When to watch
Though the parade technically kicks off on Thanksgiving morning, the shenanigans really start the evening before, when the massive balloons are ceremonially inflated outside the American Museum of Natural History. Kids, especially, adore watching as a 77-foot Power Ranger (the red one), SpongeBob, and countless more characters take shape in the sky -- so expect to have to jostle with strollers for a good view, and try not to make anyone cry. The whole thing runs from 3pm until 10pm, but visit around sunset for the optimal mix of balloon admiration, excitement at watching the actual inflation, and lingering warmth before dark.
Now for the actual parade. It starts at 9am, at 77th Street and Central Park West, and finishes up around noon down at Macy’s Herald Square. Head to your preferred viewing spot well ahead of time, so, you know, you can actually see something.
Like pretty much everything in New York City, you’ll want to plan on taking the MTA rather than a taxi, as many streets will be closed before, during, and after the parade.
Parade Route and Viewing Spots
The parade runs down Central Park West to 59th Street, then turns south on Sixth Avenue and eventually back west onto 34th Street. If you’ve ever been to a ground-level event in this chaotic metropolis, you know the best place to view it is from above. Should you not have friends living along the route, try Tinder or Craigslist, or coerce an invite out of a long-lost college pal. No connections? Consider booking a room at the New York Hilton Midtown (parade-facing rooms start at $599) or the Courtyard By Marriott Herald Square (parade-facing rooms start at $569), or any of the other hotels on the route that can ensure street views or rooftop access. Plus room service, of course.
If you don’t want to splash your cash, head to Central Park West and 75th Street (the northernmost blocks have reserved grandstand seating) around 7am to beat some of the crowds and escape the madness of Midtown. Don't rely on having cell service, and agree a place to meet if/when you get separated from your group.
Many people will tell you the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle is their preferred indoor viewing spot. Trouble is, they all go there, so it’s tough to find a spot by the window.
Lastly, a sneaky alternative: Find someone whose office is along the parade route, and ask them if they have access to their building on Thanksgiving Day.