The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the pinnacle of the holiday season in New York City. Each year, while millions are watching on TV, thousands of people wait out in the chilly Manhattan streets to get a prime view of the parade and all of its glory.
Although the experience of seeing the parade in real life is amazing (you can read our guide here), huge crowds and long waits aren’t everybody’s thing. If you love the parade but can relate to this sentiment, you’ll want to read on.
On Wednesday, November 23 - also known as the day before Thanksgiving - you can actually get up close to the parade balloons as they are being blown up. It’s perfect for those who’d like to get the Thanksgiving Day parade experience, but still sleep in (in your warm, cozy bed) on Thanksgiving morning.
We’ve got the scoop on where to go and what to expect when you get there below!
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon inflation takes places outside of the American Museum of Natural History at Central Park West. Using public transportation is almost always the quickest and cheapest way to get anywhere in the city. During the holiday season, when traffic is next-level insane, this couldn’t be more true. In fact, many streets will be blocked off specifically for the inflation, and parking is practically non-existent. Therefore, we definitely suggest taking the subway to there. The best way to get there is to take the 1 train to 79th street. Taking the B or C to 81st will get you closer - right in the middle of the path, actually, which means you’ll have to turn around and go to the start anyway if you’d like to see all of the balloons.
What you can expect to see at the event depends on what time you go. This year, viewing is open from 3 pm - 10 pm. If you are looking to avoid as much of a crowd as possible, then the earlier you go, the better. It starts to get really busy when work gets out, around 5 pm - 7 pm, and the last viewers are allowed in around 9:15 pm.
There’s a reason, however, that it’s less busy earlier in the day, and it’s not just because people are still working. The balloons take all day to blow up, so there’s less to see around the time the viewing opens. If you wait until a few hours in, there will be more inflated balloons, like Snoopy, Spongebob, the Grinch, and other beloved characters, for your viewing pleasure.
Walking the whole path and seeing everything should take between one and two hours. It’s also important to note that there’s no food for sale, so if you think you might get hungry, bring a snack!
Pros and Cons (of seeing the inflation over the parade)
- No waking up at the crack of dawn!
- Less waiting around (which means…)
- Less time in the cold NYC weather
- You’ll get much closer to the balloons than you would at the parade
- Less people (though there will still be people, don’t get us wrong!)
- You get to sleep in on Thanksgiving morning!
- Not the “full parade experience” - you’ll miss other performers like the Rockettes
- Balloons may not be fully inflated depending on when you get there
- You won’t see yourself on TV
- No Santa!