On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is at least a wee bit Irish. While they’ve been celebrating the feast of St. Patrick in Ireland since the ninth century, the first official parade was actually held in Boston in 1737. If you can’t make the journey to the Emerald Isle, 18 of the 20 largest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are held right here in the U.S. Come with us on a journey to some of the best destinations to explore and take part in the Irish spirit.
As the home of the first St. Patty’s Day parade, Boston comes out ahead for historic significance as well as one of the best cities to celebrate the holiday. A multitude of fun events and a massive parade filled with colorful floats, bagpipers, marching bands, dancers, and plenty of Irish cheer attract nearly a million attendees each year.
Irish punk band Dropkick Murphys returns to perform every St. Patrick’s Day at the House of Blues near Fenway Park, but if you aren’t lucky enough to get tickets to this popular event, you’ll find a wide range of pubs featuring live Irish music throughout the week. The Harpoon St. Patrick’s Festival takes place in the South Boston Waterfront at the biggest brewery in the city, Harpoon Brewery. Listen to fantastic live music from Boston area Irish bands while you enjoy traditional Irish favorites like corned beef and cabbage and a perfectly poured pint of Guinness.
Cultural attractions also abound, with the Boston Irish Film Festival held in Somerville within a few weeks of St. Patrick’s Day. Walk the Irish Heritage Trail that begins at the magnificent Rose Kennedy Rose Garden to take a self-guided tour of the contributions of Irish immigrants and their descendants to Boston and the nation over the centuries.
If you need a break from the crowds, consider visiting one of the locals’ favorite hidden gems, a secret garden on the rooftop of the Cambridge Center parking garage. As you step outside the elevator, you’ll discover 30,000 square feet of spectacular gardens, complete with benches and picnic tables as well as a fabulous view of the Boston skyline.
Chicago is known for one of the biggest and most spectacular St. Patrick’s Day festivities in the nation. Every year, with the help of some “leprechaun magic,” the entire river becomes a dramatic bright green. In 2014, the Chicago River will be dyed an emerald hue on Saturday, March 15, at 10:45 a.m., drawing about 400,000 spectators to the event.
The parade begins at noon, marching from Balbo Drive to Monroe Drive, and includes brilliant floats as well as troops of Irish step dancers, bagpipers, bands and plenty of green/white/orange flags to represent the Irish flag. After the parade, embark on a cruise atop the green waters for a 90-minute tour that includes city sights, tales about how the Irish shaped Chicago, and a traditional Irish buffet complete with Guinness or Irish coffee.
St. Louis also provides lots of excitement for Irish revelers. The city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade takes place on March 15 in the downtown area, beginning at 18th and Market Streets, concluding at Broadway and Market. More than 120 units, including marching bands, floats, balloons and over 5,000 marchers, make up another one of the country’s best parades.
After the parade, head to the Irish Village for fantastic food and live performances. If you haven’t had enough of those great Irish tunes, the Gaelic Storm (best known as the rowdy Irish band that appeared in the movie Titanic in the ship’s steerage area) will play at The Pageant that Saturday night.
On the west side of the nation, the beautiful city of San Francisco may best be known for its Golden Gate Bridge and breathtaking scenery, but it was also the home of many Irish Americans. With an estimated 1 million people of Irish descent living in this area, it should be no surprise that the city holds the distinction for having the biggest St. Patty’s Day celebration west of the Mississippi.
The annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival generally takes place the weekend before the holiday and is filled with live performances and events showcasing Irish culture. It offers an opportunity to learn more about Irish history through live music, traditional Irish fare, dancing and a wide array of cultural exhibits. The parade itself is one of San Francisco’s most popular events all year, with hundreds of brilliant floats, Irish dance troupes and marching bands, along with the many unique characters the city is known for.
When all is said and done, don’t miss paying a visit to The Plough and the Stars, the most authentic Irish pub in the city that the majority of visitors seem to miss. Located in the Richmond District, it’s considered a local favorite, featuring fabulous Irish musicians throughout the year.
If you’re dreaming of Southern comforts, you might be surprised to learn that Savannah, Georgia, is the home of the second-largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the U.S. Savannah’s celebrations kick off at the beginning of March. The weekend surrounding the holiday features the city’s biggest party of the year, including the St. Patrick’s Celebration on the River. This renowned festival is free and includes nonstop live entertainment as well as games, food and beverages, and plenty of fun to help you get in the Irish spirit.
Events take place throughout the week, including the Greening of the Fountain and the Celtic Cross Ceremony, with the parade considered the grand finale of the celebration. This event draws nearly a half-million spectators and features approximately 350 floats and Irish pipe bands.
No matter where you choose to celebrate, St. Patrick’s Day can be a fun and culture-filled getaway that will make your friends green with envy.