The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a fixture of the holiday season, and every year thousands of folks fill the streets of New York City to cheer on the floats and balloons.
But the crowds can make the day feel like a madhouse, which is why I wrote this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide! I’ll give you recommendations on where to watch, how to stay warm and how early you need to wake up.
So without further ado let’s jump into this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide!
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2023 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Guide
Brief history of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Let’s kick off this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide with the brief, but important, history of the parade itself.
The first parade was held in 1924 by employees of the Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square. It had floats, live music and a even few four-legged participants from the Central Park Zoo.
Although it wasn’t a raving success in the press, more than 250,000 spectators arrived to cheer the parade on. Macy’s subsequently vowed to make the parade an annual event, and here we are nearly 100 years later.
Needless to say the parade has gone through a series of changes throughout it’s history. It was largely a local event until the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street made it a national treasure.
Then in 1948 it received its first national broadcast. Since then, millions have dreamed of attending the parade in person, and this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide is meant to help you achieve those dreams!
When is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?
The Macy’s Day Parade takes place every year on Thanksgiving Day. In 2023 the parade falls on November 23rd, and unofficially kicks off the holiday season!
The parade begins at 8:30AM in the Upper West Side neighborhood of Manhattan. It’s expected to last approximately three hours, ending at Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square around noon.
To have first pick at your spot on the sidewalk you’ll want to arrive around 6AM, but you can still find a good view around 7AM. By 8:00 the sidewalks are pretty full, so try to be there before then.
What is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Route?
The parade route covers more than 40 blocks, running for 2.5 miles between West 77th and 34th Streets.
Setting out near the American Museum of Natural History the parade heads south along Central Park West. At Columbus Circle (59th Street) it hooks a left, heading east until reaching Sixth Avenue.
From this point it heads south again, working its way down Manhattan until reaching 34th Street and Herald Square. Here it takes a turn west, running for less than half a block before reaching Macy’s flagship store.
Some notable points along the route include:
- The Dakota at Central Park West & West 72nd Street
- Radio City Music Hall at 6th Avenue & West 50th Street
- Bryant Park at 6th Avenue & West 41st Street
What balloons will be in the Macy’s Day Parade?
The headliners at the Macy’s Day Parade are always the balloons, which can are enormous. On average balloons are about five stories tall and can weigh upwards of 800+ pounds. They require about 90 handlers each!
In total there will be 20 balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but we won’t go over all them on this guide. Some are generic items like an acorn, a pumpkin and ice cream cones.
Crowd favorites making a return in 2023 include Bluey, Pikachu, Grogu (baby Yoda), Ronald McDonald, Spongebob and Smokey Bear. There will also be two new balloons: Beagle Scout Snoopy and Blue Cat & Chugs.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Guide
Tips and Tricks
Watch the balloons get inflated the day before
Starting off with a local tradition, one of the best Macy’s Day Parade tips is to swing by the day before the parade to watch the balloons get inflated.
The inflating takes place the Wednesday before the parade from 12-6 PM on the streets surrounding the American Museum of Natural History in the Upper West Side.
Please do yourself a favor and arrive well ahead of time to grab a spot in line. Last year I arrived at 1PM and had to wait more than two hours before getting to see the balloons!
It’s a great way to snap some photos with your favorite inflatables and gain an appreciation for the balloons true size. You can watch for free, just pick up a hot-chocolate beforehand and gawk at the balloon’s grandeur.
If you’re traveling with kids this is a non-negotiable, you’ll win parent of the year. Local families come back year after year, which is why it’s the first tip on this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide.
Dressing warm might seem obvious, but it’s too big a detail to leave off a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide.
Let’s take a brief glance at the weather. Between 2010 and 2020 the average temperature on Thanksgiving was a high of 47° and a low of 34°.
Considering the fact that you’ll be standing in place and braving the wind-chill, you’re going to want to bundle up. I’m talking about doubling up on socks, covering your ears and having some sort of wind protection.
If you need any more help we have an article covering What to Pack for New York in the Fall. Use it along with this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide to be best prepared.
Fun fact: The coldest temperature the parade has been held at was 19° in 2018. Luckily that year was an outlier and most other years are not as brutal. Brr!
Order the essentials
Piggy-backing off the last tip on this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide, I recommend swinging by a store or placing an online order for a few things to maximize your comfort.
Since it’s not a question of if it’ll be cold, rather how cold will it be, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
I never leave the house without these bad boys, they come in handy more than you’d think. Also, foot wear and socks are vital for comfort. Consider investing in wool socks, they’re worth their weight in gold.
If you want cute pictures and don’t want to mess up your hair with a beanie here’s a solution that has saved me in the past. No better feeling than preventing your ears from turning into icicles. 😉
And you’ll likely be standing, but if you’re one of the few who can get tickets to the grandstands (reserved for Macy’s employees and the families of those participating in the parade) one of these will save your back. Plenty of folks bring blankets too, either to sit on or wear like a cape.
Find a spot early
This wouldn’t be a very good Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide if I didn’t tell you to find a spot early.
It’s estimated that as many as 2.5 million people attend the parade annually (I personally think those numbers are inflated, but I haven’t been able to find any official counts). Regardless – the streets overflow with eager viewers.
The consensus wake-up to have first-choice is 6AM, but you’ll likely still be able to find a good spot as late as 7AM. My wife attended a few years back around 8:30AM and was stuck behind an enormous crowd.
The grandstands are reserved for Macy’s employees, volunteers and friends and families so find a good standing-spot and make yourselves comfortable.
It’s better to watch the parade towards the beginning of the route
You might want to be close to the Macy’s flagship store or sandwiched between skyscrapers in Midtown, but the best place to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is from Central Park West.
The reason? You don’t have to stand around as long! Think about it, the parade begins at 8:30AM. If you’re towards the beginning of the parade you get to enjoy it from the second it starts.
Meanwhile, if you’re towards the end of the route you’ll have to wait for the parade to actually get to you. Plus the parade essentially ends earlier the closer you are to the beginning. Once you see all the floats you’re free to carry on with the rest of your day, but if you’re further down the line it’ll take you an extra hour or two.
Consider booking a hotel along the parade route
If standing around for hours sounds like torture then you might be willing to consider booking a hotel with views of the parade route. This way you can view it from the warmth of your room and avoid an early wake-up call.
Just know rooms won’t come cheap, the hotels they have a hot commodity and will price it accordingly. While researching this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide most hotels I came across begin their pricing north of $2,000 a night and require a multiple-night stay.
I’ll also mention you shouldn’t blindly book online. This is a situation where I strongly encourage you to call and make sure you’re paying for a room with a view.
Plan on walking home
Believe me – I understand that after hours on your feet you’ll likely want nothing more than to snag a seat on the subway and let it take you home. But so will everyone else.
The subway stations nearest the parade route will have you sympathizing with sardines in no time. My suggestion is (if you can) skip the station closest to the route and head to second, or third one out.
If you want to avoid the crowds all together you can always just walk to your next destination. Is this a good time for this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide to suggest wearing your most comfortable shoes?
Bring coffee & snacks from home
I might sound like a broken record but this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide needs to emphasize there will be a lot of people. The swarms also mean coffee shops will be a madhouse before, during and after the event.
Bring a thermos full of coffee so you have something to warm to sip on throughout the parade. If you don’t like coffee (or have kids) you can replace it with hot chocolate, tea or hot apple cider.
You also should pack a few snacks from home. For years it was my family’s tradition to pick up bagels before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but we’d also bring snacks to hold us over before lunch.
If you absolutely must swing by a coffee shop in the midst of all the chaos you should order ahead online. Once the order is placed give the cafe plenty of time to complete it and be kind to the staff – they’re swamped!
Avoid drinking too many liquids
I know I just told you to bring hot drinks in a thermos, but avoid getting carried away and drinking too much. There aren’t any public bathrooms at the parade, and even if there were you’d never get your spot back once you left.
Some folks (adults) have worn diapers to the event, but I won’t take this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide to that extreme. Just be mindful of what you drink since you’ll be standing around for a few hours.
If it rains, it’s not worth it
I might catch some flack for this, but it’s just a suggestion. If it’s raining on Thanksgiving I suggest watching the parade from home on TV, because the cold will only get worse once you’re soaked.
If you’ve traveled from far away and it’s a bucket-list item to see the parade in person then proceed as planned! But if you live in the city or a short distance away I would say to try again next year.
I know, what kind of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide tells you not to attend? But again – it’s just a suggestion. But if you decide to attend and it’s supposed to rain then you’re going to want some of these.
2023 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Guide (Post Summary)
- Brief history of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
- When is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?
- What is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Route?
- What balloons will be in the Macy’s Day Parade?
- Watch the balloons get inflated the day before
- Bundle up
- Order the essentials
- Find a spot early
- It’s better to watch the parade towards the beginning of the route
- Consider booking a hotel along the parade route
- Plan on walking home
- Bring coffee & snacks from home
- Avoid drinking too many liquids
- If it rains, it’s not worth it
Thanksgiving Macy’s Day Parade Guide (Map)
I hope this Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade guide helps you make the most of the day. Happy holidays, until next time!