Thanks for visiting Free Tours by Foot New York!
This post provides you with information on how to attend the annual lighting ceremony of the gigantic Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center sometime in early December, as well as viewing the tree throughout the holiday season.
The tree is located in the middle of the Rockefeller Center complex between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
Regardless of how you choose to arrive, we recommend using this Google Maps link for directions to the tree.
For information on the best spot to take that perfect picture, see our tips section below.
Although the tree is erected in mid-November, the lighting ceremony does not take place until some point in early December. The 2020 date is still unknown.
The lights are switched on at 9 pm.
Starting at 7 pm, there are live performances by top singers and bands, as well as the Radio City Rockettes.
Performers for 2020 have yet to be announced, and we will update this post once they are.
In past years, performers included Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, Neil Diamond, Josh Groban, Tori Kelly, Sarah McLachlan, Dolly Parton, Jordan Smith, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, and more!
We recommend that you arrive by 3 pm, and absolutely no later than 4 pm, though going early is even better since the event is always very crowded.
See below for our tips on where to stand to have a view of the tree and the live performances.
You can see the tree on other nights at Rockefeller Center until the first week of January 2021, at 9 pm. Note that the lights are only on from 5:30 pm until 11:30 pm each night.
Visiting the tree is one of our top free, seasonal things to do at night in NYC.
On 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 best location for that perfect picture is from 5th Avenue at the entrance to the Channel Gardens.
This is part of the Rockefeller Center complex. The entrance is on 5th Avenue between West 49th Street and West 50th Street.
Our Guide to Rockefeller Center has information and a map of the complex and can help you find your way around.
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 the latest if you want to be in a prime location.
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).
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 be able 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:
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.
There is no shortage of things to do at or near Rockefeller Center. Here are our suggestions:
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 discount cards.
If you aren’t sure that Top of the Rock is the view you want, read our post comparing the 3 best observatory decks: Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, or One World Trade Center Observatory?
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.
We invite you to join our pay-what-you-wish guided walking tour of Midtown Manhattan which includes Rockefeller Center.
Located right across the street from Rockefeller Center, this historic and impressive cathedral is worth a pop in. You can also take a St. Patrick’s Cathedral Tour.
Just two blocks away, this is one of the premier modern art museums in the world. Here’s how you can visit it for free! Check out our MoMA post for the details.
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 video below).
See a holiday show!
Look at our Guide to Christmas in New York City for even more information!
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.)