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CHICAGO — St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday this year, so everything that comes with it in Chicago — from the parade to the emerald green river — will be celebrated on the actual holiday March 17 downtown.

Chicago is consistently named one of the best cities for St. Patrick’s Day parties, and was voted best in the country this year by WalletHub for its combination of traditions, cost and accessibility. Nearly 800,000 people are expected to line the parade route, along with around 200,000 spectators as the Chicago River gets dyed.

Members of the Plumbers Local Union130 demonstrated how they dye the river green for the first time this year, pouring a mason jar filled with the top-secret, eco-friendly formula into water. It takes 40 pounds of the stuff to make a quarter-mile of river water green.

It all started back in 1963, after some plumbers were checking pipes with a special green dye they used to trace leaks.

“So these guys were covered in green. The business manager said, ‘can we put that in the river?’ and that’s how it started,” according to Pat McCarthy of the plumbers union.

This year, the portion of the Chicago River that gets dyed green is expanding by a block, and will stretch from Columbus Drive to State Street.

Are you planning on joining in on one of the biggest parties of the year? You can find additional details about public transportation, road closures, and more below:


Road closures

Road closures will start as early as 8 a.m., including Columbus from Roosevelt to Wacker, and east-west streets will also be closed in between.

Public Transit

The CTA will be increasing service by operating longer trains starting at 7 a.m. in order to accommodate the surge in travelers.

Alcohol will be prohibited on Metra trains on March 17. Additional service will be provided on most lines throughout the morning.  Check Metra’s website for timetables and additional details.

Dyeing the river

The Chicago River will be dyed green starting at 9 a.m., and this year will stretch along Wacker Drive from Columbus Drive to State Street.

A friendly reminder

While everyone is encouraged to celebrate safely, the city’s Office of Emergency Management says, “Public drinking is prohibited and will be strictly enforced for the safety of all.”

The parade

The parade steps off at noon at Columbus Ave. and Balbo Drive, and continues north to Monroe.

This year’s Grand Marshal is 40th Ward Ald. Patrick O’Connor, and the founder of the Special Olympics, Justice Anne Burke, is the Guest of Honor. There are also 122 entries including Irish dancers and pipe and drum bands, school marching bands and businesses and community groups.

Of course, you don’t have to be Irish to celebrate. This year’s queen Mary Kate Manion is just a little more Irish than she is Italian.

“I’m bringing my grandma on parade day and she’s a four-foot-seven, little Italian lady; even she’s super excited and she’s no lick of Irish,” Manion said.