From the National Geographic book Four Seasons of Travel
New York City, New York
The granddaddy of all St. Patrick’s Day parades (the first was staged in 1762 by homesick Irishmen serving in the British Army) is also the world’s largest, attracting more than two million spectators annually. Led by a military unit, the foot-powered procession (no cars or floats allowed) begins at 44th Street and marches on up Fifth Avenue for nearly six hours.
In the nation’s most Irish state (nearly a quarter of Massachusetts’ residents claim Irish ancestry), South Boston is St. Patrick’s Day central. Since 1901, “Southie” has hosted the city’s colossal parade (held on the Sunday closest to March 17) as thousands of marchers and revelers celebrate all things Emerald. Listen for the mournful wail of bagpipes calling marchers to the Broadway T station starting point.
Parade day (always a Saturday) begins with a wee bit of Irish magic (and 40 lb/18 kg of EPA-approved dye) to color the downtown Chicago River the perfect kelly green. The St. Patrick’s procession begins at noon, with bagpipers, horses, and high-stepping colleens leading the way north on Columbus Drive through Grant Park.
Georgia’s first city has been hosting a St. Patrick’s Day parade since 1813. It’s a three-hour rolling street party held on March 17 (a day earlier if the 17th falls on a Sunday). Book several months in advance to score a Historic District hotel room facing the parade route.
Montserrat, West Indies
The first Irish on this “Emerald Isle of the Caribbean” were former indentured servants fleeing religious persecution from neighboring islands in the 1600s. Shamrock passport stamps pay tribute to Montserrat’s Hibernian roots, celebrated to a calypso beat during a weeklong St. Patrick’s Festival. The Afro-Irish event also commemorates an attempted slave revolt on March 17, 1768.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Neither rain nor snow has ever canceled the Montreal St. Patrick’s Parade. Run consecutively since 1824, the three-hour cavalcade of floats, bands, and costumed characters is traditionally held on the Sunday closest to March 17. Post-parade, the party continues at McKibbin’s, Hurley’s, the Sir Winston Churchill Complex, and other downtown pubs.
Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Festival is a four-day celebration of Irish culture and craic (good fun). The signature March 17 parade kicks off at noon from Parnell Square, continuing past Trinity College to the end point near St. Patrick’s Cathedral. A half million revelers line the 1.6-mile (2.7-kilometer) route, so for a view other than the back of someone’s head, splurge for reserved grandstand seating.
On the Sunday closest to St. Patrick’s Day, the United Kingdom’s largest St. Patrick’s parade hums and high-steps through Digbeth, Birmingham’s postindustrial Irish Quarter. Packed pubs line the route and the dress code trends emerald green, but the passing floats, dancers, and drum corps increasingly reflect the city’s cultural diversity.
Cabo Roig, Spain
Irish holidaymaker hot spot Cabo Roig hosts Spain’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day parade. Spend the morning at one of the town’s white-sand Mediterranean beaches, and then snag a café table along the strip to cheer on the passing marching bands, motorbikes, and Irish dignitaries. A Guinness-fueled fiesta continues under the stars with karaoke, contests, fireworks, flamenco dancers, and more.
Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand’s largest city hosts the world’s first St. Patrick’s Day party each year. Since Ireland-to-Auckland emigration began in the 1840s and continues today, there’s palpable pride in the city’s Irish heritage. Celebrations include a parade, a fleadh (dance and music fest), and lighting the 1,076-foot (328-meter) Sky Tower green.