Chasing The Dragon: How To Watch The Lunar New Year Parade in New York City

Tradition is one of those things I found stifling when I was younger, something I desperately needed to break free of. Being of mixed race meant having two sets of rules to adhere to. It meant being saddled by two laborious sets of obligations. I couldn’t wait until I didn’t have to be somewhere I didn’t want to be–I was young and had way cooler things to do, after all. (Cue the eye roll here.) But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a renewed understanding and appreciation for it. Community becomes less about conforming and more about belonging.

Large Lion Dance head with an arm reaching out to pet it in at a busy Lunar New Year Parade via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Group of diverse spectators with smiling faces as fire trucks drive by at the Lunar New Year Parade via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Holidays are always a difficult time for those of us living away from our families. Dinner tables feel particularly empty, homes feel particularly quiet. For me, celebrating the Lunar New Year brings back a flood of childhood memories. We celebrated it with much fanfare in Malaysia–kids were off from school for several days, the sound of holiday music and firecrackers filled the air, and families opened their homes to friends and neighbors.

But luckily for me, New York City has a vibrant Chinese New Year celebration. As mentioned here, the city has multiple options for those looking to celebrate the holiday. The Lunar New Year Parade in Manhattan’s Chinatown is the most well-known, and draws a massive, diverse crowd each year. The parade includes marching bands, lion dance troupes and dancers from all facets of the New York City Chinese and Chinatown community. Among those represented in the parade are specialty groups like the New York City Chinese Qipao Association, regional associations like the Club of Great Guangzhou and groups with special bonds like Families with Children from China. Colorful parade floats make their way down the street. The excitement is palpable for participants and spectators alike.

If you’d like to witness this extravaganza for yourself, here are some helpful tips:

Know the parade route

Map of Lunar New Year Parade route via Better Chinatown USA
Map courtesy of Better Chinatown USA

A group of Lunar New Year Parade participants dressed in traditional outfits as they walk with fists clenched together via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Girl with pink and orange hair taking a picture on her phone with spectators in the background via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Better Chinatown USA publishes a map of the route ahead of the parade every year, or you can find it on Google Maps on the day of. The route is long, so you have many opportunities to position yourself along its path. Just remember that the further along the route you are, the longer you have to wait for the parade to make its way to you. Note that street closures extend beyond the path so avoid driving at all costs. The main subways will get you there fastest, but expect high traffic and plan accordingly.

Pro Tip: If you’d like a unique perspective of the parade and you’re able to commit the time, consider applying to be a parade volunteer!

Get there early

Close up of volunteers handing out Chinese and American flags to spectators via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Police officers looking at confetti cannon with other Lunar New Year Parade spectators in the background via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Vibrant blue dragon with ball in its mouth being held up by troupe while waiting to join the Lunar New Year Parade via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

For prime photo and viewing opportunities, get as close to the barricades as you can. Once the crowd forms the lines will be several people deep and movement will be restricted along the path. So find a good spot and stick to it! Remember that spectators count in the thousands, with travelers even coming from outside the city to enjoy the festivities. This year the crowd formed fairly late, with prime spots still available a half hour prior to the parade starting. But that was likely due to the intermittent rain, which brings us to…

Dress for the weather

A group of spectators with a young Chinese boy and young Caucasian girl standing together above the crowd via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Caucasian lady holding a flag with a beautiful dog cutout in the space above her via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Large yellow float with dog in front and Chinese lady speaking into microphone in the background via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

You will be outside for the duration of the parade, which lasts for several hours and occurs rain or shine. Even in milder temperatures, being exposed to wind and rain over a prolonged period can be harsh. Avoid bulky bags, which might be searched. And keep your hands free so you can take great pics and set off those fun confetti cannons!

Pair it with:

There are countless options a stone’s throw away from the parade route–you’re in Chinatown after all! Dim sum is a great pre-parade option, and you have a host of Instagrammable desserts at your disposal. But Chinatown is also experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, offering diners a bevy of options besides Chinese food.

Avocado toast with two poached eggs and runny yolk in front and pancakes in the background at Le Coucou via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

For a culinary treat before you head to the parade, pop in to Stephen Starr’s Le Coucou for a luxe brunch. Located just north of Canal Street on Lafayette, the French restaurant manages to be classy yet casual. The chandeliers are juxtaposed against exposed brick, and the white tablecloths are juxtaposed against the open kitchen. But let’s forget about the cozy interior and talk about the food. For brunch die-hards, there is an avocado toast here that will remind you there’s so much more to the dish than slapping some mashed avocado on a slice of toast. And for those who want dessert for brunch, you can’t go wrong with the Comme un clafoutis, which is a pancake that manages to be bready but still maintain a custard-like texture. Either way, you’ll be well-prepared for the excitement ahead.

138 Lafayette St

Mon-Fri 7:00 am-10:30 am
Sat and Sun 7:00 am-10:00 am
Mon-Fri 11:30 am-2:00 pm
Sat and Sun 11:00 am-2:00 pm
Mon-Sat 5:00 pm-11:00 pm
Sun 5:00 pm-10:00 pm

Like it? Pin it!


– L.

12 thoughts on “Chasing The Dragon: How To Watch The Lunar New Year Parade in New York City”

  1. I loved the personal perspective on the celebration. This was our first time to experience Lunar New Year in NYC and we loved the layered celebrations over several days. Thank you for sharing your personal view. Loved your photos of the dragons, you captured the joy of the celebration!

    1. Thanks so much, JAM! The Lunar New Year goes on for two weeks so there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate, and we really love the variety of options here 🙂 The festivities definitely ramp up my excitement for the holiday, and I love how even the rain can’t dampen the spirit!

  2. Fantastic pictures! I really felt like I was at the parade…also, that avocado toast at Le Coucou got my stomach rumbling…OMG!

    Sometimes I feel like you don’t really appreciate tradition until you’re no longer in a place that embraces your particular tradition – like living in Italy and having to cobble together an American Thanksgiving. On the other hand, it’s also a fun way for new traditions to get formed. Our nuclear family Christmas developed when we moved to California, away from all of our extended family and friends on the East Coast…and we actually grew to love these “new” traditions so much that they held over even when we moved back! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Lauren! I’m so glad you mentioned that, I’m SUCH a huge fan of building new traditions 🙂 I think being forced to improvise definitely gets the creative juices going, but I’ve also heard of families just wanting to have something that’s uniquely theirs. It kind of turns the idea of tradition on its head, and I love it!

  3. The colour in these pictures is just stunning! We arrived in Malaysia too late to see the actual new year, but there are still a lot of reminders that it was very recent. I can’t wait to check out Chinatown here, and in NYC when we visit later this year. Shame we will miss this new year parade though – so lovely that NYC celebrates all the diverse cultures there with such vivacity! Great post!

    1. Thanks so much, Sarah! The Lunar New Year lasts two weeks so there are definitely celebrations still ongoing, and we’re so thrilled you’re able to enjoy some of the festive atmosphere in Malaysia 🙂

      The parade in NYC is unlike any other we’ve experienced due to the sheer size of it. It’s overwhelming in the best way!

    1. Thank you so much, Stef! We’re definitely lucky to have access to such amazing cultural events in our backyard 🙂 You guys should totally visit and catch one of the parades someday, I think you’d love it!

  4. It’s so interesting to hear about your experiences…in fact, the notion of feeling saddled with two sets of obligations that plagued you when you were younger, is a good insight to how my half Chinese nephews might feel…they’re 17 and 19, ages when family obligations are pretty tedious. It’s good you’ve been able to see the positive side. And maybe if I had earplugs, the parade could have been a more positive experience for me…the few times I was there for it, it was just too much 😉 But that meal, I think I could do, no problem!

    1. I don’t know that all mixed-race kids are as obnoxious as I was, Lynn! 😉 I think I felt the pressure to abide, but I can’t say if that pressure was real or perceived. Finding a way to appreciate the important stuff while freeing yourself of the inconsequential stuff is the key to finding balance, but it took me oh-so-many years to get there.

      The parade is definitely loud, but they’re scaring away the bad spirits 🙂 And we can do that meal the next time you’re in town!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *