The larger-than-life balloons get inflated the night before the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo by Meagan Newhart
The larger-than-life balloons get inflated the night before the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo by Meagan Newhart

See the 2021 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation with Kids

Thanksgiving in New York City is synonymous with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and after a scaled-back celebration in 2020, both the parade and balloon inflation are on for 2021. The latter comes with some increased safety precautions, so read on for details.

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, 2021, to watch the giants come to life.

The balloon inflation is 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 Thanksgiving Fun Guide.

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Changes to the 2021 Macy's Balloon Inflation Event

Visitors to past balloon inflation events are likely to remember crowds inching along for a glimpse at the helium balloons coming to life. The biggest change to the 2021 event is proof of vaccination is required for visitors to enter the viewing gallery. Plan to bring your original vaccination card, a mobile vaccine app, or a photo of your vaccination card. Children are allowed to attend with a vaccinated adult.

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More safety precautions include a limited capacity to allow for social distancing, and all visitors are required to wear masks.

Olaf being inflated for the 2018 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Olaf gets ready for flight in the 2018 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Macy's Balloon Inflation 2021: When and Where

The traditional Macy's balloon inflation takes place on Thanksgiving eve in the streets around the American Museum of Natural History. The inflation is set for Wednesday, November 24, 2021, and runs from 12-6pm. Visitors enter the fray at 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue. Following security and vaccination checks, visitors are directed toward the viewing gallery at 77th Street, making a 3/4 circle of the museum, before ending at 81st Street and Central Park West.

RELATED: Awesome Things To Do in New York City in November 2021 With Kids

Close-up view of the Macy's Balloons coming to life
Stand up close to the balloons for a very cool view. 

Top Tips for Families Attending the Macy's 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. 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 queue together or meet a few blocks away. It's nearly impossible to connect once you're amid the fray.

Bring snacks and water. The loop takes at least 45 minutes to complete. So bring essentials or dine beforehand. Speaking of that...

RELATED: 25 Restaurants Open on Thanksgiving in NYC

View of the Macy's Parade Balloon Inflation at dawn
By dawn, the balloons might already be inflated, but still earthbound and eye level for an up-close look. Photo by Anthony Quintano/CC BY 2.0

Where to Eat Near the 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 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade post.

This post, originally published in November 2013, is updated annually.

Unless noted, photos courtesy of Macy's

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