Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2021: Where to Watch, What's New

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a unique, only-in-NY spectacle you must see IRL at least once!
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a unique, only-in-NY spectacle you must see IRL at least once!

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade celebrates its 95th anniversary this November, taking over the streets of Manhattan on Thursday, November 25, 2021, exhilarating the city with its boisterous marching bands, extravagant floats, and giant balloon characters. This year's parade will be particularly celebratory following a scaled-down, crowd-free event in 2020. Every year brings a mix of old and new characters to the parade, and 2021 is no exception, with new faces Ada Twist, Scientist, and Grogu (aka Baby Yoda), a new Ronald McDonald, and Pikachu and Evee joining the field as giant balloons.

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. Looking for what time and where to see the Macy's Parade on TV instead? Read on for that, too. You'll find more holiday inspiration in our Thanksgiving Fun Guide.

Of course, enthusiastic paradegoers know the family fun actually begins the day before as the trademark giant balloons receive their annual helium injections—in fact, the annual Macy's balloon inflation is included in our list of 100 Things To Do With Your Kids in NYC. Check out our in-depth inflation post for an overview of the Wednesday night festivities.

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Pilsbury Doughboy at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Inflation
Vaccinations are required for guests wishing to catch the balloon inflation in 2021. 

Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation 2021

This popular—and crowded—Thanksgiving eve event has become a tradition of its own, See our in-depth post on the Macy's balloon inflation for more info and pictures.

In keeping safety top of mind, there are some changes to the event this year. The viewing gallery is open from noon-6pm on Wednesday, November 25, and guests must provide proof of COVID vaccination to enter. Children who are ineligible for vaccines are allowed to attend in the company of a vaccinated adult.

In years past, tens of thousands have crowded the streets surrounding the American Museum of Natural History as annual favorites like Olaf, the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Grinch, the Elf on the Shelf, and more come to life along with new additions. The 2021 inflation operates at a reduced capacity, social distancing is encouraged, and all viewers are required to wear masks at all times.

Experienced balloon watchers know not to expect a leisurely stroll Wednesday night. Instead, you'll be herded into a procession that favors older kids. 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, and if this sounds too challenging, consider watching the post-parade balloon deflation on the side streets around 34th Street and Sixth Avenue.

RELATED: Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to March Again in 2021

Clowns in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade toss confetti at the camera
Playful clowns add to the festive atmosphere as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade marches through the NYC streets. 

95th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Thursday, November 25, 2021, 9am-noon

The parade is total holiday madness, but incredible fun for families, and an 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 (my favorite!) Santa's sleigh!

In addition to the new balloons, keep your eyes peeled for six new floats, including "Birds of a Feather Stream Together," from Peacock, "Colossal Wave of Wonder," by Kalahari Resorts, "Magic of the Sea," by Disney Cruise line, and more.

All told, the lineup features 15 giant character balloons, 28 floats, 36 smaller balloons, more than 800 clowns, 10 marching bands, and nine performance groups—including those who had to postpone their invites when the 2020 celebration was scaled back. The star of the show, as always, is the one-and-only Santa Claus, who takes up residence in Santaland following his parade appearance.

The 2021 parade follows the traditional route, stepping off from 77th Street on the Central Park West, traveling south to 59th Street, east on 59th to Sixth Avenue, where it heads south to Macy's flagship 34th Street store.

Wisdom says to arrive early if you want to secure the best parade-watching sightlines. However, some experienced paradegoers prefer a leisurely stroll across town to a comfortable vantage point closer to the parade's kick-off, knowing the giant inflated balloons are visible from a block away.

RELATED: NYC Hotels With Views of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Tom Turkey in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Tom Turkey is an iconic symbol of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

While my family and I have been lucky enough to watch from some indoor vantage points over the years, nothing compares to the magic of being at street level. The energy is electric, from the clowns and confetti to the marching bands booming along the route. It truly is worth the early morning stakeout at least once. I even braved 2018's coldest-since-1901 parade and didn't regret it—neither did my daughter, who has requested a return visit this year, even if it's that cold again.

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 directions.

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.

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, and south along Sixth Avenue 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. It airs from 9am to noon.

This article, originally published in November 2009, is updated annually.

Unless noted, photo courtesy of Macy's

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