Everything You Need to Know About the Village Halloween Parade

Something wicked this way comes up Sixth Avenue at nightfall on Halloween: Tens of thousands of dancing skeletons, puppet masterpieces, and masked New Yorkers, marching with a collective hunger for tricks and treats.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Village Halloween Parade. The city’s only night parade is one of the New York’s most storied traditions, drawing 50,000-60,000 marchers each year. Every iteration has reflected the zeitgeist. It was a major point of uplifting in 2001, when people gathered to heal less than a couple of months after September 11. And, alongside the Pride parade, which predates the Halloween Parade by a few years, it has always been a major celebration for the Village’s LGBTQ community to come together and express themselves.

This year promises to be as spooky, colorful, and elaborate as ever. Here’s how to join in the fun.

How do I get there?

Be sure to meet up with your friends before entering the chaos of Sixth Avenue, where it will be difficult to find each other. Take the B, D, F, or M lines to 23rd, 14th, or West 4th Street; the 1, 2, or 3 to 23rd, 18th, 14th, Christopher Street, or Houston Street; or the A, C, or E to West 4th Street, Spring Street, or Canal Street.

Where should I watch?

The parade begins on Sixth Avenue at Spring Street, stretching to 16th Street. Jeanne Fleming -- the artistic and producing director of the parade going on her 40th year in attendance -- recommends watching in the bustling heart of the Village between Bleecker and 12th Street for peak excitement. Stake out a spot south of Bleecker if you’re looking to avoid the most extreme crowds.

Can I march in the parade?

“Being in the parade is so much better than watching it,” Fleming says. But you must be in costume to be allowed to march. No half-assed attire allowed. The entrypoint for marchers is at Sixth Avenue and Canal Street, and the only open paths to this area are via Sullivan, East Broome, and Canal streets. Arrive between 6:30 and 9pm.

man dressed as Van Gogh portrait
New York City Halloween Parade

What should I wear?

Anything! At all! So don’t you dare come out in your work clothes and a lame pair of cat ears. Get creative, because the competition will be fierce -- you will be among jaw-dropping works of costume design -- and secret scouts will select the best of the best masqueraders.

What’s new this year?

This year’s theme is I Am Robot. The parade’s pièce de résistance includes a squad of 12-foot tall robot puppets encircling and dancing around a cart that will produce a massive mechanical butterfly. The rolling performance will repeat more than 30 times during the parade. Puppeteers dressed as giant eyes, ears, and mouths (to represent robots’ sensing functions) will mingle among the crowd. It takes 100-plus volunteers six weeks to create the theme puppets.

Organizers are also introducing a VIP section. Attendees who come dressed as robots can pay $25 to enter at 10th Street, bypass lines, and march with the parade’s Grand Marshall and a DJ.

The parade takes on a different vibe in response to what the city is feeling each year. “It’s always a surprise. That’s the fun of it -- what captures people’s imaginations, what they want to be,” Fleming says. “Some years are very light; some years are very heavy. It’s an election year, so I do expect some politics in the parade.”

Fleming says gawkers can expect to see sexy sirens performing a song and dance routine about voting, and a theatrical recreation of the Tesla orbiting the earth. The latter involves a cherry red Tesla, and 20 West Point cadets dressed as Earth-toting astronauts.

spacemen costumes
New York City Halloween Parade

What should I do post parade?

An official after-party/benefit will follow the parade for the first time in years. The MasCureAids Ball at Performance Space New York in the East Village will go from 7:30 until 2am. Standard tickets are $75. Partygoers can look forward to an open bar and a midnight costume contest with a $5,000 grand prize.

There will also be plenty of unofficial after parties nearby. The Jane Hotel's old-fashioned ballroom Halloween Bash is walking distance from the parade’s end ($20). Their open vodka bar is open from 9-10, so this option is best for those leaving the parade on the early side. Farther uptown in Chelsea, the Taj Lounge party is free with advanced registration. If you’re heading toward the East Village on your way home, Katra Lounge is free with registration, too. Or, get your squad to go all out with your costumes and hit rooftop 230 Fifth ($10 advance ticket) for your chance to win free bottle service. And though the usually tight and tiny Village bars will surely be packed body-to-body, they’re worth checking out if you just want to drink and socialize in a more chill setting. Blind Tiger is your best bet for beer, and Julius’ is one of the neighborhood’s most famous historic gay bars.

Where can I watch if I can’t make it?

The parade will be broadcast live on NY1 from 8 - 9:30pm.

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Alex Erdekian is an editorial assistant at Thrillist and thinks giant robot puppets sound quite terrifying.