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:
This post was originally published in 2015 but has been revamped and updated for 2021.
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
- Heads south, turning left at Columbus Circle
- Then right on 6th Avenue
- And continues all the way down to Macy’s at 34th
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 to avoid. Here’s where not to try and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade:
- Central Park West between 72nd and 77th – again, no public viewing
- 6th Avenue between 38th and 34th – The bulk of the parade’s television broadcast happens here. This makes it virtually impossible to get even remotely close.
Wondering where to eat Thanksgiving dinner in NYC? Check out my 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!
Also check out
While you’re in town, don’t miss the views from the best NYC observation decks! Check out that link to compare the top three.
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 a great price. Plus, it’s a straight shot to the parade route a few blocks away.
Book your stay here: Pod 51
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:
- Portable camping chairs that fold up and slip into a bag with a strap
- Folding tripod stools to keep it super compact
- Lightweight telescoping folding stools you just have to see but that apparently work great
- An inflatable ottoman chair is actually perfect for this
As you can see, there are so many creative solutions to this problem!
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.
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!
More info for your trip to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
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› But where do I recommend? For the parade, Pod Hotels!
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We are planning the trip with my 2 girls, 9 and 11. Sadly they do have medical issues that make bladder breaks necessary–so thanks for the heads up. I will look for coffee houses, etc on the route to try to choose it.
2 questions: 1: can 1 of us go and use our chairs to hold a spot at 6, then others join later? OR will the crazy crowd pushers take over the chair spots and ignore us?
2. If we are staying further south (on Jersey side) IS there a place not further north that you recommend watching it from? Just trying to be practical if we can since we are staying further south. If not we may have to switch hotels that night.
Thank you soooo much!
Hi Elizabeth! You’re definitely able to have someone go early and save spots… BUT, keep in mind that when the rest of your party arrives they will have to cut through the other people that are waiting there behind you and they might not be too happy about that.
As far as where you can watch it further south, there really aren’t many options. The parade route ends at Macy’s on 34th which is already pretty far north as far you’re concerned. (And that area of the parade is by far the most crowded.) If you already have to travel a bit to get to the parade route, I would suggest just going even farther towards the start where the crowds tend to be the lowest.
I lost you! Now I found you again. Yay!!!
Too bad they didn’t have the Baby Trump float in the parade. It would have gotten a lot of cheers.
What a trip that would’ve been!
My daughter’s band, JMU, is marching in the parade this year. Go Dukes! So,we used this as an excuse to go to NYC. lol. We have no problem going out to the route early. Sadly, I do have a nervous bladder. No restroom equals more of a need to go. It’s a crazy mind thing that started after menopause. Is it hard going to find one? My husband and other daughter will be with me. Short of wearing an adult diaper, as suggested by a coworker who did this, is leaving to use the restroom possible?
I loved your article. It was informative and hilarious. Thank you.
Hi Rose! So cool that your daughter is going to march in the parade! It shouldn’t be too hard to find a restroom. There are Starbucks and coffee shops open all over town and open very early. You’ll just need to get a spot along the parade route next to one. As long as you have someone holding your space for you while you go. (You might also have to make a purchase each time you go?) However, as the crowd thickens it will get harder and harder to get in and out of your spot, but by then you should be so distracted you’re not thinking about it. And if you’re not drinking or eating, there shouldn’t be anything to get rid of anyway — LOL, science lesson by Ashley. ALSO, your coworker isn’t crazy. Think about it, if you’re wearing an adult diaper, you’ll have your restroom right there with you, meaning you won’t have to go at all given the way your mind works. 🙂 Good luck!
I am an MRD Mom too! Going with my husband and older son. So excited but I am a bit nervous about the waiting, getting a good spot and bathroom breaks! This was on my bucket list so what better time to do this! I loved the article and it was helpful knowing not to take the subway, because we would have! We are on 34th and we are trying to figure out where the best place to watch from is for us, I heard the lower streets you can get to later, but I am skeptical! Blanket to sit on is a great idea too!
Well, if it helps, I have the smallest bladder ever so I was worried about it too – and it was never an issue. I think you just get so distracted with the whole experience that you don’t think about it. 34th street is the center of the whole parade (in front of Macy’s) so getting a spot there might be impossible. It’s true that the farther down the parade route you go, the later it happens. The parade officially starts at 9 am, but that’s way up in Central Park West, so by the time it gets to the end of the route it’s much later. If you’re willing to get up and go super early in the morning, I’d say walk up as far north along the route as you can, just to be on the safe side. 🙂 Have fun!
Hi Ashley, LOVE all your tips and info.
I’m a West Coast’er and I just booked my first trip to NYC, to cross something off the bucket list in going to the parade. I’m beyond excited. But, my time is limited. My daughter and I will arrive on Thanksgiving morning into Newark at 5am, then, we will hightail it to…somewhere, I am trying to gather all the good intel I can to see what the best plan of attack will be in finding a place to watch, given our arrival circumstances. I’m planning to take the NJ transit to Penn Station, (dump our bags at a storage facility rather than take them all the way to the Marriott Marquis, time is of the essence).. then, either head uptown…I’ve seen other blogs that say the further uptown you go (IE like to Columbus Circle) the less crowded it is, or, alternatively, save the time going uptown and just try to find someplace comfortable on 6th. I’m making peace with the fact that we won’t be up on the barricades and that is just the way it is.
Any tips, given the above info?
Hi Cori! Your trip is gonna be so fun! (And fast paced for sure)
I, too, tried to get uptown towards Columbus Circle but had issue with the subway that morning. Because of that I ended up in Midtown, HOWEVER – it was easy because I was there super early. For you, I’d say try to get as uptown as you can–that’s something I have read a lot too. By the time you get to the parade it’s going to be crowded anywhere you go but you’ll still be able to see all the floats just fine! I hope you have an amazing time!
Hi Ashley! Great post. I especially like the part about dressing warmly- lol. I am considering heading to the parade this year to chec it off my bucket list. Heading in from Mass. as well. Did you drive in, bus, train? What do you recommend to get into the city itself?
Thanks Shelley! I get there via a combination of ways: I drive to New Haven, CT (and park my car at the station) then get on the Metro North Railway straight to Grand Central Station. Altogether it takes 4 hours and is a super cheap option. From Grand Central you can grab the subway or a taxi to wherever you’re headed in the city since it’s smack in the middle. Have a great time!
I appreciate this information! We are planning for my parade bucket list experience and your pictures and description made me even more excited to go!
Thanks so much Stacey! It’s such a fun time – you’ll love it!
Are you allowed to bring any kind of chair to sit on while you wait? What about backpacks?
Hi Ed, yes you can bring chairs to sit on and backpacks. Have fun!
We are in the middle of planning for this year’s parade! Traveling all the way from Guam, its a dream for my sister who’s wanted to watch in person for like forever. Thank you for sharing your experience. Most we may not do but it’s a big help either way. Since I don’t think we will watch twice in our lifetime, I want to make sure we have an awesome experience!!
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
That’s amazing! Y’all are going to LOVE IT! If I have just one piece of advice to give–it’s get to the parade route EARLY. The earlier the better. It’s a long wait but having a spot up front is the best decision you’ll make! Have fun!
Whenever I’m in the USA I love visiting Macy’s. I could wander around for ages browsing the various departments. I’d love to go to the parade.
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
It’s great–I hope you get to someday!
Ashley!! I honestly can’t remember the last time I lol’d while reading a travel blog post, so THANK YOU. That bit with the Ronald McDonald balloon killed me. Honestly why are clowns a thing… they are so terrifying. Anyways, thanks for sharing your experience at the parade! As a sad little Canadian living north of the border, I’ve always dreamt of seeing it (cuz they always talk about it in tv shows and stuff haha). Good to know it’s every bit as magical and dorky as I always imagined!
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
Haha, well you’re welcome and you’ve come to the right place! Check out any of my other articles any time you need a giggle. 🙂 And you’re right about clowns. There was a skit about the parade (and the scary clowns) on SNL last week–if you missed it I shared the video on my Facebook page, you should TOTALLY check it out haha!
Even as a non-American, I can appreciate at least to some extent, what a huge deal the Thanksgiving Day Parade is, seeing of course how heavily featured it is in popular culture. Certainly, I’ve always wanted to experience Thanksgiving in the States and this would seem like the perfect way to do it. Some really great advice too and I really enjoyed your writing style, very engaging and funny. Looking forward to reading more
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
I invited a friend from England to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner one time and he thought it was THE GREATEST event ever. And thank you very much for your compliments! Love yours too–there aren’t enough funny bloggers out there!
I love watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade on TV, but in person looks amazing!!! Also, that wait makes the Disney parades look amateur, you only have to wait 2 hours before the parade since they have a few per day. Great tips for securing the beat spot!
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
It really is awesome in person!! And 2 hours?? I feel like the Magic Kingdom is just one constant Disney parade haha. Those are pretty awesome though too. 🙂
Macy’s Parade is probably one of the most iconic parades around the world and rightly so. Haven’t ever attended it but have often seen it on TV or in movies too. Loved the photos and the details and tips. I think it’s really cool that they close the street for the whole day and like you said walking on it after the parade can be really nice. As for that “guy” tip, I often do that, walk across whenever I can and take photos.
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
Yeah! I’m definitely going to start doing that more often. I guess when I’m in NYC I’m just concentrating on not getting run over!
I wish I could attend a Thanksgiving parade soon! It looks like so much fun! Love the comprehensive yet practical tips – it’s always tough dealing with the crowd on such big events.
Abigail of GlobalGirlTravels.com
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
Yeah, 7 million people is about the biggest crowd there is but it’s totally manageable!
Our life, our travel
For us as a Europeans, thanksgiving only means the turkey dish…but hey, this parade looks amazing! I’m sure we would love to watch it if we were still kids!
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
Haha, you’re right. But here watching the parade every Thanksgiving morning has been a tradition for a lot of families–and being there was a childhood dream come true!
I love this post! I’ve never been to the Thanksgiving Day Parade but these tips are great for the day that I do decide to brave the crowds. My favorite tip was not to drink anything. So true for me! After securing a coveted spot along the barrier there’s no way I would be giving it up to find a restroom!
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
Thank you Marissa! And yeah, what a disaster it would’ve been had I needed a bathroom at any point!