1. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
There is no way we could create a list of the best parades in the United States without having the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as the top choice. “It is watched by around 3 million people live and 44 million on television. The parade features giant floats, marching bands, cheerleaders, clowns, and renowned performers. It kicks off at 9 am from West 77th Street & Central Park West and finishes at noon in front of Macy’s Herald Square,” explains Rove. “This vibrant and colorful event is worth seeing live at least once. The best viewing spots are located along the Central Park West and between the West 59th to West 38th Streets along 6th Avenue. The national television broadcast limits public viewing between West 34th and West 38th Streets and on West 34th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Make sure to wear hard shoes, because your feet will often be stepped on.”
Even if you cannot make it to the actual parade, you can still be a part of the festivities. “Part of many families’ Thanksgiving morning tradition, the televised event owes part of its popularity to its appearance in the 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street — a reference to the location of Macy’s flagship department store…The procession celebrates its 90th running this year,” shares USA Today.
When we think about national events and activities, we have to include the Macy’s parade as one of the most significant. “Billed as the world’s largest parade — with an estimated 2 to 3 million spectators — the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York marks the unofficial start of the holiday season,” writes Travel Trivia. “The world-famous event originated as a Christmas parade in 1924, when a group of Macy’s employees dressed up and walked through the streets of Manhattan accompanied by jazz bands and zoo animals to drum up excitement for the holiday shopping season. Three years later, the parade was renamed for Thanksgiving, and the first balloons were introduced in 1928 to replace the live animals. Today, the giant inflated depictions of popular cartoon characters are a highlight of the event. Cheerleaders and high-school marching bands from around the country perform, as do the Rockettes and the casts of various Broadway musicals. The parade lasts approximately three hours and follows a 2.5-mile route along the edge of Central Park and then along Sixth Avenue to its final stop at Macy’s Herald Square. The concluding highlight is the arrival of Santa Claus.”
2. St. Patrick’s Day Parades
Unlike the number one choice for best parade in the U.S., the number two spot goes to a parade that is celebrated in more than one city. “Chicago and New York both claim to host the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade, with each city’s event attracting as many as 2 million spectators,” shares Travel Trivia. “The Chicago event is known as much for its parade as for the Kelly green waters of the Chicago River — thanks to the 100 pounds of dye that is poured into the river hours before the festivities start. It seems as if the entire city claims Irish roots and dons green for the day. The parade itself lasts for more than three hours and is a jamboree of Irish dancers, bagpipers, and floats. Afterward, revelers continue the celebrations with corned beef, cabbage, and green beer at one of the many Chicago Irish pubs and restaurants.”
The southern states won’t allow the north to have all of the St. Patty’s Day fun. “Savannah throws a huge party every year for one the nation’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parades. The city’s famed fountains run green and cries of Erin Go Bragh! echo off the historic homes and buildings lining the route,” raves USA Today.
Most routines become a chore, but on St. Patrick’s Day, marching down to Manhattan will never be a drudge. “Every March 17th, precisely at 11 a.m., about 150,000 people start marching along 5th Avenue in Manhattan to honor the patron saint of Ireland,” explains Rove. “This massive procession is the largest and the oldest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the world. The Parade is also one of the most popular annual events in New York City, gathering crowds of spectators and broadcast on TV. Whether you are Irish or not, you can surely feel the Irish spirit when thousands of bagpipers and other cheerful participants in traditional Irish clothes march by you to the sounds of Irish music.”
3. National Cherry Blossom Festival and Parade
Number three on our list of best parades in the U.S. celebrates friendship and fun. “In 1912, Japan gifted over 3,000 cherry trees to the nation’s capital as a symbol of international friendship,” shares Travel Trivia. “Today, the trees draw thousands of tourists to Washington, D.C. each spring, all eager to enjoy the delicate pink blossoms that line Constitution Avenue. The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs for almost a month during March and April, the peak blossom season. The festival features parties, kites, and other events, but the highlight is the annual parade, one of the District’s largest spectator events. Floats, balloons, bands, and entertainers follow the route, which extends for 10 blocks. An estimated 1.5 million people attend the festival each year.”
Imagine a day where everyone forgets the issues they have and allow love for nature to take over. “Now, envision yourself there, surrounded by the intoxicating scent of cherry blossoms and the buzz of excitement as the parade begins. You’re captivated by the sight of performers dressed in cherry blossom-themed costumes, dancing, and singing their way down the street, and the rhythmic beat of marching bands fills the air with contagious energy,” writes Events Wow. “This parade provides attendees with a unique opportunity to appreciate nature’s beauty and enjoy a cultural exchange between the United States and Japan.”
What started as a small way to remember kindness, has evolved into something sweet and meaningful. “The parade itself is a 1-mile route from 7th to 17th on Constitution Avenue, accepting about 10 different high school bands from across the U.S each year, each band containing 90 members or more,” writes Adventure Student Travel.
4. Mardi Gras Parade
If you want to experience a parade that you will never forget, Mardi Gras is the one. “New Orleans has never been the kind of city to do anything by halves, so it should come as no surprise that the Big Easy’s Mardi Gras parade is one of the most over-the-top celebrations in the country,” declares Travel Trivia. “Mardi Gras was originally celebrated in the city with elegant society balls. By the mid-19th century, groups called krewes began to form and organize parades and parties. The modern festivities last for about two weeks with at least one parade each day (and usually more). Each parade is hosted by a different krewe and features its own theme, some kept secret until the very last minute. Purple, green, and gold are the traditional colors, with crowds decked in costumes filling the streets of the French Quarter. Even for a city like New Orleans that has parades year-round, Mardi Gras is the ultimate party.”
If you have never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, allow me to let you in on a little secret – there are dozens of Mardi Gras parades all over the city and they start happening long before the big one. “While there’s no single New Orleans Mardi Gras parade, the biggest and most spectacular ones come in the days leading up to Fat Tuesday, which falls next on Feb. 28,” explains USA Today. “We have 12 days of parades. You can come on a weekend and easily see a half dozen…The standout might be the Endymion procession, which has 90 different floats and runs the Saturday before Mardi Gras day. It’s like nothing else you’ll see in the world. Some are bigger than football fields.”
For those who can’t make it to the Big Easy for Mardi Gras, Florida has a second best option. “Those looking for a kid-friendly contemporary celebration of Mardi Gras can head to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. During two months, the resort hosts the biggest party in Orlando. It features the traditional Mardi Gras parade every night with dozens of amazing floats and talented performers. Catch those beads and doubloons! Try mouth-watering traditional Cajun food and attend a live music concert that happens every week! The parade is very family-friendly and even has a designated kid viewing area,” writes Rove.
5. Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Can you say Gasparilla? Sounds a bit wacky, and it is! “Channel your inner pirate each January at Tampa’s Gasparilla Pirate Festival. A local tradition since 1904, the event promises ‘Pirates, Parades, and Piratechnics.’ A family-friendly alcohol-free parade is held the first weekend and features bands, dance teams, and community groups. One week later, Tampa’s pirates make their way along a 4.5-mile route in the Parade of Pirates, sharing beads and treasures with spectators. More than 100 floats take part, along with five marching bands and more than 50 krewes (similar to those in New Orleans). The event draws hundreds of thousands of spectators and is said to be the third-largest parade in the country, though some have cast doubt on that claim,” shares Travel Trivia.
Sometimes in life you can’t take things so seriously, and the Gasparilla Pirate Festival is a perfect reminder of that. “Ahoy matey! Kern calls this a Mardi Gras-style participatory parade, with parading pirates arriving by ship and boarding floats to toss out beads and trinkets to eager crowds,” writes USA Today
Every January, Tampa transforms for this celebration. “The Gasparilla Pirate Festival offers attendees an unforgettable experience filled with fun, laughter, and a fair share of theatrics. It’s a chance to let your inner pirate shine, catch “treasures,” and partake in Tampa’s unique cultural tradition,” shares Events Wow.
When was the last time you went to a parade? Leave a comment to let us know!
You might also be interested in:
- Best Pride Parades in the U.S.
- Best Music Festivals in the World
- Best U.S. Cities for Halloween
- Best July 4th Displays in the U.S.
- Events Wow
- USA Today
- Adventure Student Travel
- Travel Trivia
- Time Out
- Trusted Tours
- Events Plans
- Town & Tourist
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.