Thanksgiving in New York City wouldn’t be what it is without the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you're eager to take your kids to glimpse those giant balloons and don’t want to rise before dawn, visit the area near the American Museum of Natural History on Wednesday, November 24, 2022, to watch the giants come to life during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation.
While the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation is far from crowd-free, it’s an only-in-New York event all its own—and a must-do holiday event for families. Read on for tips on when to go and where to eat. In need of more holiday inspiration? Visit our NYC Kids Thanksgiving Fun Guide.
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Snoopy gets ready for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo by the author
When and Where is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation
The traditional Macy's Thanksgiving Day Balloon Inflation takes place on Thanksgiving eve in the streets around the American Museum of Natural History. The inflation is set for Wednesday, November 23, 2022. from 12pm-6pm with visitors entering the fray at 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue, then heading east to Central Park West, north to 77th Street and making a 3/4 circle of the museum, ending at 81st Street and Central Park West.
Gone are the days when parade enthusiasts could gather and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation free from crowds. These days, there are security checks and police monitor the galleries, which increase as the night continues. Plan to arrive early to beat the crowds. The balloons take shape quickly and are kept earthbound by giant nets.
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You can get very close to the balloons for a cool view if you time your visit right. Photo courtesy of the New York Historical Society
Top Tips for Families Visiting the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation
Beating the line. In the past, we've advised visitors that the most foolproof way to beat the crowds is to visit the American Museum of Natural History before the start of the balloon inflation. With the earlier start time and a different route, which does not pass the main doors on Central Park West, we're not sure this is useful this time around. If you want to give it a try, the museum is open until 5:30pm on Thanksgiving eve.
Leave the stroller at home. The crowds make it nearly impossible to push a stroller, and the chances are your young child will be too small to see past the barricades and adults. You might want to wait until your child is old enough to withstand the crowds and endure long periods of standing before considering a visit.
Don’t try to meet up with friends on-site. If you want to go as a group, travel to the site together or meet a few blocks away. It's nearly impossible to connect once you're in the fray.
Consider a viewing party. The New-York Historical Society hosts a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation viewing party for members who contribute at the family level or above. If you're already a fan of the museum, a membership might make sense to gain this perk! A less-costly option is to strike up a friendship with someone who lives on 77th or 81st Streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.
Bring snacks and water. The loop takes at least 45 minutes to complete. So bring essentials or dine beforehand.
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Where to Eat Near the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation
It’s best to avoid restaurants on Columbus Avenue opposite the museum—they'll be packed. There are plenty of family-friendly restaurants within a few blocks. Call ahead to make sure your choice isn't closing early for the holiday.
Planning on going to the parade the next day? For everything you need to know, see our 2022 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade post.
This post, originally published in November 2013, is updated annually.
Unless noted, photos courtesy of Macy's