Food & Drink

Your Complete Guide to Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Don’t miss our explainers on Guinness, making green beer, find green food and more Irish traditions. Plus, check out our other St. Patrick's Day celebration guides for Chicago, New York and Pittsburgh.

This weekend marks the 117th iteration of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which annually takes place on the Sunday nearest to March 17. And this year is actual proof of that revered Irish luck, as the holiday itself falls on a Saturday. May the green beer flow freely.

With more than 20% of Boston claiming Irish ancestry, it’s little surprise that the Southie parade is one of the largest in the country, attracting up to 1 million spectators each year. Organized by the Allied War Veterans Council of South Boston, the parade consists of dozens of military marching units as well as floats, and lasts somewhere around two and a half hours. But it’s as much a street party as a parade, with revelers committing to daytime debauchery and folks taking up daylong residence inside the many bars and restaurants lining Broadway. It’s a safe bet every year that the city’s workforce will be seriously depleted come Monday morning.

Here's everything you need to know to navigate the madness the day of -- from Boston's unique St. Paddy's Day history, to the parade itself, to everything you'll be doing after.

How far back does Boston's St. Patrick's Day history go?

Many forget that ours is technically a dual celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and Evacuation Day, in honor of the holiday celebrated by exactly one county in the entire country (that would be Suffolk County, made up of Boston and parts of Chelsea and Everett). The holiday honors General George Washington’s first Revolutionary War victory, when he used cannons to fortify Dorchester Heights (now a central point of South Boston), ending an 11-month siege and causing the British to evacuate Boston on, yes, March 17. The calendar date coincidence led to our city’s strong Irish population making Evacuation Day an official holiday in 1941; the law was signed in both black and green ink.

For the last 30-plus years, it has also been a tradition mired in controversy. In 1992, the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston (GLIB) applied to march in the parade, but the veterans alliance denied them permission. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court, which in 1995 ruled unanimously that the alliance, as a private organizer of the parade, had a legal right to protect its messaging. No Boston mayor marched in the parade for the next 20 years, until 2015, when the alliance allowed two gay and lesbian groups to participate. But just last year, one of those two groups, the LGBTQ veterans group OUTVETS, was initially banned from marching; it took enormous political and public pressure for Allied Veterans to back down. (Keep an eye peeled for the Peace Parade, organized by Veterans for Peace, which follows the main event and stands for peace, equality, jobs, environmental stewardship, and social and economic justice.)

What time does the parade start, and what is the route?

The parade starts at 1pm and lasts around two and a half hours. The 3.2-mile route begins at the corner of West Broadway and Dorchester Avenue, then marches up West Broadway before taking a soft left onto East Broadway. From there, it’s a right onto P Street (near Dorchester Heights) and another right onto East 4th Street, a left onto K Street, and another quick right onto East 5th Street. A short left onto G Street, a quick right onto Thomas Park, and then left onto Telegraph Street and Dorchester Street, ending up on the corner of Dorchester Street and Dorchester Avenue.

What’s my best viewing spot?

Pretty much wherever you can elbow your way in. Savvy boosters stake out choice viewing spots hours before start time by plunking down lawn chairs (we’ve even spotted dining room chairs on occasion). Any place along Broadway is a sure bet, especially if you commit to the day and snag a window seat at one of the restaurants lining the main thoroughfare. Medal of Honor Park and Thomas Park are two calmer options.

What are the parade rules?

Wait, there are rules? Yes, and a bunch of them at that. Here are all the things you officially cannot do during the proceedings according to the Allied War Veterans Council's parade code of conduct:

  • Publicly protest against the United States in any way, or protest against persons for their heritage or ethnicity (this is all one rule).
  • Conduct a political protest, including against the current president.
  • Use vulgar language, either written or spoken (though enforcing the latter would require a police force yet unseen ‘round these parts).
  • Get nude or otherwise indecently expose yourself, which will get you banned from all future parades as well.
  • Here is the final rule, quoted verbatim: “We do not ban any persons or Groups based on their sexual orientation. However, we, the Committee, will not allow the advertisement or display of one’s sexual orientation as a topic that should in any way be depicted as a theme of our parade.”

What will the weather be like?

Think of it as Halloween in March: just a little too cold for comfort. Right now, Sunday’s forecast calls for some sun and a brisk high of 44 degrees. (Note: Thrillist is not responsible for the inevitable change in forecast.) That said, we just wrapped up our third nor’easter of March, which means there very well could still be snow on the ground.

What should we wear?

Docility be damned -- this is your chance to go all in. (Again: think Halloween.) So, green upon green atop green. Folks also don leprechaun beards and hats, shamrock-shaped sunglasses, and green feather boas, and frequently commit to temporary green hair dye. Getting a little shamrock face paint on your cheek is the very least you can do. (Did you know that Saint Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock as a way to explain the three-tiered Holy Trinity?) And seriously, not to sound like your mom, but at least wear layers. Guinness is not nearly as warming as actual winter clothing.

How do we get there?

Do not -- repeat -- do NOT drive. Looking for parking in Southie is a Sisyphean slog even on a slow weeknight; any motorized attempt to get to the parade will leave you cursing the entire city. That said, Lyft is offering $5 off your first two rides on St. Paddy’s Day weekend this year, so you can at least get close to the route. But public transportation is still the obvious choice. The West Broadway T stop (Red Line) puts you at the exact start of the parade, and the next stop out, at Andrew Square, places you smack dab at the end.

What else is there to do that weekend?

In the words of the famous non-Irish American Ferris Bueller: It’s not what you’re going to do, it’s what you aren’t going to do. St. Patrick’s Day in Boston is like Opening Day and Marathon Monday combined; tack on that rare Saturday celebration and you find yourself in a city in 48-hour thrall to Eire. Among the classics: the Dropkick Murphys’ annual Boston show at House of Blues; the annual St. Patrick’s Day Road Race before the parade; the “look our politicians are actually funny!” St. Patrick’s Day breakfast (not that you’re invited); and Irish sessions at the Burren, Black Rose, and Brendan Behan.

Need a more adult Saturday eve? Bully Boy is hosting its first-ever St. Patrick’s Day throwdown and limiting the guest list to 80 ticket holders. Dorchester Brewing Co. is bringing in Moody’s Delicatessen to offer its creative take on Irish fare. Anna’s Taqueria is offering a corned beef-centric Irish Burrito on March 17 (while supplies last) that we swear is delicious. Glendalough Distillery, Ireland’s first craft distillery, is popping up at the Wine Emporium on Friday. And have we mentioned that TAMO Bistro + Bar is pouring a 51-ounce Guinness through March 17? Here’s the adult part: at least two adults are required to drink it.

If none of those pan out, check out other events on our regularly updated guide to the things to do in Boston over the weekend. There will be plenty of options there.

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