re too smart for that. They will try to crawl through your legs.
The parade route is now a confetti-covered battle ground. I’m not saying to start fights or anything, but they’re going to try to take advantage of your niceness. Don’t let them push you around. It helps if you’re next to the barricade and can just hold on for dear life.
14. Have a backup plan
So you didn’t read these Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips at all and showed up late to find all the good spots taken? If so, you can still get the best views of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ever by simply following this guy’s lead:
Maybe you didn’t think “walk back and forth repeatedly” was going to be one of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips in this post but hear me out.
Being at an intersection, the police let people cross the street in between the balloons and floats. This guy, along with many others, simply spent the morning crossing the street over and over, stopping in the middle to take pictures of the action. I may have arrived three hours early but this guy definitely got the best photos.
15. Enjoy the aftermath
One surprising advantage of visiting New York City on Thanksgiving is that this massive stretch of 6th Ave is close all day long. Having an entire New York City avenue all to yourself is something you never knew you wanted so badly.
Immediately after the parade ends, the crowds disperse and the streets empty. And no one bothers taking down the barriers for a very, very long time. Take advantage of this rare event!
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