It’s been a tradition for my mom and I to meet in New York City during the holidays for over a decade now. We’d shop and sip eggnog lattes at Starbucks, see the Rockettes’ famous high kicks and admire the massive glittering tree in Rockefeller Center as skaters glided by on the rink below. But something we hadn’t ever done was to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a New York City Tradition since 1924. So when my mom suggested we make our annual trip to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I was thrilled! We’d be joining the 3.5 million people that flock to the streets of Manhattan to see the more than 1,500 dancers and cheerleaders, 1,000 clowns, and 30 parade floats entertain people of all ages. Most likely, visiting NYC to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a once in a lifetime experience, like it was for us. So here are my tips for viewing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
1. See the balloons being inflated.
It is far less crowded and you have a much better chance of seeing the balloons up close by attending the free viewing of the famous big balloon inflation outside the American Museum of Natural History. It is available to the public on 77th and 81st streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue from 3 – 10pm the night before the Parade.
The Parade begins at 9am but approximately 3.5 million parade-goers take to the streets wanting the perfect view. Plan to arrive to claim your spot along the parade route by 6am and don’t plan moving from that spot.
Pack a bag with snacks, a thermos of hot chocolate, and games or books to keep your kids entertained while waiting for the parade to begin. And remember that NYC wind can have quite the bite, so dress warmly in layers.
There are not any designated seating areas, handicapped areas, or seats sold. The bleachers and seats you may have seen on the telecasts of the Parade are designated for Macy’s employees and are never sold or open to the general public.
3. Know the Parade route.
The Parade route has changed in the last couple of years, so be sure to verify the current Parade route. The 2016 Parade begins at 77th Street and Central Park West at 9am and marches south on Central Park West. At Columbus Circle, the Parade then turns East onto Central Park South instead of heading down Broadway as it has in past years. When the Parade reaches 6th Avenue, it turns south at the corner of Central Park South and marches south from 59th Street to 34th Street. From 6th (Avenue of the Americas), it heads west on 34th Street to Macy’s Herald Square and ends there at around 12pm.
Tip: Download the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade app for your iPhone for route maps, subway maps, where to find wifi, and more.
Many agree that the best spot to watch the parade from is Columbus Circle and this is precisely where my mom and I watched the Parade from. Also note that there is no viewing access on 6th Avenue between 34th Street and 38th Street; this is the official telecast area.
The most popular viewing spots are:
Central Park West: The Parade begins at 77th Street and Central Park West, but viewing areas officially start at 75th Street and only open to the public on the west side. There is invite only grandstand viewing along Central Park West. The Parade runs this stretch of the Parade route from 9am – 10:30am, so if you’re concerned about being out in the cold for a number of hours this is a prime spot to see it all and be back indoors to catch performances in front of Macy’s Herald Square on the tv.
Columbus Circle: Shops at Columbus CircleThe now open at 9am on Thanksgiving Day. You can line up and snag an indoor spot on the second or third levels to see an elevated view of the balloons going by. While you’ll stay toasty warm, the pitfall is that you won’t really hear the bands and performers on parade floats as they go by.
Sixth Avenue: The Parade reaches Sixth Avenue at 59th Street starting at 9:30am, so you should be out to snag your spot from 59th Street to 38th Street by 7am. Anywhere along this stretch is a good option if you want to sleep in a little.
The most stress-free way to view the Parade is to splurge on a parade view hotel room along the Parade route. The Trump International Tower at Broadway and Columbus Circle was the perfect way for us to stay comfortable and warm while viewing the Parade. We knew which balloons were coming by having the Parade on tv and had a terrific view from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Trump International Tower also had a guest-only VIP viewing area on the street in front of the hotel where we would watch the action without fear of losing our spot or pushing through massive crowds. We alternated between the room and street throughout the 3-hour Parade.
It is also nearly impossible to see the performances by Broadway musicals and famous musicians since they take place in the over-crowded official viewing area. You’ll be able to catch the stars as they go by on floats and then watch the performances from the comfort of your room.
A room at the Trump International Tower for Parade viewing books up nearly one year in advance and you’ll need to be prepared to spend around $1000 per night for this prime location.
Other Parade view hotels include the Mandarin Oriental New York, which wasn’t yet opened when we watched the Parade from Trump International Tower. Mandarin Oriental offers the I Love a Parade Package, which includes exclusive access with a bird’s eye view to watch the Parade in the warmth and comfort of their Mandarin Ballroom. You can also splurge to watch from the comfort of your own Premier Central Park View room or suite with floor to ceiling windows on the 43rd to 54th floors of the hotel. And while you’re there, be sure to indulge in MO’s Afternoon Tea and a special holiday tea is offered throughout the season.
The New York Hilton Midtown also offers a number of Thanksgiving Packages from partial view to premium full view rooms. Unfortunately, I can’t endorse the New York Hilton Midtown with a glowing recommendation. I stayed here just a few months ago and the walls were so thin that I could hear every noise from the neighboring rooms. The elevators are incredibly slow, and wifi is supposed to be free for Hilton Honors members (it’s free to join) but the various codes I was given over the course of my stay never worked. These were all minor complaints, but that no care was given to my various complaints to management really shows their complete lack of customer service. It’s unfortunate as this the hotel is a prime Midtown location.
Once the Parade ends, 3.5 million people are pushing their way to subways and out of the areas closed off to traffic to try to hail taxis. Instead of joining the stampede, find a nearby restaurant that is open on Thanksgiving and make a reservation for lunch. You can wait out the crowds while warming up over a hot meal.
Parade View rooms booked? We recommend these NYC hotels:
- Four Seasons Hotel
- The Plaza
- Empire Hotel
- citizenM New York Times Square
- Le Parker Méridian
- Michelangelo Hotel