Tips for Seeing the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City

How to Have the Most Fun at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Sonic the Hedgehog at the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 2013.
Anthony Quintano/Wikimedia Commons/cc 2.0

More than 44 million people watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on television each year, but not everyone is fortunate enough (or brave enough) to experience the parade in person.

Still, over three and a half million people line the parade route in New York City on Thanksgiving morning to celebrate the holiday. This means that getting to the parade on time, knowing where to go to see through the crowd, and being prepared for a long day on the NYC streets can go a long way to making sure you have an enjoyable day at the parade.

These tips and pieces of advice will give you a leg up on finding a good spot and staying comfortable in the late November weather.

Get There Earlier to Get the Better Viewing Spots

Although the parade starts at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, brave parade-going folks start lining up along the parade route by 6:30 a.m. (at the latest). You probably don't need to get to your parade spot before 7 a.m., but prime locations along the route may already be claimed by then.

Many people bring stools, folding chairs, or milk crates for sitting or standing on to make the long parade waiting and watching time more comfortable. Keep in mind that you can easily be outside for four or five hours if you arrive early and stay for the whole parade, and November mornings can be quite chilly in New York City, so be prepared for that, too.

Dress Appropriately for November Weather

Be sure to dress warmly if you're planning to watch the parade, especially if you plan to explore the city afterward or if you get there early and stay for the whole event.

You'll need layers, warm footwear, gloves, and a hat, depending on the weather forecast. The weather in New York City on Thanksgiving Day can fluctuate quite dramatically from year to year. It can be snowing or it can be warm enough to wear just a light sweater.

That said, it's normally pretty cool or downright freezing in the early morning in late November, and you'll want to dress appropriately. The more appropriately dressed for the weather you are, the more pleasant it will be standing outside for several hours.

Choose Your Parade-Watching Location Well

Lots of experienced parade-goers recommend choosing a spot to watch the parade on the Upper West Side since the parade starts up there and therefore "ends" earlier there as well. While people who view the parade from lower Manhattan may witness three hours of parade action, the parade and revelers leave the Upper West Side after about an hour and a half.

Columbus Circle is also a good choice for parade viewing, but it's almost never a good idea to try and watch the parade near Macy's. Unless you're among the fortunate few to have the much-coveted bandstand tickets, the area is hectic, crowded, and difficult to navigate. Before you venture out for the day, check out the parade route to decide where you want to stake out your position.

Plan Your Snacks and Bathroom Breaks Before You Go

Another thing to keep in mind is picking a spot with nearby restaurants and coffee shops where you can access the bathroom while you wait for the parade to begin or while you're watching it go by and nature calls. You may want to choose your parade-watching location based on the availability of a public bathroom (like at a Starbuck's) if you're prone to using the facilities often throughout the day, especially when cold.

These spots are also ideal for getting a warm beverage and a snack to keep you sustained during the parade, especially since many establishments have a "bathrooms are for patrons only" rule. This point is particularly important if you're traveling with young kids since they won't want to walk far or wait long when they need a potty break.

Bring Your Kids to the Parade

If you're going to take your kids to the parade, they're sure to be amazed by seeing all the fancy floats and their favorite television friends in real life, but since crowds are pretty much guaranteed, you'll want to travel light so you can carry your child if necessary. Lucky kids love a perch on Mom or Dad's shoulders for watching the bands and balloons as they move down the parade route, and you might be happier wearing your baby rather than pushing him in a stroller since it can be difficult to navigate crowded sidewalks.

It's a good idea to pack a good assortment of snacks and drinks for the children because you won't want to lose your chosen spot to venture off and look for something to eat. A thermos of hot chocolate is also a great way to help the little ones stay warm, but you'll also probably want to bring a blanket, especially if you head to the parade route early.

Visitors with young kids might prefer taking them to see the Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation, which happens the day before and gives the kids a great up-close view of the balloons as they are filled up with helium with a much smaller crowd.