If you’re like most people, as a kid you probably spent every Thanksgiving morning glued to the TV set watching clowns, confetti, marching bands, performance groups, musical acts from every genre, elaborate floats, celebrities, and those iconic giant balloons marching through the streets of Manhattan in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Largely considered to be the official start of the holiday season, this 99-year-old New York City institution has been dazzling audiences across the country at home since it was first broadcast nationally in 1948.
But no matter how large your TV screen at home is, it’s impossible to capture the sense of awe that comes from seeing five-story-tall balloons float past you in person. And for all the comforts of watching the parade at home in your jammies, nothing beats the energy and excitement of seeing this massive spectacle on display live inside the greatest city in the world. That’s why each year, the streets of Gotham are packed with people who come to experience the Parade first-hand.
So, if you’re thinking of braving both November weather and crowds to see the Parade for the first time, you’re going to want to have a plan. After all, three million other people had the same idea. We’re sure you have questions.
Where Can You Watch the Parade?
The 2.5-mile parade route stretches down Central Park West at West 77th Street to 59th Street, then heads east to 6th Avenue and then downtown on 6th Avenue to 34th Street and Herald Square, where Macy's flagship store is located.
Can You Sit in the Grandstands?
The grandstands that are set up along Central Park are reserved for the parade sponsors, participants' friends and family, Macy's employees, volunteers, sponsors, and VIPs. Tickets are hard to come by. If you think you may know someone with a connection, start working that friend now.
When Does the Parade Start? When Should You Get There?
Step off time is 8:30 a.m., and the Parade generally runs about three hours. We recommend arriving by 6:30 a.m. if you want to see the Parade by the Park or down by Macy’s to secure a spot. If you’re planning to watch the parade in the less-crowded areas in midtown around the 40s, you can arrive at 7:30 or 8 a.m. Remember that so much of the Parade is in the air. So, if you end up standing five deep, you’ll still be able to see plenty.
What to Wear
Weather in New York in November can run the gamut from slightly chilly to downright freezing. Check the weather report the night before the parade. Wear a hat, dress in layers, and bring an umbrella if they’re calling for rain.
Will You Be Able to See the Broadway Performances?
Not unless you’ve got a spot in the stands at Herald Square. The Broadway performers don’t march with the Parade. Each cast is usually waiting inside Macy’s until they perform outside of the store for the telecast.
Recommended Viewing Spots
The streets up along Central Park and down by Herald Square are always the most packed. We recommend the following spots that are in the center of the Parade route.
In our previously published piece “Book These Hotels Near the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade For Fabulous Views,” we profiled seven Manhattan hotels with great views or vantage points for the Parade. These rooms usually book up well in advance of Thanksgiving. But people sometimes cancel. Make a call. You might get lucky.
For Comfort: The Shops at Columbus Circle
Suppose you don’t mind being three hundred feet from the action and watching the Parade through the massive glass windows that look out onto Columbus Circle. In that case, no spot can match the comfort of watching from inside the Shops at Columbus Circle. You’ll have an elevated view if you snag a spot on the second and third floor balconies. It won’t be cold. And best of all, you’ll have easy access to restrooms. One caveat: it gets packed. Plan on getting there early.
For the Crowd Adverse: Extra Wide Sidewalks in the 50s and 40s
On the west side of Sixth Avenue in the lower 50s and high 40s, numerous buildings are set pretty far back from the street. This means that even if the crowds are standing eight-deep from the barricades, you’ll have plenty of breathing room on these extra wide sidewalks and you’ll still be able to see the balloons.
For the Multitasker: Bryant Park
Looking to ice skate while watching the Parade? There’s only one spot where you can do that. The Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park offers terrific views of the Parade. What’s more, the shops, eateries, and restrooms are open on Thanksgiving. So, you can shop, skate, watch the Parade, and get a bite to eat all in one place!