If there’s any holiday that Chicago takes seriously, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Or rather, St. Patrick’s Day Weekend, which this year falls on March 11th and 12th, several days before actual St. Patrick’s Day holiday on the 17th. Between multiple parades, festivals, and dyeing the Chicago River green, there are countless ways to partake in the Irish festivities. However, not everybody is interested in participating in these citywide events. Whether you are trying to enjoy or avoid St. Patrick’s Day Weekend, here is everything you need to know about navigating a green Chicago.
Chicago River Dye: March 11th – 9:15 am
Perhaps the most famous Chicago St. Patrick’s Day tradition is the dyeing of the Chicago River. Boats begin dumping green dye into the river between Wabash Avenue and Columbus Drive at 9:15 am, and the entire process typically takes about 45 minutes.
Arrive early. The crowds for the river dye are typically not as large as the crowds for the subsequent parade, but the spectator areas tend to fill up quickly. The best areas to watch from are the west side of the Columbus Drive Bridge, the east side of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, and almost anywhere along the Riverwalk.
Since the River Dye is located downtown along a specific stretch of the river, it’s fairly easy to avoid as long as you can stay away from the area. Expect higher-than-normal traffic on the CTA, especially at the downtown stops.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade: March 11th – 12:00 pm
Once the Chicago River is nice and green, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade soon follows. When the clock strikes noon, thousands of people will march north on Columbus Drive from Balbo to Monroe.
Once again, arrive early. While the marching starts at noon, crowds will begin to form several hours before then. Try to secure a viewing spot at Buckingham Fountain, which provides ample space for spectators once the parade starts. If Buckingham Fountain doesn’t work out, try for a spot near Columbus and Balbo in Grant Park. Either of these spots will put you right in the middle of the parade and all of its glory.
Throughout the morning and afternoon, it would be best to avoid Columbus Drive and Michigan Avenue altogether. Instead, reroute to Lake Shore Drive or State Street for a faster commute. Expect large crowds on most CTA trains, hopefully balanced out with increased service to relieve congestion.
South Side Irish Parade: March 12th – 12:00 pm
The day after the downtown parade, the South Side hosts its own Irish celebration with a more culturally-focused march. The parade begins at noon, marching from 103rd Street down Western Avenue to 115th Street.
Since the crowd for this parade will be smaller than the downtown parade crowd, expect to find a good viewing spot from almost anywhere along Western. Once again, it doesn’t hurt to arrive early.
Try to find alternative routes around Western if needed, and luckily there are many. Take any number of parallel streets south to avoid heavy traffic, but definitely keep your ears open for some bagpipe music floating about the city. Expect heavier traffic on certain CTA buses, Metra trains, as well as the Red and Green Line trains, but don’t fret, with enough time and preparation, you can sail through the south side without incident.
Whether you’re enjoying or avoiding St. Patrick’s Day festivities this year, remember to be smart and be safe. Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Chicago Trolley and Double Decker!