The Best of the Best New York City Holiday Illuminated Decorations

Posted on Nov 22, 2011

Rockefeller Center holds the title of “The Tree” in New York City!  However, each neighborhood that you visit has it’s very own tree that is also fun to see.

These tree lightings (and menorah, snowflake and even a few building illuminations) are much less crowded, way cooler (one even comes with a performance of The Nutcracker) and feel like community celebrations, not events for tourists.

Here are 20 awesome holiday illuminations in New York City.

American Museum of Natural History Origami Holiday Tree, Upper West Side, Central Park West at 79th Street

On view Monday, November 21-Monday, January 2.

Free with suggested admission: $19 for adults, $10.50 for children 2-12, free for kids under 2.

There aren’t any actual lights involved, but I love this tree. It stands 13-feet tall and has 500 origami creations dangling from its limbs. This year’s motif pays tribute to the largest animals and objects in the museum, with folded paper ornaments inspired by the blue whale and The World’s Largest Dinosaurs. Throughout the holiday season, volunteers will be on hand to teach the art of origami to visitors. If you just must have lights, check out the two illuminated 19-feet tall holiday barosauruses (barosauri?) on the museum’s front steps.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche , Upper East Side,  1000 5th Avenue at 82nd Street

On view Tuesday, November 22-Thursday, January 5. Lightings occur Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 4:30pm; Friday and Saturday at 4:30, 5:30 and 6:30pm.

Free with suggested admission: $25 for adults, free for children under 12.

The Met’s Christmas tree is a magical, only-in-New-York display. It stands 20-feet high and is placed in front of the 18th-century choir screen from the Spanish Cathedral of Valladolid in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. The arbor is adorned with 18th-century Neapolitan cherubs and angels, and at its base is an exquisite nativity scene. There are spectacular tree lighting ceremonies every day the museum is open.

South Street Seaport Christmas, Tree Lighting – South Street Seaport, Historic Front Street from Fulton to Beekman Streets

Friday, November 25 at 6pm


Always the first major outdoor NYC lighting of the season, the South Street Seaport Christmas tree stands 40-feet high and will be illuminated the Friday after Thanksgiving. This year, Today show personality Jill Martin hosts the festivities, which include performances by the Darren Wallis Jazz Trio featuring Brooklyn’s own Soul Tigers Marching Band, the Big Apple Chorus and Ronnie Spector, roaming costumed characters, and an appearance by Santa, who’ll pose for free photos until 8pm. If you can’t make the tree lighting, you can still drop by the Seaport throughout the season to enjoy the tree and free performances by The Mistletones Carolers, the Big Apple Chorus, the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and Cantori New York. Visit the website
for a complete schedule.

Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square, – Upper West Side,  Tree lighting is at Dante Park, Broadway and 63rd Street. Festival is at various locations in the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District. Visit the website for a complete list.

Monday, November 28 at 5:30pm


The tree lighting at Dante Park kicks off this huge holiday neighborhood celebration. From Columbus Circle to 68th Street, enjoy tons of free entertainment, in-store activities, shopping discounts and much more. This year, kid-centric attractions includes performances by Joanie Leeds & the Nightlights, Dance Parade, Inc. and the Big Apple Circus, awesome roving puppeteers from Arms-of-the-Sea Theater, a children’s book reading by former NYC mayor Ed Koch and incredible ice sculptures by Okamoto Studio. While admission to this awesome event is free, attendees are encouraged to drop off new or gently used coats as part of New York Cares Coat Drive. Visit the website for a list of drop-off locations at the festival.

Holiday Lighting Extravaganza at the Winter Garden –Financial District, World Financial Center, 200 Vesey Street near West Street

Tuesday, November 29 at 6pm


The lovely glass atrium is decorated with 100,000 lights, transforming it into a twinkling snow globe. Afterward, the New York Theatre Ballet performs its kid-friendly one-hour rendition of The Nutcracker. If you’re busy that evening, you can also catch the ballet performance at 12:30pm that afternoon.

Sunnyside Christmas Tree Lighting – Sunnyside, Joe Sabba Park, 50th Street and Queens Boulevard

Tuesday, November 29 at 6:30pm


The Sunnyside Chamber Of Commerce sponsors this neighborhood lighting featuring a performance by the Sunnyside Drum Corp and a visit with Santa.

The Pond at Bryant Park Tree Lighting – Midtown West between 40th and 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue

Tuesday, November 29 at 7pm


The only free ice-skating rink in the city hosts this annual tree lighting. Entertainment is yet to be determined but will certainly include lots of skating performances.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree – Midtown East, Rockefeller Plaza between 48th-51st Streets

Wednesday, November 30 at 7pm


We are not recommending that you go, especially with kids (we went once; never again!). But if you’ve just gotta see the famous Norway Spruce illuminated with 30,000 LED lights and topped with a massive Swarovski crystal star, then arrive early (like 4pm) and read up on other fun things to do near Rock Center.

Christmas in Richmond Town & Traditional Tree Lighting – Staten Island, 441 Clarke Avenue

Sunday, December 4. Festival begins at 10am, tree lighting is at 5pm

Tree lighting is free. Admission to the festival is $8 for adults, $5 for children 4-11, free for kids under 4. Additional fees for certain activities.

Enjoy an old-fashioned holiday in the historic village. Watch the tinsmith create glittering tree ornaments, listen to Christmas carols and stories, snap photos with Santa, browse the holiday market and take a horse and wagon ride. The free tree lighting caps off the day of fun.

Charles A. Dana Discovery Center Lighting – Harlem, Central Park, enter at 110th Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues

Sunday, December 4 at 4pm


The Central Park Conservancy kicks off the holidays by decorating the Victorian-style center with thousands of LED lights. Old Saint Nick will drop by and say hello to little ones (it’s usually a little nutty to make for a good photo op). Families can also enjoy cookie decorating, live music and crafts.

Carl Schurz Park Tree Lighting and Caroling – Upper East Side, East End Avenue at 86th Street

Sunday, December 4 at 5pm


Neighbors come together to sing Christmas carols, enjoy cookies, candy canes and hot chocolate, and watch the tree light up. Song books are even provided.  Make it an interfaith night by sticking around for the lighting of the park’s giant menorah at 6pm.

The Lighting of the Park Avenue Christmas Trees – Upper East Side,  Brick Presbyterian Church, 91st Street and Park Avenue

Sunday, December 4 time to be determined


Why watch just one tree lighting when you can see a block’s-worth of fir trees come alive with white lights? These arbors were first illuminated in 1945 to commemorate those lost in World War II. Today, this tradition continues in honor of the brave men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The lighting begins with a brief ceremony outside the Brick Presbyterian Church.

Brooklyn Borough Hall Annual Christmas Tree Lighting – Brooklyn Heights, Borough Hall Plaza, 209 Joralemon Street at Court Street

Monday, December 5 at 5:30pm


Details are scarce but this annual community tree lighting promises live music and refreshments.

Madison Square Park – Flatiron District, Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street

Tuesday, December 6 at 4:30pm


This green space was host to America’s very first community holiday tree. That tradition continues this year with a lighting in the Northern Plaza followed by a kids’ concert by AudraRox.

Park Slope Fifth Avenue BID – Park Slope, s’Nice, 315 Fifth Avenue at 3rd Street

Tuesday, December 6 at 6pm


Usually this organization lights a tree at neighborhood hot spot the Old Stone House. But due to construction in Washington Park, this year’s tree is located in the garden of s’Nice, a local cafe. In addition to the illumination, families can enjoy live music by Roly Poly Guacamole and the Middle School 51 chorus, hot chocolate and other goodies, and a visit with Santa.

Washington Square Park Christmas Tree Lighting – Greenwich Village, The Arch, Fifth Avenue and Washington Square North

Wednesday, December 7 at 6pm


The Washington Square Association welcomes the Rob Susman Brass Quartet for sing-along carols and holiday songs (complimentary songbooks will be provided). Santa Claus has promised to drop by to help illuminate the beautiful 45-foot-tall Christmas tree under the Washington Square Arch.

Holiday Lights – Battery Park City, South Cove, southern end of South End Avenue

Thursday, December 8 at 5:45pm


A cappella group The Accidentals croons during this annual illumination, and Santa even puts in an appearance. Please bring an unwrapped gift for donation.

Peace Tree at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine – Morningside Heights, Amsterdam Avenue at 111th Street

Friday, December 16 at 11am


Students from the Cathedral School will put up their annual Mitten Tree alongside this lovely arbor, decorated with 500 paper cranes, an Asian symbol of harmony, longevity and peace.

World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah Lighting – Upper East Side, Grand Army Plaza, Fifth Avenue at 59th Street

Tuesday, December 20-Wednesday, December 28 Friday at 3:30pm, Saturday at
8:30pm and 5:30pm on all other days


Christmas trees don’t get to have all the fun. After all, Hanukkah is the festival of lights. This massive 32-foot tall, two-ton menorah will be lit every night of the holiday.

Grand Army Plaza Menorah Lighting – Park Slope, Intersection of Vanderbilt and Flatbush Avenues

Tuesday, December 20-Wednesday, December 28


We don’t yet have confirmation of this event, but if it runs as usual, the details will be as follows: Each night of the holiday, the menorah will be lit and revelers can enjoy hot latkes, gifts for the children and live music.

UNICEF Snowflake, Fifth Avenue at 55th Street

The enormous, 3,000-pound crystal snowflake was first lit for the season last week on the eve of Universal Children’s Day. But you can marvel at it throughout the holiday season.

Let us know which is your favorite!

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