Independence Day in NYC focuses on one major event, the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks. And there’s good news for Brooklyn this year – the show is moving back to the East River with entertainment at the Brooklyn Bridge. But there are other ways to celebrate July 4th in the city. Keep reading to get details on the only parade in the 5 boroughs, how to survive the fireworks with kids in tow and other family-friendly Independence Day events.

The Macy’s Fireworks

While seeing the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks live is at the top of many kids’ bucket lists, it’s not exactly an easy event for families to navigate. Your kids will be staying up way past their bedtimes and unless you get invited to view the show at someone’s apartment with a sweet city view, they’ll have to spend a long time sitting or standing around waiting.

Simply put, seeing the fireworks in person is probably a better idea in theory than in practice if you have kids, especially small ones. There’s no shame in watching from your TV, where you’ll be able to catch the performances by Enrique Iglesias, Ariana Grande and Lionel Richie. But if you insist on seeing them live, here two options for where to view them:

1. Standing along the East River: The fireworks start around 9 p.m., but much like New Year’s Eve in Times Square, you’ll need to camp out ahead of time, preferably no later than 4 or 5 p.m., in order to have a shot at a decent view at one of the top access points to elevated points of FDR. In Manhattan, between Montgomery & South Streets, Brooklyn Bridge entry from St. James Pl. & Wagner Pl. and Broad St. at Water St. In Brooklyn, see the fireworks from Brooklyn Bridge Park Piers 1-6 or the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade.

That being said, if you pop out closer to go time with your kiddo atop your shoulders, as long as you can get somewhere that has a view of the East River, you might be able to catch enough of a glimpse of the show to satisfy your child, minus any stuck-in-an-outdoor-crowd for hours bathroom emergencies.

Note: For security reasons, no large bags or backpacks will be allowed, and you can’t bring lawn chairs, either (strollers are okay, but due to the sheer crush of people you might want to carry your baby or toddler in a Bjorn or Ergo – start stretching those hamstrings now).

2. Aboard a ship in the  River: Many different cruise lines offer 4th of July fireworks viewing. The Circle Line is the cheaper option, at $135/person (not including food or drink). If you’re feeling more flush, hop aboard Manhattan by Sail’s Shearwater, an 82-foot schooner, for a fully catered dinner and open bar with champagne. Adults are $450, but children 12 and under are only $350! (Just think of it this way: you’d be paying $100 more per head if they got drunk).

Non-Fireworks-Related NYC July 4th Activities

Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest
Only second to fireworks as an expression of America’s independence is the ability to willfully eat ourselves sick, and no one celebrates it like Coney Island institution Nathan’s (corner of Surf Avenue & Stillwell Avenue). Every 4th of July at 12 p.m., crowds gather to watch competitive eaters like Joey Chestnut battle to see who can eat the most hot dogs (buns included) in 10 minutes. Kids will love watching the stomach-distending action, and hey, the pros make your two hot dog lunch look like a crash diet. So eat up!

The Only Parade in the 5 Boroughs
Venture to Staten Island for one of the country’s oldest Independence Day celebrations. This 4th of July tradition started in 1911 in the town of Travis and continues to march on from P.S. 26 and the Showplace Entertainment Center (141 East Service Rd.) starting at 12:30 p.m. The parade has a little of everything including clowns, bands, classic cars and firetrucks.

Historical Tours and Trivia
Big Onion Walking Tours offers a – ahem – constitutional dedicated to Revolutionary-era New York, including the spot where the Declaration of Independence was first read in the Big Apple. (July 4th at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; meets at the intersection of Broadway and Murray Street).

The New York Historical Society also has a full slate of creative activities scheduled for the 4th, ranging from storytelling to musical performances (think Yankee Doodle) to interactive arts and crafts (all free with museum admission), plus you can join in on an Independence Day Scavenger Hunt. Also big news – July 4th marks the opening day for the Museum’s new exhibit Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans. Meet Madeline, help build the Eiffel Tower, decorate a Pepito or Genevieve finger puppet, get a temporary tattoo, hear a story time and more. Best of all, kids get in free all day long.

Independence Day Gets Crafty
The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is getting in the spirit of Independence Day with a crafty event. Kids can get excited about the evening’s festivities by designing their own flag using a star sponge and paint. A visit to the Museum plus a creative workshop is a great way to make a full day out of the 4th of July festivities before the fireworks show begins.

A Rockin’ Celebration
The whirling dervish, road-weary, bilingual musical sensation Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band from SoCal returns to the city with three days of three concerts each at the Bronx Zoo. Sure, the animals are awesome, but Lucky Diaz and bandmate/wife Alisha Gaddis are the real reason to go wild at the zoo this July 4th weekend.

What do you have planned for Independence Day 2014? Leave us a comment below telling us how you celebrate the 4th in New York.


— Una LaMarche & Julie Seguss

photo credit: Macy’s fireworks: CC, user: jvdalton, Macy’s fireworks 2: CC, user: Larim daME, Nathan’s: CC, user: asterix611, & guy schmidt via flickr