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Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2015
Photograph: Filip Wolak

The 10 best Thanksgiving parades in the US

Nothing says 'holiday season' more than a traditional Thanksgiving parade in the US.

Scott Snowden
Written by
Scott Snowden
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With the holiday season fast approaching, nothing says Thanksgiving more than a parade. What could be better than braving the cold, joining the crowds and cheering when an unexpected gust of wind lifts a startled handler a few feet in the air as they hang on to their guide rope for dear life? Then once all the hijinks and horseplay are over, make your way home for a slap-up turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

Huge helium-filled ballons of quirky characters from contemporary pop-culture are commonplace in parades across the country. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City alone uses approximately 400,000 cubic feet of helium gas.

This year, Thanksgiving falls on Thursday, November 24 (just a few days after the FIFA World Cup starts in Qatar). So, try and tear yourself away from the TV to grab a coat, get outside and have fun with the festivities. These Thanksgiving parades only happens once a year after all. 

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Best Thanksgiving parades in the US

The Macy's parade is truly a sight to behold, especially if it's your first time watching it in-person from the crowded route through midtown Manhattan. Many millions watch the oldest and biggest Thanksgiving parade in the country every year, both from street-level and from the comfort of their sofas. Giant balloons, enormous floats, cheerleaders, marching bands, celebrity singers and more slowly make their way from Central Park West, near Columbus Circle, eventually ending up at Herald Square. Crowds also gather to watch the lengthy process of inflating all the giant balloons. If you plan to pop down and watch, preperation is key, wear comfortable shoes, dress in layers and make note of where coffee shops are. The best viewing spots are generally considered to be at Central Park West, Columbus Circle, 6th Avenue and 34th Street. 

This one definitely requires warm clothes. The three-hour long parade starts at around 8am on State Street and slowly makes its way through downtown to Congress Parkway and Randolph Street. Massive helium-filled balloons are once again the theme of the day, with giant floats, marching bands, local and national celebrities, dance troupes and more entertain the gathered crowd of thousands, all valiantly braving the wind chill. Some hardcore devotees even bring little step ladders to gain a few extra, precious inches over the top of the crowds. Not quite as famous world-wide as the Macy's parade in New York City, but if you're in the neighborhood, it's a worthy substitute.

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America's Comeback City also boasts one of the oldest Thanksgiving Day parades in the US, the tradition having been started in 1924. Thousands of spectators flock to Woodward Avenue to watch as giant inflatable balloons of well-known characters gently waft by, together with creatively decorated floats, marching bands, dance troupes, clowns... and yes, some years, even Santa Claus and his magical little elves make a surprise appearance before the task of delivering presents to everyone who deserves them begins in about a month's time. (That number has to be getting smaller each year, though, right?!)

While the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is arguably the most well-known, Philadelphia's 6abc Dunkin' Thanksgiving Day Parade is in fact the oldest. Once again, the 1.4 mile-long route is lined with thousands of warmly-wrapped onlookers as the carnival starts in downtown at 20th Street and JFK Boulevard, finally ending up at the base of the famed Philadelphia Museum of Art. You can expect more balloons, along with fantastic floats, marching bands, local performers from dance groups and choirs all add up to a memorable morning out. The best views can be found along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, in Logan Circle, or at JFK Boulevard and 20th Street, but be sure to get there before 8am.

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The jewel of North Carolina celebrates the holiday season with the biggest Thanksgiving parade in the southeast. Every year, the event attracts over 100,000 attendees with a further estimated 2 million watching from the comfort of their cozy, cushion-covered sofas. Entertainment includes giant inflatable balloons — naturally — creatively crafted floats, local celebrities, marching bands, cheerleaders and heaps more. The procession begins at 9:30am local time heading down 10th Street and North Tryon, before making its way to Stonewall Street.

The annual Thanksgiving parade in Plymouth, Massachusetts typically takes place the weekend before actual Thanksgiving and this year is no exception, so take this into account should you be in the vicinity, looking to enjoy the festivities. The weekend-long series of celebrations starts with a concert at Memorial Hall on Friday, November 18 and then on Saturday, the parade begins at Plymouth Rock at 10am, continuing around Water Street to Main Street to Court Street, and ending at Benny’s Plaza at 179 Court Street. But it doesn't end there! Throughout Saturday and Sunday, there are waterfront activities, there's a craft beer and wine garden, food truck alley and a children's pavilion and the “Portal to the Past” historic village.

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The tradition of watching the Thanksgiving Day parade in Houston is almost as important as the turkey dinner. It all started in this Texan city in 1949, when Santa Claus arrived at Union Station and made his way through the streets to a nearby department store to officially ring in the holiday season. Since then, all manner of creative and colorful people and things have joined the parade, including the seemingly-mandatory giant, inflatable balloons, cheerleaders, extravagant floats, local law enforcement, clowns, marching bands, musicians and just everything and everyone in-between. Like all of the parades listed here, it's free to watch but you best pick a good spot before 9am and make a beeline for the best viewing spot along Congress & San Jacinto Street.

This year in St Louis, spectators can expect to seeing marching bands, those giant helium balloons again, lovingly crafted floats, local celebrities and lots more. In year's past, Frosty the Snowman has made an appearance, along with Rudolph and even Garfield. Rumor has it, that Santa Claus might even be takling a break from his busy schedule and stopping by. The party begins at 10am, starting at Washington Avenue and 45th Street, before moving to downtown St. Louis. For a super spot top watch, arrive early and make for Washington Ave.

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No one tells New Orleans how to party and Thanksgiving is no exception – as if this city needed an excuse for folk to fill the streets, restaurants and bars. Here in the Big Easy, it's all about friendship, sharing, peace and goodwill to each and every fellow human being. A whole weekend of events usually take place before and after that oh-so-delicious roast meal and as you'd expect, amazing music plays a really big part, with fabulous floats, marching bands and an all-round Mardi Gras style of celebration. And here, there are very few — if any — of those enormous (and wasteful) balloons.

There's something to be said about the element of having to wrap up to stay warm that's an essential part of the annual Thanksgiving experience, which is possibly why almost all of these entries are in cities that get a bit chilly come November time. And... as an added bonus, so as not to compete with the massive Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC, just 30 miles away, the Stamford Downtown Parade Spectacular is held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. So, if you're on the east coast, it's party time for you. And let us tell you, this parade is no disappointment as it draws crowds of over 100,000 from throughout the surrounding area. Yes, those oversized inflatables can be found here, if that's what floats your balloon boat, and there are marching bands, dancing troupes. circus folk, local celebrities and lots more.

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