The Best St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the U.S.
Plus, the country's best St. Patrick's Day bar crawls, concerts, and more.
St. Patrick’s Day may have direct roots in Irish Catholicism, but it is a uniquely American holiday. Which isn’t to say that the Irish don’t celebrate it: Every year, Americans who have never been to the Emerald Isle—much less during St. Patrick’s Day—waggle their fingers at anyone wearing green on March 17 and say, “You know, they don’t even celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.” They do. I’ve been there. Partied with a bunch of Dubliners and their friends from all over Europe. It was nuts. Good times. Shut up.
Anyhoo, while those people are mostly wrong, they are right to imply that this is an American holiday, because—well, it pretty much is. Or at least, the parades are. America held its first St. Patrick’s Day parades in the 1700s; Ireland didn’t have its first St. Patrick’s Day Parade until 1903, and it wasn’t a national holiday there until 1904 (though it technically isn’t a national holiday in the US, either, except in Boston).
While we’ve managed to export our Leprechaun-hat-wearing, binge-drinking traditions back abroad, it still holds that St. Patrick’s Day festivities are an American tradition in origin, and cities all over the country go green for it. For those of you looking for a good old-fashioned American craic, these are the best St. Patrick’s Day parades, parties, and events in the US.
Saturday, March 12
Ah, Chicago: What you lack in residents of actual Irish descent (at least compared to the other cities on this list), you more than make up for in gallons of green dye and hearty Midwestern enthusiasm for drinking outdoors, no matter the reason or season. St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago is a whole lot like a home Cubs game (or a Bears game, or a White Sox game) in Chicago, just with a green river: large swaths of the city take to the streets to celebrate, and all the bars everywhere are packed.
Of course, the Windy City dyes its river green the morning of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (this year, Saturday, March 12, at 10am), and while the spectacle of the city’s jewel of downtown turned a brilliant emerald green is really a sight to be seen, it only lasts a few hours and crowds get heavier the closer it gets to parade time. So get there early! And if you really want to enjoy it in full, book a St. Patrick’s Day river tour with popular boat tour outfits like Wendella or City Experiences, or rent a kayak and enjoy gliding down the waters surrounded by all the green-clad revelers. THEN go to the parade and drink.
Otherwise, start your day at Grant Park (home to some of Chicago’s most iconic sites, including Millennium Park and “The Bean”), where you can catch all the bagpipers and Irish Ceili dancers before they set off down Columbus Drive to march in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators in the parade, which dates back to 1843. If all the downtown shenanigans are too touristy for your tastes, head to the South Side Irish Parade or the Northwest Side Irish Parade for more local vibes. And for even more local flavor, start your day with a River North bar crawl; hop on board the St. Patty’s Day Trolley Crawl; party at a 175-year-old church at Shamrock’n the Block at Old St. Pat’s; or take advantage of the uniquely Chicagoan serendipity of Goose Island’s annual 312 Day falling on the same weekend with concerts, special beer releases, and beer discounts all around town.
New Orleans, Louisiana
By the time St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, it’ll have been less than two weeks since Mardi Gras and the two months of parades that preceded it. That hardly matters, because this is New Orleans, and these people will find any reason to parade.
Now, you may know New Orleans for its Creole culture. But what you might not know is that the Big Easy also has a strong history of Irish heritage, dating back to the 1700s when Irish Catholics were fleeing religious persecution. They were naturally simpatico with the Creole Catholics—at least as far as religious practices go—and today, there are two major hedonistic holidays of vaguely Catholic origin celebrated back-to-back. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL: New Orleanians also celebrate St. Joseph’s Day, an Italian Catholic holiday, on March 19. (You see? Another reason for a parade!)
The New Orleans St. Patrick’s Day Parade is actually a series of parades that runs for three weeks (seriously, ANY reason!). Things start on March 11 with the Molly's at the Market & Jim Monaghan’s Parade in the French Quarter (Monaghan being of the Erin Rose fame, aka the place in New Orleans everyone tells you to go to get a frozen Irish coffee). You can click here for the full list of parades and block parties, but the ones you definitely don’t want to miss are the ones happening in the Irish Channel, the historic neighborhood largely settled by Irish immigrants in the early 1800s. Be sure to hit the Irish Channel Parade at 1 pm on Saturday, March 12, which will of course involve green beads and other Irish-themed throws…like cabbages, carrots, and onions. (Essentially, the Irish spin on the Cajun Trinity.)
New York City, New York
Thursday, March 17
By far the oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the country (and possibly the world), the annual NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been held since 1762—14 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed—and features some 150,000 participants marching in front of nearly two million spectators. It’s always held on St. Patrick’s Day except when it falls on a Sunday, when it is then moved to the 16th (for religious observance).
This year, the parade kicks off at 11am at 44th Street, marching up Fifth Avenue all the way to 79th, passing the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral along the way. And look, even if you’re not a “churchy” person (or Catholic, or Christian, or religious at all), you’ll appreciate the breathtaking beauty of this Neo-Gothic masterpiece, opened in 1879 and designed as a New World homage to the namesake ancient cathedral in Dublin.
While the parade itself is the main attraction, there’s no shortage of places in NYC to keep the party going. The DUMBO waterfront food hall Time Out Market opens at 8 am, delivering St. Patrick’s-themed drink specials all day (including green beer, Guinness, whiskey, and a special “Lucky Charm” cocktail) and live performances by the Brooklyn Irish Dance Company in the evening. Starting at 3pm, you can hang out in your own “glasshouse” drinking “Irish margaritas,” Guinness, and green beer at Watermark’s Winter Wonderland on Pier 15.
If by 6pm you’ve somehow not yet begun to drink, join the Barcrawlerz Kiss Me, I’m Irish: NYC St. Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl that runs until 2am. (If you need a practice session, they’re also doing one on Saturday, March 13.) At 7pm, hop aboard the St. Patrick’s Day booze cruise on the Hudson with Event Cruises NYC, and if you’re still standing/swaying around 10pm, head over to House of Yes in Bushwick for their weekly party, Dirty Thursday: Get Lucky edition. Oh, and there’s also ALL the Irish pubs along the way. All of them.
San Antonio, Texas
Saturday, March 19
One non-Chicago city that dyes its river green for St. Patrick’s Day festivities is San Antonio, but unlike Chicago—where the color only lasts a few hours—the slow-moving waters of the meandering San Antonio River means that the dye usually lasts 2-3 days. All the better to celebrate all weekend long! The St. Patrick’s Day River Parade takes place right on the San Antonio River, with spectator viewing all along the San Antonio River Walk, a 2.5-mile walkway lined with restaurants and bars that is now the most-visited tourist attraction in all of Texas. (Ironically, the practice of dyeing their river started in 1968 as an attempt to draw tourists to the area, because at the time they had none.)
The annual dyeing of the river is an event in and of itself, happening twice this year on March 17 and March 19 at 1pm both days, while the weekend-long festivities start on St. Patrick’s Day (Thursday, March 17). This year’s river parade will be held Saturday, March 19 at 4pm, and will feature a procession of 12 Irish-themed decorated floats with costumed characters and bagpipers. Other events worth checking out over the weekend include the Shamrock-N-Roll concert at the Arneson River Theatre on March 17, the 3rd Annual Tater Tot Eating Contest on March 18 at 3pm, the Lucky Dog Parade and Costume Contest on March 19 at 2pm, and the Howl at the Moon St. Patrick’s Day Street Fest & Silent Disco all day starting at noon.
Sunday, March 20
With roughly 23% of the population being of Irish descent—the largest Irish population of any US city—Boston is where the going really gets Irish for St. Patrick’s Day, and don’t you forget it. (Don’t worry, they won’t let you.) The big South Boston celebration takes place on March 20 this year with the St. Patrick’s Day/Evacuation Day Parade at 1pm. This parade dates back to 1901 and also commemorates the ousting of British troops from Boston on March 17, 1776—which makes March 17 an actual holiday in the city, with public schools and government offices closed for the day. This parade, sponsored by Guinness, is known to draw in over one million spectators, making it one of America’s most popular.
And because this is Boston, the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations run strong all week, with one of the big highlights being the annual series of concerts from Boston’s own Celtic punk rock group Dropkick Murphys, who’ll play the House of Blues on March 17, 18, and 19, and the Roadrunner in Brighton on March 20. Another popular annual tradition is the Southie St. Patrick’s Day Road Race; it’s already sold out for 2022, so plan early for next year. (FYI, Dropkick Murphys design the shirts for the first 600 registered runners.) There are many, many, MANY bar crawls in Boston for St. Patrick’s Day, but a good one to kick off parade weekend with is the Get Lucky Pub Crawl on Saturday, March 19, starting at 11am with 30+ stops and party trolleys to shuttle you and your 6,000 new best friends between them. And while you’re here, pay homage to Southie’s oldest bar, Amrhein's (opened in 1890), which also boasts the oldest hand-carved bar in America.
If you’re interested in Boston’s Irish heritage, the 3-mile self-guided Irish Heritage Trail is a popular way to learn more about the three centuries of Irish culture and history in Boston. You might even get lucky and catch a few cherry blossoms in early bloom around the city this year.
Sunday, March 13
Held since 1771, Philadelphia’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the second-oldest in the country after NYC’s festivities and—following two years of pandemic cancellations—will celebrate its belated 250th anniversary in 2022, drawing 200,000 participants and 100,00 spectators to the streets of Philly. This year’s big event will be held on Sunday, March 13, beginning at 9am with the procession of the grand marshals, a commemorative mass at 9:15am at St. Patrick’s Church, and the parade at 11am.
Aside from the parade, there are myriad other ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the City of Brotherly Love, including many Irish pubs to drink at (Paddy’s Pub is legit one of them!). There are also many bar crawls to choose from here, but only one is the largest St. Patrick’s Day bar crawl in the country: Starting at noon, Urban Craft & Crawl’s official St. Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl on Saturday, March 12, features a dozen bars and some 10,000 eager participants. Yowzers.
There’s also the two-day Shamrock Crawl, with events on Saturday, March 12, as well as Thursday, March 17, starting at noon and hitting over 50 bars and restaurants. Another two-day option: Barcrawlerz Kiss Me I’m Irish: Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl on March 12 and March 18. And yet another option: the St. Patty’s Pub Crawl on Thursday, March 17 at 5pm. Oh look, and another: Lucky’s St. Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl on March 19, which features a costume contest with a $1,000-prize!
Saturday, March 12
Hotlanta is one of the hottest places in the US to party for St. Patrick’s Day? Better believe it. Their BIG Atlanta St. Patrick's Parade in Midtown started in 1858, making it one of the oldest St. Patrick’s parades in the country (it’s also Atlanta’s longest-running event). More than 2,000 participants—including dancers, drill teams, bagpipe and drum corps, bands, local and Irish dignitaries, and clowns (!)—will march in the 2022 procession, which will honor the city’s first responders. Some of the most unique highlights of Atlanta’s parade are the world's largest walking Irish flag and a five-story St. Patrick balloon (everything’s bigger in…Atlanta?).
The parade kicks off at noon on Saturday, March 12, though revelers can get things started earlier with the 8th Annual St. Patrick’s Parade 5K at 9:45am, followed by a “Luck of the Square” celebration at Colony Square. And because this is St. Patrick’s Day, aka the biggest bar day of the year, you can bet all the local bars will be in on the green beer action; keep the party going at the Midtown Green Mile Block Party and the annual St. Patrick’s Day Block Party in Buckhead, both of which claim to be Atlanta’s largest St. Patrick’s Day party. You be the judge!
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Thursday, March 17
The World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade is held in America’s oldest national park. That park is Hot Springs National Park, home to 47 ancient thermal hot springs and the majestic Bathhouse Row, lined with century-old historic bathhouses that are altogether designated as a National Historic Landmark District. Nicknamed “America’s First Resort,” Hot Springs has long been a hot vacation spot for those looking to “take in the waters,” which are believed to be a curative for people with any number of ailments (including, famously, Al Capone and his syphilis—happy bathing!).
A place like this sort of has to have an oddball sense of humor, which is why they hold the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the 98-foot-long Bridge Street, designated by Ripley’s as “the world’s shortest street in everyday use.” The parade itself is aptly wacky: to make up for being the world’s shortest, they’ve got a few of the world’s largest to compensate: the World’s Largest Leprechaun, the World’s Biggest Potato on Wheels, the World’s Largest Inflatable Irish Pub, et cetera.
This year’s celebrity Grand Marshall is Cheech Marin of Cheech & Chong fame. There’ll be a giant Cheech puppet operated by a team of puppeteers attempting to answer the question, “How high can a Cheech puppet get?” (*Slaps knee*) Danny Trejo is the official parade starter this year, and there will also be marching Irish Elvi, a marching band of kazoos, “a fire truck almost as long as the parade route itself,” a kissing contest with the Arkansas Blarney Stone, green beer, green fountains, and beads, beads, beads. The festivities start Thursday, March 17, at 3pm; Foghat will end the official party on Thursday night, and Sugar Ray plays on Friday.
Thursday, March 17
There are several cities besides Chicago that dye their rivers green for St. Patrick’s Day; Savannah was the first to do so in 1961, but because the fast-moving flow resulted in a “greenish” streaky color, they haven’t done it since. Instead, they stick to dyeing the water green in nine fountains in their Historic District, starting with the ceremonial "Greening of the Fountain" in Forsyth Park the Friday before St. Patrick’s Day (this year, that’s March 11).
The Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the largest and oldest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the country—not to mention one of the largest street parties in the South after Mardi Gras—and runs between three and four hours long. Nearly half a million people visit historic downtown Savannah over the festive weekend, and this year is sure to be a big draw: the parade was canceled in 2020 and 2021, making only eight known years in total that the parade hasn’t happened since it was first held as a public event in 1824. This year’s parade happens Thursday, March 17 at 10:15am; also mark your calendars for the Savannah Shamrocks Rugby Club’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Savannah Rugby Tournament—the world’s largest (St. Patrick’s Day rugby tournament, that is)—March 12-13.