Your Guide to the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia

Where to watch, what to watch, and where to go after.

thanksgiving day parade philadelphia

The Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade takes to the Parkway on November 23rd. / Photograph courtesy of Visit Philadelphia

Did you know Philly is home to our country’s oldest Thanksgiving Day parade? Take that, other cities! Started in 1920, Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day parade (originally sponsored by Gimbels!) has been delighting Philadelphians with music, floats, performances and giant balloons for over a century. Maybe you go brave the cold every year, or maybe you usually watch it on TV but are thinking of experiencing it IRL this year. Either way, here’s everything you need to know about this year’s celebration.

The Basics

The (full name) 6 ABC Dunkin’ Thanksgiving Day Parade takes place on (obvs) Thanksgiving, which is November 23rd this year. It kicks off with a pre-show at 8:30 a.m. at 20th Street and JFK Boulevard. The parade starts moving around 9 a.m., heading east on JFK and turning left at 16th Street, then down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway before ending at the Art Museum. The parade route is 1.4 miles in all, so you’ve got lots of options if you want to post up along the way early in the morning.

Getting There

Street closures start at midnight. They even take down the street signs so the giant balloons don’t pop! So if you can avoid driving to this thing, please do.

And you easily can, since the parade route is convenient to all the public transportation. Suburban Station is right in the middle of the route (they turn right at the corner), so you can get to the parade via Regional Rail, two subway lines (Market-Frankford and BSL connect in the concourse), and PATCO.

If you decide to disregard this advice, know that metered parking is free on Thanksgiving Day.

Traffic lights and signs taken down for the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade / Photograph by Laura Swartz

Where to Watch

Again, you’ve got 1.4 miles to work with here, but there are definitely some better spots. Whatever you do, bundle up like it’s going out of style. (Even better if it is, because we’re not dressing for fashion here; we’re in it to win it.)

I generally camp out around Suburban Station because I live in Center City with a child, and we are lazy and cold. But other than proximity to yours truly, there are some benefits to this viewing area. If you’re taking public transportation, you don’t have to walk anywhere once you come up to street level. If you’re hoping for majestic shots of the balloons with skyscrapers and 30th Street Station in the distance, this is the place to be. Plus, since the parade has to turn at 16th to get onto the Parkway, this bottleneck gives you a little extra time to see the floats and other entertainment. At this spot, you also have a nearby Dunkin’ (who also happen to be the sponsor) if you get cold and need a place to grab coffee (or just be inside for a second) without losing your view.

And finally, if this is your chosen location, you’re right at Christmas Village, which opens on Thanksgiving Day, so after the parade you can get a jump on your holiday shopping and eat a soft pretzel as big as your head. Then, go skating at Dilworth and ride the courtyard carousel — it’s a day of festive magic!

Another prime viewing spot is the Comcast Center, just a little further down JFK. The benefit of this location: If you get cold you can run inside the lobby, which will be open because the Comcast Holiday Spectacular begins running at the top of every hour that day. And if the Comcast Center lobby is open, that means you’ve got a bathroom downstairs on the food-court level. After the show, be sure to catch the lobby show if you haven’t already seen it during a parade break. Next door, Vernick Coffee will be open at the Comcast Technology Center starting at 11 a.m., serving their full cafe drink menu, and seasonal treats like whole carrot-cake pies, mini pumpkin pies, and “cranberry jammy scones.”

Comcast Holiday Spectacular / Photograph by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

Of course, the most popular place to watch is the Parkway itself, specifically the Thanksgiving Day Parade Zone at Eakins Oval. You’ll be at the Art Museum steps for prime viewing of all the big performances. Plus, there are giveaways, Dunkin’ coffee, photo ops and some family-friendly activities from parade sponsors.

In addition to street viewing, the Logan’s Assembly Rooftop Lounge will open its doors at 8 a.m. Thanksgiving morning for premium viewing packages. Heated seating areas available for reservations include a fire pit lounges and small tables, each with their own minimum spend ranging from $250 to $600 and seating capacity of up to 12 people. Unlike Assembly’s normal vibe, this is a family-friendly viewing party with a breakfast spread and cash bar.

And finally, if you aren’t up for watching the parade in person, you can watch live on 6 ABC.

What to Watch

The Philadelphia Ballet performs selections from The Nutcracker at the Thanksgiving Day Parade. / Photograph courtesy of Visit Philadelphia

This year’s parade lineup is an assortment of celebrities (Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest are coming), casts of musicals, cheerleaders, musicians, cartoon characters and other performers.

First up, we’ve got hometown talent in singers including Felicia Punzo, DaVonda Simmons, Lady Alma, Raquel Britton and Julian King. Representing Philly sports, we’ve got the Eagles cheerleaders, drumline, pep band, and Jordan Mailata. (I hope he will be there as a vocalist singing selections from the upcoming Christmas album!) Add to that a whole bunch of school choirs, marching bands and student dance troupes.

Did you know The Village People were still a thing? Me neither! But they’re coming, too! And so are The Commodores!

You can also expect to see casts of some upcoming stage shows including Frozen, Company, Beauty and the Beast, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the Philadelphia Ballet’s Nutcracker, plus the Philadelphia Orchestra and Philadanco. Mickey and Minnie Mouse will also be in attendance.

And then, of course, we have the giant balloons and floats. Balloons this year seem to lean really retro (or retro-reboot), with the fleet including Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, Smurfs, and Fraggle Rock. What in the Gen X? There are also Christmas standbys like inflatable presents, a gingerbread house, and Bumble (the abominable snowman from Rudolph, not the abominable dating app).

And it all leads to the grand finale of Santa and Mrs. Claus riding their sleigh pulled by reindeer. (The reindeer are fake, so the sleigh is also pulled by a truck, but the kids don’t seem to mind.)

Santa’s sleigh closes out the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade. / Photograph by Laura Swartz

What to Do After the Parade

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to see family and spend quality time together at home. For some people. For others, the thought of being cooped up in a kitchen making yams with extended family while the turkey cooks sounds like a recipe (pun intended) for disaster. And that level of self-awareness is something to be thankful for, indeed. Once Santa has waved goodbye and the parade-goers decamp, you’ve still got a few hours to kill before dinner is served. Luckily there are some fun and family-friendly things open on Thanksgiving Day in Philly that will keep everyone busy and conflict-free.

As mentioned above, Thanksgiving Day is also opening day of Christmas Village in LOVE Park. Modeled after the traditional Christmas markets in Germany, this market features dozens of unique vendors in wooden booths selling gifts and food from all over the world. They also have rides including a giant Ferris wheel, a kiddie train, and a double-decker carousel in City Hall courtyard.

Speaking of City Hall, you can also shop the Made in Philadelphia market there, and skate at Rothman Rink in Dilworth Park. Grab some treats in the Cabin or some mulled wine in the Wintergarden.

Thanksgiving is also the first day of the Comcast Holiday Spectacular, which starts at 10 a.m. and runs at the top of every hour in the Comcast Center lobby. The free, 15-minute musical display fills the Comcast Center lobby with holiday songs, aerial footage of Philly, parts of the Philadelphia Ballet’s Nutcracker, and more on one of the world’s largest LED video walls.

For something outside of the holiday circuit, the Museum of Illusions is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. So head to Old City for some mind-bending fun (and selfies) before Thanksgiving dinner.

P.S. Still looking for dinner? Check out Foobooz’s guides to Thanksgiving takeout and pies.