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Iconic Parades Perfect for Groups

Parades never go out of style.

With their colorful floats, elaborate costumes and days of jubilant celebrations, parades and festivals encompass the very best of a city’s tradition and provide endless fun for groups. Often, they commemorate vital elements of a city’s past and are one of the best ways to fully experience and embrace local culture. Some celebrate holidays or occasions that are well known throughout the world, and others highlight more unique aspects of local history.

Whatever they celebrate, groups will love first-row seats at these iconic parades and festivals around the country.

Portland Rose Festival

Portland, Oregon

Portland is known for many things, from its outdoor recreation to its eclectic culinary scene. But it’s also known as the City of Roses because of how well these beautiful flowers grow there. Each year, beginning on Memorial Day weekend, the city hosts the three-week Portland Rose Festival, a celebration that’s been happening since 1907.

“It’s the iconic festival for Portland,” said Josie Ratnayake, tourism manager at Travel Portland. “For us, it’s the kickoff to summer and great outdoor celebrations and festivals that we have.”

The festival consists of three parades that show off rose-covered floats. The Grand Floral Parade is the best choice for groups because it passes inside a building, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. This means spectators can enjoy the parade no matter the weather. Groups can reserve seats inside the coliseum to see the parade as it goes by and enjoy the indoor amenities. They can also take warehouse tours prior to the parade to see how the floats are built. If they can’t get enough of the roses, they can visit the International Rose Test Garden.

Other iconic Portland activities include a visit to Powell’s Book Store, the massive used and new bookstore that occupies an entire city block, and a sightseeing or dinner cruise down the Willamette River on board the Portland Spirit.

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital provides a wealth of activities and attractions for group travelers year-round, but perhaps the best time to visit is spring, when the city’s 3,000-plus cherry blossom trees are blooming. These trees, gifted by the mayor of Tokyo in the early 1900s, are symbolic of the strong relationship between the U.S. and Japan. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, a four-week festival designed to show off the blooms around the city in tandem with other fun activities, takes place on the trees’ schedule. Usually, the blooms begin opening in late March and peak in the first week of April. However, because the trees bloom according to seasons and weather, the dates of the festival can vary each year.

“The National Cherry Blossom Festival, known as the kickoff to the tourism season in Washington, D.C., has been key for us to help bring visitors back to the city,” said Elliot Ferguson II, president and CEO of Destination DC.

In addition to seeing (and smelling) the trees’ lovely pink blossoms, groups visiting during the festival can catch an exciting array of events, such as an opening ceremony, the Blossom Kite Festival, and a parade with balloons, floats and live music.

While in Washington, groups can tour the city on foot to see some of the most iconic American monuments and memorials, from Arlington National Cemetery to the Lincoln Memorial. They can also visit top-tier museums and upscale restaurants to round out their capital experience.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

New York City

Millions of Americans tune in each year on the fourth Thursday of November to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. While watching at home is a tradition for many, it’s also a treat to behold in person. Its larger-than-life floats, wide cast of beloved characters and hundreds of marching participants make it an entertaining spectacle for any group. Since 1924, the parade sponsored by Macy’s department store has been an annual tradition. The three-hour parade begins on the Upper West Side and ends at Macy’s Herald Square. During this time, about 3 million spectators gather to watch the hard work of thousands of parade participants unfold.

“The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade has been treasured for years,” said Renee Wilson, director of tourism market development at New York City Tourism and Conventions. “Seeing Santa at the end of the parade is the unofficial start to one of the busiest travel seasons in New York City, the winter holiday season.”

As the biggest city in the U.S., New York City offers limitless attractions for groups. Favorites may include visiting its famous museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Natural History. Groups can also catch a Broadway performance, see landmarks like Central Park and shop in Times Square. With countless options to explore its diverse culture, groups can spend days enjoying the city that never sleeps.

Mardi Gras

Mobile, Alabama

When one thinks of Mardi Gras, they often picture New Orleans or another city in Louisiana. But it may come as a surprise to know that the oldest Mardi Gras celebrations in the country can actually be traced back to Mobile, Alabama, which makes it an equally worthy destination for groups to visit in the days and weeks leading up to Mardi Gras.

“We were the first location in America to have Mardi Gras,” said Tom White, vice president of convention and leisure sales at Visit Mobile. “We’ve been celebrating Mardi Gras here in the U.S. since 1703.”

In Mobile, the celebration is often called “Carnival” as it is in France, to honor the city’s French heritage. In the 21 days leading up to Fat Tuesday, there is at least one parade a day. White said the prime time for a group visit to experience the festivities at their peak is in the four to five days leading up to Mardi Gras, when there are multiple parades a day. The city’s downtown is closed to traffic, making it even more walkable, and moon pies, bread, stuffed animals and toys are thrown out to crowds during these lively parades.

Groups will find plenty of additional reasons to visit Mobile, including its rich and diverse culinary scene. Because of its coastal location, it’s the seafood capital of Alabama, but its cuisine also benefits from Cajun and creole influences that stem from its expansive cultural history.