These holiday light displays in NYC are worth planning a vacation around!
The delightful holiday light displays in NYC and the whole city’s festive vibe attract visitors from far and wide, excited to experience what’s called the most wonderful time of the year in New York. Whether you’re looking for ice skating with a skyscraper backdrop, a stroll down 5th Avenue to see the elaborate holiday window displays, or a Christmas spectacle on Broadway, New York offers plenty of ways to celebrate.
With so many breathtaking experiences unique to New York City, it’s no wonder why holidays are known to be the ideal time to visit. Without further ado, here are some of the many impressive holiday light displays in NYC!
1. The unique light phenomenon: Manhattanhenge
Twice a year, something you don’t get to see often happens: the setting sun perfectly aligns with Manhattan’s east-west grid. The phenomenon creates a spectacular sunset known as Manhattanhenge, which usually occurs between May 28 and July 12, although the best views happen on the winter solstice around December 21.
Visitors should go to the wide east-west cross streets like 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, and 57th Streets and turn west just before sunset. As the sun sets behind New Jersey, it will appear perfectly centered in the metropolitan canyons, illuminating the whole city grid in a warm holiday glow.
And yes, this is one of the holiday light displays in NYC that is free!
2. The Bronx Zoo holiday lights
The Bronx Zoo houses plenty of animals and offers lots of tours. But December is always a favorite time to visit, as it gets a spectacular holiday makeover each year with outstanding animal lanters throughout the park.
For instance, the zoo’s Holiday Light Safari features more than 280 lantern sculptures of wildlife, from pandas to snow leopards, all handmade by Chinese artisans. The light displays wind along a path through different zoo exhibits.
Along with flling snow and festive music, this after-hours experience offers one of the most spectacular holiday light displays in NYC and a great way to get into the holiday spirit and see zoo animals in a completely new light.
The ticket is $28 for visitors 13 and over, $38 for seniors 65 and over, $20 for children between three and 12, and free for kids under 2.
3. Dyker Heights Christmas lights in Brooklyn
Every December, visitors flock to the Dyker Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn to take in one of the best holiday light displays in NYC. For over three decades, residents have been competing to turn their homes into sightseeing spots with inflatable decorations, elaborate lighting displays, and life-sized Santas and reindeer.
Because of that, the neighborhood has come to be known as “Dyker Lights.” While there are tour companies that offer guidance, you can also just walk around or drive to enjoy the twinkling lights, making this one of the must-see free holiday light displays in NYC.
4. NY Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show in the Bronx
This is one of the most unique but underrated holiday light displays in NYC. You can walk through a forest of miniature evergreens to take in an extensive display of model trains speeding through an imaginative landscape, all adorned with festile, twinkling lights.
Featuring more than 176 landmarks recreated with leaves, bark, and other natural materials, this display captures the splendor and magic of New York City at Christmastime. Wandering past the tiny trains and sparkling lights is sure to fill you with wonder and excitement.
You’ll have to pay $35 for adult admission, while the ticket for kids ages 2–12 is $15 (kids under two go free).
5. The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular
This is one of the most famous and old holiday light displays in NYC. A tradition for over 85 years, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is held at Radio City Music Hall in Midtown Manhattan and features the iconic Rockettes troupe of precision dancers performing shows like the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.”
This is a live performance, but it also pretty much qualifies as a festive holiday light display in itself, thanks to the eye-catching illuminations and light effects that create a unique Christmassy vibe throughout the show.
You’ll get the chance to marvel at the lights, sets, costumes, and technological effects, as well as enjoy classic holiday tunes. If you want to get in the festive mood, experience Radio City in all its holiday glamour, and make great memories, this is one of the best holiday light displays in NYC you can attend!
The tickets are pretty pricey, though, varying from $78 to $1492 per seat.
Read on to discover other impressive holiday light displays in NYC!
6. The rink at the Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan
The Rockefeller Center’s ice skating rink offers visitors a quintessential New York holiday experience against the backdrop of the legendary Rockefeller Christmas tree, all surrounded by sparking festive lights. The Rink, which opens in mid-October and runs through early April, allows visitors to glide past a 700-foot-tall Norway spruce adorned with over 25,000 lights.
Surrounded by twinkling 5th Avenue store displays, the sunken plaza’s wintry background makes it one of the most memorable holiday light displays in NYC, not to mention the best place in the city to skate with loved ones.
If you want to skate at the Rockefeller Center, you’ll have to pay between $11 and $73 for the ticket.
7. The shops at Columbus Circle in Manhattan
Located at the southwest entrance to Central Park, the iconic shops at Columbus Circle are home to one of the most incredible holiday light displays in NYC.
As you ascend the multiple floors of the shopping mall, you’ll discover incredible holiday decor spanning storefronts and glass atriums. But that’s not all; the Grand Holiday Tree stands tall beside sparkling lights, oversized ornaments, garlands, and a life-sized toy train.
Special events and performances also take place throughout the season, so there’s plenty to see. The exciting holiday vibe makes this a wonderful place for visitors to celebrate, dine, and shop. And yes, the admission is free.
8. The Holiday Lane at Brookfield Place in Manhattan
Another winter oasis that will make you love the holidays even more is Holiday Lane and the Luminaries at Brookfield Place. Down by the waterfront and in and around the building, the shopping complex is transformed into a winter wonderland, both indoors and outdoors. You’ll see plenty of lights sculpted into shapes like stars and snowflakes suspended from the ceiling.
Visitors can enjoy choral performances on the palm tree-lined plaza, go ice skating on the 6,000-square-foot rink, or cozy up near one of the outdoor fire pits. With glittering trees, coffered lights, and festive activities, Brookfield Place is truly one of the most sophisticated holiday light displays in NYC.
9. Saks Fifth Avenue holiday windows in Manhattan
Saks Fifth Avenue and its festive setting are by far one of the most impressive holiday light displays in NYC. Unveiled in November, creative and legendary designs come to life each year through the artful use of lights, special effects, and animated displays.
Take a stroll along Fifth Avenue, and you’ll see plushly decorated windows featuring dynamic theatrical scenes with snowy villages, fairytale characters, Santa’s workshop, and more. Similar to other holiday light displays in NYC, this one is truly gorgeous. It takes about one hour to explore everything the area offers.
The windows represent a free, festive setting where people can admire artistic mastery while taking in the magic of storybook worlds adorned with holiday splendor, right in the heart of Manhattan.
10. The Grand Holiday Tree at Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan
Last but not least on our list of the most impressive holiday light displays in NYC is the festive setting housed inside the main concourse at Grand Central Station. Adorned with more than 50,000 lights, this giant 12–14-foot Norway Spruce ceiling ornament has been a cherished tradition since 1998.
As people rush to trains beneath the glittering tree and iconic zodiac mural overhead, they can also marvel at decoration like oversized ornaments, a vintage toy train display, and a massice menorah. The terminal turns into a giant holiday spectacle, offering visitors ample opportunity to delight in the splendor and snap photos.
By the way, if you want to make your own holiday oasis at home, here are plenty of lights to choose from!
If you liked our article on the spectacular holiday light displays in NYC, you may also want to read 7 U.S. Cities Older Adults Should Not Visit.