Rockefeller Square at night in New York City

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New York City’s back. The city sparkles with fabulous decorations on storefronts, on sidewalks and with the glistening tree in Rockefeller Center. Plan a walking tour of these fabulous sites for a merry, merry holiday!


Bergdorf Goodman Gingerbread House. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
Bergdorf Goodman Gingerbread House. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

Holiday Windows and Sidewalks

Take a walk down Fifth Avenue where you’ll see some of the department stores’ most elaborate holiday windows. Plan to spend some time in front of Saks Fifth Avenue where this year’s windows were inspired by drawings from children.

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The windows in front of Bergdorf-Goodman, as always, are a stylefest of imagery with adventure, fashion and fantasy themes, strikingly arranged in tones of black and white, red and white, and rainbow montages. 

Individual stores like American Girl and the Lego Store have their own NYC window displays decked out with all kinds of merriment. And the exteriors of stores like Cartier twinkle with fully lit décor all wrapped up in red ribbon.

Additionally, park yourself in front of the glorious Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and watch the music-and-light spectacular that happens every 15 minutes on the façade of Saks Fifth Avenue.

For about 3 minutes, the entire façade changes with lights and decorations with music that will entice and have you humming “So Happy Together” or Beethoven’s Ode to Joy over and over again.

And this year, there’s a special bonus. A variety of stores have created magic displays right on the sidewalk in front of their establishments. There’s a Microsoft cube in front of the Microsoft store, a giant teddy bear in front of FAO Schwarz, gift packages in front of Cartier, Christmas ornaments across from Tiffany’s and much more.

You’ll need to walk up and down both sides of Fifth Avenue to see them all.

Hudson Yards. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
Hudson Yards. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

Hudson Yards

If you can tear yourself away from the outside plaza at Hudson Yards or down from The Edge (which is also decked out with holiday lights and a garland), you should venture inside the Hudson Yards mall where Shine Bright at Hudson Yards, a twinkling, floor-to-ceiling display of more than two million lights illuminates The Shops, Public Square and Gardens, The Edge and The Vessel.

Floating hot air balloons and Christmas trees add to the twinkling magic. 

Brookfield Place

The mall’s annual Luminaries tradition invites participation with an interactive installation in the Winter Garden. Each hour, you’ll enjoy a special light show featuring music by groups like The Bird and the Bee and Pentatonix.

A canopy of colorful lights is formed from hundreds of lanterns suspended among the palms. Below, contactless wishing stations let you send a motion-activated wish to the lanterns prompting a magical display of lights and colors. And you’ll be doing a good deed, too.

For each wish that you make, Brookfield Place will donate $1 to an organization that’s near and dear to me, ROAR (Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants), which supports New York City restaurant employees facing economic challenges as a result of the pandemic.

This year, a new experience called Maestro! allows you to conduct the canopy with a gesture-controlled instrument.

Empire State Building courtesy of the Empire State Building
Empire State Building courtesy of the Empire State Building

The Lights of Manhattan

And here’s a little bonus. You can watch the changing colors of the Empire State Building and the lights of downtown NYC on their ESB Live Cam. Two cameras give you two always-changing views. I could watch these for hours.


Dyker Heights. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
Dyker Heights. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

The Lights of Dyker Heights

It’s hard to imagine a Christmas without the over-the-top lights displays of the houses in Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. Started in 1986 by Lucy Spata as a give-back to brighten up the neighborhood, the decorated homes and yards have attracted busloads of tourists to the streets each year.

Due to COVID, you may have an easier time viewing the inflatable Santa’s, motorized displays and thousands of candy canes and elves, as walking tours are replacing buses. 

It’s an immediate way to lift your spirits as you marvel at the passion and creativity here. The main area is 83rd through 86th streets between 11th and 13th avenues. Plan for crowds as this is one of the most popular highlights of the Christmas season in New York City.

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Staten Island

Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Gardens has an awesome display of more than 1000 winter lanterns, sculpted into figures of all sorts. It’s a party, too, with a live DJ, lots of food, interactive display amid the eight acres of luminaries.

You’ll also come away with a holiday gift, your own personal wish lantern. Tickets are required.


For the first time, Queens Country Farm Museum is transformed into another lantern and figure wonderland with luminaries taking on shapes appropriate to the farm: flowers, farm animals and tractors.

A festive atmosphere reigns throughout with music, food and lots of space to enjoy the lights. Tickets are required.

The Bronx

NYBG Glow in the Bronx courtesy of New York Botanical Garden
NYBG Glow in the Bronx courtesy of New York Botanical Garden


Each year the New York Botanical Garden schedules its beloved train show for the holidays with New York City vignettes and buildings created out of flora and fauna foraged from nature.

Further brightening up the landscape, NYBG Glow shines bright into the night with its outdoor Glow color and light experience. The glowing world surrounds the Haupt Conservatory. 

As you explore, colors, dazzling lights and nighttime illuminations in the reflecting pool and area create a winter wonderland that might conjure up visions of Disney’s World of Color.

Adding to the festivities are ice carving displays, roaming dancers and musicians. Expect a Hip Hop Nutcracker performance of the re-imagined Tchaikovsky classic as well. Timed-entry tickets are required for entry.

Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo courtesy of The Bronx Zoo
Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo courtesy of The Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights

Around the corner, the Bronx Zoo doesn’t disappoint with their seasonal celebration of lights. Through January 10, you’ll see illuminated animals and flowers, ice sculptures, a decked-out Christmas tree and light-strung buildings as you wander along “a safari” path through Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America and the Ocean.

Costumed characters, stilt walkers and projections onto buildings add to the sparkle. A returning favorite, the Luminous Garden is filled with larger-than-life plants and animals.

Book This Trip

Want to plan a New York City Christmas adventure of your own? Here are resources to get you started:

Find more unique activities in New York City, expert-led tours and skip-the-line tickets with GetYourGuide.

You’ll want to pack some heated jackets, base layers and accessories from GOBI to change with your heat needs and unpredictable weather. Check out GOBI heated apparel and accessories here.

Read more about traveling in New York City here:

Meryl Pearlstein

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