It’s Not Too Late To Enjoy NYC’s Holiday Season Sparkle

Saks Fith Avenue Carousel of Dreams ©Meryl Pearlstein
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by Meryl Pearlstein

You may have avoided New York City from Thanksgiving to Christmas to steer clear of the throngs hovering around the tree at Rockefeller Center or lolling in front of the display windows of the Big Apple’s department stores. But now’s your chance for a better view. The crowds are much thinner and there’s plenty of holiday spirit through early January. Here are some suggestions for a photo-worthy, post-Christmas visit.

Department Store Windows

Decorators and stagers spend months designing and mounting the elaborate storytelling displays at Manhattan’s department stores. 

Macy’s holiday store windows echo their Thanksgiving parade sentiment with “Give Love” scenarios. Through January 1,the family-friendly motif centers on Macy’s adorable blue reindeer Tiptoe and Tiptoe’s friends Polar Bear and Penguin, including interactive moments for all ages to explore. You can view the windows along both sides of the humongous building, on 34th Street and Sixth Avenue.

Saks Fifth Avenue façade ©Meryl Pearlstein

Position yourself by the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center and look east towards Saks Fifth Avenue to see the city’s most elaborate holiday artwork. The entire façade of the block-long store turns into a light show extravaganza every 10 minutes from 4:35pm until 10:35pm through January 5. This year’s partnership is with Dior and the presentation features a zodiac-filled “wheel of fortune” with symbols related to the Dior brand. The windows lining Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th streets expand the theme with Dior-connected city vignettes in a “Dior’s Carousel of Dreams at Saks,” a metaphor for Christian Dior’s journey from Paris to New York City.

Bergdorf Goodman window ©Meryl Pearlstein

Eight blocks north, Bergdorf Goodman’s Fifth Avenue and 58th Street windows epitomize the elegance and fashion that characterize the store. The 2023 theme is “Isn’t It Brilliant” and each window glitters in blueish silver, crystal and mirrors as it tells an individual story. Bergdorf Goodman designers featured in the windows include Thom Browne, C. D. Greene, Balmain, Rodarte, Alexander McQueen, Naeem Khan, Simone Rocha, Jil Sander, Christopher John Rogers, and Rabanne, among others.

Bloomingdale’s candy window ©Meryl Pearlstein

A short stroll East to Lexington Avenue takes you to Bloomingdale’s “Best Holiday Ever” windows. A colorful contrast to the sophistication of Bergdorf’s, Bloomie’s windows show off all things candy and chocolate, giving a nod to this season’s blockbuster movie Wonka

Mall Light Shows 

Three popular malls show offer holiday cheer with larger-than-life displays. At Brookfield Place along the Hudson River in Battery Park City, you’ll see Luminaries, an exciting display of 640 colored lanterns overhead. Through January 6 from 10am – 8pm, visitors are invited to “conduct” this canopy of glowing lanterns to a medley of holiday tunes. 

Holiday Under the Stars at Columbus Circle credit The Center Bar

Starting at 5pm through January 1 at the Shops at Columbus Circle, 14-foot stars change colors every 30 minutes at the “Holiday Under the Stars” spectacle with a music and light show.

Hudson Yards ©Meryl Pearlstein

Through January 7, Shine Bright at Hudson Yards  adorns the mall in string lights and hot air balloons with a 32-foot hot air balloon centerpiece suspended over the shops in the Great Room. 

Christmas Trees and Other Decor

The traditional tree and angels in front of the Lotte New York Palace hotel on Madison Avenue and 50th Street are Instagram favorites. A pro tip: walk to the back side of the tree where you can get a photo of the 30-foot tree without groups of people posing or oohing and aahing. A bonus is that you might get a shot of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the background. 

Lotte Palace Hotel tree ©Meryl Pearlstein

You have lots of time to visit Rockefeller Center where the 80-foot high Christmas tree stands sentry topped with a Swarovski star designed by Daniel Libeskind. The tree has its provenance this year from Vestal, New York and will be on display through January 13. You can admire the beautiful lights from street level or from below from the iconic skating rink. 

A stroll along Sixth Avenue, just behind Rockefeller Center, will take you by two of the city’s most iconic non-tree decorations. Giant red ornaments sit 25 feet tall in front of 1251 Sixth Avenue while oversized wooden soldiers stand guard at 1211 Sixth Avenue.

Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights

World-famous Dyker Heights is the most photographed holiday display in New York City. The Brooklyn neighborhood has been glowing brighter each year since the 1980s when the Spata family first decorated their home on 84th Street with elaborate lights. In a join-them spirit, other houses began to light up as well with the neighboring Polizzotto house another standout. Most houses here stay decorated through the first week of January so there’s still time. It’s a friendly, merry competition among the neighbors with some of the professional displays costing upwards of $20,000.

Dyker Heights ©Meryl Pearlstein

For the best way to take it all in, with candy canes and backstories thrown in for the escorted ride and walk, Tony Muia’s A Slice of Brooklyn tour simplifies the process. You’ll meet his music-filled bus in Manhattan and head to Dyker Heights as well as to two other Brooklyn neighborhoods filled with Christmas lights, nutcrackers, snowmen and Santa sleighs. Listen carefully as you visit the homes. Many of the displays have accompanying music. Pro tip: the best lights are concentrated on 11th to 13th avenues and from 83rd to 86th streets from 5pm to 8pm. 

Dyker Heights ©Meryl Pearlstein

The Bronx Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Two of the most beloved light activations happen in the Bronx, so close to each other that you can make one long, glittering evening of it. 

Holiday Lights at The Bronx Zoo courtesy The Bronx Zoo

Start with Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo running through January 7. As you wander from Asia to Africa to the Forest of Color, you’ll explore six lantern trails passing by zoo animals dressed up for the occasion. Not the real animals, of course, but statues of lions, tigers, and bears, oh my, and many of the other zoo occupants at their most illuminated.  Plan to spend a few hours here to enjoy the immersive experience.

The Bronx Zoo ©Lou Candelaria

Then make your way to the New York Botanical Garden for their annual outdoor color and light NYBG Glow show. Installed on the grounds and along the 1.5-mile pathway, thousands of lights and whimsical creations glow in rainbow colors. The light show runs through January 13 on weekends.

NYBG Glow credit NYBG

Manhattan Entertainment

You have until January 1 to buy tickets for The Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the high-kicking Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Line up on 50th or 51st streets just west of Rockefeller Center, don a pair of 3D glasses (provided) and join Santa as he flies over the Christmas lights of New York City. If you miss the show, you can still take in the beautifully lit Christmas tree that sits atop the theater marquee on Sixth Avenue. 

Through January 7 at the Rooftop at Pier 17 in the Seaport, the search for Santa entices with Disney’s The Santa Clauses’ Winter Wonderland, a bright New York City Christmas light destination in its own right with a skating rink, Christmas tree, and other surprises. 

Big Apple Restaurants and Hotels 

If you find yourself downtown, the festive lobby at The Wall Street Hotel offers a cheerful respite from the cold with a 14-foot Christmas tree, wreaths and lights. 

Festive Tree at The Wall Street Hotel courtesy Wall Street Hotel

Another hotel that invites visitors indoors, The Plaza Hotel  sits tucked off Fifth Avenue just steps from the elegant windows of Bergdorf Goodman. You’ll probably recognize its interior from the mischievous antics of Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2. Pause awhile, warm up, and gaze at the hotel’s dazzling display of Christmas trees and ornament-adorned wreaths. For an elaborate treat, you can book afternoon tea here at the Palm Court, hot chocolate included.

No trip to see New York City Christmas lights is complete without viewing them from the inside of Manhattan’s festively decorated (and warm) restaurants. 

For a sampling of one of the best in the city, worthy of a stop for a meal or snack, visit La Grande Boucherie, a Parisian-inflected bistro just a short walk from Rockefeller Center and the glow of Fifth Avenue. The restaurant’s Christmas tree stands 26 feet tall and is decorated with 700 feet of lit garlands, more than 1000 ornaments, and 15,000 string bulbs. 

Boucherie Christmas tree courtesy The Group

But it’s Rolf’s German restaurant, the self-proclaimed “most Christmassy restaurant in New York City,” that’s the true show-stopper. Get your cameras ready – the über-decorated eatery has thousands of ornaments and hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights, hung and draped throughout the restaurant. Yes, it’s kitschy, but it makes for good holiday fun.


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