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Best Places to See Christmas Lights in NYC

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This post lists the best Christmas Lights and Holiday Displays in New York City, updated for 2021. We also include suggestions of things to nearby these locations.

For a guided experience, consider joining us on our Holiday Lights Tour.

For more suggestions on enjoying the holidays in the city, be sure to read our full guide on Christmas in NYC.


When Do the Christmas Decorations Go Up in New York?

Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in America. The anticipation begins early and some Christmas decorations go up in New York at the beginning of November.

But Thanksgiving is regarded as the start of the holiday season and the holiday lights drape NYC by late November.

Nothing kicks off the Christmas season quite like the lighting of the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center which takes place the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving.

The festive mood continues into early January. And many winter activities like ice-skating can be enjoyed for a few months after the New Year.

So what can you expect to see in NYC during the holidays?

Huge sparkling Christmas trees, playful holiday window displays, a few giant menorahs for Hanukkah, and some unique light displays and installations you won't see at any other time of the year!

This list includes the best - and most famous - holiday light displays.

We also list a few lesser-known special displays worth checking out.

Lastly, we make suggestions of things to do nearby these locations.


MANHATTAN CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

This giant Christmas tree and its thousands of lights is one of the most iconic sights of NYC during the holidays.

The tree lighting ceremony takes place in late November and the tree stays lit until early January.

Our post on how to attend the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has all the information you will need to have an enjoyable visit.

The shops on the street level of Rockefeller Center will also be festive. Check out the famed toy store FAO Schwarz.

Rockefeller Center and several of the locations in this entire post are included in our Midtown Manhattan tours.

We also have a GPS-enhanced Audio Tour of Rockefeller Center as well as a printable self-guided tour you can take any time. 

Location: The tree is located in the middle of the Rockefeller Center complex between West 48th and 51st Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues. We recommend using this Google Maps link for directions to the tree.


Radio City Music Hall 

Down the block from the Rockefeller Center Tree is Radio City Music Hall, known for its annual Christmas Spectacular.

The venue itself is lit up for the holiday, but the fountain across the street is the real treat.  Oversized red ornament balls sit on the water, surrounded by small trees wrapped with lights. 

This historic and gorgeous venue offers a Radio City Music Hall Tour.

Location: Corner of 6th Avenue and 50th Streets


5th Avenue Department Store Window Displays

Every December, 5th Avenue between 55th and 59th Streets is a corridor of lights with its department stores filled with dazzling light displays.

Saks Fifth Avenue’s windows showcase fashion by well-known designers. There is also an impressive light display on its building facade.

Bergdorf Goodman’s windows are a bit more upscale but still very pretty. Tiffany’s windows are as bejeweled as ever.

These shops and more are covered on our Holiday Lights Tour.

Location: 5th Avenue between 55th and 59th Streets


The Plaza Hotel and Pulitzer Fountain

This historic hotel at 59th Street and 5th Avenue is beautiful year-round.

At the holidays the fountain in front of the hotel sparkles with oversized tree ornaments and other Christmas-themed items.

Pulitizer Fountain

Across from the fountain is the southeast entrance to Central Park which is lovely to walk in, even in the winter months. 

Check out our guide to Central Park or take one of our Central Park Tours to see the highlights of the park.

Location: 5th Avenue and 59th Streets


Bloomingdale's

The home of the ‘Big Brown Bag’, Bloomingdale’s puts on a fabulous holiday window display. It’s worth walking a few extra blocks from 5th Avenue to see it.

Bloomingdales Christmas Windows

If you do head to Bloomie’s consider taking the Roosevelt Island Tram for amazing 360-degree views of NYC.

Sex and the City fans may know Bloomingdale’s from several episodes of the show. See our post about SATC tours.

Location: Bloomingdales at 1000 Third Avenue at 59th St. 


The Shops at Columbus Circle

Next to the Columbus Circle Holiday Market is this upscale indoor shopping mall. During the holiday season, the atrium is decorated with 14-foot stars.

shops-columbus-circle

The stars are synchronized to blink to holiday music. See their website for times when the light show takes place.

Location: At the intersection of Broadway, 8th Avenue, Central Park South and Central Park West


Lincoln Center Plaza

Home to the NY Philharmonic, Lincoln Center is a place to visit any time of the year to hear music, see the ballet or just enjoy sitting in the plaza.

During the holiday season, the large plaza and buildings are lit in an array of colors making this beautiful sight even more so. There is also a lovely large Christmas tree.

Lincoln Center

A number of seasonal events take place at Lincoln Center. Find out what’s on from our posts on Holiday Shows in NYC.

This legendary venue offers behind-the-scenes tours. Read more about Lincoln Center here.

Location: Columbus Avenue and 64th Street


Winter Village at Bryant Park

Every year Bryant Park is transformed into a sparkling ‘village’ with a 50-foot plus Christmas tree.

The village is a Holiday Market of pop-up shops, holiday food stalls and a free ice skating rink!

While entry is free, you will need to bring your own skates or you can rent a pair there. Find out more from our post on where to go ice skating in New York City.

Bryant Park is included in Midtown Manhattan tours as well as our  GPS-enhanced Audio Tour and printable self-guided tour you can take any time. 

Location: 6th Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets


Macy’s

Macy’s claims to be the first of the city's department stores to adorn its windows with Christmas decorations. It is certainly the best!

The store begins planning its holiday windows months in advance. Displays include animatronics, whimsical dancing characters, and figurines.

Macy’s says that as many as 10,000 people pass its holiday windows each day. Be assured, the wait to walk past their holiday windows is well worth it. 

For those in NYC in November, you can catch Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Location: Macy's has two sets of windows with holiday displays. One on Broadway between 34th and 35th streets and another set of windows on 34th Street.


The Shops at Hudson Yards and The Vessel

Located in Chelsea, this new, spacious shopping complex celebrated its first Christmas in 2019.

Last year two million lights lit up the stores, restaurants and even the escalators in the complex.

The holidays get brighter with each year! There are also holiday events and fun activities for the family.

Hudson Yards Christmas Lights

A highlight of Hudson Yards is The Vessel, a 150-foot tall (47 m) sculpture/spiral staircase. You can walk to the top for great city views. See our post on how to get tickets to The Vessel.

Also at Hudson Yards is one of NYC’s observation decks called Edge, which you can read more about from our post on how to get tickets for Edge

Location: 10th Avenue and 33rd Street


Chelsea Market

This fantastic food market and shopping mall are inside a restored industrial factory. Its interior with original brick walls feels cozy and during the holidays, the lights are tastefully chosen to fit the atmosphere.

While not necessarily a holiday lights-only destination, Chelsea Market is worth a visit during the holidays when there are pop-up shopping stalls.

Chelsea Market Christmas Lights

It is also right next to High Line Park. We offer tours of the High Line, as well as this one-of-a-kind park to find out why you really should check it out! 

Location: Between 15th and 16th Streets and Ninth and Tenth Avenues.


Washington Square Park 

A destination year-round, this historic park has had an annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony since 1924.

Washington Square Park is located in Greenwich Village, a quintessential New York City neighborhood that should be on your list of places to see. 

Washington Square Park Christmas Tree

You may want to explore the area with us on one of our pay-what-you-wish tours such as our Greenwich Village Tour, Greenwich Village Food Tour, or our seasonal Ghost Tour.

We also have a GPS Audio Tour of Washington Square Park and a free self-guided Greenwich Village Tour.

Location: 5th Avenue and Washington Square North


Brookfield Place

Located in Battery Park City, this spacious shopping and dining mall has a beautiful annual light installation called Luminaries. 

In the massive glass atrium, the Winter Garden, hundreds of glowing lanterns that can change colors hang from above. Every hour there is a light show. 

Brookfield Place Christmas Lights

Also at Brookfield Place, there is free entertainment for the holidays, a Santa station for kids and an outdoor ice-skating rink.

Across the street is the 9/11 Memorial Plaza and World Trade Center. Consider stopping by before or after visiting Brookfield Place.

Location: 220 Vesey Street at West Street


New York Stock Exchange

Since 1923, the New York Stock Exchange has erected a festive Christmas tree outside the building. In addition to the tree, there may be scheduled musical performances.

In recent years there have been performances by the Radio City Rockettes and stars from various Broadway shows.

Stock Exchange Christmas Tree

The Stock Exchange is one of the most historic New York institutions and it is a stop on almost all of our Lower Manhattan tours

We offer several pay-what-you-wish guided walking tours of Lower Manhattan as well as a GPS-enabled audio tour.  We also have a downloadable self-guided tour of Lower Manhattan you can use.

Location: Intersection of Wall Street and Broad Street


Southstreet Seaport 

Charming year-round, this historic waterfront district brings out the Christmas spirit with a 60-foot Norway spruce dressed for the season with a “constellation” theme reflecting the neighborhood’s nautical history.

Seaport Christmas Tree

There are also pop-up holiday shops as well as New York City’s only rooftop ice skating rink at Pier 17. 

Find out more about this historic enclave in NYC from our post on the South Street Seaport.

Location: Fulton Street and South Street


BROOKLYN CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Dyker Heights 

This neighborhood in Brooklyn is famous for its Christmas decorations put up by residents. More than just a few homes with a string of lights, Dyker Heights is filled with dozens of houses lavishly decorated with thousands of lights, huge lawn ornaments and motorized displays. It's like nothing you have seen before!

The Christmas lights of Dyker Heights are a “must-see” for many people during the holidays. You can check them out on your own or take a tour. Find out about both options from our post on how to see the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights.


Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

From November 19, 2021 until January 9, 2022 the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens will be lit up in spectacular fashion. Lightscape, while not solely Christmas-focused, is a mesmerizing celebration of the beauty of winter. With 18 unique light installations such as the Winter Cathedral tunnel, Sea of Light and Fire Garden

You must reserve tickets in advance and cost $34 for adults and $18 for children (3-12). Toddlers 2 and under are free. Purchase tickets here

The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens is one of many attractions included for free with several New York tourist passes, though Lightscape tickets are extra.


Prospect Park Christmas Tree

From early December through January 2nd, you can find the beautiful 35-foot Christmas Tree in the middle of Brooklyn's majestic Grand Army Plaza. Each year the tree is accompanied by a nativity scene and special art installations.

Going to see the Prospect Park tree is a perfect way to start a stroll of Brooklyn's beautiful brownstone neighborhood, Park Slope where you are sure to see many private residences decorated for the holidays.


BRONX CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights

On select dates between November 19, 2021 and January 9, 2022, this world-famous zoo becomes even more memorable with its immersive light displays and holiday decor that features 260 lanterns in the shapes of almost 70 animal and plant species!

In the Forest of Color, you can see 21 larger-than-life lanterns of butterflies, frogs, sunbirds, turtles and more. With ice carvings, a holiday train, hot cocoa and more, the Bronx Zoo is an awesome destination this holiday! Find out more here.

Tickets are required for this special event, but a visit to the zoo is included for free with several New York tourist passes.


GLOW at the New York Botanical Gardens

This oasis in the Bronx always has something special going on and this holiday season is no different. On select nights between November 24, 2021–January 22, 2022, you can witness the magic of GLOW.

The already stunning grounds of the NYBG are illuminated after dark with thousands of sparkling LEDs, playful plant installations and landmarked buildings decked out for the holiday.

There will be outdoor bars and food vendors, a holiday pop-up market and even artistic ice carving demonstrations. If you are heading out to GLOW, you can also see the magical Holiday Train Show. Read more about this very special holiday event from our post What to Do in New York in December.


STATEN ISLAND CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

ESCAPE at Snug Harbor Cultural Center

Part of the Winter Lantern Festival, ESCAPE at Snug Harbor turns the botanical gardens of this cultural center into an immersive light experience. Over eight acres of LED installations will delight while a DJ plays music and food vendors serve up delicious food.

Snug Harbor is one of Staten Island's main attractions. And the best part about going to see these holiday lights is the trip there via the free Staten Island Ferry!

ESCAPE runs from October 29, 2021 until January 9, 2022. You can get tickets here.


QUEENS CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Illuminate The Farm at Queens County Farm Museum

From Nov 25, 2021 through January 9, 2022, the Queens County Farm Museum is transformed into a magical world of color and light. At Illuminate The Farm, you and your family can celebrate the holidays among lanterns shaped like farm animals, flowers, and even tractors!

If you are looking for other family-friendly activities, see our post on Things to do with Kids in New York.


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About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo, Washington.org, and more.
Updated: November 22nd, 2021
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