The NYC Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade has been a NYC favorite since 1924. Every year, more than 3.5 million people flock to see the floats make their way across the city — which means crowds are insane. You’ll need to prepare if you want to get a good view of the floats and shows. You’ll also want to prepare yourself for a long day, standing in the cold (and possibly rainy weather). If you’ve dreamed of going to the Thanksgiving Day parade, here are some quick tips.
Get the best views, keep warm — and still enjoy the day.
How to Get to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The Thanksgiving Day Parade follows along the same (or similar) route every year. The parade starts near Central Park and moves down Central Park West. It turns east at Central Park South and heads down 6th Avenue. The parade ends outside of Macy’s Department Store on 34th Street. Do not plan on visiting Macy’s the day of the parade! After the parade, the store is closed. When it reopens, it’s very busy.
Where to See the NYC Thanksgiving Parade
If you’re lucky enough to see the parade from the street, you’ll need to stake out your spot early. While it isn’t easy to see the parade from street level (if you don’t have a staff pass), it isn’t impossible. The parade route is long, and there are plenty of opportunities to see it pass by.
What to Expect During the Parade
Make sure to start staking out your spot very early. The parade starts at 9 a.m. Yet, because of the crowds, get there around 6 a.m. if you want to secure a spot along the parade route. It’s also a good idea to dress in layers and make sure to dress warm! It’s November in NYC, so it will most likely be very cold.
Once you have your spot, it’s going to be difficult to leave for food or to use the restroom. You’ll want to bring some snacks and lots of water for the day — especially if you have children.
As you’re staking out your spot, make note of any public restrooms. You might even want to stop at local businesses to check and see if they allow spectators to use their bathroom. Most businesses in NYC require you to make a purchase to use the restroom (except for Starbucks, of course!).
Remember: there are no seats anywhere along the parade route! The bleachers you see on TV are for Macy’s employees; they are not available to the public. Expect to stand for many hours.
Where to See the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC
There are several spots that offer decent views of the parade. Many spectators do not plan ahead and instead go to Macy’s, expecting to get a great view. Don’t do this; the police won’t allow you near the parade route here. Instead, head to one of these spots.
• Central Park West
If you plan on viewing the parade from Central Park West, you’re going to have to get up pretty early in the morning. Plan on heading to the park when it’s still dark out to scope out the best seat. The parade starts at 9 a.m. and ends about 10:30 a.m. You’ll be sitting for long periods (probably in the bitter cold) in the dark — to see the parade pass you by for just a few minutes.
• 6th Avenue
If you’re not a morning person, you might want to head to 6th Avenue to try to get a glimpse of the parade from 42nd to 59th Streets.
Macy’s does not recommend watching the parade between 34th and 42nd Streets. These blocks are very crowded, and police baracade 6th Avenue. This is the official telecast area, so Herald Square is a no-go. While you might be able to see floats pass by on 5th or 7th Avenues in this area, it’s often very crowded here.
Watching the parade near Rockefeller Center isn’t a bad idea. You’ll find “openings” in the barricades where the police allow viewers to cross the street. The crowds aren’t as dense in these areas, and you’re more likely to get a good spot here.
Preparing for the Day of the Parade
You don’t want to get a good spot — only to lose it because of a hanger attack. You’ll need to head to the parade route prepared if you want to have a good time.
• Wear Layers
You never know what the weather will bring in NYC. You’ll need to prepare for several weather-related scenarios. It’s best to always dress in layers in this city. The subways can get pretty hot in the winter, but the streets can get very cold. Wear long pants, a tee-shirt or tank top and one-to-two layers on top. You’ll also want to wear a coat, hat and gloves. Hand warmers can also mean the difference between a great day and an uncomfortable one. Bring a poncho — just in case it rains.
• Bring Snacks and Water
Bring bottles of water and snacks. Once you secure your spot, you don’t want to give it up to go grab a coffee, water or food.
• Eat a Good Breakfast
Eat a good breakfast before you head out to prepare for the day ahead. You’ll be standing around for long hours, and you may not get a chance to eat.
• Make a List of Restrooms
Should you need to use the restroom (and you will), you’ll need to know where they are. Many hotels close their lobbies the day of the parade — so using those is out of the question. Many restaurants and coffee shops allow you to use their restrooms.
Starbucks requires employees to allow everyone to use the restroom, so you can head there. Heads up: not all Starbucks have restrooms. There are extremely long lines at the ones that do have restrooms.
NYC Thanksgiving Day Parade Route
The Thanksgiving Day parade in NYC starts at 77th Street and Central Park West. It marches south on Central Park West. It passes Columbus Circle and crosses over on Central Park South. It then continues south on 6th Avenue until it reaches 34th Street.
Best Spots to Watch the Parade
Many people agree that Columbus Circle is the best place to watch the parade. It circles around here before continuing on its way.
If you want to see the begining of the parade, it’s better to line up further north.
Note: the start is also blocked off. The police allow the public to gather at 72nd Street only along the west side. The area along Central Park is reserved for invite-only grandstands. You can also stand anywhere along 6th Avenue between 59th Street and 38th Street to catch the end.
Other Ways to See the NYC Thanksgiving Day Parade
If this all sounds like a lot to take in and remember, it’s because it can be quite a pain dealing with the crowds for the Thanksgiving Day parade in NYC, but all is not lost. There are also (more comfortable ways) to view the parade.
Hotels Along the Macy’s Parade Route
If you’re willing to part with a fair chunk of a money for some extra comfort, many hotels along the route sell parade view rooms and many will also have cordoned off areas on the street for hotel guests only. This way you can alternate between your warm, cozy hotel room and still get the chance to see it firsthand as it passes by on the street — without having hold the spot all morning. You can also have the TV on so you can get the commentary as the parade approaches and still be able to watch the performances after it passes by, as these only happen in the official telecast area. But be aware that these could cost you up to $2,000 a night.
• Hilton New York Midtown
This mid-range hotel chain is great for those who want a few more amenities than you’d find in a Courtyard Marriott — but don’t want to “splurge” on a luxury hotel room, such as the Mandarin Oriental. You’ll get a comfortable (yet somewhat smaller) room and a bit of camaraderie amongst the other guests. You’ll also get a bird’s eye view of the balloons, the dancers and the rest of the parade. You might not be able to snag a hotel room here though if you wait too long — these rooms sell out fast.
• Mandarin Oriental Hotel
If you really want an unforgettable experience for Thanksgiving in New York City, stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. This is considered one of the most luxe hotels in the city (and it also has a great view of the parade route). Yet rooms at the Mandarin Oriental start at around $600 a night during low seasons. That means you might end up seeing prices rise to around $2,000 a night during the parade.
• Courtyard New York Marriott Herald Square
Courtyard Marriotts are known for being a part of Marriotts “budget” line. Yet that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to pay a pretty penny to stay there the night before Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving night. In fact, rooms start here around $1,000 a night.
• Restaurants Near the Macy’s Parade Route
If the hotel room is a bit too rich for your blood, there are few restaurants along the way that offer a breakfast/brunch offering on the day of the parade. For example, Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center offers a ticketed event with a perfect view from its third floor position. Here, you’ll be able to watch the parade pass through Columbus Circle. Most other restaurants are on the ground floor and might not offer as good a view. Yet many run specials and offer a nice place to rest your feet after the long morning.
Watch the Parade on TV
Just because you’re in NYC, doesn’t mean you can’t still watch the parade on TV! In fact, most New Yorkers watch the parade from the warmth of their apartments. Many local bars open early the day of the parade. Watching the parade on a TV in a warm bar with a Bailey’s in hand isn’t a bad idea, either.
Instead of going to the parade, many New Yokers watch the balloon inflation festivities instead. It takes place the night before, and it’s a fun activity that is still related to the parade.The balloon inflations start at 3 p.m. and end at around 10 p.m. The event is much less crowded than the parade. You can view this event on 77th or 81st Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. It’s surreal watching the massive floats take shape!The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in NYC is an incredible experience, but you definitely want to make sure that you’re prepared. A little preperation can mean the difference between a fun, stress-free day — and a cold and miserable one.