Small-Town St. Patrick's Day Parades

Shamrock and roll your way to these small emerald cities

The combination of pots of gold and pints of green beer can mean only one thing: St. Patrick's Day is upon us once again. And while we're all well versed in America's famed festivities, like Manhattan's epic parade and the Chicago River's annual emerald dye job, there are plenty more destinations that know how to celebrate the holiday. 

O'Neill, Nebraska

This tiny city in northern Nebraska is recognized as the state's official Irish capital, a legacy that is not taken lightly. Visitors can find the world's largest shamrock, one of the quintessential symbols associated with the holiday. The city is also known for its quirky-themed traditions, including the annual Get the Horse Green event and a scavenger hunt marked by rubber ducks hidden throughout town. This year also welcomes the first Mr. Irish Pageant, where local celebrities will vie for the crown after contending in swimsuit, formal wear and talent competitions.

New London, Wisconsin

Anyone interested in the wacky and wonderful can't miss Wisconsin's annual St. Patrick's Day celebration. The holiday brings a week's worth of merriment such as the Grand Parade, which includes an Irish funeral procession parody and bagpipes galore. Irish Fest attracts tourists in droves, where they can step-dance to live Celtic music, eat authentic dishes from the Emerald Isle and browse market booths for sundry souvenirs. But the most whimsical ritual takes place when a band of local leprechauns changes the town's welcome sign from New London to New Dublin, officially kicking off the festivities.  

Hot Springs, Arkansas

If you're crunched for time this year, head to Hot Springs to witness the world's shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the abbreviated event, which spans just 98 feet. A giant dancing dinosaur, the Budweiser Clydesdales, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and a brigade of Irish Elvis impersonators are all expected to make appearances. Did we mention that Joey Fatone of *NSYNC stardom will be leading the charge as this year's grand marshall?

Tampa, Florida

While Ireland tends to elicit imagery of verdant rolling hills plagued by continuous rainfall, Florida is known for its sweeping waterfront views and year-round sunshine. So although Tampa may not be the first destination that comes to mind for partying on St. Pat's, they sure know how to make the most of it. The city's 7th annual Mayor's River O'Green Fest will see the Hillsborough River convert to kelly green, plus a two-mile jaunt down Tampa's Riverwalk. The whole family can show off their best Irish garb during the first annual Leprechaun Costume Contest, while adults can storm downtown during the Legless Leprechaun Scavenger Crawl, solving riddles and clues for prizes along the way. It's also worth noting that Tampa is tied with New York City for the most Irish bars per capita in the nation.

Kansas City, Missouri

This particular celebration takes an admirable philanthropic approach with its yearly Go for the Green Food Drive benefiting Harvesters, a community food donation network spanning Kansas and Missouri. The mission is accompanied by the 46th annual parade, a full-fledged carnival and a community cook-off featuring classic Celtic fare.

Ian Centrone is a native New Yorker and freelance writer always on the hunt for his next adventure. Follow his travels at @iancentrone.