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Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting 2023

Updated: November 30, 2023

One of the most iconic images during Christmas in New York City, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, is a must-see for tourists and locals alike.

In 2023, the tree will be lit on November 29. Don't worry if you aren't here on the 29th! You will be able to see the tree light up every evening for weeks after that date (read below).

As local tour guides who have been in NYC for decades, we know the ins and outs of having an enjoyable time at the famous lighting ceremony.

In this post, we provide tips on attending the tree lighting ceremony as well as tips for visiting the tree at other times during the holiday season.

In the below video, Katie, a local tour guide with us, Free Tours by Foot NYC, goes over the need-to-know details!


HOW TO GET HERE

The tree is located at Rockefeller Plaza on W. 49th St between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

You can use this Google Maps link to get exact directions to the tree from your point of departure.

For advice on where to stand for the take the perfect photo, see our tips section.

rockefeller-center-tree-map

By subway:

  • B, D, F, and M trains to the 47-50th Street Rockefeller Center stop.
  • 1 Train to the 50th Street stop and walk along 50th Street in the direction of the cars to Rockefeller Center between 5th and 6th Ave.
  • N, Q, or R trains to the 49th Street stop and walk along 49th Street against the traffic to Rockefeller Center between 5th and 6th Ave.
  • E or M to the 5th Avenue/53rd Street stop and walk south on 5th Avenue in the direction of the cars.
  • 6 train to 51 Street Station and walk in the direction of cars until 5th Avenue and make a left turn onto 5th Avenue. Walk one block down.

By bus: 

  • Take the M1, M2, M3, M4 or M5 bus to 50th Street. Buses run north and south.

If you are new to NYC, you might find our subway posts helpful: Navigating the New York Subway and Which New York City Subway MetroCard to Buy?


WHEN IS THE LIGHTING CEREMONY?

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is lit on the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving.

In 2023, this is November 29.

Note that the exact time has yet to be officially confirmed by Rockefeller Center, but in past years the lights have switched on at 9 p.m.

There are no tickets to attend the lighting. Attendance is free and first-come, first-served.

Before the lighting, beginning at 7 p.m., there are festive performances by top singers and bands, as well as the Radio City Rockettes.

The 2023 ceremony host is Kelly Clarkson.

The performers include Chloe Bailey, Adam Blackstone, Cher, David Foster, Liz Gillies, Darlene Love, Seth MacFarlane, Barry Manilow, Katharine McPhee, Keke Palmer, Carly Pearce, Manuel Turizo, and more.

We recommend that you arrive by 3 pm, and no later than 4 pm, though going even earlier is wise since the event is always very crowded.

See our tips on where to stand for a good view of the tree and the live performances.


WHEN TO SEE THE TREE AFTER THE CEREMONY

Visiting what may be the most famous Christmas tree around the globe is one of our top free things to do at night in NYC during the holidays.

The Tree will be lit daily from 5 am to 12 am until January 13, when the lights are turned off for the season at 10:00 pm.

On Christmas Day, the tree is lit for 24 hours, from 5 am on the 25th to 5 am on the 26th.

On New Year’s Eve, December 31, the lights will be lit from 5 am to 9 pm.

While there won't be any ceremonial festivities, you will have a better view.

The best location for that perfect picture is from the entrance to the Channel Gardens, on Fifth Avenue between W. 49th and W. 50th Streets.

See our Guide to Rockefeller Center for a map as well as information about all there is to see there.

Why not join us to see the tree on one of our Holiday Lights Tours of Manhattan?


TIPS FOR ATTENDING THE CEREMONY

From our past experiences going to the ceremony, we've learned what to do (and what not to do) to have a jolly and bright experience.

Where to Stand to See the Tree Lighting:

The tree is located in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The area with views of the tree is very small and will be very crowded.

Again, go early, by 3 pm at the latest if you want to be in a prime location.

You can see the tree from these locations:

  • On Rockefeller Plaza, a short street that is located between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues and also surrounds the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink (in orange in the image below)
  • In the Channel Gardens, a very narrow pedestrian walkway entered from 5th Avenue between West 49th and West 50th Streets (in green in the image below)
  • You can also see from a segment of 5th Avenue that is between 49th and 50th Street (red star in the image below)
Best Spots for Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

Where to Stand to See the Live Performances

The live performances take place in front of the Prometheus Statue in the lower concourse square, which is surrounded by Rockefeller Plaza (in orange in the image above).

Where to View the Performers for Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

In the photo below, you can see people on the lower level, standing near the stage, lit in red. These people are “VIPs”.

This area is not open to the general public. 

To see the performers you must be in the first few rows of people along the north, south, and east perimeters of the rink.

If seeing the performers is a priority you should aim to get there by 12 pm or earlier.

Good to know: 

  • The celebration is open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. You do not need a ticket.
  • Aim to get there by 3 pm, and no later than 4 pm or you may not be able to find a spot to see the tree.
  • Street closures for vehicles between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 48th to 51st Streets begin at 3 p.m. that day, so taking mass transit is advised.
  • Security: No umbrellas, backpacks, or large bags are allowed into the event. There are many places where you can store your bags for a few hours. See our post on Where to Store Luggage in New York City
  • If you can't 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.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE ROCKEFELLER CHRISTMAS TREE IN NYC AFTER THE HOLIDAYS ARE OVER?

As part of a beautiful tradition, the 2023 Rockefeller Center tree will be donated to the non-profit organization, Habitat for Humanity.

The tree will be made into lumber and used to build homes for the needy.


ICE SKATING AT ROCKEFELLER CENTER AND OTHER RINKS

For the ultimate New York City Christmas experience, go ice skating in front of the tree!

It's one of many awesome places to ice skate in NYC.


ABOUT THIS YEAR’S TREE

The 2023 tree comes from the small town of Vestal, NY. It’s an 85-year-old spruce that's 80 feet tall and weighs 12 tons!

Once the tree is cut down, it travels nearly 200 miles to Rockefeller Plaza. It arrives on Saturday morning, November 11.

On Saturday, from 10 am to 1 pm, there will be free family-fun activities like face painting. Ornament decorating and even letter-writing to Santa.

There is no requirement to RSVP as the free event is open to the public. But those who do RSVP will get a free treat at check-in.

Find out more here.


THINGS TO DO AT ROCKEFELLER CENTER AND NEARBY 

There is no shortage of things to do at or near Rockefeller Center. Here are some of them.

Visit the Top of the Rock

Get unparalleled views of New York City at the observatory.

See our post with details, prices, and how to even get discounts.

Note: Top of the Rock admission is included in all 3 New York City tourist attraction discount passes.

If you aren't sure that Top of the Rock is the view you want, read our post comparing the city's five best observatory decks: Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory, Edge, and SUMMIT.


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 our post on the Radio City Music Hall Stage Door Tour.


Take a walking tour

We invite you to join our pay-what-you-wish walking tour of Midtown Manhattan which includes Rockefeller Center.

If you can't join us, please feel free to enjoy our self-guided tour of Rockefeller Center and also our Midtown Manhattan Self-Guided Tour.


See St. Patrick's Cathedral

Located right across the street from Rockefeller Center, this historic and impressive cathedral is worth a visit. 

You can also take a St. Patrick’s Cathedral Tour.


Visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Just two blocks away from Rockefeller Center, this is one of the premier modern art museums in the world. Read more about going to MoMA.


OTHER HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES 

See the insanely over-the-top holiday lights of Brooklyn's Dyker Heights neighborhood.

Shop at the many Christmas Markets in New York City.

Take our New York Holiday Lights Tour.

See a holiday show!

Look at our Guide to Christmas in New York City for even more things to do!


HISTORY AND FUN FACTS

Although the first official Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony was in 1933, the first Christmas tree at the Center was erected by demolition workers who were building Rockefeller Center in 1931.

This first tree was just 20 feet tall and was decorated with handmade garlands, cranberries, and even a few tin cans.

Remember, in 1931 America was going through the Great Depression.

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.)

Fun Facts:

  • 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!
  • The most common species of tree selected each year is the Norway Spruce.  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 with 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 designed by architect Daniel Libeskind in 2018. This three-dimensional Swarovski star weighs approximately 900 lbs. and features 70 spikes covered in 3 million Swarovski crystals.
  • The tree now uses LED lights.  As compared to the 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 of 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, during World War II, 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.
  • Since 2007, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has been donated to Habitat for Humanity once the season is over. It is milled, treated, and made into lumber, which is then used to build homes for people in need.

Happy Holidays!!


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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 30th, 2023
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