Savannah, GA is home to a unique 3-day St. Paddy’s party that is, without a doubt, America’s best St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Savannah’s parade features more than 350 marching units and up to 15,000 people, including Irish dancers and pipe bands from all over the East Coast. The festivities draw crowds of more than 300,000. Keep reading for 9 more of our favorite places to celebrate all things green.
How did a religious holiday, celebrating the Christian St. Patrick and the coming of Christianity to Ireland, become the world’s favorite day to drink green beer and get rowdy?
Well, the answer is — immigration.
As the Irish emigrated all over the world, so did St. Patrick’s Day. And now, the holiday is an even bigger tradition in certain parts of the world than it is back in Ireland. Though for many, the day has lost its religious significance.
Instead, St. Paddy’s has become a great excuse to wear green, throw a parade, drink green beer, and celebrate all things wonderful about Irish heritage.
It makes sense that big cities like Boston and New York have great St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, since they were the first stop for many Irish immigrants as they traveled to America.
But what about O’Neill, NE or Enterprise, AL? Truth is, lots of small and unexpected American towns go all out for St. Patrick’s Day. We’ve come up with a list of America’s 10 Best St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations. You never know — maybe one of these celebrations happens just outside your door.
As the Irish emigrated around the world, particularly to America, so did St. Patrick’s Day. Now, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey, 10.5% of the total U.S. population reports Irish ancestry. But when, how, and why did the Irish come to America?
Prior to the American Revolution, most Irish people came to America to escape religious and political persecution. But the very first wave of the Irish coming to America came as involuntary indentured servants. In other words: slaves.
The Irish had no love for the British, and fought fiercely in the American war of independence. In fact, General Robert E. Lee is famously quoted as saying that “half the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland.” After the war, Irish immigration to America significantly increased, inspired by the American ideals of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
And Irish immigration grew even further as American industrialization led to the need for laborers. This increase led to a lot of anti-Irish sentiment in America.
In the mid-19th century, Ireland was rocked by a terrible famine that’s come to be known as the Irish Potato Famine. Entire fields of potatoes turned black and rotted in the ground. Many Irish fled to America as a matter of survival.
Over the centuries, many other social and economic factors have influenced Irish immigration to the U.S. What’s for certain is that Irish heritage is now an important part of the American identity.
The Symbols of St. Patrick’s Day
Christmas has Santa Clause, Easter has the Easter Bunny. St. Patrick’s Day has its own set of symbols.
But where did they come from?
Here’s the story of 2 of St. Paddy’s most enduring icons: the shamrock and the color green.
In pagan Ireland, 3 was a meaningful number. The religion of the time had many triple deities, not unlike Christianity’s Holy Trinity, or the 3 leaves of a shamrock.
It’s thought this belief in the power of 3 provided a talking point for St. Patrick as he evangelized Ireland. He is often depicted with a cross in one hand, and a sprig of shamrocks in the other.
The Color Green
It’s widely believed the first association of Ireland with the color green came about in the 11th century, in the book Lebor Gabála Érenn, or The Book of the Taking of Ireland. The text tells the story of Goídel Glas, the eponymous ancestor of the Gaelic people.
In the story, Goídel Glas was bitten by a snake, only to be saved by Moses placing his staff on the snakebite. Goídel Glas retained a green mark where he was bitten as he led his people to a land free of snakes.
Over the years, the color green has been used on a variety of Irish flags and symbols, coming to be closely associated with Irish national heritage.
St. Patrick’s Day Fun Facts
Here are a few St. Patrick’s Day fun facts. With these in your back pocket, you’ll definitely sound like the smartest person at the Irish pub up the street (the smartest person dressed like a leprechaun, that is).
St. Patrick wasn’t Irish
Though closely related to the history of Ireland, St. Patrick was really born to Roman parents in Scotland or Wales in the late 4th century.
New Yorkers love St. Patrick’s Day
New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the world’s largest. Since 1762, 250,000 marchers have made their way up Fifth Avenue on foot — no floats or vehicles allowed. When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, New York does it old school.
St. Patrick’s Day used to be a dry holiday
Here’s a fact that might make you spit out your Guinness: Being a national religious holiday in Ireland meant that for most of the 20th century, there was no booze allowed at any Irish St. Patrick’s Day event. The pubs were required to close on the holiday. But don’t worry — that all changed in 1970, when the law was overturned.
Sorry…there were never any snakes in Ireland
The story of St. Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland has largely been refuted by the fossil record. Ireland has always been too cold for snakes.
Corned beef, hold the corn
Corned beef is a popular dish to serve on St. Patrick’s Day. But the corn right there in the name of the dish doesn’t refer to actual corn. Instead, the “corn” in corned beef refers to the large grains of salt historically used to cure meat, also referred to as “corns.”
Now you’re up to speed and feeling the love for all things St. Patrick’s Day. Let’s waste no more time and get to our ranking of America’s 10 Best St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations.
Everyone knows Boston, New York, and Chicago throw great St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. When compiling this ranking, RAVE wanted to show you some unexpected places around the country that really go all out for the holiday.
In doing so, we scoured the internet, triangulating similar lists from sites like Wallethub and Tripadvisor. We also examined local travel sites, wikis, and a whole lot more. Our criteria for this list includes the following:
- How often does the destination shows up on similar lists across the internet?
- Is it an unexpected destination for St. Patrick’s Day? Small, out-of-the-way places earned a little extra love.
- How much is there to do while visiting the destination on St. Patrick’s Day?
Here are 10 American towns that do St. Patrick’s Day right.
Where to Stay: Kehoe House
Savannah is home to not one but 2 of America’s best St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. First up, their St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the largest in America, and has been running almost non-stop for 188 years.
The event features Celtic societies and Irish families, as well as Irish dancers and pipe bands from all over the East Coast. Altogether, the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade features 350 marching units and up to 15,000 people.
And the fun continues with Savannah’s 3-day St. Patrick’s Day festival, with live music, a food court, dancing, and a whole lot more. Other St. Paddy’s-themed events happening in Savannah throughout the month of March include Greening the Fountain — when the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Grand Marshal pours green dye into the water of the fountain at Savannah’s Forsyth Park. There’s also the March of Dimes Shamrock Run, an Irish Heritage Dance, and a Shamrock Festival and Oyster Roast.
Visit Savannah in March and you’ll agree: This city is definitely home to America’s best St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Shamrock Score: 10
Kansas City, MO
Where to Stay: The Fontaine
Kansas City has a deep Irish heritage, and it’s all put on display with an unbelievable 9 St. Patrick’s Day-themed parades all over the city! Kicking it all off is North KC’s Snake Saturday Parade, a 2-day festival that includes a cook-off and a carnival.
Kansas City also celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with a 4-mile run and the Little Shamrock Run, a 3-block race through KC’s Westport area. St. Paddy’s revelers love to drop by Browne’s Irish Marketplace, the oldest Irish-owned business in North America, for some traditional Irish food. Be sure to stop in at Celtic Ranch, where you’ll find Irish clothing, jewelry, whiskey, and a whole lot more.
Other things to do in Kansas City for St. Patrick’s Day include a shamrock hunt and St. Patrick’s Day at the Zoo. In addition to all these events, Kansas City also happens to be chock-a-block with Irish pubs and bars, offering all sorts of ways to take part in the fun.
Shamrock Score: 9.5
Where to Stay: Hotel at the Lafayette
Buffalo, NY celebrates St. Paddy’s with 2 parades. First, there’s the “Old Neighborhood” Parade, in Buffalo’s Old First Ward. The Old First Ward is where many of Buffalo’s early Irish immigrants settled. After the parade, join the locals at Valley Community Center for corned beef and salt potatoes, or stop by any of the neighborhood’s plentiful Irish pubs for some live music.
Then, there’s the big parade in downtown Buffalo, where you can see the city’s love for all things Irish. Starting with a mass at Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, the parade includes Irish dancers, bands, civic organizations, and others. After the parade, listen to bagpipers, shop from vendors, and hit up even more Irish pubs in Buffalo’s downtown.
With an Irish heritage like Buffalo’s, it only makes sense they’d throw one of America’s best St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Shamrock Score: 9.0
Fort Collins, CO
Where to Stay: The Elizabeth Hotel
Every year, people travel from all over Colorado to attend one of America’s best St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Fort Collins. The marquee event is Lucky Joe’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Old Town Irish Party, held every year in Fort Collins’ Old Town. Lucky Joe’s is one of Fort Collins favorite Irish pubs.
At the parade, expect music, costumes, dancing, and all sorts of other family-friendly fun. You can watch the parade from Fort Collins’ Old Chicago, located right on the route. While there, enjoy Guinness drafts, green Coors Light, and Bloody Patricks, which is bloody mary mix with Jameson Irish Whiskey.
Several other local microbreweries host their own St. Paddy’s parties to keep the festivities going strong. Also in Fort Collins, there are Irish-themed cooking classes, a kid-friendly Shamrock Fairy Garden, several concerts, and the Sharin’ O’ the Green 5K race, where participants come prepared with a St. Paddy’s-themed costume!
Shamrock Score: 8.5
New London, WI
Where to Stay: Lindsay House Bed & Breakfast
On the week of St. Patrick’s Day, New London transforms into New Dublin with a St. Patrick’s Day parade, the New Dublin Irish Fest, and a full schedule of other events for the holiday. Together, this adds up to the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the state of Wisconsin.
In the days leading up to St. Paddy’s, mischievous leprechauns change the name of the town to New Dublin, while entertaining kids, visiting the elderly, and making special appearances all over town. Other events in New Dublin include Irish caroling and an Irish cèilidh, or a traditional gathering of friends and family for music and dance.
And when it comes time for the big day, the St. Patrick’s Day parade features up to 125 marching units consisting of bagpipe and marching bands, clowns, Irish clans, an Irish wake parody, and more. The New Dublin Irish Fest, held under a heated big-top, is a Celtic music event where attendees can enjoy Irish food and beverages while browsing market booths.
Shamrock Score: 8.0
Hot Springs, AR
Where to Stay: Prospect Place Bed & Breakfast
Hot Springs adds a dose of humor to their St. Patrick’s Day events with their First Ever World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In 2019, the parade celebrated its 16th year. First ever? 16th year? Shortest parade? Oh Hot Springs, you’re so funny.
The story of the parade begins with the world’s shortest street in everyday use — Hot Springs’ Bridge Street. A Hot Springs resident of Irish ancestry thought the only thing to do on the world’s shortest street is to hold the world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Today, the parade has turned into a multi-day event with a Blarney Stone kissing contest. The Arkansas Blarney Stone, said to have been discovered by a leprechaun in the forests around Hot Springs, sits in front of the Hot Springs Convention Center, and the annual Blarney Stone-kissing contest is known as Romancing the Stone.
There’s also live music for the holiday, an appearance by the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, and a pop-up Irish pub, as well as the announcement of the parade King and Queen and a whole lot more. The festivities draw more than 30,000 people each year.
With its fun and quirky twist on the holiday, Hot Springs is definitely home to one of America’s best St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Shamrock Score: 7.5
Where to Stay: 1812 Overture Bed and Breakfast
Founded by an Irishman, O’Neill is called “Nebraska’s Irish Capital,” and it’s home to the world’s largest shamrock. So naturally, this town goes all in for St. Patrick’s Day. Every year, crowds gather to see that giant shamrock, installed in the town’s main intersection in the year 2000, as it gets a fresh coat of paint before the big party starts.
Once the shamrock is all spruced up, O’Neill is taken over by a giant St. Paddy’s parade, passing right through the intersection and over the shamrock.
Other St. Paddy’s-themed activities in O’Neill include a Shamrock Fun Run and a dodgeball tournament, as well as Irish-inspired performances by local dance troupes and musicians.
The festivities also include quirky events like an appearance by a hypnotist, a fish fry, and a Children’s Literature Festival featuring the reading of Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.” For a St. Patrick’s Day celebration with a ton of local flavor, look no further than O’Neill, NE.
Shamrock Score: 7.0
Where to Stay: Marley House Bed & Breakfast
Enterprise, AL is home to the world’s smallest St. Patrick’s Day parade. Now you might say to yourself, “Wait just a minute, RAVE. Didn’t you tell us the world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade is in Hot Springs, AR?”
Yes, Hot Springs is home to the world’s shortest parade, but Enterprise lays claim to the world’s smallest parade. As in, just one person repping this tiny city’s love for our favorite Irish holiday.
The parade was founded over 2 decades ago by transplants to Enterprise, relocating from cities that had big St. Patrick’s Day parades.
There are strict requirements to becoming a Grand Marshal — the only person to march in the parade. The person must be of Irish descent in some way, physically able to move along the parade route, and a resident of Enterprise.
Even though the parade is small, it’s big on character and tradition. Enterprise definitely deserves to be named one of America’s best St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Shamrock Score: 6.5
Where to Stay: The Historic Peninsula Inn
Tampa, FL hosts all sorts of great events to celebrate St. Paddy’s, beginning with the Paddyfest. At Paddyfest, expect a Shake Your Shamrock 5K, Irish dancers, and live music from the Guinness Main Stage. There’s also a Blarney Bike Ride, wing-eating contest, and a flip cup tournament.
If your idea of a good St. Paddy’s Day involves running, Tampa is for you. There are St. Patrick’s races all over the Tampa area. For example, in nearby Dunedin, there is a St. Patrick’s Day 5K and 10K, or do them all in the Leprechaun Challenge.
Elsewhere, there’s the Mayor’s River O’Green Fest, an Irish-themed party with live entertainment, games, kid-friendly activities, food trucks, and beer. Start the day with a family scavenger hunt, a leprechaun costume contest, and the Shamrock Scavenger Crawl for grown-ups.
All this and a whole lot more means Tampa has one of America’s 10 best St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Shamrock Score: 6.0
Where to Stay: HotelRed
Back in the day, students in the University of Wisconsin’s engineering and law schools held their own competing St. Patrick’s Day parades — but those were banned in 1940.
Today, Madison’s St. Paddy’s events include the Madison Shamrock Shuffle, a 5K, 10K, and 2-mile walk benefiting the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. There’s also Smilin’ St. Paddy’s Day, a Celtic revue filled with Irish humor and music.
When you visit, be sure to check out the St. Patrick’s Day Parade around Madison’s beautiful Capitol Square. The flag of Ireland is even hoisted in the Capitol Rotunda. Other things to do in Madison for St. Patrick’s Day include the Lucky St. Patrick’s Day Crawl and after party, and a family-friendly St. Patrick’s Day Celebration with face painting and crafting.
In addition, there’s a St. Paddy’s cocktail class, the Shamrock & Shenanigans Virtual 4-Mile Run/Walk with costumes, and traditional Irish food.
Shamrock Score: 5.5