Ever since I saw Miracle on 34th Street as a small child, I promised myself that one day I would fly out to New York for Thanksgiving. This was a long-held dream that finally came true in 2019 when I flew out to JKF for a week of festive build-up!
I made 2019 the year to visit because of the fact Thanksgiving was so late in November. In America it’s traditionally held on the fourth Thursday in November every year, meaning in 2019 it took place on the 28th. That meant I could combine my trip with some early December festive cheer (without having to take too much of that precious annual leave).
While Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s celebrated in countries including Canada, Brazil and Saint Lucia, the Thanksgiving celebrations in America are up there as some of the most iconic. That’s especially true of New York where the city is home to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and huge Black Friday sales – not to mention all the Christmas trees, decorations and markets that are fun for both locals and tourists to visit.
While 2020 isn’t the year to be making many travel plans, I know that Thanksgiving in New York is a bucket-list item for many. When you do eventually get to go, this blog post will hopefully give you some ideas of things to not miss out on!
1. Watch the Thanksgiving Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
If you’re going to be in New York for Thanksgiving, one thing you absolutely cannot miss is the traditional Thanksgiving Day Parade. Starting from 77th St and Central Park West the parade finishes up by Macy’s store along Herald Square, giving spectators 2.5 miles of opportunity to find the best position to stand.
The best advice I have is to get there as early as possible to secure the best viewing spot. We left our Williamsburg hotel early and got into Manhattan a little before 8am – ready for the parade to kick off at 9am. In all honesty we probably should have got there a little earlier to secure a front-row spot by the barriers, but we had no problems seeing the balloons as they flew past us.
We were stood further down 6th Avenue (by 37th Street), so the parade didn’t reach us until almost 10am. There was a huge air of excitement as we were waiting, but be sure to wrap up warm as you’ll probably be standing around in the cold for a while!
2. Catch the parade’s balloons being blown up the night before
Want to get an early glimpse of the Thanksgiving Day parade balloons? Make your way to the Upper West Side the day before to see them all being blown up! This is something we sadly didn’t do last year as our flight got in too late, but I’ve been told it’s great fun (and not half as busy as the actual parade!).
The best way to see the balloons being inflated is to head to 74th Street and Columbus Avenue. You’ll have to enter security, but once you’re through you can stay as long as you like. The viewing area is open from 1pm until 8pm.
3. Enjoy a Thanksgiving meal
The number one question I get asked about enjoying Thanksgiving in New York is where to go for dinner. Traditionally made up of items such as roast turkey, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce and mash potato, for many Thanksgiving dinner is the highlight of the entire day – so it’s important to take the time to choose the right restaurant and menu for you!
Many restaurants throughout the city will be open, and most offer a special Thanksgiving menu and nothing else. You’ll usually find a set menu (and set price) with a couple of starters, mains and desserts to choose from, depending on your dietary requirements and preferences.
Although I’m a vegetarian, my boyfriend Ian and I wanted a meal that was as traditional as possible. In the end we opted for Thanksgiving dinner at Sauvage, a French restaurant located in Williamsburg.
For starters we each had acorn and butternut squash soup, while for the main Ian had turkey with cranberry sauce, pomme puree, baby carrots and gravy, and I had gnocchi with mushrooms and sweet potato. To round it all off we opted for a pumpkin pie tart (Ian) and a pear tarte tatin (me). By this point, though, we were pretty full!
At $68 per person (around £52 each), it was the most expensive meal we had for our entire holiday, but it was about average for a Thanksgiving dinner in New York.
4. Run a Turkey Trot 5k, 10k or half marathon
This may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but if you’re a keen runner you may want to take part in the NYC Turkey Trot. In 2019 this took place two days after Thanksgiving on the Saturday. For obvious reasons this year (2020) the race will be virtual – this means that if you’re based in America you can sign up to do the race any day between Thanksgiving Day and November 29th. You’ll get a shiny medal and a finisher certificate sent to you in the post.
Running this 5k in 2019 was one of the high points of our trip (although it was ridiculously cold while we were waiting around before the race). Once we got started though, the run itself around Flushing Meadows Park was so much fun. The park is home to the US Open tennis tournament and also features in Men in Black, so it’s interesting to visit even if you aren’t planning on running!
5. Visit a New York attraction
For many New Yorkers Thanksgiving is a day off and a chance to escape the city or cosy up with families indoors. But that doesn’t mean the city comes to a standstill: with various attractions still open, it can be an opportunity to visit somewhere without the usual throng of locals milling around the streets.
After seeing the Thanksgiving Day Parade in the morning, we spent the afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. This was something we missed out on during our previous visit to New York and somewhere I was intent on visiting this time around.
6. Prepare for the Black Friday sales
Once you’ve had a relaxing and fulfilling Thanksgiving Day, it’s time to stretch those muscles and sharpen those elbows, ready for the Black Friday sales. In the UK, any Black Friday shopping I do is online, but if you’re on holiday in New York then a trip to the shops cannot go amiss. Be prepared for crowds and long queues if you’re venturing out though…
7. See Christmas decorations!
Although not strictly something that has to be done on Thanksgiving, if you’re spending the day in Manhattan it can be a great time to see the various festive decorations and attractions. Most of the lights and decorations will be up (apart from some of the Christmas tree lights which are usually lit during the beginning of December).