Things to do in Chicago

10 Most Notable Chicago Parades

Chicago loves to celebrate! Here are some of the most popular parades bustling through the city each year.

Chicago turns every season, holiday, and cultural event into a citywide celebration. From themed festivals to parades, the Windy City can throw a thrilling party for everyone. As you look for things to do in Chicago, let's explore sensational Chicago parades you won't want to miss.

Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade

Every year, on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day, is the Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade. The green river dyeing ceremony transforms the brick and steel city into an electrifying green wonderland. As one of the most popular celebratory events in Chicago, this jade parade had to top our list.

Origins of St. Patrick's Day in Chicago

Chicago's long-standing relationship with St. Patrick's Day has lived almost two centuries. It was born when the city's very first Irish Parade occurred in 1843 and was crowned an official city event in the 1950s, encouraging Chicagoans to proudly show off their Irish heritage throughout their neighborhoods in gripping anticipation of the annual festivities.

The Chicago River dyeing ceremony joined the mix in 1962, thanks to a recommendation from the local plumber's union. It became a quick hit with Chicago's people.

What to Expect

The river dyeing ceremony kicks off early the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day as an opening act to the grand parade finale.

Eager spectators line the Chicago boardwalk and bridges between State and Columbus to witness environmentally friendly green dye spill into the river before a procession of vibrant floats, local musicians, Irish step dancers, bagpipers, marching bands, and more flood the streets for an unforgettable 3-hour celebration of riotous joy.

Bud Billiken Parade

The Bud Billiken Parade isn't only a stream of exciting floats and talented bands cruising down King Drive. It's a commemoration of the African American history embedded in Chicago's streets. This moving celebration of a hopeful future offers plenty of things to do with kids in a festive and educational atmosphere.

Origins of the Bud Billiken Parade

The country's largest African American parade debuted in 1929. It honors the Bud Club, a social gathering of young Black people in Chicago. Bud Billikin was the club's mascot, a legendary figure modeling the Chicago Defender's legacy of youth, progress, and pride.

Bud is a symbol of good luck and fortune, and the adoration of the crowds meant he was a shoo-in as the face of the parade.

What to Expect

This trailblazing parade is always held at the end of summer, evoking excitement and enthusiasm for the start of a new school year. It carves a 2-mile path down Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, meandering through the historic Bronzeville neighborhood and into Washington Park.

Because the Bud Billiken parade is such a big deal, it's often attended by renowned figures. Oprah Winfrey, Duke Ellington, and Presidents Truman and Obama personally lent their attention to it.

The parade also holds contests. Categories such as Best Dance Team and Best Float have highlighted the community's noteworthy talent. And the actual procession is the cherry on top. Post-parade festivities keep the party going every year at Washington Park.

26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade

The 26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade is an annual themed event honoring a pivotal moment in world history. It pays respect to many Mexican traditions and cultures enriching Chicago's streets.

Origins of the 26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade

Chicago held its first 26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade in 1997 to honor the brave souls behind Mexico's independence. During the early morning hours of September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla summoned his small, unassuming Dolores parish church to free Mexico from Spain's iron grip.

This consequential moment sparked the beginning of a decade-long revolution. It resulted in Mexico's independence, an astounding feat now celebrated with thrilling festivities.

Photographer: bbernard

What to Expect

The parade begins its journey at the historic Little Village Arch on 26th Street. It leads a train of mariachi bands, folkloric dancers, and colored floats decorated to represent Mexico's diverse traditions and cultures through Kostner Avenue. After the procession runs its course, attendees are invited to local shops and restaurants to bask in the community's beauty.

Chicago Pride Parade

If there's any city that knows how to embrace diversity and party for pride, it's Chicago. The Chicago Pride Parade is a phenomenon that's as remarkable as it is historical. And the entire city gets involved to showcase their endless love and support.

Origins of Chicago Pride

One of the most popular LGBTQ+ events in the entire city, The Chicago Pride Parade has existed for over 50 years. It rose from the 1969 Stonewall riots, marking the first time in Chicago people came together to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and visibility.

The parade was first confined to the Lakeview East neighborhood. Then, it expanded its roots once more people stepped forward to join the movement. Today, the parade snakes through Uptown, Belmont, Halsted, Broadway, and Lincoln Park.

What to Expect

The Chicago Pride Parade is at the end of June, concluding Pride month with a rainbow blast of festivities. It begins at Broadway and Montrose before heading south toward Diversey Parkway and Sheridan Road in Lincoln Park.

With its adorned vehicles, artistic floats, and marching bands calling unabashed attention to the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, the parade never fails to attract a monumental crowd, with politicians and celebrities found mingling among the masses. You can also find passionate street fests, captivating concerts, and spirited parties around the city.

Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade

Each year, the City of Chicago partners with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to plan the heart-wrenching Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade, honoring the city's fallen heroes and Gold Star family members who tragically lost loved ones serving in active duty.

Photographer: Svet foto

Origins of the Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade

Chicago's Memorial Day Parade has been one of the largest in the nation since 1870. It wouldn't be until 1947 that the city would begin identifying Gold Star family members with the Gold Star Lapel Pin or Next of Kin Lapel Pin, symbolic markers honoring loved ones lost in combat.

This act of remembrance preserves memories of the fallen and pays homage to the ultimate sacrifices they made to uphold our freedoms.

What to Expect

This deferential celebration is on the weekend of Memorial Day. It begins in the morning with the Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Richard J. Daley Center Plaza, where Gold Star family members receive their pins. The parade launches around noon, meandering down State Street, Lake Street, and Van Buren Street in a whirlwind of red, white, and blue.

Spectators line the streets, waving flags to pay respects to fallen heroes. A stunning display of current service members and veterans storm the streets with their flags and banners held high. This respectful remembrance is sure to tug at the heartstrings of any proud patriot.

Chicago Sky Parade

Calling all basketball fans — we have a treat for you. The Chicago Sky Parade and rally salutes the city's award-winning WNBA team Chicago Sky. They made history back in 2021 with their groundbreaking championship win, a moment many Chicagoans had lost hope of seeing.

Origins of the Chicago Sky Parade

In 2021, Chicago Sky won the city's first ever WNBA championship, defeating the Phoenix Mercury during game four of the finals by a close call of 6 points. Even better, this astounding win occurred at the team's home court, Wintrust Arena, in front of a sellout crowd.

This was the city's first basketball victory since the Chicago Bulls earned the title in 1998. Since Chicago loves to party, it's unsurprising and on brand that the city planned an entire parade and rally to commemorate the ordeal.

What to Expect

The 2021 Chicago Sky Parade occurred on October 19, departing from Wintrust Arena and ending at Millennium Park. A vigorous rally kicked off to honor the star-studded Chicago Sky players and their inspiring perseverance.

Now, the Chicago Sky Parade isn't an annual event, but it's worth noting because it's a flawless example of Chicago's unmatched loyalty to its sports teams and penchant for spontaneous celebration. If you're ever in Chicago while a championship is underway, keep your eyes on the streets. You may end up witnessing an exhilarating victory march.

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

Start Turkey Day off right with one of Chicago's grandest holiday traditions. This mesmerizing display of striking floats, charming dancers, and skillful marching bands sets the stage for the upcoming Chicago Christmas festivities and will fill you with more joy and satisfaction than the plumpest roasted turkey.

Origins of the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

This iconic parade has a rich history. It began in 1934 as the Christmas Caravan to infuse hope and joy into Chicagoans during the Great Depression. Its attendance rate rose over the next few decades, growing to a staggering 1.5 million people in 1969.

In 2007, WGN America decided this event was too good to hold hostage in Chicago, making it one of only three American parades televised live at that time. Today, the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade is America's second largest and most popular parade, with New York's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade holding the majestic throne of first place.

What to Expect

On Thanksgiving morning, State Street in the Loop is bombarded with an enchanting procession of marching bands, equestrians, acrobats, giant helium balloons, and over 100 floats, throwing the city into a holiday frenzy. The whole phenomenon lasts for about 3 hours, traveling north through Ida B. Wells Drive and Randolph Street.

Incredible performances are also held at the main stage area to keep everyone's energy alive and well. With a bit of gumption and good planning, you may be able to grab a desirable spot without fighting the crowd.

Columbus Day Parade

Chicago's Columbus Day Parade is a cherished tradition. It celebrates the distinct cultures that fit together like puzzle pieces to form the fascinating and unique whole of Chicago. It's sponsored by the Joint Civic Commission of Italian Americans, serving as a generations-old reminder that Chicago is home to the nation's third-largest Italian-American population.

Origins of the Columbus Day Parade

Chicago's first Columbus Day Parade was held in October 1952, coinciding with Italian American Heritage and Culture Month to honor the pioneering achievements of Italian immigrants and how their hard work transformed the arts, science, and culture for the better.

At its core, the Columbus Day Parade highlights Chicago's great diversity, honoring rich cultural traditions and America's emblematic status as a nation of immigrants, and reminds us not-so-subtly the city wouldn't be nearly as interesting without them.

What to Expect

Festivities begin the morning of Columbus Day, or Indigenous Peoples Day, with thousands of people filling Arrigo Park for a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating Italian-American war veterans. The crowd then treks to the corner of State Street and Wacker Drive.

An explosion of traditional costumes, lively music, and floats adorned with Italian flags flood the streets. It creates a festive atmosphere encouraging all Italian Americans to own their heritage.

The Columbus Day Parade is all about fun and festivity, with a dash of education and awareness added for enhanced cultural flavor. Up and down the parade route, you'll find appealing exhibits calling out distinguished Italian-American pioneers and how they transformed America into the innovative, prolific nation it is today.

Chinatown Chinese Lunar New Year Parade

Celebrate new beginnings and good fortune with the Chinatown Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, one of Chicago's most riveting cultural events. A holiday as significant and meaningful as Chinese New Year deserves a celebration that matches its grandeur. Chicago's approach doesn't let us down.

Origins of Chinatown Chinese Lunar New Year Parade

The Chinese New Year is a centuries-old tradition honoring its culture's deities and ancestors. It takes place at the arrival of a new moon, often between January 22 and February 5.

Lunar New Year celebrations are a defining feature of Chicago's Chinatown, transforming the South Side neighborhood into a spectacle of themed floats and decor revolving around that year's symbolic animal. In 2023, it was all about the rabbit, and we're already looking forward to 2024's Year of the Dragon.

Photographer: Geoff Goldswain

What to Expect

If you're seeking inspiration to start the new year right, look no further than the Chinatown Chinese Lunar New Year Parade. This luminous attraction of floats, bands, and traditional lion dancers greets the new moon's arrival with a passion.

Festivities begin in the afternoon on Wentworth Avenue, providing an energetic vibe that matches the enthralling culture of Chicago's Chinatown neighborhood.

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival Parade

The holiday season is already an alluring and dazzling time of year. It becomes even more so when you get to celebrate with your favorite Disney characters.

Chicago's Magnificent Mile Lights Festival Parade is the grand finale of a full-day holiday extravaganza of interactive activities, pop-up musical performances, and all-around good vibes even the Grinch would find hard to resist.

Photographer: Rudy Balasko

Origins of the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival Parade

The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival Parade has been starting Chicago's holiday season with a passion since the early '90s. It's a treasured annual tradition for Chicagoans and viewers worldwide. This Chicago parade is also televised, making the city a strong contender for most amazing street entertainment.

Disney fan favorites Mickey and Minnie Mouse are the stars of the show. They traveled all the way from Walt Disney World Resort to make an appearance on their very own float.

What to Expect

The parade happens the weekend before Thanksgiving, after the Lights Festival Lane's festivities. Beginning on Michigan Avenue, it traverses down Oak Street and ends at Wacker Drive right after the DuSable Bridge.

Along the way, parade participants turn on over 1 million lights lining North Michigan Avenue. The result is a glittering display of holiday radiance and good cheer to get everyone into the holly jolly spirit.

Iconic Disney characters, musical performances, giant balloons, and lavish floats comprise the parade, keeping you entertained with their bewitching charm and extravagance until fireworks blast into the night like rocket ships shooting across the sky, brightening it with starbursts of flaming light.

Get Festive at These Iconic Chicago Parades

There's nothing we love more than a breathtaking display of vibrant colors, flashy lights, and ornamented decor. In other words, parades are right up our alley, and Chicago has an impressive portfolio to choose from. Whether you're looking to celebrate an event or get in the spirit for a holiday, Chicago's parades take your expectations to the next level.

If you're craving an immersive experience while in town, check out one of our Chicago shows, so we can stir your imagination, provoking a sense of wonder and enchantment that'll linger with you long after the performance is over.

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