Thanksgiving week is the one of the most exciting and busy weeks of the year in New York City. There’s holiday décor everywhere you look, multiple ice rinks welcoming skaters every day, and of course preparation for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
This year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is set to return to pre-pandemic form and will be taking place Thursday November 25, 2021 from 9 AM to Noon and it’s expected that many visitors will be in the city to watch it! Parade watchers will be treated to 15 giant character balloons, 28 floats, 800 clowns, 20 marching bands and performance groups and of course, Santa!
The crowds and the bustle can be daunting, but a little patience and planning will make it a memorable experience for the family.
If you are headed to New York City at the end of the month, here are our top tips for taking the kids to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Best Viewing Spots for the Parade
You’ll find the full parade route on the official Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade website.
The parade is televised from Macy’s Herald Square location and is the busiest part of the parade. We recommend staying away from this area and watching the parade a bit further from this location.
Location #1: Outdoor Viewing at Central Park West
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade starts at the American Museum of Natural History at 77th Street and Central Park West and heads south to Columbus Circle at 59th Street. If you want to be near the starting point of the parade consider finding a spot near Central Park West between Columbus Circle and 75th Street.
Stay on the west side of Central Park West as this is the only side available for street viewing. This is the least crowded leg of the route and a prime spot for viewing the floats and balloons and you’ll get to see all the floats, balloons and Santa by 10:30 AM.
Location #2: Indoor Viewing at Central Park West
Not interested in standing out in the cold? Head to the Shops at Columbus Circle and view the parade from the 2nd or 3rd floor. Whole Foods, which is located inside the shopping plaza, opens at 7 AM so you can grab a spot there.
Location #3: Outside Along 6th Ave. Avenue of the Americas
The longest view of the parade is along 6th Ave. and there’s great views along this street. Avoid the Macy’s in Herald Square area though as it will be very busy with press and broadcasters. Beware that if it is a windy day, 6th Ave with all the tall buildings becomes somewhat of a wind tunnel and can get very cold.
Location #4: Inside from a hotel room with parade views
If you’re traveling with babies or toddlers, we highly recommend an indoor viewing spot. You’ll stay warm, have a washroom near by and a bed in case your little ones need to catch a few ZZZs. If you’re looking to stay warm and have a washroom nearby, we recommend booking a room along the parade route with a view. You’ll find several family-friendly hotel recommendations in the next section below.
Best Family-Friendly Hotels Near the Parade Area
For out of town visitors, consider booking a hotel in the Central park area – near the starting point of the parade. Rooms in this area during Thanksgiving week are generally less expensive than those in Midtown.
RELATED READING: Best Hotels with Family Suites in NYC
Most are within walking distance of the parade route. Because there are longs waits for buses, subways and taxis on parade day, having a hotel nearby is a tremendous advantage.
Hotels in the Central Park area:
- Trump International Hotel & Tower New York (also on the parade route)
- Mandarin Oriental New York (on the parade route)
- Residence Inn New York Manhattan/Central Park (on the parade route)
- JW Marriott Essex House New York (on the parade route)
- The Quin Central Park by Hilton Club (on the parade route)
- Park Lane Hotel
- Park Hyatt New York
- The Plaza
- Salisbury New York
Looking for a hotel that is closer to Midtown than Central Park? Here are our recommendations for family-friendly hotels right on the parade route:
Hotels along the parade route:
- Warwick New York
- Hilton Garden Inn New York/West 35th Street
- Courtyard by Marriott New York Manhattan/Herald Square
- New York Hilton Midtown Manhattan
- 1 Hotel Central Park
If you want to avoid waiting 2 to 3 hours on the street but still want a good view of the parade, consider reserving a room with a parade view at these family-friendly hotels:
Hotels where you can watch the parade from your room
- New York Hilton Midtown
- Warwick New York Hotel
- The Ritz-Carlton New York
- The Quin Central Park by Hilton Club
- Residence Inn New York Manhattan/Times Square
- Courtyard New York Manhattan/Herald Square
Double check that the room you reserve has a view of the parade – there are rooms with obstructed views and full views – so if you have a preference, make sure to specify what you’re looking for when you book.
Things to Do with Kids Before Parade Day
Since the parade begins early Thanksgiving morning, consider arriving the day before. Excited families are in for a treat, as from 3-10 PM on Wednesday, you can watch the balloons being filled with helium at the parade’s starting point (Central Park West area).
Take the kids to the American Museum of Natural History to see the dinosaurs, elephants and dioramas on Wednesday morning and then in the afternoon you can head outside just in time to see the balloons being inflated. That’s two memorable experiences before parade day!
You can also take tour around Central Park, walk around Times Square, or plan to visit these kid-friendly and free activities in the city.
By evening the city is beginning to get busier, and reservations are recommended if you want a sit-down dinner. Here are several places that get the thumbs up from both of our school-age kids:
- Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse near Rockefeller Center
- Junior’s Restaurant at Times Square
- Sarabeth’s at Central Park
For quicker and budget friendlier meals, check out cafés, pizzerias, food carts and food courts. These are a few of our family’s favorite places for delicious and quick meals:
- Halal Guys
- Xian Famous Foods – this is mainly for my husband and I (it’s too spicy for the kids so they get pizza)
- The Todd English Food Hall at The Plaza Hotel
- Whole Foods at Shops at Columbus Circle and near Bryant Park
- any pizzeria – you can’t go wrong with New York pizza!
Whatever you do, make sure to get enough sleep for the next day because your day will be starting bright and early Thursday morning!
How to Maximize the Fun and Memories on Parade Day
Tip #1: Time your arrival
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade begins at 9 AM. Watchers begin lining up along Central Park West as early as 6 AM (this works for families with early risers!), but those arriving later can still find a decent viewing spot depending on where along the route you want to be.
For families wanting to be near the beginning of the parade (Central Park West), the Park side of the street has limited bleachers and benches to sit on. If you’re planning on viewing the parade from here, remember that once the parade is underway, you will not be able to cross back.
If you want to start your morning a little later, head farther down on 6th Ave as the parade won’t reach this area until 9:30 / 9:45 AM.
Avoid the Macy’s Herald Square area (6th Avenue between 34th and 38th Streets) – this is where the parade is broadcast from and it’s blocked off for press and media personnel.
Tip #2: Know how long it will take to see the entire parade
At the beginning of the route, the parade takes about an hour and a half to pass by. By the time it reaches Herald Square, that time has doubled.
Tip #3: Don’t leave your spot
Once you’ve decided on a viewing spot, do not leave! Another family will take it if you do.
Tip #4: Keep the kids entertained and busy while waiting for the parade to begin
Set clear expectations so the kids know what to expect on parade day. It will be a long while before they see anything – especially if you are heading out 2 to 3 hours prior to claim a viewing spot. Have games on your tablet or phone to keep them busy.
Tip #5: Dress for the weather
Dress for the weather – Fall is a time to start wearing layers in New York City. Hat, mitts, scarf and a thick jacket may be necessary on parade day. Hand warmers and wool socks or thermal socks are also good to have as well.
Make sure everyone has used the bathroom before heading out – there are VERY LIMITED number of bathrooms along the parade route (might as well pretend there’s none!)
Tip #6: Pack drinks and snacks for the entire family
Make sure to pack hot drinks and snacks for everyone to avoid waiting in long lines for food and drink while you wait for the parade to begin or during the parade.
We recommend having at least one family member carrying a backpack. This will be where you’ll store your food and drinks but also if you need to remove extra layers if the weather happens to warm up.
Tip #7: Don’t take the stroller but bring a collapsible step stool
Avoid taking the stroller with you if you’re watching outside. It will be difficult to navigate the streets with the stroller and kids won’t be able to see anything unless you have front row spots.
Bringing a collapsible step stool – like this lightweight and travel friendly one (only 2 pounds!) – might help with younger kids. It will give them a better view and they’ll be able to sit down should their legs get tired.
Tip #8: Consider only watching part of the parade
Children have limited patience for standing long hours in the cold, and New York’s lack of public restrooms can also be a challenge. A good option is to watch until the children grow restless, then return to the warmth and comfort of your hotel room to watch the rest of the event on television.
Tip #9: Be patient after the parade passes
After the parade passes, it takes some time for crowds to disperse. Lines for buses, subways and coffee shops are lengthy and it may be easier to walk to where you want to go next. If your hotel is within walking distance, now is a good time to return to regroup and get warm.
Tip #10: Plan where you’ll eat after the parade
If you aren’t staying in a nearby hotel, it’s good to have planned a spot to grab some food. You will be hungry! After standing outside for hours, you will be hungry. Head to 5th or 7th Ave. as it will be less crowded. See our recommendations above!
Kid-Friendly Christmas & the Holidays Activities in NYC
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade kicks of the holiday season and there’s plenty to do with kids in the city to start your celebrations.
What’s Open on Thanksgiving Day
Central Park is open, along with its zoo and classic carousel.
In the Times Square area, the M&M’s World store and Hershey’s Chocolate World store are open, tour buses are running, and countless waxen celebrities are waiting to be seen at Madame Tussauds New York wax museum.
Though many stores are closed on Thanksgiving Day, there are some notable exceptions.
FAO Schwarz, the city’s most famous toy store, is open until late afternoon. Toys ‘R’ Us keeps daytime hours, closes for dinner, then re-opens in the evening. Macy’s is closed Thanksgiving Day morning but will open in the evening. Many small shops, especially in the Times Square and Rockefeller Center areas, are also open.
Go Ice Skating
A traditional post-parade activity and celebrating the start of the holidays for New Yorkers is ice skating. If this is part of your NYC To Do list, you have a choice of three rinks:
Rockefeller Center – The skating rink is already open so you can head there before or after the parade if you want to skate in one of the city’s most popular rinks. Be prepared for long lines though. We did this a few years ago and pre-booked our ice time. The earliest we could get was 8 PM and that was a few days after Thanksgiving. *Note: the Christmas Tree will be lit on December 4, 2019.
Wollman Rink in Central Park – Skate in Central Park with the beautiful city skyline in the background. If you’re new to skating, you can participate in the learn-to-skate program.
The Rink at Bryant Park – This 17,000 square foot ice rink is free for all skaters (you will have to pay for skate rentals) but lines are not long here as the rink has capacity for 500 people.
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Visit Winter Village at Bryant Park
As an added bonus for Bryant Park skaters, more than 125 shops and food carts offers a festive, European-inspired holiday market at Winter Village at Bryant Park. Pick up a gift for a family or friend, look for a souvenir for yourself or indulge in holiday snacks and beverages.
Celsius, a rink-side restaurant, is also set up during the holiday season and families can enjoy hot chocolate or holiday bites before or after shopping and skating.
Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair & Train Show
If you’re looking for handmade, Made in the USA or unique gifts, head to Grand Central Terminal. The Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair is one of the longest running indoor holiday fairs in the city and runs for the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas.
Enjoy the View of the City from the Top
For breathtaking views of the city, both the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center’s Top of the Rock. Watch the hustle and bustle from above. Hopefully you’ll be able to capture some beautiful Big Apple holiday and winter photos.
See the Rockettes
Broadway is mostly dark on Thanksgiving Day, but the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular will be active throughout the week and the holiday season. It’s the hottest ticket in town, so be sure to book in advance.
Catch a Performance of The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker ballet opens the day after Thanksgiving. Watch mesmerizing dancers and musicians bring this holiday classic to life and make sure to book your tickets in advance.
Take the Kids to Broadway
During the holiday season, almost every Broadway show adds a matinee performance and even if you didn’t reserve tickets in advance, it’s worth checking out a TKTS booth to see what’s available at a last minute discount.
RELATED READING: How to plan a New York City trip with kids on a budget
Check out the Holiday Windows
Stores usually debut their holiday windows in late November or early December, and with Thanksgiving falling so late this year, chances are high that at least some of them will be up the week leading up to Thanksgiving.
Store windows glitter with Christmas cheer during the holiday season in NYC. Macy’s windows are always top of the list, but Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman also do wonderful window displays. Kids young and old will love this completely free and fun holiday activity.
We recommend checking out the holiday windows either before Thanksgiving or after Black Friday if you want to avoid the large crowds.
Visit Santa Claus
Santa will appear at the end of the Macy’s parade but if you (or the kids!) want to personally tell him what you want, head on over to:
- Santaland at Macy’s – Be prepared for a very lengthy wait as this is the location from the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street
- Brookfield Place Mall – Minimize your wait time by booking a time slot in advance. You might be able to squeeze in some shopping before your pager starts beeping too!
Wherever you decide to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, we hope the day is a memorable one!