There are so many great photo spots in the city all year-round, but Christmas lights in NYC are an extra special experience! While the rest of the Western world is celebrating after Halloween, the season is in full swing right after the Thanksgiving Parade. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the holidays in NYC because I’ve been traumatized by the sheer load of tourist crowds, but that being said, all the blinking lights and decor give such a magical feeling this time of year.
This is not a comprehensive list, but are some “must-visit” locations. These are the places I’ve been to over the years, but I’ve been making a greater effort to build my portfolio in even more locations around the city.
Hudson Yards is one of the newest areas of Manhattan, and it’s already become one of the most popular spots to see Christmas lights in NYC. There are over two MILLION white lights lighting up the area. If you want to get pictures when it’s empty and have the whole floor to yourself, go early around 8 am!
There are so many locations to snap a pretty pic, but these are my favorite spots to go.
Another giant mall The Shops at Columbus Circle have the ‘Holiday Under The Stars’ 14-foot displays hanging from the ceiling of the Great Room. Watch the free light show performance that goes off every day from 5-11 pm, every half hour with the stars blinking to holiday music.
Chelsea Market is one of the coolest places to visit any time of year, but especially during the holidays. Whenever I go to Chelsea Market and walk the corridors, the first thing I think about is how the building used to be the old Port Authority building long before Google took over in 2010.
During the holidays the whole place is decorated with lights and Christmas trees all over, but my favorite spot is the giant clock that’s framed with tons of string lights.
If you want to see Christmas lights in NYC, Rockefeller Center is the most iconic spot to go. The tourist crowds are INSANE though! If you want to see the lights without the crazy crowds, you’ll have to sacrifice some sleep either late at night or early in the morning.
The Christmas tree is lit daily from around 6 am-12 am. I say ‘around’ because my first attempt at seeing the lights and getting pictures early in the morning was thwarted due to the lights being turned on at 5:50 am! I was so annoyed let me tell you. Such an ‘OMFG’ experience! I ended up waking up at 4 am twice within a week because I was determined to get the video and pictures I needed. Happy to say mission accomplished! You can watch the transition in the videos below.
Whether you’re in the mood for shopping along 5th Avenue or just walking up and down. This popular midtown street has so many fun holiday displays everywhere. Definitely recommend just meandering between Central Park South to the Macy’s flagship store at Herald Square and checking out all the holiday displays. I noticed they’ll re-use the same displays year after year, but move them to different locations on the street.
Across the street from Radio City Music Hall, a bunch of the corporate offices have large decor adorning their main entrances. I spent most of my corporate life in this specific radius of Midtown. For many years this area felt like home.
Stop by the Winter Village at Bryant Park to enjoy some hot chocolate or even get on the ice with a pair of skates. The ginormous Christmas tree there makes for a fabulous backdrop while strolling through all the vendor shops.
Another marketplace further downtown, the Union Square Holiday Market has a bunch of small business vendors to check out. They’re around for about a month and then pack it up right before Christmas.
Pro-tip: you can take a picture of the full market with the skyline behind it by going into one of the stores across the street like Burlington, Whole Foods, or DSW.
I used to spend a lot of time in lower Manhattan, especially FiDi, but it’s such a journey to go there now. Brookfield Place is home to another NYC light installation called Luminaries, which are 650 glowing LED box lanterns. I’ve seen the Luminaries when passing through Brookfield Place, but this was long before I picked up a camera so I still need to make my way back down. The light show runs into January and goes off daily between 8:00 am – 10:00 pm set to holiday songs.
Not far from Brookfield Place is a public park with stacks of beautifully lit Christmas trees, Zuccotti Park. I always like to associate places with current events, and every time I go to Zuccotti Park I think about how it was at one point the HQ of Occupy Wall St. Long past that point in time, it’s now just another place that makes for great Christmas lights in NYC during the winter. Can you say bokeh central?
Deep in Brooklyn (and I mean deeep) many families within the Dyker Heights neighborhood go all out and deck out their houses. It’s pretty awesome to see how many homeowners get into the spirit! I personally haven’t gone yet, but I’ve included it in this list because it’s a must do for visitors.
To get there it’s about an hour on the D train. Take it in the Brooklyn direction to the 79th St and New Utrecht Ave stop, and then walk 15 minutes to get to the area with all the decorated houses. If you have a car, consider driving instead and parking on one of the other streets.
Did you know the country’s first-ever public tree lighting ceremony was actually in Madison Square Park?? There are so many large public Christmas trees around the city, I’ve compiled this list.
Last but not least, Panna II Garden is a popular Bangladeshi Indian restaurant in the East Village. It’s famous for its densely decked-out interior filled with Christmas lights. Even though the holidays are over, here, it’s never technically over. Right next door is Milon restaurant which is literally the same exact thing as Panna II Garden, but for some reason, people would rather wait for Panna. In my experience, Panna’s tables are squeezed tighter together and the smell of the food seems to be more pungent. I enjoyed the same food at Milon and did a photoshoot in peace because Milon was empty.
If you have the opportunity to eat at either restaurant be prepared for pushy hosts and waiters! It seems to be part of their “charm” but can be offputting when you’re making a decision whether to eat there or not.
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