The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade celebrates its 90th anniversary this month, taking over the streets of Manhattan on Thursday, November 24, and decorating the city with its boisterous marching bands, extravagant floats and giant balloon characters.
A trio of balloons join the 2016 lineup including a revamped, kite-toting Charlie Brown, the return of Diary of a Wimpy Kid's Greg decked in winter gear, and a brand-new Trolls' balloon celebrating the movie debut of the same name. There are new floats and performances, too, and the return of balloon favorites like Thomas the Tank Engine, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and yes, that Elf on the Shelf! In a nod to history, Felix the Cat, the first balloon to traverse the parade route, is being rebuilt to his 1927 glory and ready to fly again, on poles as he was originally carried.
If you're planning to attend the parade with the kids (and millions of others!), read on for the most up-to-date information on the route, best viewing locations, and other highlights. Check out our in-depth inflation post for an overview of the Wednesday-night festivities. You'll find more holiday inspiration in our Thanksgiving Fun Guide.
Enthusiastic paradegoers know the family fun actually begins the day before as those giant balloons receive their annual helium injections. It’s no wonder it's included in our list of 100 Things to Do With Your Kids in NYC. Looking for what time and where to see the Macy's Parade on TV instead? Read on for that too.
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Watch Thomas and others come to life at the balloon inflation. Photo by SAS Images via Instagram.
Wednesday, Nov. 23, 3-10pm
Start at Columbus Avenue and 79th Street
The Macy's balloon inflation has become a holiday tradition of its own. Tens of thousands crowd the streets surrounding the American Museum of Natural History as Charlie Brown, Kevin, the Trolls, and Felix the Cat join returning balloons like Paddington, Thomas the Tank Engine,Hello Kitty, Elf on the Shelf, and others come to life.
Experienced balloon watchers know not to expect a leisurely stroll Wednesday night. Instead, expect to be herded into a procession that favors older kids who can better deal with crowds. Preschoolers might find it overwhelming. Beware: It is hard to push a stroller through the gallery.
If you want to attend with friends, travel to the site together or meet a few blocks away. It can be impossible to connect once you're in the fray. See our in-depth post on the Macy's balloon inflation for more info and pictures.
If this sounds too challenging, consider watching the post-parade balloon deflation held on the side streets around 34th Street and Sixth Avenue.
RELATED: Visitors' Guide to NYC for Families
A new Trolls-themed balloon will debut at the 2016 parade. Image courtesy of Macy's.
Thursday, Nov. 24, 9am-noon
Starts at 77th Street and Central Park West, ends at Herald Square
The parade is total holiday madness, but incredible fun for families and a NYC holiday bucket-list must. Where else can you see clowns, floats, giant balloons, and Santa Claus all at once? You'll see everything from Sesame Street characters to cheerleaders, and Santa's sleigh! Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, and their Muppets' pals lead off the parade with a musical number to remember.
In addition to the new balloons taking flight, four new floats make their debut: The Aloha Spirit, by King’s Hawaiian; Building A Better World, by Girl Scouts of the USA, Deck the Halls, by Balsam Hill; and Fun House, by Krazy Glue. In total there will be 16 giant character balloons, 27 other balloons, 26 floats, 1,100 dancers and cheerleaders, 16 marching bands and performance groups, and thousands of volunteers making the magic happen.
Wisdom says arrive early if you want to secure the best parade-watching sight lines. However, some experienced paradegoers prefer a leisurely stroll across town to a comfortable vantage point, knowing the giant inflated balloons are visible from a block away.
The parade again travels its traditional Sixth Avenue route. There is no secret, uncrowded place from which to watch. It's best to avoid Sixth Avenue between 34th and 38th streets and the grandstand area (usually near Columbus Circle); both are closed to the public. Be prepared for other street closings, and make sure to comply with any NYPD advisories.
For an unobstructed view, stake out your spot around 6am, perhaps earlier. In that case, consider the west side of Central Park West in the 60s or 70s. The east side of Central Park West is not open for viewing. However, if you enter Central Park north of 86th Street and meander south you can catch a peek from a hill or playground.
Pikachu. Photo courtesy of Macy's.
A few final tips: The farther you are from Herald Square, the lighter the crowds tend to be. Also, Macy's doesn't distribute grandstand tickets to the public.
The parade route is as follows: The parade begins at 77th Street and Central Park West, then travels downtown to Central Park South (59th Street). It then heads east to Sixth Avenue, continuing south to 34th Street/Herald Square. The Macy's website has a detailed map of the route, as well as the full details on the parade rundown and characters.
If you can’t handle the cold and crowds, stay home and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC along with the 50 million other Americans who do so each year. It airs 9am to noon with hosts Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer, and Al Roker.
Top image: Elf on the Shelf returns to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2016. Photo by Charlie Lhasa via Flickr.
This post, originally published in November 2009, is updated annually.