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5 Tips for Viewing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade


Since 2005 it has been a tradition for my mom and I to meet in New York City during the holidays. We’d shop and sip eggnog lattes at Starbucks in the Trump Tower on 5th Avenue, 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 other 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 blown up.

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. 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.

2. Get up very early and dress in layers. 

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.

2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route

2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route

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 2013 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.

4. Splurge

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 of 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.

5. Find and book a reservation at NYC restaurant nearby for lunch.

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.

Have you been to NYC during Thanksgiving? What other tips for viewing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade do you have?

Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter who is based in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and communications strategist and is an award-winning travel writer. She is also a travel correspondent on Traveling on the American Forces Radio Network. Jdomb's Travels was named one of the top travel blogs to watch by the Huffington Post and has been featured by top publications such as CNN, Buzzfeed , and The Telegraph. Her iPhoneograpy has also been featured on publications such as USA Today and Travel + Leisure. Google+

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35 comments

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  1. D.J. - The World of Deej

    This is definitely high on my list. Would love to get a hotel with a view and spend the morning watching with room service!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    That’s the stress free way to see the parade, D.J.! I recommend seeing it at least once if you have the chance.

    [Reply]

  2. Samy Mariappan

    Hi
    while Searching through google on thanksgiving day and travel, came across your blog. Pls comment on where is the best place to stay with family in NY during thanksgiving period. Appreciate your feedback
    Regards
    Samy

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Samy! Thanks for stopping by our blog! I’m not sure how old your kiddos are, but the streets can get quite crowded during the parade and you do need to get there very early to get a decent viewing spot. I think it is worth the splurge to stay at Trump or another hotel that offers similar private viewing areas. It was really nice to be able to alternate between the room and street while watching the parade. I know my little cousins did not have the attention span to just spend the entire parade on the street. It was great for them to be able to go to the room and play with their toys.

    [Reply]

  3. Liz

    I’m an Aussie who fell in love with NYC when I visited back in 2006. Have been dying to visit again and next time I would love it to be around the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade time, so am seriously thinking about planning ahead for next year’s parade. Apart from Trump Tower, is there a hotel you would recommend for this purpose that is just a little cheaper? What is NYC like in general during this time period? Do the shops close down over the holidays, or is there a great buzz around (a special buzz as opposed to the normal awesome buzz that permeates NYC)? What is the weather usually like in November? Last time I visited was in September. Any ‘insider’ info is greatly appreciated.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Liz! Any of the hotels along the route with private viewing are going to be expensive. While this is an excellent splurge to ensure you have a great spot, you can stay just about anywhere and join the masses along the parade route. The parade route offers over 2 miles of viewing for the public.

    The stores and things do close on Thanksgiving Day, close early on Christmas Eve, and are closed Christmas Day. There is still plenty to do and restaurants are open. The weather can vary. We got lucky with relatively warm weather and sunshine on our visit, but we’ve had cold and rain on other visits around the same time. It can snow in NYC as well. You best bet is to check the forecast a few days before your trip and pack accordingly. You’ll also want layers no matter the weather as it will be cold early in the morning when you get your spot and can warm up as the morning proceeds.

    [Reply]

  4. Gene

    Check your parade route. The one you list was last used in 2011. 2013, like 2012, will come down CPW, make left onto CPS and then proceed to 6th ave. (bypassing 7th ave completely). Right onto 6th ave. Down 6th ave. until it makes a left onto 34th street.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Gene,

    Thanks for the reminder to update! The route was actually the 2012 one, which we got right from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade press room when we published this last year. The route has again changed and we’ve updated accordingly.

    [Reply]

  5. Randy Kalp

    Good stuff! I’ve always wanted to visit NYC during the holiday season. May have to make it down this year to check out the parade in person. Sounds like a lot of fun.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    NYC is one of my favorite cities, but it has an even more special ambiance during the holidays! Hope you guys get to catch the parade in person.

    [Reply]

  6. Melissa

    Stumbled upon your blog and will definitely plan to read more. Thank you for publishing the parade route and your tips. We will be there this year and we were unsure of the correct route.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    We’re jealous, Melissa! NYC is one of my very favorite cities and seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a real treat. Enjoy!

    [Reply]

  7. Stef

    Awesome! I never heard of this parade before. It looks like a lot of fun!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    It’s a huge deal in the US. A Thanksgiving tradition I grew up watching on tv every year, so it was a real treat to attend in person. Plus NYC just happens to be one of my very favorite cities.

    [Reply]

  8. Marina K. Villatoro

    we did the parade one year. We went to see the balloons the night before by Musuem of Natural history. Ironically enough, my baby got sick and we missed the actual parade. But at least I got to see the huge balloons.

    [Reply]

  9. bob

    sounds like you have to get to the parade route early and stay for a while…are there port-a-pots available throughout the parade route in case you need to use the restroom?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Bob! No, there are no public bathrooms along the parade route. You also won’t want to leave as you’ll lose your spot. So be sure to go to the bathroom before you arrive.

    [Reply]

  10. Elaine Schoch | CarpeTravel.com

    Thanks for the tips. Planning on taking my kids next year to see the parade. Good to know about the hotel and its private viewing area. Will for sure do this. And I love the idea of taking them to see the balloons being blown up. I think they’ll appreciate it so much more having seen it from start to finish.

    [Reply]

  11. Lance | Trips By Lance

    This would be an awesome experience. I’m just not sure I actually want to stand for hours without access to a toilet! Visiting NYC during the holidays keeps moving up higher on my list. Maybe next year.

    [Reply]

  12. Chris

    In 2009 my best friend and I noticed that the steel risers in the W 60’s along Central Park West can be accessed by the public. We arrived at CPW & W 68th around 645am and scored an ideal viewing spot. Around 830am, an assorted bunch of random people (including the couple that was sitting next to us), moved over to the risers. I think the risers are reserved earlier in the morning, but once the parade start time gets closer it seems like security is minimal (if not nonexistent) since around 200 people filled the empty spaces at these risers.

    [Reply]

  13. dawn

    My family and I are leaving this Friday! to drive out and camp in Jersey and then head over to Macy’s Parade. I was wondering what was and was not allowed….like chairs or?? Also what restaurant would you recommend for lunch to get a reservation on the parade route?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Enjoy Dawn! You can bring chairs if you like though it may be difficult to maintain your spot as more people come.

    A lot of restaurants right along the parade route are going to be more expensive (think in the range of $90 per person). Most offer a pre-fixe menu on Thanksgiving Day.

    A few of my favorite NYC restaurants do have a Thanksgiving menu at a reasonable price:

    On Thanksgiving, Balthazar will serve the Saturday brunch menu in the morning and afternoon. Then for dinner, the restaurant will offer a turkey special for $39 that will include light and dark meat turkey, baked sweet potato puree, cranberry sauce, and Brussels sprouts. Call 212-965-1414 for reservations.

    The eclectic eatery Delicatessen will feature the chef’s fall favorites, including turkey tortellini soup, local roasted turkey with all the trimmings, and assorted pies for $42. Call 212-226-0211 for reservations.

    We did the Sea Grill for Christmas Dinner and it was fantastic. Thanksgiving dinner at Rockefeller Center with views of the iconic skating rink from your table at The Sea Grill. The $89 prix fixe menu is heavy on the seafood (including lobster, sashimi, and scallops), but you can get your Thanksgiving turkey too (complete with stuffing and cranberry-kumquat relish). Call 212-332-7610 for reservations.

    Hope these suggestions help!

    [Reply]

  14. Deb

    Thanks for the information! My cousin and I have this on our bucket list, and 2014 is ‘our year’ to make it happen. As newbies to this planning, when do they post the route for the 2014 parade, so you know if the Trump or any other hotel would be viable to have THE EXPERIENCE. ?

    [Reply]

  15. Rebecca

    I was planning on a trip to NYC to see the Macy’s parade in 2014, but, if there is no where to use a port a potty
    or any public restrooms, I think I might just have to pass. I can’t understand why they don’t supply these port a potties???????

    [Reply]

  16. Amy

    Do people bring chairs to sit in while watching the parade?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Amy! Not really. With all the people standing, you wouldn’t be able to see during the parade. I suppose you could bring a collapsible camp chair to sit while you hold your place until parade time.

    [Reply]

  17. Lillian

    Hi, I have a 16 year old daughter that is handicapped she is in a wheel chair. Are there areas that are reserved for handicapped children? It will be our first time going to New York and her dream is to see and experience the Macy’s Parade. We live in Puerto Rico and every year she watches it on T.V. Any information will be greatly appreciated. Especially a hotel that is reasonable near or on the route.

    Thank you,

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Lillian! No, there are no reserved areas. What I would recommend is booking a hotel on the parade route that offers private viewing access areas, as the Trump Tower does. These areas are only accessible to hotel guests so you won’t have to fight the crowds. I hate to say that hotels on the parade route are not by any means reasonably priced. It’s a once in a lifetime experience you’ll have to splurge for.

    [Reply]

  18. crystal

    we would like to visit but I have a one year old. what are your suggestions as my daughter goes to school there and I must see her and the parade would be a added bonus for my middle daughter.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    That’s a really long day for a little one if you don’t stay at a hotel on the parade route where you can easily take a break away without losing your spot. It’s probably worth the splurge to book in a hotel like Trump Tower for the parade.

    [Reply]

  19. terri

    My daughter and her school will be one of the bands in the parade this year. can we buy tickets for a reserved area?
    we will be able to tour the city 3 days before the parade. we have a 4 yr old and want to take him to a some places that will make him say “WOW” any recommendations?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Terri! How awesome that your daughter will be IN the parade! No, there are no tickets for sale or reserved areas unless you are staying at a hotel on the parade route that has their own private reserved area for hotel guests. Your little one will love FAO Schwartz. You can play on the piano from the movie Big. Also don’t miss ice skating in Central Park.

    [Reply]

  20. Carey

    Hi-
    Thanks for this great info. I wish I saw this before I booked my trip. My family (kids ages: 4 and 5) and I will be staying at the Le Parker Meridien on 119W and 56th St. We have never done the parade and was wondering if we need to buy tickets? Also, besides seeing the balloons being blown up the day before would you recommend us doing or seeing anything else that is a must do? Lastly, I saw your restaurant recommendations do you think those are good for my kids ages or can you recommend any other ones that might be better with little ones!! Thanks in advance for all your help!!!

    -Carey

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Hi Carey! Unfortunately, you can’t buy tickets. It’s just a public event and you’ll have to be up and out on the parade route early to secure a spot. Luckily Le Parker Meridien isn’t too far of a walk. And while staying there, be sure to visit Burger Joint behind the velvet curtain in the lobby. It’s cash only and a burger is the only thing on the menu, but it’s fantastic!

    For your kiddos, take them to play on the piano from the movie Big in FAO Schwartz and ice skating on the pond in Central Park. They might also like one of the Disney shows on Broadway. The new Aladdin is fantastic!

    As far as the restaurants, most will have menus available online. Just check out the menu to see if they offer something for kids or have things your kids will like.

    [Reply]

  21. Mandy

    Jeepers, I thought there were a lot of people at Chinese New Year in London but that’s crazy! I’d love to see it one day.

    [Reply]

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