Tips for Watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Judy Antell Avatar

Giant balloon at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2018.
A balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo credit: Macy’s

Every Thanksgiving, three and a half million people flock to Manhattan to witness giant balloons, epic performances and elaborate floats at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The world’s largest parade, this event has been enchanting New Yorkers and tourists since 1924 and is one of the best free things to do in New York City The giant balloon Beagle Scout Snoopy will be making its debut this year.

The 97th annual Thanksgiving Parade starts at 9 a.m. (but you have to get there earlier. Much much earlier). The 2.5-mile-long route starts on the Upper West Side and snakes its way to midtown. 

The best way to see the parade, in my opinion, is from your friend’s living room window. But real estate on Central Park West is among the city’s priciest, so how can you see the parade live (and not just on NBC), if you don’t have a friend with a $3 million view? 

From a native New Yorker (and avid parade fan), here are my tips for watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2023.

Read More: How to Plan a Fabulous Family Vacation in New York City

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2018 float.
A float close up at a preview of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2018. Photo credit: Judy Antell

1. Go the Night Before

New Year’s Eve outranks New Year’s Day, and some people prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, so make Thanksgiving Eve your thing when it comes to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Your reward: You’ll be able to see those giant helium balloons without all the crowds.

The balloons are inflated on the streets around the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side, at Columbus Avenue and West 77th Street. Inflation is from noon until 6 pm. You can go see flat balloons, spend an hour at the Central Park Zoo, or something else from our 3 day itinerary for NYC, then return and see the first few inflated. Go to dinner, and come back. Even more parade balloons will be filled and ready to parade.

See the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2018 like a local.
You may not be able to get to 34th Street, but you can get to Sesame Street. Photo credit: Macy’s

2. What to Wear to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Yes, you are in NYC, but bundle up and layer on the moisture-wicking fabrics and Smartwool. However warmly you dress, bring an extra layer. The first parade we took our kids to ended early for us when they got cold.

Bring a dry breakfast to the parade route. There should be no liquids consumed while you await the parade. Why? Because there are no bathroom breaks at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The tiny bit of real estate you’ve claimed throughout the parade will vanish if you even think of vacating for a restroom.

You may bring an emergency bottle of water, which might well freeze while you wait.

3. There Really Are No Bathrooms

‘Nuff said.

4. Splurge on a Hotel Room Overlooking the Parade Route

It’s likely too late to do it for this year — the precious rooms sell out quickly. But plan now for 2024 and beyond. If you splurge enough (and book really, really early), you might snag a room with a view of the parade route, and you can look down upon the festivities from the warmth of your room.

If that price is a little too steep, you can book a room without a view. Then bundle up and head down to street level. There, you’ll get an unobstructed parade view, courtesy of the hotel’s doormen, who keep the section in front of the hotel open for guests and free of the general parade-watching riffraff.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2018
Macy’s makes its sponsorship known. Photo credit: Judy Antell

5. Tag Along With a Friend Who Splurged

Just make sure your friend vouches for you — the doormen will only let you in if you can prove you have a good (paying) reason to be in the hotel on parade day.

Lucky for us, my kids have a deep-pocketed out-of-town uncle who loves the Thanksgiving Day parade and springs for a hotel room along the parade route.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Before you book, be sure the hotel is along the route (see below). My brother-in-law had to switch hotels one year when the route changed.

Don't forget to look up at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2018.
Mighty Power Ranger balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo credit: Kent Miller Studios for Macy’s

6. Go to the Parade with a Talented Kid

All those marching bands and cheerleaders from across the country get to perform in the parade while their adult guardians and other hangers-on get to watch from a special viewing area. Broadway performers also have floats, so maybe it’s time to get your super-talented kid a role in a Broadway show.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Macy’s employees get access to closed areas along the route, which might make this a good time to take a part-time job in retail.

7. Go for the Middle: Public Viewing Locations

The beginning (Central Park West) and end of the parade route (Macy’s Herald Square) are the most crowded spots. Head for somewhere in midtown Manhattan, where you have the best chance of finding a viewing spot.

8. Above all DON’T DRIVE

Driving in NYC is never easy, but driving on parade day is straight-up impossible. The Macy’s Thanksgiving parade is the time to get intimate with the NYC subway.

Even the day before the Macy’s parade (November 22, 2023), traffic will be epic. The parade floats are built in New Jersey, then towed to the Big Apple for the big event. Take the subway so you can stand on the street and watch, not curse, the time you spend sitting in traffic.

9. Leave Fido at Home

This is not the place to bring pets. The giant balloons can freak them out, the crowds are big, and if your dog poops, do you really want to hold a bag of waste until you can get to a garbage can?

2022 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Route
Photo credit: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade website

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Route

In 2023, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade started at West 77th Street & Central Park West, though there is no public viewing at the official starting point. Viewing starts at 75th Street, but only on the west side of the street.

The parade will turned on Central Park South at Columbus Circle, where again there is no public viewing, then head south onto 6th Avenue. People can line up on both sides of 6th Avenue from West 59th Street to West 38th Street.

The Grandstand is located at Macy’s Herald Square, but only people with tickets are admitted to sit in the viewing area. If you’ve watched the parade on television, this is where the performances are filmed. Santa Claus brings up the rear, signaling the official start of the Christmas season in NYC and time to shop at Macy’s department store.

Although the parade begins at 9 am, those hoping to claim a good spot arrive by 6 am and stand around for hours. If navigating crowds and braving the cold sounds like a lot, you can slip into a pair of jammies and watch the parade live on NBC or stream it on Peacock.

Judy Antell Avatar
Judy Antell is an empty-nester mother of 3 who spends a lot of time visiting her daughters. Why don’t they live in Brooklyn? Judy and her husband love to travel, by bike, car, or plane, whether to see their kids or have friend or couple adventures, mostly centered around vegetarian food.
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