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These Cities Have the Best St. Patrick's Day Celebrations

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By Evelyn Kanter for the Orbitz Travel Blog

As the saying goes, everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day, but not every city has the same way of celebrating. If you're looking for a superlative place to spend the green-themed holiday, these are the oldest, biggest, smallest and most unusual celebrations that honor Ireland's patron saint.

NYPD Emerald Society | Photo courtesy of ParadeLife.com

Oldest parade: New York City
According to the New York Historical Society, the first known reference to a celebration was in 1756 in the New York Post (founded by Alexander Hamilton). The first recorded New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade was a decade later, in 1766, in what was still The Colonies, when a group of homesick Irish soldiers serving with the British military organized a fife and drum ceremony. As the Irish community in NYC grew, so did the parade, which has been held annually for more than 250 years. These days there are as many as 250,000 marchers, including the bagpipers of the NYPD Emerald Society marching band, and two million spectators. That also makes the annual festivities on Fifth Avenue the world's largest St. Patrick's Day parade.

Chicago River

Longest green river: Chicago
Organizers claim this annual modern miracle that turns the Chicago River green on St. Patrick's Day ranks right up there with Moses parting the Red Sea. As with the recipe for Coca Cola and the iPhone encryption code, the green dye is a secret concoction, but the Plumbers Union who perpetrate the act promise it has been tested and proven safe and green for the environment. Of course, there's the big downtown parade, too, as well as the South Side Irish Parade.

The only two-state parade | Photo courtesy of Rock Island Chamber of Commerce

Only two-state parade: Quad Cities
This interstate St. Patrick's Day Parade begins in downtown Rock Island, Illinois, marching across the Centennial Bridge over the Mississippi River into downtown Davenport, Iowa. Most everybody - marchers and spectators - wind up at Kelly's Irish Pub & Eatery, which claims to throw the world's largest St. Patrick's party, feeding a couple of tons of corned beef and cabbage and more than 100 kegs of green beer to around 15,000 people.


Skydiving Leprechaun | Photo courtesy of Quad Cities CVB

Only skydiving leprechauns: Davenport, Iowa
A local skydiving club dresses up for the day, landing as close to the post-parade party as possible without touching down in somebody's lunch.

World's shortest parade: Hot Springs, Arkansas
Bridge Street is a 98-foot long thoroughfare in Hot Springs that claims to be the world's shortest street in everyday use, and this zany mini-parade makes the most of every inch. Marchers include Elvis impersonators and belly dancers, wearing green, of course, and what organizers claim is the world's largest leprechaun.

Photo courtesy of O'Neill Chamber of Commerce

World's largest shamrock: O'Neill, Nebraska
At the intersection of Highways 20 and 281 in the middle of O'Neill, this permanent green fixture is large enough and bright enough to be visible on Google Maps. The shamrock is freshened annually with 20 gallons of green paint, so it can stand up the scuffing by the nearly 200 step-dancers who perform on it as part of the St. Patrick's Day parade. Although they tap their way into local history, they haven't made it into the Guinness World Book of Records.