The glimmering holiday window displays and Christmas lights in NYC are some of the best in the world. Every year, the city transforms into a winter wonderland seemingly overnight, and every year, it’s a reminder of why I love living in this city so much.
You’ll find creative holiday windows, winter villages scattered across the city, and larger-than-life Christmas trees scattered across parks, plazas, and, of course, Rockefeller Center.
Most of NYC’s best Christmas lights and window displays get impossibly busy during peak hours. Expect crowds, and lots of tourists! If you’re planning on trying to get the best holiday light photos in NYC, consider the following:
- Do your research. Some displays, such as the Saks 5th Avenue Christmas Light Show, turn off overnight. Going off-peak is a great idea until you show up and the lights are turned off. Each display is different, and some, such as the Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows, don’t turn off at all.
- Go off-peak when you can. Midtown at 7 pm? Of course, it’s going to be shoulder-to-shoulder with dense crowds! For years, I’ve shot my holiday photos at 5th Ave locations at midnight or later to avoid the crowds, and it’s saved me a whole lot of stress. By going at more inconvenient hours, you’ll have cleaner shots and feel less rushed as there won’t be people waiting around you.
- Traveling solo? Find a friendly face! When you’re traveling solo, the thought of shooting on a tripod can feel scary. Even if you’ve gotten past the initial anxiety of self-shooting with a tripod, shooting on a tripod at a busy place, with crowds, is another hurdle to move past. Several holiday photo locations in NYC don’t allow tripods as they’re at private plazas, and even so, crowds in Midtown are usually far too busy for a tripod shot to have proper space.
If you’re visiting alone and are hoping to get a souvenir shot of yourself in front of the Christmas lights in NYC, don’t be afraid to ask for help! In my experience, groups of young women, families, and other tourists are usually happy to help. Be sure to offer to reciprocate the favor!
If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of the best Christmas lights in New York this holiday season, keep reading!
Macy’s Herald Square Flagship Store
Location: 151 W 34th St., New York, NY 10001 (34th St and Broadway)
Schedule: Thanksgiving until January 1st. Lights stay on through the night
Worth mentioning: Macy’s iconic Believe sign goes up just in time for their famous Thanksgiving Parade. While you’re admiring the store’s Christmas lights in NYC, take a look at Macy’s always whimsical windows outside, then step inside Santaland on the 8th floor.
The Shops at Hudson Yards
Location: 20 Hudson Yards (33 St and 10th Ave)
Schedule: Beginning Black Friday through the holiday season. Lights stay on all night
Noteworthy: Even at 3 am, you’ll still find tourists and photography enthusiasts at this sparkling display. Aptly named “Shine On,” I’ve truly never seen a holiday light installation in New York with so many of them! View the decorated plaza at Hudson Yards by the Vessel, or step inside The Shops at Hudson Yards, which features even more glimmering light displays.
South Street Seaport
Location: Seaport District NYC
Schedule: Early December through New Year’s Eve
What you should know: South Street Seaport may be a newer neighborhood in NYC, but in recent years has had a massive tree to ring in the holiday season. Join the Seaport District’s annual tree lighting for live performances from both national and local talent.
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
Location: 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111 (49th St between 5th and 6th Ave)
Schedule: Beginning Wednesday following Thanksgiving. The date the tree is taken down varies each year. The tree is lit from 6 am to 12 am daily. Outside of normal hours, the tree is lit 24 hours on Christmas Day and from 9 am to 6 pm on New Year’s Eve.
Worth mentioning: Rockefeller Center during the holidays is nothing short of chaos. Expect heavy police presence and lots of blocked-off street crossings. Add in extra time for travel as crowds make it slow and difficult to walk.
I have to admit, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree isn’t even close to one of my favorite holiday locations in New York City (unpopular opinion, I know). Don’t get me wrong — the tree is certainly beautiful every year, made extra special by all those lights, but the logistical nightmare that is trying to merely cross the street and hoards of people crammed together and pushing through the crowd make visiting feel a lot more stressful than cheerful.
If you’re visiting NYC during the holidays for the first time, I absolutely think you should try visiting the tree once. Visit towards closing hours around 10 or 11 pm on weekdays when Midtown is past peak hours to reduce craziness.
Giant Red Ornaments on 6th Avenue
Location: 1251 6th Avenue (6th Ave between 49th and 50th St)
Schedule: Thanksgiving through NYE is a safe bet, however, there are no specific dates available for this location. Open 24 hours.
Take note: These giant ornaments are located diagonally across the street from Radio City Music Hall. Pair with a night at the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular for a festive night out.
Giant Candy Canes on 6th Avenue
Location: 6th Ave between 50th and 51st St
Schedule: No information is available on when this display is installed. This location is open 24 hours, however, is not lit up at night.
Noteworthy: These candy canes popped up unexpectedly in front of the MLB headquarters for the first time a few years ago. As they were new, I’m unsure if they’ve been turned into an annual installation or were a one-off. Tripods are not allowed at this location (but I did manage to sneak in a couple of shots before being politely told so).
Lotte New York Palace Christmas Tree
Location: 455 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10022 (Madison Ave between 50th and 51st St)
Schedule: Black Friday through New Year’s Eve. The gates to the tree typically close around midnight. However, the tree stays lit all night.
What you should know: The Palace did not put up their tree last year as they were undergoing heavy renovations. Renovations are still ongoing, so it’s currently unknown if the Lotte New York Palace will be putting up its Christmas Tree.
One of the best places to stay in New York during the holiday season: Gossip Girl didn’t exaggerate — The Lotte New York Palace is a fully functioning luxury hotel in Midtown. If you’re in New York for the holiday season, it doesn’t get much better than having one of the city’s most well-known Christmas trees at your hotel.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
Location: 1072 80th St 1st. Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11228
Schedule: Lights go up Black Friday through New Year’s Eve. Lights stay on from sunset through around 10 pm each night.
Worth Mentioning: Every year, the neighborhood puts on an incredible display of residential Christmas lights in NYC unlike any other. The decadent displays have gotten so elaborate that professional Christmas light companies are hired by residents to fully deck out their houses.
The largest density of houses is on 83rd Street and 84th Street between 10th Avenue and 12th Avenue, but you’ll start seeing houses lit up within a block of getting off the train at New Utrecht Avenue.
Notable houses include the Spata House at 1152 84th Street, the Forest of Lights at 1134 83rd Street, and the Community Mayor’s Home at 8312 12th Avenue. That said, there are SO many elaborate houses (some spend up to $20,000 on lights), that you won’t feel like you’re missing out if you miss the most iconic ones.
PLEASE be mindful that people actually live in these houses by keeping the volume down, picking up your trash, and staying respectful. The neighborhood previously had issues with visitors approaching houses for photos on the stairs, leading to many now taping off their properties.
5th Avenue Christmas Lights and Window Displays
No trip to New York during the holidays is complete without a stroll down 5th Avenue! Every holiday season since moving here, my tradition has been to stroll 5th Avenue around 1 am, when the streets have cleared and the lights are still glowing.
Start at Pulitzer Fountain and work your way down, or start at Saks‘ famous Christmas light show and work your way up. It’s up to you!
Regardless of which direction you’re walking or what time you go, 5th Avenue should be aglow. With the exception of Saks, most Fifth Avenue retailers leave their lights on all night.
Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows
Location: 754 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019 (5th Ave between W 57th and W 58th St)
Schedule: Thanksgiving through early January. Windows are on display 24 hours a day.
Noteworthy: The innovative Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows are famous for a reason. They’re a personal favorite of mine, and I always make a point to visit at least once during the holiday season! This is definitely a location I recommend visiting off-peak if you’re a devil for the details. The windows attract crowds during the day, and it can be difficult to see them in their entirety.
Saks 5th Avenue Christmas Light Show
Location: 611 5th Ave, New York, NY 10022 (5th Ave between E 49th and E 50th St)
Schedule: The light show typically begins the Monday or Tuesday following Thanksgiving, and runs until January 2nd. Light shows begin at 5 pm, running every 10 minutes until 11 pm.
Take note: The best place to view Saks’ holiday light show is from across the street on the Rockefeller Center side of 5th Ave. Saks’ creative holiday windows are just as fun to look at as their light show. To get a glimpse, cross the street back to the Saks store!
Louis Vuitton Christmas Tree
Location: 1 E 57th St, New York, NY 10022 (E 57th St and 5th Ave)
Schedule: The display goes up around Thanksgiving through the holiday season. Available 24 hours, however, this display is not lit at night.
What you should know: This name is deceiving—The Louis Vuitton Christmas tree on 5th Ave isn’t a physical tree, but a larger-than-life Christmas tree wrapped on the side of the building! For this reason, this is a tough location to visit at night as there are no lights on the wrap, but it is a unique holiday display in NYC.
Cartier 5th Avenue Maison Christmas Lights
Location: 653 5th Ave, New York, NY 10022 (E 52nd St and 5th Ave)
Schedule: Mid-November through early January. Lights stay on all night.
Worth Mentioning: The Cartier store for me? You shouldn’t have. Wrapping the Cartier 5th Avenue Maison is not only one of my favorite Christmas lights in NYC, but also coincidentally the contents of my wishlist (kidding, kind of).
Dior Pop-Up Holiday Lights
Location: 767 5th Ave, New York, NY 10153 (E 59th St and 5th Ave)
Schedule: The display goes up around Thanksgiving through early January. The display stays lit all night.
Noteworthy: This Dior store is a temporary two-year location (a permanent store is currently being built nearby!) but has made its mark with a white storefront display that’s, well, just darling.
Location: 764 Central Park S, New York, NY 10019 (5th Ave between W 58th and W 59th St, in front of The Plaza Hotel)
Schedule: Wednesday before Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. The display runs all night.
What you should know: Pulitzer Fountain always gets dressed up for Christmas, but as of last year, the fountain features a charming display of animals skating across the “frozen” pond. Before you ask, yes, the animals actually move.
Pulitzer Fountain is just across the street from The Plaza Hotel, Bergdorf Goodman, and Dior’s popup location on 5th Avenue. If you’re in search of a weekend full of Christmas cheer in NYC, check into The Plaza to be in the heart of it all.
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Looking for the best hotel in New York City to view Christmas lights? Normally I’d never recommend staying in Midtown (ever), but during the holiday season, Midtown is the best place to be if you’re in town for Christmas lights in NYC.
Stay at the Lotte New York Palace or The Plaza, where you’ll find some of NYC’s best holiday displays at the property, or check into The Peninsula, The Pierre, or The St. Regis, where 5th Ave’s best displays are just steps away. Click here to view rates and reviews.
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Eva Phan is the founder of Eva Darling, a travel and style website aiming to empower women to see the world solo while sharing on-trend, luxury feminine style inspiration. Featured in publications including Forbes, Thrillist, and Yahoo News, Eva has combined her education from Parsons School of Design with her incurable case of the travel bug to create a global destination that encourages others to romanticize their everyday.