This post explains the essentials of attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, whether you need tickets, where to stand, when to go and what to expect. This year on November 23, 2017, Macy’s Department Store will host their 90th Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. The first parade was in 1924 so they’ve been blowing up balloons and delighting hundreds of thousands of people for nearly a century (see the video below for a brief history of the parade) You don’t have to be a kid to get excited about attending this parade! But you should definitely plan ahead like an adult. The parade marks for many the start of the Christmas season, so be sure to read our Guide to NYC for X-mas and check out our guide to things to see in Midtown Manhattan.
So, the bad news is that Macy’s doesn’t sell Grandstand tickets to the public. They are reserved for the friends and family of those participating in the parade, Macy’s employees and volunteers. You can certainly ask any New Yorkers you know, or quickly befriend a Macy’s employee. Sometimes those with tickets decide to sell them – for a ridiculous amount of money. You can check sites like Craigslist – but beware of counterfeit tickets.
Now for the GOOD news! You don’t need a ticket to have a fantastic time! Anyone can watch the parade along the parade route and there are 2.5 miles of public viewing! And since so much of the action is floating in the air, you’ll see plenty!
WHEN DOES THE PARADE START AND END?
The parade starts at 9 am and ends at approximately 12 pm. It takes about 3 hours from when the first marchers depart the starting point until the last marchers reach Herald Square. GOOD TO KNOW: Dress warmly and in layers. Temps can range from mild to downright chilly in November. Check out our post on Weather in NYC in November. Wear comfortable shoes!
The parade begins at 77th Street and Central Park West just south of the American Museum of Natural History. The parade marches down Central Park West to 59th Street then heads east to 6th Avenue. At 6th Avenue, the parade turns south and continues along 6th Avenue all the way down to Herald Square at 34th Street (where Macy’s Department Store happens to be…save some time for great sales at Macy’s after the parade!)
NOTE: If you are taking any subway that day, note that it is a holiday and trains run less frequently as it were a weekend schedule. You may want to use a subway app to plan your trip given the diversions that day.
The video above does some good explaining. Here are more ideas:
Along Central Park West:
Viewing starts at 75th Street (two blocks down from the official start of the parade) and is only open to the public on the west side of the street. The east side of the street along Central Park is closed off for the grandstand seats. The parade runs along this stretch from 9 am to 10:30 am, so early birds who don’t mind turning up at 6 am to snag a prime spot should flock here.
A semi-secret vantage point is from inside the Shops at Columbus Circle. From the second and third floors of the mall, you’ll enjoy an elevated view of the parade streaming down Central Park West. As an added bonus you’ll also get to see the Holiday Under the Stars light display. Twofer! The doors open at 9 am. It will be crowded but you can go early, snag a spot AND stay warm!
Sixth Avenue: The floats and balloons reach 6th Avenue and 59th Street at about 9:30 am, so arrive anywhere along this at this 21-block portion as late as 7 am and you should still find a good spot. But be warned: the closer you get to 34th Street/Herald Square, the more crowded it will be.
The line-up of live performers is quite impressive this year: Tony Bennett, Sarah McLachlan, De La Soul and the cast and Muppets of “Sesame Street” will be among the stars celebrating at the parade. Also from the cast of the Broadway hit “Hamilton” singers Kelsea Ballerini and Aloe Blacc, Christopher Jackson will appear. Performers participating include Regina Spektor, Chloe x Halle, Brett Eldredge, Fitz & the Tantrums, Maddie & Tae, Daya and Jacob Whitesides.
Olympic gold medalists Laurie Hernandez, Claressa Shields and Michelle Carter will also participate. Former NHL players Adam Graves and Eric Lindros and U.S. Paralympic gold medalists Mikey Brannigan and Gianfranco Iannotta are also part of the lineup.
The list of the “special guests”– the lovable floating creatures…can be found online already.
The Wednesday night before the parade, all of the balloons are inflated at 79th Street around the Natural History Museum at Columbus Avenue. What began as a mostly local celebration has become almost as popular as the parade itself! It is a fun way to get a “behind-the-scenes” look at this famous event. Balloons are inflated from 3 pm to 10 pm. Here’s a fun time-lapse of “inflation night’ from 2015. Watch Hello Kitty and more come to life!
The Macy’s Parade, originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade, acts as the city’s official kickoff of the holiday season. The first parade was put on by Macy’s employees, who were largely immigrants to this country. They wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving and take part in their new country’s traditions but also add a little taste of home. Many of these workers had seen fantastic street festivals and celebrations in their native countries, and they wanted to bring some of that to their new home. Here’s a very brief history of the parade with some great old footage from decades ago!
The first parade consisted of the workers dressing in costumes and marching towards Macy’s (all the way from 145th Street!) while being followed by bands, floats and animals that were borrowed from the Central Park Zoo! Certainly not as slick as what is presented today, but it was festive, fun and over a quarter of a million people attended. A New York tradition was born! The iconic balloons were added just a few years later in 1927, and the parade was well on its way to becoming the spectacular celebration that it is today.
The first balloon used in the parade was Felix the Cat. It was designed by Anthony Frederick Sarg, who came up with the idea based on his experience with marionette puppets. Here are some Fun Facts:
The balloons were released into the sky at the end of the 1928 parade and they burst.
After that incident, balloons were fitted with slow release valves and floated over the city for a few days after the parade until they eventually came down. They had return address labels on them to be mailed back to Macy’s. If you mailed one back, you got a gift!
First parade crown to hit 1 million people was in 1933
1934 was the first year Mickey Mouse appeared in the parade.
Even though the parades began in 1924, this year’s parade will only be the 90thth parade. That is because the parades were suspended for 1942-44 due to the rubber shortage caused by WWII.
The parade gained national prominence when the film “Miracle on 34th Street” was released in 1947. The film used footage of the actual parade from 1946.
1947 was the first parade broadcast on national television.
Snoopy has had the most balloons in parade history. Macy’s is currently on its 9th Snoopy balloon.
Macy’s Parade Studio designs and builds the parade floats, which are 40 feet tall and 28 feet wide. All the floats can be folded into a 12’ x 8’ box to be taken through the Lincoln Tunnel on Thanksgiving Eve.
More than 8,000 volunteers march in the parade.
Aside from guest performers, all people marching in the Macy’s Parade are Macy’s employees and their friends and family (or otherwise affiliated with the store). Always an all-Macy’s crowd, ever since the first parade!
If wind speeds are forecasted to be over 34 miles per hour all of the balloons are pulled out of the parade.
One of the newest parade characters is Toothless the Dragon (from “How To Train Your Dragon”), introduced in 2013. Toothless is as tall as a 4-story building and has 90 handlers.
Casts of Broadway shows perform in front of Macy’s at the end of the parade route. The shows are typically new musicals from the current season.
The parade has always ended with Santa Claus. Welcoming Santa to New York is the official start of the holiday season in the city!
WE HOPE YOU HAVE A BLAST AT ONE OF THE HAPPIEST EVENTS OF THE YEAR!