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Quirky St. Patrick's Day destinations

By A. Pawlowski, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lots of cities celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but some do it in a unique way
  • Hot Springs, Arkansas, has the Word's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade
  • O'Neill, Nebraska, is home to the world's largest shamrock
  • New London, Wisconsin, changes its name to "New Dublin" for the week

(CNN) -- Drinking green beer at your local pub is one way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Watching Irish belly dancers strut their stuff or walking across the world's largest shamrock is quite another.

Welcome to the quirky side of St. Patrick's Day, where a trip can transform your celebration from the usual pub crawl into a mirth-filled adventure.

Here are three unexpected destinations where the popular holiday gets grand treatment -- but in a different way than in Chicago, New York or other big cities.

Hot Springs, Arkansas -- March 17

This may be the only place on the planet where a "Sex and the City" star can mingle with Irish-themed Elvis impersonators while the crowd goes wild for a motorized commode.

Welcome to the First Ever Eighth Annual World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade. (No, that's not a misprint -- just like every year, this parade gets a "first ever" moniker, because technically there's never been an eighth version of the celebration before.)

The merriment takes place around Bridge Street, a 98-foot thoroughfare that was once declared as "the world's shortest street in everyday use" by Ripley's Believe It or Not.

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A couple of other St. Patrick's Day parades have tried to pass themselves off as the world's shortest, but Hot Springs officials have dismissed them as simply people marching from one side of a bar to another.

The parade boasts zany floats, Irish belly dancers and the "toilet scooter" among other attractions.

"It's a very high-class parade," joked Steve Arrison, one of the organizers. "People have just gotten caught up in it and it's grown much quicker than we ever could have imagined."

About 30,000 people are expected to come this year. The crowds were modest at first, but attendance really took off when actor George Wendt (Norm from "Cheers") was named the grand marshal the second year the parade was held. The event has since attracted celebrity grand marshals including Mario Lopez, Bo Derek and John Ratzenberger, Arrison said.

Actor John Corbett -- best known to many fans for his role as Aidan in "Sex and the City" -- will be doing the honors this year.

O'Neill, Nebraska -- March 17-20

O'Neill, which was founded by an Irish native and proclaimed the "Irish capital of Nebraska" by the governor in 1969, is home to the world's largest shamrock.

City officials began by painting the giant shape at the intersection of Highways 20 and 281 in the middle of town, but decided to make it permanent in concrete in 1993. (You can even see its outline on Google Maps.)

Why?

"Just because we wanted to have the world's largest shamrock. Just an idea to call attention (to the town,)" said Pat Fritz, executive director of the O'Neill Chamber of Commerce.

In case you're wondering who declared it the world's largest shamrock, Fritz was matter of fact.

"We did. We could not find one that was bigger, so we did," she said.

These days, the giant shamrock is a big tourist attraction, with people coming all year to see it. There have even been proposals and weddings at the site, Fritz said.

On St. Patrick's Day, the city of about 4,000 doubles its population, with visitors flocking to see the painting of the shamrock (it gets a fresh coat of paint every year just before the main celebrations), O'Neill's grand parade (scheduled this year for Saturday, March 19), Green Eggs and Ham -- a children's breakfast that features green scrambled eggs -- and other activities.

New London, Wisconsin, March 14-19

The fun begins when "leprechauns" show up at signs welcoming visitors to the city and change the name to "New Dublin" for the week.

There's also "Hooligan Day," when you can feast on corned beef and cabbage and Irish beer at all the area's restaurants. But one of the town's biggest traditions is Finnegan's Wake, "a parody of an Irish funeral," according to parade organizers.

Crowds line up to see a mock funeral procession complete with wailing mourners and an antique hearse that's painted green and rigged up so that the back door can fly open, said Carrie Katerzynske, a spokeswoman for the Shamrock Club of New Dublin.

At one point, the hearse stops as if it has broken down. When it starts again, it lurches and the coffin (with a dummy in it) goes flying out of the car and onto the street.

"Then the mourners start wailing and crying and of course the crowd just really goes nuts for that," Katerzynske said.

"It's hilarious. You have to see it to believe it. It's got its own legend here in New London, definitely."

There's also a parade, of course. In fact, it's the largest St. Patrick's Day parade in Wisconsin, attracting 25,000 people -- more than three times the town's population. Don't miss the bagpipe bands, stilt walkers and Klement's Racing Sausages.