One thing I love about Christmas in New York is the fact that New Yorkers will put Christmas trees just about anywhere. Before I moved here, I always wondered how city dwellers got their trees—I was surprised when I found out that they just bought them on the side of any normal street! Even if they’re not selling trees, you’ll still find them placed just about everywhere there’s room. Above a doorway? Yup. In the middle of a decorative office fountain? Yup. Office lobby? Yup. On top of buildings? Of course. Every block on Park Avenue? Duh!
While the Christmas decorations in NYC don’t exactly compare to those in London (because let’s face it, it’s impossible to beat London’s Christmas spirit), they do make a good effort. This post details some of the best Christmas Decorations in NYC, where to find them and what to look for. Use this post as a guide for what you’d like to visit, especially if it’s your first time in NYC during the holiday season.
Tips for visiting NYC during the holiday season
- Decorations begin to really pop up just after Thanksgiving. Plan your arrival no earlier than the first week of December to catch everything you want to see.
- Dress in layers. NYC is cold. If you’ll be walking around all day, dress warm and bring gloves! You won’t regret it one bit. Sometimes, the city will be freezing and other times, it will actually be quite warm. It’s hard to predict. Dress in layers and check the forecast before arriving.
- Prepare for crowds. NYC on a normal day of the year is crowded. NYC during the holidays is insane. Unless you’re visiting some local haunts, you’ll be greeted by hoards of people everywhere you go. There’s no escaping it during the holidays. My advice: if you want to minimize the crowd-swimming/shoving, get to these places very early in the morning or very late at night. Visiting in the middle of the week also helps as most people will be at work or at school. Either way, it will be crowded so prepare yourself.
- Venture away from Midtown. This guide concentrates on Midtown. Why? Because that’s where the stunning NYC Christmas decorations are. Once you’ve visited these, take a stroll in a new neighborhood to see what the houses are doing. I love the wintery decorations put out by the opulent Upper East Side homes. Head further downtown to visit the Christmas market at Union Square. Head further south to visit Washington Square Park.
Radio City Music Hall
Radio City this time of year is madness. If you’re not seeing the Rockettes, admire Radio City Music Hall from across the street—it will save you a lot of time and annoyance! Otherwise you’ll be stuck in a queue wrapping the block.
The largest Christmas decorations are at the plaza across from Radio City Music Hall. Have you ever seen baubles and Christmas lights so big? I dragged my parents through the throngs of people to capture these in 2016, and I have masochistically done the same thing in each year since. I still can’t get over how massive they are!
Famous for its shopping, you’ll find no shortage of Christmas lights adorning the high-end shops on Fifth Avenue. My personal favorite is Cartier but I also really enjoyed the Ferragamo lights this year too!
Park Avenue is always magical to walk on and especially magical at Christmastime. Start south near the Helmsley Building and walk north. Not only will you discover the Christmas trees that grace the medians at each block, but you’ll also find some really cute decorations outside all the office buildings that are great fun to look at with practically zero crowds.
The award for most ostentatious decorations goes to Rolf’s, a tiny, hole-in-the-wall German bar on 3rd and 22nd known for its overwhelming Christmas decor. If you can brave the 45-minute queue, it’s definitely worth the visit—especially since it’s one of the only places I’ve found in the city that sells mulled wine!
The Lotte New York Palace
The Lotte New York Palace takes the cake for stunning and classy Christmas decor. The hotel’s outdoor decoration is stunning. The decorations arrived in November and I wish they would stay all year! Isn’t the tree beyond gorgeous? Plus, what girl (or guy) doesn’t want to live their inner Gossip Girl for a hot second?
Bryant Park is home to New York City’s largest and best holiday market. While it doesn’t stand up to my favorite London Christmas markets, I do really love the Christmas tree there. It’s not as large as the one in Rockefeller Center, but I think it’s prettier—not to mention less crowded (relatively) for those photo opportunities!
Saks Fifth Avenue
If you can brave the crowds, the light show at Saks Fifth Avenue is really a work of art. I went with my parents (read: swam through the crowds to get a decent viewpoint) and was stunned at the whole show. While it’s nothing I would go to daily during the holidays, it’s a great tradition to have once a year in NYC at Christmas!
However, if you are able to make it to Saks (or any of these decorations) before mid-December, you’ll be able to enjoy them without huge crowds.
Part of NYC’s history for over 80 years now, Rockefeller Center showcases their huge tree stunningly. While hard to catch the tree without crowds, it’s worth a stroll by just to witness what everyone’s talking about. If you so fancy you can also go ice skating at the rink.
Unfortunately, Central Park doesn’t get all Christmassy. There is a small market at Columbus Circle, and you can ice skate in a rink at Wollman Rink towards the south of the park, but other than that the park stays pretty bleak. Unless, however, it snows during your visit! My favorite place in NYC is in Central Park during the snow. There is nothing more beautiful!