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5 New York City Festivals to Plan a Trip Around
Schedule your next New York City vacation around these annual events.
The Coney Island Mermaid Parade pays tribute to the region's Mardi Gras-style parades that were held during the early 1900s.(Mario Tama/Getty Images)
New York City knows how to throw a party. There are festivals and parades throughout the year in the Big Apple, but some events offer a true glimpse of New York City history and culture. According to New York City experts, these are the five events you don't want to miss.
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Macy's Thanksgiving Parade(Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)
One of the most popular parades in America is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which has been a New York City tradition since 1924. Today, the event attracts more than 3.5 million people who line the western edge of Central Park all the way down Broadway to 34th Street, as well as 50 million television viewers.
"The sheer length of history and tradition behind it makes the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade the most quintessentially New York parade of them all," says Jay Seo, assistant front office manager at The Greenwich Hotel. "From the blowing up of the balloons the day before on the Upper West Side – where the locals have made their own tradition of seeing them go up one day before everyone else – to the talented marching bands from all over the country proudly representing their school, I don't think the parade could represent this city better."
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Held every Thanksgiving rain or shine, the parade starts at 9 a.m. on West 77th Street and Central Park West and zigzags down to Herald Square. Some of the best views are between 72nd and 61st streets. Dress warm, bring hot drinks and snacks, and prepare to stand for several hours. You can also get a preview of the parade the night before by visiting the area between 77th and 81st streets along Central Park West and Columbus Avenue between 3 and 10 p.m. when the balloons are inflated.
New Year's Eve at Times Square
New Year's Eve at Times Square(Getty Images)
Dropping the ball at Times Square to ring in the new year dates back to 1907 when the first New Year's Eve ball (made from iron, wood and 100 25-watt light bulbs) first descended from a flagpole atop One Times Square. An estimated 1 million people in Times Square, and millions across the country, watch the nearly 12,000-pound glowing ball make its descent every year.
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For the best views, go to Broadway between 43rd and 50th streets, or along Seventh Avenue up to 59th Street. Preceding the drop, there are concerts featuring A-list performers and all kinds of revelry. Although there are no vendors selling food or drink, neighborhood restaurants and bars are open. Dress for cold weather and prepare to be on your feet for several hours, but it's a New Year's Eve party you won't forget.
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
Coney Island Mermaid Parade(Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
The Coney Island Mermaid Parade may not be as well known outside New York City as the Thanksgiving Day parade, but it is a classic, colorful New York City experience that ushers in the summer season. The festival pays tribute to the region's Mardi Gras-style parades that were held during the early 1900s, when Coney Island became New York City's amusement part destination.
[Read: The Best New York City Boat Tours.]
Brought back to life in 1983, the parade is usually held in June and takes place along Surf Avenue at West 21st Street in Brooklyn, and moves toward Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk. See King Neptune and Queen Mermaid kick off the celebrations, followed by plenty of people dressed in sea-themed costumes and mermaid apparel, donning beads, shells and wigs. Given the risque nature of some costumes, this event is usually geared toward adults, though children do attend.
NYC Pride March
NYC Pride March(Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
June is also when Manhattan celebrates NYC Pride March, a huge, vivacious event that honors LGBT equality and commemorates the Stonewall riots that took place in late June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. This event is about looking back as well as looking forward, paying homage to the history of the gay rights movement while rallying the LGBT community to push forward.
The route of this massive parade begins at 36th Street and Fifth Avenue, and ends at the streets of Christopher and Greenwich. Expect to see every color of the rainbow – literally: rainbow flags, rainbow banners, rainbow costumes and rainbow makeup. Additionally, city community organizations, clubs, bars and restaurants often have parties leading up to the parade, so be sure to check out local event listings to see what's coming up.
Village Halloween Parade
Village Halloween Parade(Brent N. Clarke/Getty Images)
Greenwich Village mask-maker and puppeteer Ralph Lee perhaps could not have anticipated how the small, grass-roots event he started in 1974 would bloom into a major city celebration, now attracting 2 million spectators and approximately 60,000 costumed participants. Think Mardi Gras meets "The Munsters" meets Mexico's Day of the Dead, with spectacular costumes and puppetry, and an opportunity to appreciate artwork in a variety of forms.
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The parade route runs straight along Sixth Avenue, from Spring Street in Greenwich Village north toward 16th Street. The most crowded areas are along Bleecker Street and 14th Street. Take public transportation to get there, since the event is popular and draws crowds. If you can't attend, the parade is televised live on NY1.
To experience more of what New York City has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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