Christmas is the best time in New York because of all the lights and decorations. There are numerous places to visit in New York City during the holidays that make you feel that you can’t celebrate Christmas anywhere besides New York.
Even before I moved to New York, I knew that December is always a busy time to visit New York because everyone from all over the world wants to experience Christmas like they see on TV and in the movies. This past winter I decided to check out all these beautifully decorated places to share some of the holiday cheers with my friends outside of New York.
Things to know before you visit:
- Dress warmly! December can be really cold with the wind so make sure you are appropriately dressed
- Bring your camera. Iphones simply cannot do it justice (especially at night)
- Don’t forget the tripod. Even though some places may tell you no tripod, but you always want to make sure you have the right equipment in case you want to capture anything at night (and everything happens at night)
- Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center shut down around 11:30pm, get there before then!
- Check out all the window displays for all the department stores
- Sharpen up your ice skating skills
- Prepare for the crowds and lines
This is probably the epicenter of where all the actions are and also where the biggest Christmas tree in New York City is. Every year in late November/ early December, there is a Christmas tree lighting event. There are usually performances at the Rockefeller Plaza where thousands watch and millions stream it on live TV.
As a New Yorker, I avoid this event at all cost. But if you are new to the city and wants to experience one of the most exciting events in December, make sure to not miss this event. It’s usually incredibly crowded so if you don’t like crowds, I would suggest watching this on TV or visit the tree on a weekday night.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is accompanied by numerous other Christmas lights and decorations and this is the most popular photo of the tree from the Channel Gardens. People enjoy taking photos under the tree and ice skating at the rink. If you have time, make sure to skate here for an unique New York Christmas experience.
There are also a lot of stores and restaurants there. So if you visit during the day or during meal time, make sure to stop by here.
However, be aware that besides Christmas Eve and Christmas day, this tree turns off at 11:40pm, so if you want to take photos of this tree, make sure to get there before it turns off.
Department Stores Window Display
The holiday time is when department stores also put on a show through their window displays. The map below shows a walking path that hits all the department stores that are known for their holiday window displays.
Here are a few notable ones:
Saks Fifth Avenue
Across from the Rockefeller Center and the Channel Gardens is the famous department store: Saks Fifth Avenue. Every year Saks decorate its window display with a theme. Thousands line up to see the different window displays. I’ve always enjoyed looking at them because of the fairy tale decorations and characters and beautiful clothes and shoes.
What’s noteworthy about Saks is that every night there are lighting shows synchronized with music. The perfect spot to watch it would be right at the Channel Garden. The last show if around 11:30pm at night and once that show is over, the Rockefeller Center tree will shut down as well.
Lord and Taylor
To be honest, I’ve never been inside this store before. But I discovered that they have some really nice lights outside of their store between 38th and 39th street and 5th Avenue. I mean, how can you not be mesmerized by them?
Macy’s has a nice display in their stores at 34th street Herald Square around the block. They are also known for Santaland where kids can meet Santa and take photos with him. However Macy’s now charge for this activity, you can read more here.
Radio City Music Hall
Radio City is known for its Radio City Christmas Spectacular show. It’s a spectacular performance of dancing and music performances that shows just how festive this city is. There are usually 3 performances a day, at 2pm, 5pm, and 8pm. For more information about the show, visit their website here.
Outside of the Radio City Music Hall are a number of fountains with huge Christmas ornaments and lights. The Radio City itself also has a nice Christmas tree that turns off at 11:30pm (again, get there early). All the trees around that area are lit up.
Financial District is not really known to be lively at night, although during the day it can be flooded by tourists thanks to the New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street, and the Bull. I found out that Fidi (financial district) is actually the perfect location for a night shot of the huge Christmas tree and the colorful New York Stock Exchange, which by the way, is guarded 24 hours.
I’ll be honest here… I had never heard of Sea Port until I walked by it randomly one day. It’s not an area that I normally visit because it’s rather out of the way and there aren’t too many things for me to do there.
But little did I know that Sea Port has one of the best Christmas Trees in New York. The reason I love it so much is because you can actually get up close to the tree and even climb under it.
One thing that I did not like about Seaport is that the security guard told me “no tripod”. I mean really?? There was literally nobody when I went late at night. So if you go, snap some photos quickly if you have a tripod before the security tells you to put it away.
Central Park is always everyone’s favorite regardless of the season. It’s not really known for any giant Christmas trees there but everyone goes there for the ice skating rink. I have to say that Central Park in the winter is still incredibly beautiful, especially after a snow storm.
If I have to pick one place that has everything you need to see for Christmas in New York, that would be Bryant Park. The reason I picked that over Rockefeller is the fact that Bryant Park not only has a nice Christmas tree, a FREE outdoor ice skating rink, but it also has a fantastic holiday market that has food and shops. Since the ice skating rink is free, definitely expect crowds. However, if you don’t have your own skates, you will need to pay for some rentals and a locker.
If you like holiday markets, check out my previous post here on where you should go.
Washington Square Park
[UPDATE: There is an art work displace under the arch in 2017 so there will not be a Christmas Tree there in 2017].
Washington Square Park is always very lively during the summer, with a beautiful fountain, street performers and a lot of young people chilling and relaxing. I actually witnessed a public proposal there too. You don’t really get to see most of that in the winter, but instead, you are greeted by an awesome Christmas tree under the arch.
Madison Square Park
Most people would probably know Madison Square Park by the Flatiron building. Eataly market and the original Shake Shack (which is awesome if you’ve never tried). In the winter, it’s transformed into a little gingerbread village (although there is only one gingerbread house). There is also an awesome art installation there where you can swing around (in the cold).
Christmas Themed Bars
There are a few Christmas themed bars in New York City. They are quite expensive since you pay for the nice decoration and atmosphere. But if you have time, definitely stop by some of them.
A few of the note worthy ones….
Miracle on 9th street
Wow, where do I even start with this bar? If you are in Manhattan, you have to visit this bar during the holidays. This is one of the cutest and most festive place I’ve visited during the holidays here in New York, and even their drinks are delicious! You can read about it here.
This is a famous German eatery with incredible Christmas decorations during the holiday season. Every year the line is out of the door because of its decorations. I heard the food there is mediocre at best.
Besides these two more popular ones, check out the list here for a few other ones.
When I lived in Europe, one of my favorite things to do in the winter was to visit the endless Christmas markets to enjoy some mulled wine, delicious food, and holiday themed shopping. Now that I moved back to the US, I can also experience a taste of European Christmas markets in New York City. In addition to Bryant Park, you can also find tons of festive pop up stalls around Union Square (14th Street between 4th and Broadway), Columbus Circle (59th St & Broadway) near Central Park, and inside Grand Central Terminal (42nd Street & Lexington Ave). Read more about the Christmas Markets here.
When people think about Christmas in New York, they automatically think about the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center or the numerous window displays. However, one not-so-hidden-gem is the neighborhood of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. This area is known to have lavish Christmas lights displays and it’s a “must-see” spot in New York. The best places to check out are located between 11th to 13th Avenue from 83rd to 86th street. It’s quite far from public transportation so research beforehand for the best way to get there.
It’s nice to visit New York City any time of the year but I think December is the prettiest time to visit New York because of the holiday cheers. Yes it’s different from Europe and no it may not snow in December in New York, but it’s still incredibly cheery and beautiful.