For many New Yorkers and holiday visitors, the best part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the night before, watching the world-famous parade balloons get inflated with helium and pop into life one leg, arm or hat at a time.
Here’s your complete guide to Macy’s Balloonfest 2021, including hours, viewing route, and insider’s tips for getting the most out of the experience.
Balloonfest used to draw about one million visitors each year before Covid, because kids of all ages are captivated by the opportunity to see the giant balloons take shape and come to life.
These days the crowds are smaller, but still as enthusiastic.
See the balloons up close as they are being filled with helium outside the American Museum of Natural History from 6pm to 9pm on Wednesday, November 24 the evening before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Many of those visitors return the next morning for the parade, when as many as three million spectators line the streets of the parade route, and another 50 million or so watch on television.
Both Balloonfest and the Thanksgiving Day Parade are FREE
Changes to the 2021 Macy’s Balloon Inflation Event
Visitors file past a route marked by barricades, to watch the helium balloons coming to life one arm or leg at a time.
The biggest change to the 2021 event is proof of vaccination is required for visitors to enter the viewing gallery.
Be prepared to show your original vaccination card, a mobile vaccine app, or a photo of your vaccination card.
Children are allowed to attend with a vaccinated adult.
Balloonfest 2021 hours and viewing information
The balloon inflation path winds around the museum beginning at the public entrance on 74th Street and Columbus Avenue.
Spectators will go through a security checkpoint and then enter the inflation area at 74th Street and Central Park West; and exit at 81st Street and Central Park West.
Because of increased security concerns, the NYPD is allowing only one entry point, at 74th Street and Columbus Avenue.
Do not bring umbrellas, backpacks or large bags, alcoholic beverages, drones, or e-cigarettes.
This gives everybody a couple of extra blocks of walking and viewing time to make up for the tight security, including bomb-sniffing dogs.
Join the procession to follow the barricaded route east to Central Park West, north to 77th St., west to Columbus and 77th St., north on Columbus to 81st St., and back to CPW and the exit.
See such balloons as Kermit the Frog, Charlie Brown, Sonic the Hedgehog, Buzz Lightyear, Astronaut Snoopy, Angry Bird’s Red, Ice Age’s Scrat and his Acorn, Hello Kitty, Shrek and Abby Cadabby, and other popular balloons take shape.
Balloonfest is FREE, of course, like the parade itself.
Everything you ever wanted to know about
the world’s most famous and most popular Thanksgiving Day Parade
NYCOTC Insider’s Guide to Balloonfest:
Admission is only from 74th St. and Columbus Avenue.
Arrive early to beat the crowds.
Balloons begin taking shape around 5 p.m., making that a great time to visit, especially for very young children.
Balloons are usually close to fully inflated by the end of Balloonfest. All the while, they are kept earthbound by giant nets.
Leave the stroller at home. Crowds make it nearly impossible to negotiate a stroller, and the young passenger’s view will be blocked by barricades and the crowd.
Don’t try to meet up with friends at Balloonfest. Either arrive as a group or meet a few blocks away.
Take public transportation.
- Take the C to 72nd or 81st Street and Central Park West,
- The 2 or 3 to 72nd St. and Broadway,
- Or the 1 to 72nd or 79th St. and Broadway.
NYCOTC Secret Tip to Beat the Balloonfest Line
Visit the American Museum of Natural History on Wednesday afternoon, before the start of the balloon inflation.
Hang out with the dinosaurs, get the kids aflutter at the Butterfly Conservatory and you can exit right onto the loop without waiting on line.
AMNH is open until 5:45pm on Thanksgiving Eve, and you are right there for the 6p opening of Balloonfest..
You can also visit Macy’s dedicated Thanksgiving Day Parade website page, but only if you have oodles of time, since it is ridiculously overloaded with videos and other “stuff”.
These closures are from 2018, and likely to be the same in 2021.
At 8 a.m. the following street will be closed to vehicular traffic:
-West 74th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenues
Additional vehicular traffic closures at Noon are as follows:
– Central Park West from West 73rd to 85th Streets
– West 73rd Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– West 74th Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– West 75th Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– West 76th Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– West 77th Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– West 78th Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– West 80th Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– West 81st Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– West 82nd Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– West 83rd Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– West 84th Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– West 85th Street between Columbus and Central Park West
– Central Park Transverse Road at Central Park West and West 81 St. (Both Directions)
After 10 p.m., 81st Street and 77th Street from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue as well as Central Park West from 59th Street to 86thStreet will be closed to all traffic, for floats to assemble for the parade on Thursday, starting at 9am..
This post published first in November 2012 and is updated annually, including for 2021