Best Free Annual Parades in New York City for Kids
As the saying goes, everyone loves a parade. And during the warmer months, there are parades in NYC practically every week celebrating a wide variety of cultures and causes, and all of them are FREE.
While it's always cool to watch the colorful costumes, floats, and performers pass by, there are certain annual parades in New York City that are particularly great for families. These processions are either exceptionally vibrant, like Chinatown's Lunar New Year Parade or the Three Kings Day Parade in East Harlem, or invite costumed kids to get in on the action, like the small, community-based Halloween Parades that are much less intense than the big one in Greenwich Village.
Included in our list are popular NYC parades we've attended—some many times—or those that come highly recommended. So, get out your calendar, and save these dates to see if you can catch them all!
St. Patrick’s Day Parade – Midtown East
2022 parade: Thursday, March 17
Even if you don't have the luck of the Irish, you'll still get a kick out of NYC's oldest and largest parade. First held in 1762, the big Midtown St. Patrick's Day Parade celebrates Irish culture and the Catholic faith. The parade steps off at 11am, led by members of the National Guard’s 69th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Fighting 69th,” and runs up Fifth Avenue from 44th to 79th Streets.
The bonnets are amazing at the Easter Bonnet Parade. Photo courtesy of the event
Easter Parade – Midtown East
2022 parade: Sunday, April 17
Calling this annual gathering a parade is a bit misleading. It's more of a promenade, as Fifth Avenue between Rockefeller Center and 57th Street is closed to traffic and opened to incredible headgear. There are no floats or processions. Folks just meander about posing for pictures. While many opt for traditional flower-filled bonnets and their Sunday's best, you'll see some outrageous outfits and hats here. To get the full event experience, check out our video from 2017.
New York Dance Parade – Flatiron to the East Village
2022 parade: Saturday, May 21
This procession kicks off around Madison Square Park and ends in Tompkins Square Park. Along the way, 10,000 movers and shakers shimmy down Broadway in elaborate costumes doing more than 100 dances, including salsa, tango, waltz, the hula, break dancing, and more. If you want to participate, you must register in advance and join a group. Otherwise, go and cheer them on and hit the after-party in Tompkins Square Park for dance workshops and performances.
The beach, the boardwalk, and mermaids—what better way to spend the day! Photo by Raven Snook
Mermaid Parade – Coney Island, Brooklyn
2022 parade: Saturday, June 18
The Mermaid Parade is nearly indescribable. Wait until you see all the sea-themed sights in person, as thousands of mermaids, mermen, pirates, fish, showgirls, vintage cars, funky floats, and a fair amount of topless ladies descend on Coney Island to celebrate the summer solstice. Make sure you opt for comfort over glamour (your feet will thank you) and pack plenty of water and food as Nathan's and the boardwalk are mobbed throughout the day. If it's sunny, bring a parasol or hat, and be prepared for big crowds, especially if you want to hit the beach or the rides afterward. If you're considering marching, keep in mind you'll do a lot of waiting under the hot sun and you'll miss a lot of the costumes. It's better to dress up and watch from the sidelines.
Ragamuffin Parade – Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
2022 Parade: Saturday, October 1
Why wait until Halloween to wear your costume? Since 1967, Brooklyn families have been putting on their outfits a month ahead of time to march in the annual children's Ragamuffin Parade, which travels down Third Avenue from 76th to 92nd Streets in Bay Ridge. There are also bands, cheerleaders, and makeshift floats. Usually, schools sign their students up to participate, however, individual families can find parade consent forms on the Ragamuffin website.
Clinton Street is closed to traffic for the ultra-fun Cobble Hill Halloween Parade. Photo by Meagan Newhart
Halloween Parades for Kids – Citywide
2022 parades: Monday, October 31
Forget the always insane Village Halloween Parade until the kids are teens. Instead, hit one of NYC's many family-friendly neighborhood parades that include stops for trick-or-treating at local businesses and homes. While it's hard to pick a favorite since each one has its flavor and charm, the biggies are the Jackson Heights Halloween Parade in Queens, which claims to be the second-largest Halloween parade in NYC; the Park Slope Civic Council Children’s Halloween Parade, which culminates in a party at the Old Stone House; the Cobble Hill Halloween Parade; and the Upper West Side rite-of-passage Hippo Playground Halloween Parade.
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade – Upper West Side to Midtown West
2022 parade: Thursday, November 24
I doubt I need to sell you on the kid-friendliness of this nearly century-old tradition—it celebrates 96 years running in 2022! The only thing that isn't family-friendly about this procession of pop-culture-infused floats and giant balloons is the fact you need to arrive around 6am to claim your spot! Unfortunately, there is no secret trick to snagging a good viewing location. Arrive early, or watch from way in the back. You'll still see something! Or find a friend (or friend of a friend) who lives on the route. Ask around! You never know...
Celebrate Three Kings Day with El Museo del Barrio, which hosts a parade through East Harlem with puppets, camels, and plenty of Hispanic culture. Photo courtesy of El Museo
Three Kings Day Parade – East Harlem
2023 parade: Friday, January 6
Also known as Epiphany, Three Kings Day is the last official day of the Christmas season, or the "12th day of Christmas" as the song goes, and it is primarily celebrated by Hispanic cultures. NYC hosts multiple Three Kings Day parades, including small ones in Brooklyn and Inwood, but the big bash is El Museo del Barrio's annual procession in East Harlem. Even when January 6 falls on a weekend, this parade takes place on a weekday since lots of local public school kids are involved. The highlights are the live camels and the massive Three Kings Day puppets, which lead the procession. The puppets stay on display in the museum after the event. It's fun but modest, so find a spot near the start on 106th Street and Park Avenue (it's never crowded), watch for 15 minutes or so, and then continue celebrating with a great Mexican meal at a nearby eatery.
Chinatown's Lunar New Year Parade and Festival is a colorful and family family-friendly celebration. Photo courtesy of Better Chinatown
Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival – Chinatown
2023 parade: TBD (Lunar New Year falls on Sunday, January 22, 2023)
NYC has multiple Lunar New Year parades, but the smaller processions pale in comparison to Chinatown's. Every year, more than half a million spectators line the streets for the colorful pan-Asian parade, which includes Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Malaysian, and even Hispanic floats and cultural performances, plus traditional Lion and Dragon dances. It's a very festive, very crowded, and very loud affair, with firecrackers popping and confetti flying everywhere you look, so it's probably a bit much for younger children. Afterward, you can hit the cultural festival in Sara D. Roosevelt Park at Canal and Forsyth Streets or grab some dim sum at a family-friendly Chinatown restaurant. Just be prepared to wait.
This post was originally published in 2013; it has since been updated. Margaret Kelly contributed to its reporting.