The St. Patrick’s Day Parade was originally downtown, centered around the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 32 Prince Street. The initial participants were Irish immigrants and Irish military men in the British Army who were stationed in the American colonies. At the time, the British had placed restrictions on Irish customs (like dancing and language) within Ireland, and the Irish in New York reveled in being able to celebrate freely.
Today, the parade goes past Saint Patrick’s Cathedral at 50th Street and continues up to the American Irish Historical Society at 86th Street. It is still led by a unit of soldiers – currently the “Irish Infantry” – and is now officially sponsored by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
The best spots to view the parade are on the uptown end of the route. Try to find a spot high up on the Metropolitan Museum steps, or on the corner of 86th Street (where the parade turns). The starting and ending points of the parade are typically good for viewing. Pedestrians can only cross the parade route in groups at police-regulated points these areas get crowded, but once the masses move you can typically find a better viewing spot. The parade starts at 11am on 44th Street and finishes roughly 5pm at 86th Street. It will be broadcast on NBC for four hours.