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Chicago St. Patrick’s Day 2019: parades, river dyeing, getting there

Where to go, when it happens, and how you can watch river turn green.

An aerial view of annual river dyeing, which has just begun.
Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Getty Images

In about a week, the 64th annual St. Patricks Day Parade will kickoff downtown after the river is dyed an “emerald” green.

The river, the beer, clothing, scrambled eggs, desserts—it all turns green in Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day. The festivities are everywhere—early morning barcrawls, Irish parades, brunches and more. Whether you choose to join in or avoid it, we’ll give you all the details on how the city will be affected.

The downtown celebrations always take place the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, this year the holidays falls on Sunday, March 17. So the river dyeing and parade will happen on Saturday, March 16. However, the well-known South Side Irish Parade will take place on Sunday, March 17.

As with any holiday, transit and traffic will be busier than normal. Make sure you know what’s happening when so you can navigate the crowds. Keep reading for more details below.

The 2018 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Chicago

When is the downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade?

The parade steps off at noon on Saturday, March 16 and will be broadcast live by ABC 7 Chicago. The three-hour parade will feature Irish flags, floats, step dancers, marching bands, and bag pipers.

What is the downtown parade route?

The parade route is on Columbus Drive, beginning at Balbo Drive and ending at Monroe Drive. There are viewing stands at the Buckingham Fountain.

When is the Chicago River dyeing and where can I see it?

The river will be dyed green at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 16. Boats will mix yellow dye in the river between State Street and Columbus. It gets crowded quickly and the dye only lasts about five hours, so it’s best to get there early.

The best places for a view are on the east side of Michigan Avenue, the west side of Columbus Drive, or along the riverwalk and up on the bridges between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive.

How do they dye the river green?

If you’re wondering what is in the dye, “just like the recipe for Coca Cola, it’s a closely guarded secret,” according to parade organizers. As the local story goes, it was discovered that the vegetable dye used for detecting plumbing leaks was also a great way to turn the river green for St. Patrick’s Day. Now, every year the Chicago Plumbers Union Local 130 takes on the job.

How will transit be affected?

The CTA will provide more frequent service on the day of the parade. Buses will also be rerouted in the morning due to street closures from the parade. Stay updated on transit changes by checkin the CTA’s website and Twitter.

Can I take Uber or Lyft?

Your best option is the CTA. Ride-hailing services won’t be allowed to pick up or drop off in the area bounded by State Street, Ohio and Roosevelt.

The nearest L stops for the Chicago River dyeing are Clark/Lake station, State/Lake station, Red Line Lake station and Grand station.

The nearest L stops for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade are the Red Line Lake station, Blue Line Washington station, Monroe and Jackson station, Washington/Wabash station, and Adams/Wabash station.

When is the South Side Irish Parade?

Another well-known celebration is the South Side Irish Parade in the Beverly neighborhood. The family-friendly parade steps off at noon from 103rd Street and proceeds south down Western Avenue to 115th Street. A one-mile Emerald Isle Mile race kicks off before the parade. Expect bands, dance troupes, and an elegant parade queen.

The natural dye goes in neon yellow, and turns green as it mixes with the water.
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images