More than 3.5 million tourists and locals crowd the streets of New York City every year to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which showcases live music performances, giant character balloons, marching bands and more. Those hoping to secure a seat have to apply for a job at Macy's, as grandstand seats are reserved for Macy's employees and select charities. Otherwise, plan to arrive early to join the throngs along the parade route for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Location, location, location
The parade route begins at 77th Street and Central Park West. The floats, bands, dancers, clowns and other participants in the parade march:
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- South on Central Park West to Columbus Circle
- Turn east onto Central Park South
- Turn again at 7th Avenue and cross 42nd Street
- Turn onto 6th Avenue
- Turn west on 34th Street to reach Herald's Square
- Parade ends at Macy's flagship store and headquarters
The best parade-viewing locations include the stretch along Central Park West, from West 75th to West 61st Streets and 6th Avenue between West 59th and West 38th Streets. There is limited public viewing on West 34th Street on the last stretch between Broadway and 7th Avenue.
There are certain areas where the public is not allowed to gather to watch the parade. There is no public viewing along:
- The parade staging area and starting point at 77th Street and Central Park West
- Central Park West between West 59th and West 60th Streets, including Columbus Circle
- The grandstand area near Columbus Circle and Sixth Avenue, between 34th and 38th Street; grandstand tickets are not available for purchase
- In front of the Macy's headquarters and store on Herald Square in Manhattan
Room with a view
A handful of New York City hotels are located along the parade route, providing clear views of the balloons without throngs of onlookers. However, NYC hotel room rates increase dramatically during special events, and you may need to book more than a year in advance.
Balloon inflation blast-off
To take a peek at the massive balloons before the action, head over to the American Museum of Natural History on 79th Street to watch the balloon inflation, which has become a special event for Macy's parade fans. Parade workers inflate the balloons the day before the parade, a task that generally lasts from about 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. If you really want to get in on the action, volunteer your services as a balloon handler. Though competition for these coveted positions is fierce, Macy's accepts applications on their parade website.
Considerations and concerns
The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade starts at 9 a.m. and lasts until 12 p.m. Eastern Time. Visitors who hope to get a front-row spot should plan on arriving as early as 6 a.m. Some diehards arrive even earlier to guarantee a good spot.
Temperatures around Thanksgiving generally fall to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and can be significantly colder, so plan for the weather and dress warmly. Wear layers so you can remove them if necessary as the day warms up. Although you may be tempted to trick the system by bringing your own seat, folding chairs are not allowed.