As local tour guides in New York City, we look forward all year to the magic of the holiday season when Christmas lights and holiday decorations appear throughout NYC.
No matter how many years we’ve seen the dazzling displays and marvelous department store windows, it never gets old.
We know which spots shine the brightest, which stores have the best displays, and where to see decked-out Christmas trees in all five boroughs.
In this post, we tell you where to go for the best lights in 2023 so you can see the spectacle for yourself!
If you’d like to be led to the best lights while enjoying festive tales of New York City, consider joining us on our Holiday Lights Tour.
When crafting this guide, we asked our local tour guides which light displays they loved the most.
We also gathered insights from the roughly 210k members of our popular NYC Travel Tips Facebook group.
The group consists of New Yorkers, returning visitors to NYC, and newbies to the city.
You don't need to become a member to read the posts, comments, and recommendations.
Check out the group when you finish reading this post.
Best Places to See Christmas Lights by Borough
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. In New York City, the anticipation grows as early as October and you may begin to see some holiday displays.
But Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) is regarded as the start of the holiday season and by late November holiday lights drape NYC.
Many of us locals agree that the lighting of the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center on the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving is when the season goes into full gear.
You'll see huge sparkling Christmas trees, playful holiday window displays, giant menorahs for Hanukkah, and unique light displays and installations you won't see at any other time of the year!
A festive mood fills the city from late November until the end of the year, and in some cases, into early January.
Some activities like ice skating can be enjoyed for a few months after the New Year.
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
This giant Christmas tree wrapped with thousands of lights is one of the most iconic sights of NYC during the holidays.
As a kid, the tree appeared so big to me, that it seemed as if it reached up to the sky! As an adult, it still seems pretty darn big!
Go see for yourself just how tall this gorgeous tree is! If you want to attend the tree lighting ceremony, it is on Wednesday, November 29, 2023.
You'll be able to see the tree until January 13, 2024. Find out how to attend the ceremony from our post on the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
We include our insider tips about when to arrive, where to stand for the best views and other nuggets of helpful information.
Location: The tree is located in the middle of the Rockefeller Center complex between West 48th and 51st Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues.
When you are at Rockefeller Center, stop by the famed toy store FAO Schwarz, which was my favorite part of seeing the tree. All those toys!
Interested in learning more about Rockefeller Center and several other locations in this post, check out our pay-what-you-wish Midtown Manhattan tours.
Radio City Music Hall
Down the block from the Rockefeller Christmas Tree is Radio City Music Hall, with its famous neon marquee.
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.
Several of our local tour guides love the theater or are aspiring performers as well and have seen the annual Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. They whole-heartedly recommend going to the show.
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
During the holidays, Fifth 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 well-known designers. There is also an impressive light display on its building facade not to be missed!
Bergdorf Goodman’s windows are edgy and dynamic. Tiffany’s windows are as bejeweled as ever.
Read more about these in our post on the best Christmas and Holiday window displays in Manhattan.
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.
Across from the fountain is the southeast entrance to Central Park which is lovely to walk in, even in the winter months.
Location: 5th Avenue and 59th Streets
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.
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
This upscale indoor shopping mall is next to the Columbus Circle Holiday Market, which tour guides Katie and Lori visit in the video below.
During the holiday season, the atrium is decorated with 14-foot stars which are synchronized to blink to holiday music.
Dates: Every half hour from 5:00 pm until 12:00 am between November 6, 2023 to January 1, 2024. More information here.
Location: At the intersection of Broadway, 8th Avenue, Central Park South and Central Park West.
Macy’s Holiday Windows
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 Macy's 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.
Winter Village at Bryant Park
By far, this is the favorite holiday destination among our local tour guides as well as thousands of members of our NYC Travel Tips Facebook group.
Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan is transformed into a sparkling ‘village’ with a 50-foot plus Christmas tree.
The village has a pop-up holiday market with unique vendors, holiday food stalls, and even a free ice skating rink!
While entry is free, you will need to bring your own skates or you can rent a pair there.
See where else you can go ice skating in New York City.
Dates: October 27, 2023, to early March 2024, though the Holiday Market closes on January 2, 2024.
Location: 6th Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets
The Shops at Hudson Yards and The Vessel
Located in Chelsea, Hudson Yards' 2023 holiday light display "Shine Bright" is magnificent!
For those of us who like less Christmas-y light shows, Hudson Yard's does not disappoint.
There will be two million twinkling lights, 115 miles of string lights, 725 evergreen trees, and 16-foot-tall illuminated pieces shaped like hot air balloons and a huge 32-foot hot air balloon centerpiece!
Stop by for free photos with Santa from November 24, 2023 - December 22, 2023, 5:00 pm - 8:00 pm.
At Hudson Yards you will find one of NYC’s observation decks, Edge. Read more from our post on how to get tickets for Edge.
Next to Hudson Yards is The Vessel, a 150-foot tall (47 m) sculpture/spiral staircase that you will definitely want to get a picture of!
Dates: The lights will be up from November 13, 2023, to January 7, 2024.
Location: 10th Avenue and 33rd Street
Washington Square Park
This historic park has had an annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony since 1924!
The lighting ceremony usually takes place on the first Wednesday of December. Check out their website for updates.
Location: 5th Avenue and Washington Square North
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.
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.
Brookfield Place Winter Garden
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. On certain dates, there are other holiday performances. See the schedule here.
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 are the 9/11 Memorial Plaza and the World Trade Center. Consider stopping by before or after visiting Brookfield Place.
Location: 220 Vesey Street at West Street
Dates: November 24, 2023, through January 6, 2024, between 10 am and 8 pm.
New York Stock Exchange Christmas Tree
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.
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 also have a downloadable self-guided tour of Lower Manhattan you can use.
Location: Intersection of Wall Street and Broad Street
South Street Seaport
Charming year-round, this historic waterfront district brings out the Christmas spirit with a 60-foot Norway spruce.
It's dressed for the season with a “constellation” theme reflecting the neighborhood’s nautical history.
There are also pop-up holiday shops and the Hester Street Pop-Up Holiday Market.
Find out more about this historic enclave in NYC from our post on the South Street Seaport.
Location: Fulton Street and South Street
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.
Several 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.
Across the street in Dante Park is Lincoln Square’s Magical Lights Festival from December 5 to 21, 2023.
An audio-reactive lighting installation hangs from the branches of eight giant trees which twinkles to the rhythm of a beat.
Location: Columbus Avenue and 64th Street
Our local tour guides have all made the trek to this Brooklyn neighborhood to see its outlandish Christmas lights and decorations put up by residents.
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 Lightscape
From November 17, 2023, until January 1, 2024, 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 which cost $39 for adults and $19 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 2, 2024, 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 Zoo Holiday Lights
On select dates between November 17, 2023, and January 7, 2024, this world-famous zoo becomes even more memorable.
Discover 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.
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.
Dates: November 17, 24, & 25; December 2, 8, 9, 15-22, 23, 26-30, 2023; January 6 & 13, 2024.
Read more about this very special holiday event from our post What to Do in New York in December.
Illuminate The Farm at Queens County Farm Museum
Every holiday, 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!
The dates are November 17, 2023, to January 7, 2024.
If you are looking for other family-friendly activities, see our post on Things to do with Kids in New York.
Amaze Light Festival
America's largest light festival, Amaze, is an immersive storybook experience held at easy-to-reach Citi Field in Queens.
Visitors stroll five thematic worlds of oversized displays with millions of lights and gigantic 3D-lighted decor. This is one light festival not to be missed!
As of December 2023, the Amaze Festival is on hold indefinitely.