Every year roughly 3.5 million people attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Y’all. That is A LOT of people.

And I can not overstate this: if you plan on attending the parade, you need to prepare!

(Side note: if you’re still in the process of planning your trip, check out my Guide To Planning Your Perfect Trip. This post contains all the best parade route hotels, restaurants and packing secrets. This post is more of a day-of guide!)

I can honestly say, attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is, hands-down, one of the best experiences our family ever had! However, it didn’t come without some serious planning. And even some learning along the way.

After all of my research (and even having attended the parade as a child), I still felt like there were some insider tips I missed. And a couple things our family will do differently next time.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

For starters, here’s the very basic parade day information:

  • It takes place in New York City on Thanksgiving Day (November 28th, 2019)
  • The official start time is 9AM; however, that time is very relative to where you are watching. TV coverage begins at 9AM as the route kicks off. The closer you are sitting to Macy’s, the longer it will take the parade to reach you (typically by 9:30-9:40.)
  • The parade travels from Central Park West down 77th Street to Columbus Circle. From there it goes along Central Park South to 6th Avenue. It travels down 6th Avenue to 34th Street. Finally it makes it’s way down 34th Street to Herald Square in front of Macy’s.

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Here are 10 things you should know to maximize your Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Experience:

Preview Night: The balloons get blown up the afternoon/evening before Thanksgiving (this year on Wednesday, November 27th.) Crowds are welcome to view the process and balloons up close(r) from 3PM – 10PM.

The location for this is Central Park West between 77th and 81st Street.

Plan: If you do nothing else, this is probably the most important tip. Look at a map and plan where you want to stand for the parade. Literally plan your walking route for Thanksgiving morning. Know where you want to go and how to get there.

And once you set those plans, come up with a Plan B that you are okay with.

I highly recommend staying as close to your hotel as possible. There are not a lot of public bathroom options. And it becomes increasingly difficult as the morning goes on to navigate the areas around the parade route.

On the morning of the parade you will see that many areas are blocked off from viewing. Some buildings block the area for residence allowing only through foot traffic. Hotels often have VIP (ticketed) sections. And then, of course, there are the private media spaces and ticketed grandstands.

Alarm Clock: You will absolutely want to set an alarm (or two) on Thanksgiving morning. Parade spectators begin lining the streets as early as 5AM. The bulk of the “early crowd” arrives between 6AM – 7AM.

By 7AM you will not be able to find a front row spot anywhere along the route.

Quick Decision: As you arrive on the New York streets, make a quick decision about where you want to stay. If you hesitate, someone else will grab that spot!

Look around and consider anything that might leave you regretting the spot. Will scaffolding block your view of balloons? Is there a really tall group of people sitting down in front of you, that may stand up when the parade begins?

Stakeout Concrete: Once you’ve chosen your spot, it’s extremely important to lay claim to your piece of the street.

While this may sound silly, trust me when I say that people will try to push their way in front of you. As the parade start time draws closer, you really have to plant your feet and make sure you’ve secured your spot. (Example, one time I turned to help one of my kids open a granola bar, and when I turned back around someone had shoved their way in between me and my husband!)

Barricades: One of the best things you can do is bring physical items to help barricade your spot.

MANY people bring folding chairs to sit in. Besides being comfortable, the chairs give you your own space that no one can crowd into. If you have a baby, be sure to bring a full sized stroller.

A physical object will help you reserve your cement and prevent people from taking over your space.

You can also bring a small waterproof blanket or a towel to spread out. However, don’t put it past people to actually stand on it!

PRO TIP: If you are sitting in a chair, don’t let anyone sit on the curb in front of you. As the parade starts there is a good chance they will stand up…blocking your perfect view!

Friends: A great way to pass time AND solve a lot of the space issues is to make friends with the people around you!

We found that by engaging with our neighbors we were really able to help each other out (ex. when my husband took one of our children to the bathroom, they were able to help me save their spots.) Becoming friends with the people standing around you will also really help as the parade time draws near and other people are trying to push into space you’ve been sitting in for 2 hours.

Not only that- it makes the time pass much more quickly as you wait for the parade to begin!

Thick Skin: This is a really tough one, but you absolutely have to have thick skin. As the parade begins people will come out of nowhere and plead for your spot.

No matter how badly you feel about saying “no” keep in mind that you did all the planning and research. You set your alarm. And you stood in the cold for hours. Other people could have done the same thing, but chose not to.

Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for planning well!

Pictures: Take plenty of family pictures ahead of time. Once the parade begins things will be so crowded that you will not have an easy time getting anyone in a picture.

You will also be busy enjoying the parade!

TV Finale: Another great reason to stay close to your hotel during the parade is that as soon as it finishes in your location you can watch the remainder on TV.

Being at the parade is amazing, but you do miss all of the performances that you see on TV. We had so much fun watching the last hour of TV coverage after the parade had wrapped up at our street location!

I hope you found these Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips helpful! Leave a comment if you have any questions or extra tips to add!

You may also find it helpful to read:

New York City Christmas: A Must-Do List of Magical Experiences

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: What You Don’t See On TV

Booking Airline Tickets: How To Avoid Overpaying

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