New York City has America’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Chicago famously dyes the Chicago River green.
Boston is, well, Boston.
Every big city in America has a traditional Irish parade, starting with the nation’s first in Philadelphia in 1771.
Brandishing your “Erin Go Bragh” has its charms in the big city, but smaller cities around the U.S. have their own special array of unique celebrations. From kegs ‘n’ eggs festivals to minor celebrity grand marshals, these are the best small cities for St. Patrick’s Day in the nation.
1. Savannah, GA
Yes, tiny, proper, southern Savannah is the home of the eighth biggest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the entire world, with between 750,000 and a million spectators in a city of only 140,000 residents. Held for the first time in 1824, the parade is a three-hour spectacle featuring Irish dancing, kilt-laden bagpipers and dozens of elaborate floats.
The week-long celebration kicks off with the “Greening of the Fountain,” as the fountain in historic Forsyth Park is dyed emerald green. Other events include the 5K “Shamrock Run,” the non-alcoholic, family-friendly Tara Feis Celebration, parade-day Mass at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist and the post-parade “Entertainment Zone” for an al fresco beer (or three) and live music.
2. Syracuse, NY
Fifty-one weeks a year, the dominant color in Syracuse is Orange. But come St. Patrick’s Day week, the Salt City is profusely green. Syracuse has the fifth-largest percentage of residents with Irish heritage in the nation, many concentrated in the Tipperary Hill neighborhood. “Tipp Hill” is so Irish, it’s home to the “Green-on-Top” traffic light, the only such signal of its kind in America.
St. Patrick’s Day in Syracuse kicks off right under the upside-down traffic light, as a giant shamrock is painted on the road at the stroke of midnight, followed by a pilgrimage to Coleman’s Irish Pub and its “Leprechaun Door” for on-tap green beer that’s been flowing since the end of February. The public downtown parade is a two-and-a-half hour party featuring dancers, floats and bands run by volunteers and supports the St. Patrick Hunger Project.
3. Dublin, OH
If you can’t get to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day, the next best thing is to celebrate in a town called Dublin. Dublin is a suburb of Columbus and has been reveling in St. Patrick’s Day since the 1980s, adopting the city slogan of “Irish with an attitude.” The city decks out every single street in green for March, and restaurants and pubs offer month-long food and drink specials under gaggles of Irish decoration.
About 20,000 visitors descend on the town each March 17, which starts the holiday with a public pancake breakfast and the “Inflation Celebration,” where revelers can watch the more than 100 floats spring to life with helium infusions before heading over to the parade route. Post-parade, the after-party gets underway in the Historic District with Celtic music, green beer, Irish tea and potato chowder. Other events include the Blarney Bash, a “Leprechaun Hunt” for the kids and a “Best Legs in a Kilt” contest.
4. Hot Springs, AR
Arkansas isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think about St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps that’s why Hot Springs – a small town of 37,000, just the 12th largest in The Natural State – is home to the world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade. Yes, at just 98 feet, the parade covers less distance than an NFL extra point. Despite the diminutive size of the parade, the celebration is anything but small.
The parade, held appropriately along Bridge Street – the Shortest Street in the World – kicks off with the annual “Measuring of the Route.” For just 98 feet, the event packs in a plethora of action, with participants including a giant dancing dinosaur, the Budweiser Clydesdales, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, the San Diego Chicken, the world’s largest leprechaun, marching Irish wolfhounds dyed green and an ensemble of Irish Elvis impersonators.
Past grand marshals have included Pauly Shore, Joey Fatone, Mario Lopez, Bo Derek, and Jim Belushi. The 30,000 spectators can also enter the “Romancing The Stone” contest, to see who can give the Arkansas Blarney Stone the best kiss.
5. Kansas City, MO
It might not be that small, but at less than 500,000 people, we’re still adding Kansas City to our list. Especially when you consider that it hosts the fifth largest St. Pat’s parade in America, attracting more than 200,000 attendees for the route down Broadway Boulevard.
The day traditionally kicks off with a special Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Redemptorist Church, and leads into the parade start featuring a single bagpipe marcher known as the “Lone Piper.”
Behind the solo bagpipe is a grand procession featuring dancers, bands and, most importantly, floats. Over the course of the parade, the floats are judged by a blue-ribbon panel and the winner of Best Float wins an all-expenses-paid trip to Ireland for two.
The event is partnered with the “Go for the Green Food Drive,” a carnival and Celtic cook-off to benefit a local food bank network.
6. Enterprise, AL
Photo courtesy of Summer Court Townhomes
When the most famous thing about your city is the Boll Weevil Monument, a large statue of a woman holding a boll weevil, you know your town is on the small side. The statue, the only monument dedicated to an insect in the world, isn’t the only big small thing in Enterprise. The city of just more than 26,000 knows how to take a very small thing and make it very large.
If you’re in search of an undoubtedly unique St. Pat’s celebration, look no further than Enterprise, home to the official Guinness record holder for World’s Smallest St. Patrick’s Day parade. How small exactly? Exactly one participant.
One lone parader – the Grand Marshall – sings and dances down one block from the Courthouse to the Monument and back, clad in green and carrying an Irish flag, a tradition now a quarter-century old. The parade has been joined recently by the “St. Paddy’s Day Half Pint 0.5K,” a third-of-a-mile race sponsored by the “Society of Lazy and Carefree Runners.” Finish up your day with a party at the Boll Weevil Brewing Supply.
7. Scranton, PA
Perhaps you only know Scranton as the setting of NBC’s The Office. Or maybe you’re more familiar with it as former Vice President Joe Biden’s hometown. But what you most likely don’t know is that the Electric City is home to America’s sixth largest St. Patrick’s Day parade. In fact, the annual event is the second largest in the U.S. by attendance to population ratio, behind only Savannah.
The parade, which has been held annually since 1862, attracts 110,000 spectators to the city of just 76,000. That figure ballooned to 150,000 in 2008 when Hillary Clinton appeared as the Grand Marshal.
But those aren’t the numbers that make the Scranton St. Patrick’s Day parade so great. It’s the more than 12,000 participants in the parade, including Irish marchers, Celtic bands, marching bands, step dancers, bagpipers and local and national celebrities and politicians.