A New Yorker’s Guide to Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Person

A born-and-raised New Yorker shares her top tips for seeing Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in person, including the best spots to watch and where to stay and eat along the parade route.
Tom Turkey at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (Photo: Macy's)
Tom Turkey at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (Photo: Macy's)
  • As a born-and-raised New Yorker, I’ve attended the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person literally dozens of times.
  • More than 50 million people watch the parade on TV every year, but it’s even better in person.
  • These are my personal tips for planning to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live in New York City.

With its giant balloons, lively marching bands, and made-for-TV musical performances, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a New York City holiday tradition right up there with turkey and all the trimmings. As a born-and-raised New Yorker, I’ve attended the annual parade literally dozens of times, starting when I was in a stroller and later bringing my own children to the celebration. While you can watch the spectacle on television, catching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person is one of those bucket list family vacation ideas everyone should plan to do at least once.

If you’re kicking off the holidays in New York City, my soup-to-nuts guide for planning to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will help you make the most out of the experience, including the pre-parade festivities, the best spots to watch the parade, and where to stay and eat along the parade route.

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Performers wait for the parade to start (Photo: Macy's)
Performers wait for the parade to start (Photo: Macy’s)

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: The Basics

The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in 1924. It attracted curious locals, including a little girl from East 97th Street named Jenny Wolf, who happens to be my grandmother. Today, more than 50 million people tune in annually, making it one of the nation’s most viewed televised events.

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The parade takes place on Thanksgiving morning from 9:00 a.m. to noon. It kicks off on the Upper West Side at 77th Street and Central Park West, then travels south to 59th Street before heading east on Avenue of the Americas and south to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street in Herald Square. 

Wednesday Afternoon’s Balloon Inflation

Watching the giant balloons take shape as they’re inflated has become almost as popular—and crowded—as the parade itself. It takes approximately 90 minutes to fill each balloon with helium. You can get pretty close to the balloon action during the big blow up on the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving on the streets surrounding the American Museum of Natural History, usually starting at noon and ending around 6:00 p.m.

To see the inflation, join the throng at West 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue. You’ll be herded around barricades along a clearly defined path east to Central Park West, then north to 77th Street as you make a semi-circle around the museum at 81st Street. 

After watching the floats come to life, take some time to visit the American Museum of Natural History, enjoy Central Park’s remaining autumn leaves, and treat yourselves to cookies as big as softballs at Levain Bakery, a neighborhood institution with two locations on the Upper West Side—both only a few blocks from the balloon inflation area. 

SpongeBob SquarePants and Gary by Nickelodeon (Photo: Macy's)
SpongeBob SquarePants and Gary by Nickelodeon (Photo: Macy’s)

What’s the Best Sidewalk Viewing Spot for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Spectator viewing is available all along the 2.5-mile route. Enthusiastic crowds cram every inch of sidewalk; those in the know arrive as early as 5:00 a.m. to claim a prime viewing spot, so be prepared to spend many hours on your feet. Bring snacks so no one in your family gets hangry. The friendly flock of parade goers almost always makes room for tots in strollers towards the front of the crowd, allowing them to see some action. Many kids watch perched on their parent’s shoulders. 

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The crowd is a bit less dense on the residential Upper West Side, making the streets between 77th Street and 65th Street on Central Park West an excellent viewing choice. As a bonus, you’ll have Central Park as a backdrop. You may notice grandstand seating on the parade route. These benches are reserved for Macy’s colleagues, friends, and family, not the general public. 

Where to Watch the Parade from a Hotel or Restaurant

If you crave comfort and are able to pay for an expensive hotel along the route, you can book a hotel room with a view of the parade. The luxurious Mandarin Oriental New York at Columbus Circle, Residence Inn New York Manhattan/Times Square, New York Hilton Midtown, and the Warwick New York are some of the best hotels that offer parade-view rooms.

However, these rooms come at sky-high prices and book up well in advance (in some cases up to a year ahead of time), so significant advance planning is required. Don’t leave your hotel room view of the parade to chance, either. If you’re going to go the hotel-view route, I recommend calling the hotel to confirm you’ll be getting a room with a view, and not one that’s so high up that everything below looks like a postage stamp.

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On Thanksgiving morning, Stella 34 Trattoria hosts a lavish brunch with a birds-eye view of the parade from floor-to-ceiling windows on the 6th floor of Macy’s Herald Square. A delectable breakfast buffet, open bar for adults, and passed hors d’oeuvres accompany the merriment. 

How to Dress for the Weather on Parade Day and What Else to Bring with You

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a rain-or-shine event, with wind being the decisive factor in how high the floats fly. If it’s exceedingly windy, the floats may be grounded for safety reasons (but thankfully that’s rare). November weather is notoriously fickle in New York City; check the forecast and dress in layers. (FamilyVacationist’s Christine Sarkis has some great recommendations for packable winter layers and sensible footwear that are perfect for parade day in New York).

Pack snacks and bring something warm to sip while you wait—a thermos with coffee or hot chocolate, for example—but know that there are typically food carts near the route, especially in and around Central Park.

You may want a chair to sit in while you’re waiting. I recommend something that’s easy to carry in and out, like a camp chair you can sling on your shoulders or even something inventive like an inflatable chair that packs down small when you’re ready to go. Bear in mind, however, that you’ll almost certainly need to stand when the parade passes by. If you’re on the shorter side, a small packable step stool might come in handy when you need to peer over other heads and shoulders.

Where to Eat on the Day of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Numerous popular New York City restaurants are open on Thanksgiving Day, and not just those on dry land. City Cruises’ Bateaux Thanksgiving Day Premier Lunch Cruise lets you soak in the city’s iconic sights as you dine. There are several Thanksgiving Day cruises, and on the two-hour cruise departing at 2:00 p.m. kids under three eat free (and those under 12 receive a discount for a plated lunch with all the festive fixings). The cruise departs from Pier 61 on West 23rd Street and 12th Avenue.

If you prefer dry land, upscale Oceana is a stone’s throw from the parade route in Midtown. Foodies flock here for the seafood-forward menu served in a modern setting. The Thanksgiving Day feast gives you numerous choices, including organic roast turkey with all the trimmings. Children under 12 eat for a discounted price. 

For a non-traditional holiday spread, hop on the # 7 subway train and head to Queens, one of the most diverse places in America. It’s an international immersion showcasing the city’s range of ethnic cuisine. You can’t go wrong with a meal of Shanghai soup dumplings and noodles at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao in Flushing, open for lunch and dinner. (If you’re exhausted from the parade, there’s also a branch at 24 West 33 Street, one block from Macy’s, though it’s likely to be more crowded.)

More Hotels That Are Close to the Parade Route

The Hotel Beacon and the Arthouse Hotel on the Upper West Side are located a quick stroll from both the parade and Wednesday’s balloon inflation. In Midtown, The Chatwal is very near the parade route and offers kid-friendly perks such as an in-room puppet theater. The NH Collection New York Madison Avenue is another convenient Midtown choice close to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route.

Tripadvisor’s curated list of hotels near the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route is a good resource as well, up to a point. However, this is a case where I really do recommend booking directly with the hotel and calling (rather than simply booking online) to make sure you’re getting the room you want. Someone at the hotel can also give you an honest assessment of how close you’ll really be to the route, which is helpful information to have especially if you’re planning to claim a spot on the parade route super early in the morning.

Additional Holiday Activities in New York City

There’s magic in the air in NYC during the holiday season. After taking a star-turn at the end of the parade, Santa arrives at Macy’s Herald Square on the day after Thanksgiving. 

The Rockettes will be kicking it with their legendary precision and razor-sharp technique at Radio City Music Hall multiple times daily, including Thanksgiving Day, until mid-January.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will be up, though not yet lit (that’s typically at the end of November). It’s still a magical sight to behold. The ice-skating rink will be open for a spin, though expect a crowd. 

In lower Manhattan, the National Museum of the American Indian‘s interactive Imaginations Activity Center is a space where families may explore the scientific principles behind Native American innovations, leaving visitors with the takeaway that the indigenous people were America’s original innovators. It’s open on Thanksgiving Day and admission is free.

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Allison Tibaldi
Allison Tibaldi has written for publications including CNN, Business Insider, FamilyVacationist, HGTV, USA TODAY, and Travel Weekly. As a former early childhood educator, she is interested in the way kids experience the world, and thinks that travel is the best education for young minds. Tibaldi is based in New York City.