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 21, 2018, to watch the giants come to life, including the brand-new balloons for 2018.
While the balloon inflation isn't 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 dinner afterward. In need of more holiday inspiration? Visit our Thanksgiving Fun Guide.
Kermit gets ready for the parade. Photo by Jen/CC BY 2.0
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 21, 2018 and runs from 1pm to 8pm. Visitors enter the fray at 73rd Street and Columbus Avenue, then head east to Central Park West, north to 77th Street and make a 3/4 circle of the museum, ending at 81st Street and Central Park West.
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Watch as the balloons get plumped up to perfection. Photo by David Pfeffer/CC BY 2.0
Top Tips for Families
Go early. Gone are the days when parade enthusiasts could gather and watch the balloon inflation all afternoon. These days, police monitor the event, which grows increasingly crowded as the night continues. Your best bet, especially with kids, is to arrive early to beat the crowds. The balloons take shape quickly and are kept earthbound by giant nets.
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 prior to the start of the balloon inflation. With the earlier start time and different route, which does not pass the main doors on Central Park West, we're not sure this is useful advice this time around. Of course, because of the more friendly daytime hours, the event might be even MORE crowded. If you want to give it a try, the museum is open until 5:45pm on Thanksgiving Eve.
Leave the stroller at home. The crowds make it nearly impossible to push a stroller, and 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 amid the fray.
Consider a viewing party. The New-York Historical Society hosts a Thanksgiving Eve 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 really make sense to gain this perk, plus you can snag priority tickets for the new Harry Potter exhibit! 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. Speaking of which...
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 a few blocks north. 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.
Top photo by Anthony Quintano/CC BY 2.0.