11 Best Things to Do on Thanksgiving in New York City

New York City skyline

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New York City doesn't skimp on holiday revelry, so whether you're in town for the big parade or sticking close to home for the turkey-centric feast this year, rest assured there's plenty to make your Thanksgiving in the city a memorable one. Enjoy Manhattan's thriving cultural scene and festive holiday spirit with one of these popular activities on Thanksgiving weekend.

01 of 11

Savor a Thanksgiving Feast

New York City's Eleven Madison Park

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New York City never sleeps, so you can count on restaurants and grocery stores to stay open on Thanksgiving. If you'd rather not cook, leave it up the chefs and see for yourself how the pros do Thanksgiving. Restaurants typically put out prix-fixe multi-course menus for the big day and reservations need to be made way in advance. Options accepting reservations for Thanksgiving 2020 include The Osprey in Downtown Brooklyn and The Dutch in SoHo.

With Thanksgiving options looking quite different in 2020, more restaurants than ever are offering fully catered Thanksgiving meals that you can pick-up and bring home to enjoy. You can order a full meal from Michelin-star restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and Aquavit. For a Thanksgiving meal with a twist, order a massive platter of turkey paella to enjoy at home from Spanish restaurant Socarrat.

02 of 11

Shop Black Friday Deals

Shopping on Madison Avenue, Manhattan

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New Yorkers are no stranger to retail therapy and on Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving deals are often too good to pass up—but you'll have to brave the masses. Stores across the city compete to lure shoppers in with bargain-basement deals, so you can score some major deals if you're willing to deal with the mass amount of likeminded bargain-hunters. Many deals run all weekend, so if you want to skip the rush you can also go out on Saturday or Sunday. However, people watching on Friday is almost as fun as actually shopping during this time-honored tradition.

In 2020, more deals than ever will be available to online shoppers, you can still score the best of holiday sales without having to venture out into busy shopping centers.

03 of 11

Give Back and Volunteer

New York City Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen Provides for Harlem Families

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Don't miss out on the true spirit of the season: giving back. There are many rewarding volunteer opportunities in New York throughout the year, with a special need for helping hands in soup kitchens and homeless shelters around the city for the Thanksgiving holiday. New York Cares, an organization that lists volunteer opportunities on their website, is a good place to find Thanksgiving events.

Many organizations receive an influx of volunteer requests around the holidays, which can sometimes be more overwhelming than helpful. If an organization doesn't have a need for volunteers at the moment, consider finding a food bank to bring items to or a local organization that could use a holiday donation.

04 of 11

Take in the Sights

The Mall at Central Park in New York

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If you have time to kill before dinner, Thanksgiving is a great day to take in one or two of New York's many landmarks and attractions that stay open on Thanksgiving Day. These include the city's three major observatories: Top of the RockEmpire State Building, and One World Observatory, as well as bucket list sites like Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Of course, don't overlook the open-air public space attractions that are free and open to the public year-long like Central Park, the High Line, and Times Square.

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05 of 11

Get Into the Christmas Spirit

People Skating at Central Park

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If you're visiting NYC for Thanksgiving, you'll want to stay for the whole weekend because as soon as Thanksgiving is over, the holiday season kicks into high gear. Christmas in New York City includes holiday light displays across the city and festive holiday shows. You can also strap on some skates and go gliding on one of the city's ice-skating rinks, most of which will already be set up by Thanksgiving weekend.

06 of 11

Go Window Shopping

Bloomingdale's in New York City

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Thanksgiving marks the arrival of many department stores' impressive window displays with stores like Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Saks, and Tiffany & Co. going all out by creating elaborate, holiday-themed displays that delight adults and children alike. Most stores host a special event to mark the unveiling of the year's designs, and in recent years, there has been a greater amount of commercial support for the windows, with merchandise, books, and souvenirs available for sale at stores, reflecting the theme of that year.

07 of 11

Visit New York's Zoos

Central Park Zoo in NYC

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If you want wild fun on Thanksgiving, several of the city's top zoos will be open Thanksgiving Day. New York City has five zoos, one in each borough. The Bronx Zoo is the largest, with 750 species from all over the world, but it's closed on Thanksgiving Day. The Central Park Zoo may not be big, but it's open on Thanksgiving Day and is home to penguins, snow leopards, and other unique animals. Or, if you're out in Brooklyn or Queens and prefer to stick to your borough, the Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo will also be open.

To visit any of the New York City zoos in 2020, on Thanksgiving or any other day, tickets with a timed entry must be purchased in advance

08 of 11

Take a Day Trip

Hudson Valley Farmer's Market

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To escape the holiday hustle in the city, catch a northbound train to the Hudson Valley. With roadside farm stands, historic markers, scenic overlooks, and hiking trails, New York State's pastoral Hudson Valley region promises a peaceful getaway from the city during Thanksgiving. Charming towns like Cold Spring and Tarrytown offer the opportunity to explore independent restaurants and boutiques, while Kingston is an emerging foodie paradise with great bars and shopping—just confirm that any specific businesses are open on Thanksgiving Day before heading out there.

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09 of 11

See the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Float

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The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is not open to spectators in 2020, but you can watch the parade on broadcast television.

It's one thing to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade at home on TV, but the spectacle takes on an entirely new dimension when you can watch the vibrant floats, festive marching bands, dance troupes, celebrity guests, and those massive helium balloons pass by in person. Curbside viewing is first come, first served, so be prepared to show up hours early if you want a front-row spot.

The parade typically kicks off at 9 a.m. from Central Park West and West 77th Street and follows a 2.5-mile path that traces Central Park around to 6th Avenue, before making its way down to 34th Street, the site of Macy's flagship department store.

10 of 11

Watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons Inflate

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Inflation Eve

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The pre-Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon inflation is canceled in 2020.

Can't get enough of those Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons? You can get a sneak peek on the day before Thanksgiving when the balloons are inflated on the Upper West Side. From 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the day before the parade, visitors can watch the balloons take shape near the parade's starting point around the grounds of the American Museum of Natural History. Many people come out for the event and it's as much of a beloved annual Thanksgiving tradition in NYC as the parade itself.

11 of 11

See the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall

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The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is canceled in 2020.

At Radio City Music Hall, the famous Radio City Christmas Spectacular gets started weeks before Thanksgiving and runs through the Christmas season until the first week of January, giving visitors plenty of time to catch a show. It's one of the city's most iconic Christmas events, starring the famous Rockettes, whose precise choreography and hallmark high kicks are worth seeing in person.

The show features live animals in the “Living Nativity” scene at the end of the production including camels, sheep, and donkeys. Throughout the duration of the show's seasonal run, the animals live in Radio City Music Hall with their handlers, so you can sometimes spot them getting their daily exercise in Times Square.

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