This post provides you with information on how to attend the annual lighting ceremony of the gigantic Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. The anticipation building up to the moment when the ON switch if flipped draws big, festive crowds. It’s as if the tree lighting is the start of the official holiday season. If you are reading this post, that means you have certainly picked a wonderful time to visit New York City. If you need more holiday lights than just the tree, join us for our Holiday Lights Tour. Be sure to check out our Guide to Christmas in New York City for even more information!
The tree is located in the middle of the Rockefeller Center complex between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The best view — and best spot for a selfie — is along 5th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets.
To get to Rockefeller Center, you can take these subways:
The tree is put up mid-November, but it is not turned on and lit up until Wednesday, November 29, 2017. After that day, the tree remains illuminated from 5:30 am until Midnight every day. On for Christmas Day, December 25, the tree remains lit for a full 24 hours. On New Year’s Eve, December 31, the lights are turned off early at 9 pm. The lights are turned off for the season at 9 pm the first week in January 2018 (date to be announced).
Attending the Tree Lighting Ceremony
There is no admission to attend the ceremony. The switch will be flipped at 7 pm on November 29th. Thousands of people attend this event every year, so plan to get there early if you want a prime viewing spot! If you cant make the lighting in person, it is broadcast on TV live on NBC (local channel 4) from 7 pm – 9 pm. It is also streamed live from NBC and other Live Stream sources.
LIVE PERFORMERS: One of the best parts of the Tree Lighting is that there are always world-famous musicians who perform at the ceremony. In 2016, the lineup included Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Josh Groban, Tori Kelly, Sarah McLachlan, Dolly Parton, Jordan Smith, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, the Rockettes and more! 2017 has not been announced yet but stay tuned!
The picture-perfect moment on any holiday trip to New York is skating at the rink at Rockefeller Center. Fortunately, for those coming before the holidays, the rink opens in October. Twirling (or slipping) around on the ice underneath a dazzling 90-foot Christmas tree with your family, friends, or solo is a moment you will never forget.
This rink allows you to skate for 90 minutes per session and allows 150 people on the rink at one time. Find out more and purchase tickets at their website.
Location: Rockefeller Plaza, located between 49th and 50th Streets in between 5th and 6th Avenues (map). Closest subway is the B,D,F,M train at 47-50th Street.
General Admission Price: $27-30 for adults, $15 for children under 11 and seniors. General Admission tickets are “first-come, first-serve”. Sessions are 90 minutes long. Lines can long so get there early to get the time slot that you want. Sessions begin at 8:30 am, 10:30am, 12:30pm, 2:30pm, 4:30pm, 6:30pm, 8:30pm and 10:30pm.
Skate Rental: $12. You can bring your own skates. If you don’t have any, you can rent them there.
Avoid the lines with these special deals:
VIP Skate offered by Viator. This deal combines a VIP ice skating session with either a Holiday Lights bus tour or entry into Top of the Rock. VIP gives you a reservation time (no waiting), complimentary skate rental, free hot chocolate and refreshments. It is $95 per person until late November 20 and then, depending on the date shoot up to between $140 and $160 per person. This is a pricey option, but if time is more of a concern than price, it can be worth looking into.
First Skate This is another option that guarantees a reservation time and lets you skip a line. It starts at 7am, so it is for early birds, but it offers you an hour on the ice with a complimentary skate rental and hot chocolate for $45. This is another good option for those concerned with saving time.
Season PassThe Rink at Rockefeller Center offers a season pass. This option gives you unlimited public skating, no waiting in line and skating lessons. It is not cheap (starts at $275 for the pass), but if you are a very avid ice skater who is planning on a dozen or so trips it could be worth looking into.
If Rockefeller Center is out of your budget or just not your scene, there are a number of great places to skate, some for free even (provided you have your own skates). See our post on Where to Go Ice Skating in New York City.
Take a tour of Radio City Music Hall This majestic and lush theater can be viewed on a paid tour. Learn more about the tour, ticket costs and discounts by reading Radio City Music Hall Stage Door Tour.
This year marks the 84th year that a Christmas Tree has been decorated and lit at Rockefeller Center. Although the first official Rockefeller Tree was lit in 1933, the very first Christmas tree at the center was erected in by the construction workers who were building Rockefeller Center in 1931. This first tree was just 20 feet tall and was decorated with paper garlands, cranberries, and even a few tin cans. Remember, 1931 was a year in the midst of the Great Depression in America. But if all the workers could get hold of were tin cans, they were not going to let any obstacle prevent them from celebrating Christmas. (A great history of Rockefeller Center can be found here. )The tree must be at least 65 feet tall and 35 feet wide, but the preferred height is usually between 75 and 90 feet tall and proportionally wide.
The tallest Rockefeller Tree in history was in 1999- 100 feet tall!
Most of the trees are Norway Spruces. Because this tree doesn’t typically grow to this size in the New York area, most of the trees are cultivated in peoples’ yards.
A helicopter flies over New Jersey and Connecticut to scour the area for potential candidates.
There is no monetary compensation offered for the tree if yours is selected. It is a donation and considered an honor to have your tree as the official Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
The tree is only decorated by lights and a star.
There are over 30,000 lights on the tree (about 5 miles of strands!)
The star used on the current trees was made by Swarovski crystal. The star is 10 feet tall, weighs 550 lbs and has 25,000 crystals.
The tree now uses LED lights. As compared wtothe old incandescent bulbs, the LED lights save enough energy every day to power a 2,000 sq ft home for a month!
The tree stays up until the Christian Feast of the Epiphany (the official end to the Christmas season).
The tree is recycled after it is taken down. Over three tons of mulch can be made from the trees.
In 1942, in honor of the war effort, the traditional large tree was replaced with three smaller trees, decorated in red, white and blue.
The Rockefeller Christmas Tree is seen in the films Home Alone 2 and Elf, as well as several others.