Christmas In New York: Photo Spots and Instagrammable Places In NYC During the Holidays
Celebrating Christmas in NYC should be on your bucket list. Check out this guide on the best photo spots and Instagrammable places in NYC during the holidays and plan your New York City Christmas trip today!
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 in New York City like they have seen on TV and in the movies.
I made it a mission to check out all the most instagrammable places in NYC during the holidays to see the Christmas trees and Christmas lights all over the city. So every winter I would walk around New York City to take photos of the Christmas decorations to add to this list.
Check out all my other articles on NYC winter activities!
These articles include the best holiday markets, most festive pop up Christmas bars and restaurants in NYC, what to wear in New York City in the winter, and many many more!
This blog contains occasional affiliate links, where I receive a small commission on sales of the products/hotels that are linked at no additional cost to you. In addition, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Best time to see the Christmas decorations in New York City
The most optimal time to see the holiday and Christmas decorations in NYC is from the week after Thanksgiving through early January.
In general most Christmas trees in NYC get lit up the week after Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving is the 4th Thursday of November).
In particular for 2023, the Rockefeller Center Tree lightning is on Wednesday, November 29th and the Bryant Park tree lightning is on Tuesday, November 28th.
If you come before Thanksgiving, some of the Christmas trees will be up, but no lights on them. The good news is that Hudson Yards Christmas lights will be up on Monday, November 13th!
If you want to avoid the crowd, then the best time is either right after Thanksgiving or after Christmas until mid January. Most tourist arrive the second and third week of December. How do I know this? Since I walk around New York City to take updated photos every holiday season, I can tell how crowded it gets during different times throughout the year.
Other Things to Know Before Spending Christmas in New York City:
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 11:40pm, get there before then!
Check out all the window displays for all the department stores on Fifth Avenue in NYC. Some stores are very decorated outside as well.
Sharpen up your ice skating skills because there are many outdoor ice skating rinks in New York City during the holidays.
Prepare for the crowds and lines because everyone else also wants to spend Christmas in New York. But if you come earlier (like end of November/ early December) it is a little less crowded.
World Nomads provides travel insurance for travellers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
Best Photo Spots and Instagrammable Places in NYC During the Holidays
Now let’s dive right into where to see all the Christmas decorations in New York City during the holiday season!
Rockefeller Center Christmas Decorations
The Rockefeller Center 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 (usually mid week after Thanksgiving) or early December, there is a Christmas tree lighting event and there are performances at the Rockefeller Plaza where thousands watch live and millions stream on TV. If you visit before the lightning event you will just see the tree there, without the lights.
For 2023, the Rockefeller Tree lightning will take place on November 29th. The tree gets taken down mid January, 2024.
However in my opinion, bigger doesn’t mean better. The Rockefeller Christmas tree looks amazing in photos from far away but when you look closer, the tree is droopy because it’s too big. Therefore it’s best to take photo from afar.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is accompanied by numerous other Christmas lights and decorations. The instagrammable place to take photos of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree from the Channel Gardens in the photo above.
People also enjoy taking photos under the Christmas tree. Visit the Rockefeller outdoor ice skating rink If you have time, make sure to skate here for an unique Christmas in New York experience.
There are also a lot of stores and restaurants at the Rockefeller Plaza. So if you visit during the day or during meal time, make sure to stop by there for some shopping and eating.
Every year there are these rinkside Chalets near Rockefeller Center. Last year these private chalets next to the rink was free, as long as you buy something to drink from the small coffee stand nearby. The guard will then let you in for about 15-20 minutes!
In addition there are pop up igloos sometimes where the restaurants are (cannot see the iceskating rink from the igloos). Those generally cost money and they may or may not be around this year.
Be aware that besides Christmas Eve and Christmas day, the Rockefeller Christmas 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.
<Not available in 2023> Fifth Avenue Street Decorations (The Fifth Season)
In the winter between 48th and Central Park, you will see a ton of Christmas pop up decorations outside of stores on 5th avenue. Some note worthy ones include the yellow taxi, toy box, mailbox, etc. Be sure to walk down fifth avenue and take photos of them!
Cartier Store on 5th Avenue
As you walk down on Fifth Avenue, one of the most decorated score is perhaps Cartier. Every winter Cartier itself is transformed into a giant gift box. Many bloggers stop by late at night just to capture a photo in front of the store.
The decoration changes every year. In 2023 the theme is cloud, but to be honest, it’s a bit underwhelming.
Peninsula Hotel New York: The Best Hotel Christmas Decorations in NYC
Keep in mind that you can only use your phone for photos inside. Cameras are not allowed.
In case you are interested in staying here during the Christmas holiday, rooms are least $700 a night! However, if you decide to stay at the Peninsula during the holiday, you can choose Holiday package or the Nights before Christmas package.
Your room will be decorated with all holiday-themed floral arrangement and even your own Christmas tree (Deluxe suites only). The package also includes holiday window display walking tour, chauffeur-driven car to Dyker Heights (see later), VIP access to the Top of the Rock, etc.
For the Nights before Christmas package, you can even get an in-room Gingerbread Playhouse and candy cane scavenger hunt. This IS the ultimate luxury in NYC.
NYC Department Stores Christmas Window Display
The holiday time is when department stores in New York City all put on a spectacular show through their window displays. The map below shows a walking path that hits all the NYC department stores that are known for their holiday window displays.
Here are a few notable ones:
Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas Display
Across from the Rockefeller Center and the Channel Gardens is the famous department store: Saks Fifth Avenue. Every year Saks decorate its Christmas window display with a different theme.
Thousands line up to see the different window displays during Christmas in New York. I’ve always enjoyed looking at them because of the fairy tale decorations, the 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 the Saks light show is actually 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 Christmas Lights
[Updated November 2019: Lord & Taylor has officially closed its door and there will no longer be any Christmas lights there]
To be honest, I’ve never been inside Lord and Taylor before. I accidentally discovered that they have some really nice lights outside of their store between 38th and 39th street and 5th Avenue. There are usually a ton of people taking photos under the Lord and Taylor Christmas lights, making it one of the most instagrammable spots in NYC during the holidays. I mean, how can you not be mesmerized by them?
Macy’s Herald Square Christmas Display
Macy’s has a nice display in their stores at 34th street Herald Square. Similar to Saks, every year Macy’s has a new theme for the Christmas window display and there are always tons of people checking them out. Macy’s also has a famous “believe” sign on its building on 34th street.
Macy’s also has a Toys R Us on its 7th floor. This space has interactive play areas as well as toys your kids can play with. It is a wonderful place to visit after you visit Santaland.
Radio City Christmas Tree & Show
Radio City Music Hall is not only known for its festive Christmas lights display every year but more famous for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular show.
Giant Candy Cane & Giant Ball near Radio City During Christmas
Across the street from Radio City Music Hall there 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. These decorations near Rockefeller Center stay the same every year and you should go right after Thanksgiving on a weekday so it’s less crowded and you can get some really nice shots.
Grand Central Christmas Decoration
The areas around Grand Central is always super festive during the holiday season, with small Christmas trees on every block. If you are visiting Grand Central or the Summit One observation deck, be sure to walk around on Park Avenue to see all the lights and trees! The building above Grand Central itself is lit up as well, making the street extra festive.
Financial District (Wall Street) Christmas Tree
Financial District aka Wall Street (even though Wall Street is only one street in the entire Financial District) is a business center in lower Manhattan. Wall Street is the most famous street in the Financial District where the New York Stock Exchange is located.
The Financial District is very busy during the day due to visitors and people working there but it is relatively quiet at night. It is interesting that this is one of the few areas in Manhattan that is so quiet after 8pm.
I found out that Fidi (financial district) is actually the perfect instagrammable place in NYC during the holidays for a night shot of the huge Christmas tree and the colorful New York Stock Exchange, which, is guarded 24 hours.
Another cute place in Fidi is the Zuccotti Park (where occupy Wall Street happened). It’s a cute spot for photos and only 5 minute walk from the Oculus.
Oculus is the most expensive transportation hub in New York City and it is the symbol of Lower Manhattan. Oculus is not only a transportation hub but also a high end shopping center with tons of nice stores and restaurants.
During Christmas time, Oculus has special decorations that let you take cute festive photos. Even though the area is small, it is still very festive. However I don’t know if this will be there every winter.
In 2023, the Oculus has a small synthetic rink where you can ice skate.
Seaport District Christmas Tree
I’ll be honest here… I had never heard of Seaport until I walked by it randomly one day. It’s not an area that I normally visit, but in recent years Seaport has been changing quite a lot and got more developed.
Now it has really nice shops, restaurants, and both Pier 15 and Pier 17 for entertainment in the summer and winter. There are two winter wonderland type of things at these two piers for a fee, so if you are down there it’s worth checking them out!
The Seaport Christmas Tree is usually this beautiful tree covered in white light bulbs instead of the traditional colorful ones. The Seaport Christmas tree is lit the week after Thanksgiving (the 2023 one is already lit).
Note that the Christmas tree at Sea Port actually changes every year so it’s not always white. This year the tree looks the same as the one above (but with a different base). But in previous years they had a fence around the tree.
Hudson Yards can be super festive during the holidays! The holiday decorations and displays are usually up in the middle of November.
The Vessel is fully lit and even all the escalations inside Hudson Yards shopping center is lit! It’s a bit crazy to think about how much electricity would cost for all this decorations but it really is pretty and the lights are on 24/7.
Pro Tip: If you want to photograph inside Hudson Yards without anyone, go before the store opens around 10am or after 10pm. The building technically closes at 10pm, but there are side doors that are open. I know many bloggers that went late at night and was able to get all the photos they wanted without anyone around.
Pro Tip 2: If you live in New York, you should visit mid November right after they turn on all the lights. Go around 4-5pm and the mall is very empty.
Central Park During Christmas
Central Park is always everyone’s favorite place in New York City regardless of the season. Central Park is not really known for any giant Christmas trees there but everyone goes there for the outdoor ice skating rink. I have to say that Central Park in the winter is still incredibly beautiful, especially after a snow storm.
Bryant Park Christmas Tree and Winter Village
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 Bryant Park over Rockefeller Center for Christmas is the fact that Bryant Park not only has a nice Christmas tree, a FREE outdoor ice skating rink, a beautiful carousel, but it also has a fantastic holiday market that has food and shops.
Since the Bryant Park 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.
Upper East Side
This super festive nutcracker house on the Upper East Side has been the new darling on the holiday decoration scene in the last couple of years.
Every year after Thanksgiving weekend, this townhouse gets all decorated with candy canes, gift boxes and the two giant nutcrackers. You can sit and walk on the red carpet to capture your photo (but do not touch anything or try to go inside)!.
The best time to go is mid week after Thanksgiving (we went one year on a Monday after Thanksgiving and they were in the process of setting it up).
This house is located on E 76th St. between Madison Ave and 5th Ave. The easiest way is to either take the M2 or M3 bus up or take the 6 train, get off at 77th St and walk over.
Washington Square Park Christmas Tree
Washington Square Park is located in Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan by the NYU buildings so it’s always very lively during the summer.
It has a beautiful fountain, street performers and a lot of young people chilling and relaxing on a nice summer night. I actually witnessed a public proposal at Washington Square Park too.
You don’t really get to see most of that in the winter, but instead, you are greeted by a giant Christmas tree under the arch. The Christmas tree and the arch makes this one of the most instagrammable places in NYC during the holidays since it’s not going to be as crowded as in the summer.
However some years there is no Christmas tree, instead there will be other art installations.
Madison Square Park
Most people 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, Madison Square Park is transformed into a little gingerbread village (although there is only one gingerbread house). There is usually some awesome art installation there but that changes year over year. Madison Square Park is one of the lesser known spots for Christmas in New York but I think the area is just really pretty in general.
Lotte Palace Hotel
Lotte Palace Hotel is a five star luxury hotel near the Rockefeller Center. The rooms are fancy and the hotel has a long history. Lotte Palace Hotel also has a nice court yard which allows it to have a nice Christmas Tree during the holiday time.
The Christmas tree is in the court yard but there is public access. We were able to spend a long time there and also sit in front of the tree for shots. I personally think the Christmas Tree at Lotte Palace is THE BEST CHRISTMAS TREE IN NEW YORK CITY.
Bloomberg is not exactly a “Christmas” spot since it’s an office building. However because of the way the building looks plus the tree in the center, it makes the whole area look very pretty and festive during the holiday season.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Display
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.
Dyker Heights is known to have lavish Christmas lights displays and it’s a super instagrammable place NYC during the holidays. The best places to check out the Christmas displays at Dyker Heights are located between 11th to 13th Avenue from 83rd to 86th street.
The most festive streets are quite far from public transportation so research beforehand for the best way to get there. The best time to visit Dyker Heights is mid December when all the lights are up. If you visit earlier than that you may not see all the lights and decorations.
Brookfield Place is a high end shopping center in Lower Manhattan not too far from 911 Memorial and the Oculus. There are restaurants, ice skating rink and high end stores at Brookfield Place and it is the perfect place to visit during both summer and winter.
During Christmas time, there are lights all over the mall entrance area making it the perfect Instagram spot in New York City without the crowd.
Upper Rust Antique Store (Permanently Closed)
Located in Greenwich village in lower Manhattan, Upper Rust is an antique store that becomes amazingly instangrammable in the winter. I randomly discovered this as I was walking by the area but all the lights and Christmas decorations make this store extra festive!
Christmas Themed Bars in NYC
There are a number of Christmas themed bars in New York City that you simply cannot miss. A lot of them are “pop up” Christmas bars in New York City meaning they only show up during the holiday time.
During non-holiday time, the bars are just regular bars with no Christmas decorations. Since there are only a few of them in the city, these Christmas themed bars in New York City can be quite expensive and crowded.
Now 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 Miracle on 9th during the holidays. It’s located in the East Village at 649 E 9th St.
Since Miralce on 9th Street is one of the best Christmas themed bars in New York, the line gets quite long so I would highly recommend visiting really early otherwise you have to wait in the cold for a long time.
Rolf’s: The Most Festive Christmas Themed Bar in NYC
Rolf’s 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.
You will need to line up outside of the restaurant before it opens. If you want to sit at a table, everyone in your party will be required to order an entree, which is pretty expensive.
Pro tip: the decoration is up in September, you can go when they first put it up to avoid crowds!
Best Christmas Markets in New York City
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.
It’s nice to visit New York City any time of the year but I think Christmas in New York is the most magical experience you can have. You will not be disappointed to spend Christmas in New York and visit some of the most Instagrammable places in NYC during the holidays.
New York has a lot of everything and the holiday cheer here is unparalleled. The entire city is lit up and full of locals and tourists and all the restaurants and bars full just like in the movies.
Have More Questions about NYC During Christmas?
How cold is December in New York City?
December in New York City has an average temperature of 30F – 44F (freezing to 7 Celsius) during the day. Although cold, it generally is sunny in NYC in December but sometimes you can experience very windy days, which make it feel colder.
Does it snow around Christmas in New York City?
Unfortunately you most likely will not have a white Christmas in NYC. It rarely snows in December in New York City and even if it does, it would be a thin layer of snow at most.
Is it expensive to visit NYC during Christmas?
The short answer is yes, things are way more expensive and crowded in December in NYC. Tourists from all over the world come to experience the magic of Christmas in NYC. With that said, you can find cheaper hotels in Queens, Brooklyn and in New Jersey if you are not set on staying in Manhattan.
Are things open on Christmas Day in New York City?
Most of the observation decks in New York City are open on Christmas Day! Holiday markets, Times Square, Grand Central, Oculus and other outdoor places like Central Park are open on Christmas Day as well.
Keep in mind a lot of restaurants are closed on Christmas Day but that really depends! Some very touristy restaurants remain open and a lot of Chinese/ Indian restaurants remain open as well on Christmas Day.
Summary of the Best Christmas Tree and Holiday Decorations in New York City
The Best Christmas Trees in New York City
- Lotte Palace Courtyard Christmas Tree
- Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
- Bryant Park Winter Village
- Seaport District
- Radio City & Candy Cane
- Wall Street Christmas Tree
- The Peninsula Hotel Lobby
- Washington Square Park
- Bloomberg Office Courtyard
- The New York Public Library
- The MET
- Lincoln Center
The best Christmas lights and decorations in New York City
- Hudson Yards
- Rockefeller Center Channel Garden
- Saks Fifth Avenue Window Display and show
- Macy’s Herald Square
- Fifth Avenue Fifth Season Christmas Pop Up display
- Peninsula Hotel
- Giant candy cane and ball decoration across fro Radio City
- The Mark Hotel on the Upper East Side
- The Nutcracker house on the Upper East side between 5th ave and Madison on 76th Street
Additional New York City Resources
If you want to check out other cool things to do and see in NYC here are some other articles that may interest you!
Like this post? Pin it!