There is no place like New York City at Christmas. During the month of December, the city is transformed with a bit of festive magic, and there are tons of lights and decorations everywhere you look. And there is nothing quite like the NYC Christmas decorations!
Ever since I was little, it’s always been a dream of mine to see Christmas in New York City. I grew up watching the grand Rockefeller Christmas tree on TV every year, and saw the city make an appearance in countless holiday movies. It just always seemed extra magical to me, and I could not wait to see it in person someday.
Well it took me a while to make it there, but I finally did and WOW – the Christmas decorations in NYC are absolutely INSANE! The city just sparkles all day and all night. I’ve been to other cities that know how to do Christmas well (like Munich, Prague, San Francisco, and Leavenworth, WA) but Christmas in New York City is on another level. Like…NYC is *THE* Christmas city, y’all!
From the grand Christmas trees around the city, to the glittering window displays, the festive pop-up bars, and more, there are so many Christmas decorations in New York City that transform the city into a festive wonderland,
Looking for the best New York City Christmas decorations? Here are all the best places to find them, as well as the Christmas photo spots in NYC!
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Tips for Visiting New York City at Christmas
- Expect crowds: EVERYONE wants to see those Christmas decorations in NYC, so expect it to be BUSY! This is especially true on the weekends.
- Try shooting early in the morning: While this is not possible for all of the Christmas photo spots in NYC because some of them don’t light up until the evening, I noticed that the most popular places are WAY less crowded earlier in the morning, especially during the week.
- Book early! Flight and accommodation prices are going to be pretty high in the month of December, however, it will be much cheaper if you book way ahead of time – the earlier, the better.
- Make reservations if you want to visit all those Christmas themed bars/restaurants and igloos. This is the best way to ensure that you will be able to visit them.
- Wear layers: It’s cold but not that cold (especially compared to Montreal and Quebec City, where I ended up going afterwards!). The key is to wear the proper layers! Wearing a base layer under all your other clothes, and then having a warm jacket on top really helped so much!
When do the NYC Christmas decorations go up?
You’ll start seeing the Christmas decorations start going up all over the city throughout the month of December. However, the Rockefeller Christmas tree does not get lit until the week after Thanksgiving. The decorations stay up through the holidays and start coming down after New Years. Therefore, visiting in the month of December will give you the chance to see the most Christmas decorations in New York City!
Festive New York Christmas Decorations
Iconic New York City Christmas decorations
Rockefeller is basically synonymous with Christmas, and you’ll find some of the best New York City Christmas decorations here.
Everyone knows about the tree here – it is perhaps the most famous in the world. And let me tell you, even after seeing it on TV so many times over the years, it is 10000000x more spectacular in person! Like, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw it. It just sparkles. It is pure Christmas magic right before your eyes!
While the tree arrives at Rockefeller Center in mid-November, does not get lit until the after Thanksgiving (in 2022, it will occur on November 30). After that, the place will become a zoo… anyone and everyone will want to come see the tree, and for good reason – it really is that impressive!
The tree stays lit from 6am to 12am every day, and 24 hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It comes down the first week of January the following year.
PRO TIP: I passed through this area several times during my stay in NYC, and I have to say that early in the morning on a weekday is the best time to visit. I skated the 7am session and was surprised to find the area around the tree empty afterwards. The sky isn’t super bright yet, so the tree still has a good amount of sparkle as well.
Rockefeller Center is also home of the iconic skating rink. It has always been my dream to skate here and it was such a cool experience to skate right in front of the famous tree! If you want to skate here (highly recommend it!), I suggest booking a session early in the morning because a) it is still not that crowded and b) it is a bit cheaper!
You can look at session times and buy tickets here.
Rockefeller Center also has little cabins that you can rent out for a small fee (way cheaper than the igloos around the city) along with a food or beverage purchase.
Address: 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111
Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall is another one of those iconic New York City spots that are synonymous with Christmas. This is the home of the Rockettes, who have put on their world-famous Christmas Spectacular every year since 1932.
It is also home of some of the best Christmas decorations in NYC! There is a Christmas tree that sits on top of the iconic sign in front of the hall. When both the tree and sign are lit up, they look so festive and scream Christmas!
Aside from the hall itself, look across the street to find some cute NYC Christmas photo spots. There are some giant candy canes, along with the jumbo ornament balls that stand on the fountain. These make for some fun photo ops!
PRO TIP: Shooting from across the street will also yeild you the best angles for taking photos of the sign and tree as well. This will allow you to capture it straight on, rather than angled above. It’s also fun to inn
This area tends to get crowded, especially on the weekend, so either visit during the week or come armed with a bit of patience.
Address: 1260 6th Ave, New York, NY 10020
Winter Village at Bryant Park
The Winter Village at Bryant Park is also one of the best places to visit during Christmas in New York City because it seemingly has it all – a Christmas Market, an ice rink, restaurants, bars, and even heated igloos that you can rent out.
It’s also got some awesome skyline views that are the perfect drop for some of the best NYC Christmas decorations that you’ll find anywhere in the city. I loved skating on the rink here and taking in those views – you can even spot the Empire State Building! And BONUS – it is the only free admission skating rink in the city! (Reservations are required and skate rentals are an additional cost, however).
The Christmas Market here is one of the best places in the city to do some holiday shopping, with dozens of vendors selling handmade crafts, gourmet food products, and much more. The little glass huts that they are housed in are also the cutest and make for some cute photos!
There’s also some Instagrammable igloss that you can rent out to enjoy some cocktails with your friends. And to top it off, there’s tons of cute decorations everywhere so you can take tons of cute photos here!
PRO TIP: You’ll probably hear me say this a LOT throughout this post, but come early – it’s almost impossible to take photos here otherwise. I skated at the earliest session (notice a pattern here?) at 8am on a Sunday morning and it was still pretty quiet afterwards so I was able to take a few photos and enjoy the peace and quiet for a bit, and the vendors were just starting to open up as well.
Address: 42nd Street and 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10018
Hudson Yards + the Vessel
Hudson Yards is one of the newest and trendiest developments in the city, home to office buildings, dining, retail, and some of the top attractions in NYC, including the Edge, Vessel, and High Line.
It’s also home to some of the best Christmas decorations in New York City, especially at the Shops at Hudson Yards, the indoor shopping center. You’ll find that the mall gets decked out in tons of string lights during the holiday – seriously, the whole place just sparkles!
The highlight here is also the hot air balloon decoration that lights up inside the mall. The best place to see and take photos with the balloon, in my opinion, is from the third floor. The cool thing is that the balloon also changes colors every few minutes – I didn’t know this but it was so lovely to see!
The lights also hang all around the railings and escalators all around the shopping center, and it is such a glittering sight. These make for some fun photo ops as well! With these lights and the hot air balloon, this was one of my absolutely one of my favorite Christmas spots in New York City!
PRO TIP: The best time to come here and to take photos is late at night, after the stores close at 10pm. There are a few entrances to the mall that are still open, but hardly anyone is around.
Just outside of the Shops at Hudson Yards is the Vessel, and there are more lights and balloons that are set up in this area. Although the Vessel itself is closed due to a series of tragic events, the outside area is still one of the best NYC Christmas Instagram spots.
Address: 20 Hudson Yards, New York, NY
Located near the site where the Twin Towers once stood, the Oculus is a transportation hub (and the most expensive ever built at that) and a high-end shopping mall. I feel like the Oculus is kind of an overlooked spot for Christmas decorations in New York City, which is too bad because it is really fun and festive there!
There is a small Christmas market on the ground floor, with a few vendors and a cluster of trees and decorations. It was cute to walk through, and the cool modern architectural details made the perfect backdrop. There are also wreaths hanging from the viewing platforms.
Address: 185 Greenwich St LL3110, New York, NY 10006
Festive NYC Store Displays
Lights on Fifth Avenue
While Fifth Avenue is obviously not a store, I am including them in this section since it’s the street where all the high-end stores are located – many of which have some of the best New York Christmas decorations!
You’ll find that the street, particularly the stretch between Bryant Park and Central Park, is decked out in various lights and decorations. I loved these light trees that were set up all around the street, and sometimes there are other cute decorations, such as a mailbox, cab, and more.
I thought the trees were such a fun and unique way to frame the Cartier facade, which I will talk about next on this list of the best New York City Christmas decorations.
Address: Fifth Avenue, between E 42nd and E 59th Streets, New York, NY
Cartier is known as one of the best places to find Christmas decorations in New York City – the facade is decorated with sparkling lights and a festive red bow that wraps around the building just oh-so-perfectly.
This stretch of Fifth Avenue is pretty busy and gets CRAZY on the weekends, so you’ll need a bit of patience here! Navigating the amount of people, along with the traffic is a bit of a challenge and it will probably take you several (aka *many*) attempts to get a decent photo.
Do realize that it is a busy street so WATCH OUT FOR CARS! Wait until it’s a green light to jump into the crosswalk. I recommend waiting and letting everyone go first before you jump in to take photos – you’ll get a few seconds of there being no other people in your shot this way, but you have to work QUICK!
PRO TIP: The building is best photographed from a side angle, rather than straight on, so you can see the entire building. If you stand right at the corner, you’ll get the best angle. Also use a wide angle lens if you have one!
I passed through here a few times while in NYC, and after seeing it in a variety of lighting conditions, I thought it looked best in the late afternoon, when the sun was lower in the sky. The lights truly were sparkling, and it’s much easier to take photos at this time than at night.
Address: 653 5th Ave, New York, NY 10022
Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show
Located just across from Rockefeller Center is the flagship Saks Fifth Avenue, one of the most famous department stores in the world. Along with festive window displays, Saks put on a spectacular light show that is choreographed to music.
The show plays every 15 minutes or so from sundown until 11:30pm, from the end of November through the end of December. The show is set to music, and dazzling lights illuminate the facade of the building in a spectacular array of colors. It’s pretty awesome!
There’s a railing set up where the viewing area is – if you’re in the back of the crowd, just stay there until the current show ends and then move up to the front for the next show. Alternatively, you can watch it from Rockefeller Center (and use a zoom lens for photos), but this area is also packed too!
PRO TIP: If you’re making a day out of shooting at all the NYC Christmas photo spots and planning an outfit change, I’ve heard the bathrooms here are a good place to do it.
Address: 611 5th Ave, New York, NY 10022
The Dior location on Fifth Avenue is known for their white snowflake decoration hanging above the entrance. The all-white facade makes this not only a fantastic backdrop for Christmas-y photos, but also some winter-y shots!
Address: 767 5th Ave, New York, NY 10153
Macy’s Herald Square
One of the most famous department stores in the word, Macy’s on 34th Street/Herald Square is best known for the large scripted “Believe” sign hanging across the building.
I’ve been seeing and hearing about this Macy’s all my life that seeing the “Believe” sign was a bit nostalgic to me. To be honest though, after seeing all of the other New York City Christmas decorations, I was expecting something a bit more. Still, it still managed to stir up a bit of wonder in me and made me remember BELIEVE!
It is one of those classic NYC Christmas spots, and still well worth believing!
PRO TIP: The sign that’s on the side of the building is larger (and there’s less people on this side), but the front side has more lights and decorations on it and looks way more festive.
They also have some cute displays in the window, and they have some fun holiday activities inside as part of their Santa Land, where you can meet and take photos with Santa. More info here.
Address: 151 W 34th St., New York, NY 10001
While this is technically not a store display, I was pleasantly surprised to find Chelsea Market decked out in some fun holiday decor! The entire market has cute trees, lights, and striped ornaments hanging from the ceiling.
I loved the red and pink color scheme here – it was festive but not super traditional and just fun!
Chelsea Market is a fantastic place to look for some unique holiday gifts and grab some food before walking the High Line, which has some fantastic views of the city!
Address: 75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011
Festive hotels with Christmas decorations
The Plaza Hotel/Pulitzer Fountain
The Plaza Hotel is perhaps *the* most famous hotel in all of New York City – it’s made an appearance in countless movies and TV shows that are set here, including Eloise, Home Alone 2, and Gossip Girl, just to name a few.
While it will cost you a pretty penny to actually stay there (it’s known as one of the best hotels for Christmas, after all), you can definitely still visit to check out all the Christmas decorations at the hotel.
Just outside the hotel is the Pulitzer Fountain, where you will find some of the best NYC Christmas decorations. The theme of the decorations changes each year – when I went, it was polar animals that were skating around the fountain, and the year before it was twinkling giant ornaments. You definitely have to check it out to see what the display is this year!
Address: 5th Avenue at Central Park S, New York, NY 10019
Another one of NYC’s top luxury hotels, the Peninsula Hotel may not look very festive, but the lobby is decked out in tons of beautiful Christmas decorations.
Sure, it’s expensive to stay there, but if you want to treat yourself to a five-star luxury experience, they have some holiday packages that include things like your own Christmas tree in your room, private transportation to see the lights in Dyker Heights, VIP access to the Top of the Rock, among other festive amenities.
Address: 700 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019
Just a couple of blocks from Rockefeller Center is the Lotte Palace, one of New York City’s most beautiful luxury hotels. Situated in the courtyard of the hotel is a stunning Christmas tree, declared by many of my NYC blogger friends to be their favorite in the city.
Sadly, the year I went was the year that they did not put up the tree, since they were doing construction. Hopefully, it comes back this year – and I get to see it soon! It really does look incredible in all the photos!
Address: 455 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10022
Bars + Restaurants with festive decorations
Lillie’s Victorian Establishment
Lillie’s is a Victorian era-themed Irish pub and it has such a cute window display, with a beautifully decorated Christmas tree and various antiques. The inside is supposed to be super festive too, but check the opening hours before you go because we showed up on a Monday and they were closed that day.
The sidewalk space out front isn’t very wide and it’s hard to take a photo straight-on unless you have a wide angle lens – I snapped the above photo with my phone and had to have my photographer angle to the side a bit.
PRO TIP: There are two Lillie’s Victorian Establishment locations in the city – you want to go to the one located near Union Square. The other one has a few decorations inside, but is not nearly as festive as the Union Square location (and also doesn’t have a window display).
Address: 13 E 17th St, New York, NY 10003
Rolf’s is a German restaurant that is known to have some of the best Christmas decorations in NYC – year round! Every inch of the restaurant is decked out in holiday garb – it screams Christmas in every single sense.
I’ve heard the food is so-so (and overpriced) – you’re basically going here to soak up all the festive spirit here.
PRO TIP: Rolf’s get BUSY during the holiday season – while you can walk in, reservations are highly suggested to avoid a long wait and to be able to sit at a table. Walk-ins are only able to stand at the bar. Also, as I mentioned earlier Rolf’s is decked out in Christmas decorations year-round, so if you want to have an easier time taking photos, you can visit outside of the holiday season and get a head start!
Address: 281 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10010
While I haven’t been to the one in NYC, I used to go to the one in San Francisco every year when I lived there and it was always one of my favorite holiday traditions! I loved how they transformed the bar and decked out every inch in festive decor and had a menu full of fun Christmas-themed drinks (that were all delicious!). It’s guaranteed to make you feel the holiday cheer!
It is super popular, so make a reservation if you can.
Address: 649 E 9th St, New York, NY 10009
Igloo Bar 230 Fifth
This is a fantastic rooftop bar to go to in NYC at Christmas because not only do they have igloos and holiday lights, they also have one of the best views of the Empire State Building. It makes the perfect backdrop against all those colorful lights!
You need a reservation to sit in the igloos, which are heated and hold up to 10 people. You can find out more information here. They have heated A-Frame cabins available as well.
Even if you don’t want to pay for an igloo or cabin, there is still plenty of space to hang out, enjoy a cocktail (they have lots of warm drinks too, like Hot Toddies and spiked hot chocolate), and take some photos.
We came here before dinner one night and it was still relatively quiet and chill, although a bunch of tables already had a reservation tag on them.
Address: 230 5th Ave, New York, NY 10001
Oscar Wilde has some extravagant Victorian-themed decor year-round, plastered with various paintings and antiques. During the holidays they take it to another level with some of the best New York Christmas decorations.
This is a perfect spot for whiskey fans, as they have over 300 varieties. They also have the longest bar in NYC, made of marble and measuring 118.5 feet!
Address: 45 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001
Magic Hour Rooftop
Get ready for pink overload at Magic Hour, the rooftop bar located atop of the Moxy Hotel in Times Square. While super cute all year round, during the holidays they decorate with festive pink Christmas decorations and it looks SO cute! Think frosted pink trees, a pink ski gondola with pink florals, and more.
Bonus points – you get an awesome view of the Empire State Building!
Address: 485 7th Ave 18th floor, New York, NY 10018
Serra by Birreria at Eataly
The Flatiron location of Eataly, the Italian foodie marketplace, has some of the best Christmas NYC Christmas decorations at Serra by Birreria, its rooftop restaurant. Along with the menu, the decor changes every season, and it is always beautifully decorated.
The holiday/winter theme is meant to have a rustic theme that is inspired by the Italian countryside and Italian Alps. Along with a menu of seasonally-inspired, rustic Italian cuisine, they also offer Italian cocktails, including hot drinks.
Address: 200 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010
The Greens at Pier 17
Enjoy food and drinks in heated glass cabins at the Greens at Pier 17, located at Seaport Village. Located on the rooftop at Pier 17, these glass cabins are meant to resemble the cozy chalets of upstate New York, and were conceptualized during the pandemic but came back afterwards due to their popularity.
Reservations are required, and there is a fee to reserve the cabins. Do note that these are super popular so they fill up fast! There is also a minimum food and drink spend per person.
You also can’t beat the view here, as you get to see the buildings of the lower Manhattan skyline, as well as the bridges.
Address: 89 South St, New York, NY 10038
Even more New York Christmas decorations
Wall Street + New York Stock Exchange
The Financial District is home to one of the most impressive Christmas trees in Manhattan, on Wall Street next to the New York Stock Exchange. The towering tree is stunningly decorated with thousands of twinkling lights.
There’s been a tree here every Christmas for almost 100 years, and they have an annual lighting ceremony with live performances by Broadway and opera stars, along with local performing arts groups.
The New York Stock Exchange building is also super festive, with red and green lights illuminating the facade.
Address: 20 Broad St, New York, NY 10005
The Dyker Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn is known as one of the best residential neighborhoods to see Christmas lights in the country. Everyone goes all-out in decorating their houses with over-the-top lights and festive decorations.
You’ll see the best decorations on 11th to 13th Avenue, from 83rd to 86th street.
I sadly did not go because I only had 2 days in the city and many people told me that it’s not worth it to trek all the way out there because it takes quite a while to get there on public transportation. If you’re only spending a few days in New York City and are determined to see the lights in Dyker Heights, I suggest taking a tour there, which will take you from Manhattan and back and is the easiest way to do it.
Washington Square Park
Located in Greenwich Village near NYU, Washington Square Park is one of the most beautiful parks in the city. There’s a beautiful Christmas tree here, which is perfectly framed by the arch (which sort of looks like a mini Arc de Triomphe), which makes one of the best Christmas photo spots in NYC!
Address: Washington Square, New York, NY 10012
Where to Stay in New York City During Christmas
I’m just going to say one thing here – hotel prices during Christmas in NYC are INSANE! They are expensive. Like, I was seeing normally affordable places (i.e. Holiday Inn) go for a whopping $500+ a night!
That said, I suggest booking your accommodations ASAP, like months in advance! When I first started toying with the idea of visiting back in September, the hotel prices were on the higher side but weren’t terrible. By the time I actually went to book in mid-October, they were insane!
It also didn’t help that I was visiting on a weekend, to coordinate with my friends’ work schedules. If possible, I suggest that you visit during the week – not only will you save money on accommodations, you’ll encounter much fewer crowds!
That said, here are some of my picks for where to stay when visiting NYC during the Christmas season:
- Renaissance Midtown: I got lucky and ended up scoring a relatively good deal on an upgraded room here for around $350/night – which sounds like a lot but it was still way cheaper than all the other options I was seeing! I loved my stay here – from the spacious room (a rarity in Manhattan), comfortable bed, the impeccable service, and the view! It’s also super convenient, and within walking distance to many of the NYC Christmas spots that are listed above.
- Springhill Suites Midtown: I stayed here a few years ago, and really enjoyed my stay here! My friends ended up getting a room here for a really good price (around $200/night). The rooms here are super spacious and comfortable, and the hotel is very conveniently located.
- CitizenM Times Square: I stayed in a CitizenM hotel in Seattle and loved the concept – they really plan out the essentials of a hotel room to maximize space, and make them hi-tech, with an iPad to control everything from lighting to mood. Everything else that is not a necessity you can experience in the lobby, which has a bar and cafe, which is beautifully designed as well!
- Pod 51 Hotel: If you’re on a budget and not really planning to spend much time in the room, this is an awesome option for you. You can sleep in a pod, which comes with just a bed and a shared bathroom, or you can opt for a standard room if you want more privacy. It’s got a hostel-like atmosphere in the sense that they host activities and tours. It’s also conveniently located to many of the city’s top attractions.
Have you been to New York City at Christmas? What are your favorite NYC Christmas decorations?
You might also like:
NYC in December: Festive Things to Do + Tips
Most Instagrammable Places in NYC
Best NYC Quotes and Instagram Captions
Most Instagrammable Desserts in New York City
The Ultimate Guide to Christmas in San Francisco
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Caroline is a Southern California based traveler, writer, and photographer. She travels all around California, the US, and the world in search of the most colorful places, the most delicious food, and bucket-list adventures. Her aim is to inspire other travelers discover how to add more adventure and joy to their lives. On Pictures & Words, you’ll find detailed guides + itineraries, along with vibrant photos to help you plan the the most epic trips. When she’s not traveling, Caroline also runs half marathons.