Christmas Season in New York 2023
Christmas season in New York is a really special time, the atmosphere is indescribable; you’ll be amazed by the countless lights and magical decorations. For Americans, Christmas is an important holiday and this is reflected in the enthusiasm with which they decorate their homes. Every year a huge Christmas tree is illuminated at the Rockefeller Center and the windows of the shops on Fifth Avenue are beautifully decorated! If you are in New York during the Christmas season, there are several activities that you can do to soak up this atmosphere.
The Christmas Lights Tour of Dyker Heights
The Christmas lights decorating American houses are breathtaking. To see exuberantly decorated houses (you certainly know them from series and movies) you should not stay in Manhattan but go to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. This affluent area has even been chosen as the “best-decorated neighbourhood of America”. Take part in the 3.5-hour Brooklyn Christmas Lights Tour of Dyker Heights and explore the beautifully lit and decorated homes.
The tour begins in Midtown where your bus with a guide heads to Brooklyn. Once in Dyker Heights, you won’t believe what you’re seeing! Some of the extravagant creations cost more than $10,000. To keep your Christmas spirit high, Christmas videos and Christmas carols will be played on the bus.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular (The Rockettes)
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, starring The Rockettes is one of the most iconic Christmas shows in New York. It includes Santa, the Nutcracker and of course the Nativity. Starting in early November, you can visit one of the many shows a day. If you’ve already seen the show once you can definitely go again, as the show’s a bit different every year. It’s held at Radio City Music Hall and is truly the best way to get into the Christmas spirit.
Festive Christmas Cruise
Get well and truly into the Christmas spirit during this festive Christmas cruise in New York. Aboard this 1920s vintage-style yacht, enjoy hot chocolate, cookies, and Christmas songs performed by a live band as you pass the Manhattan skyline.
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
The famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is an attraction in its own right. The tree needs to be a minimum of 20 metres tall and around 7.5 metres wide but it’s usually much taller (between 23 and 27 metres). The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is put in place in mid-November. It is decorated with 5 miles (8 km) of fairy lights which are lit in a public ceremony that takes place the Wednesday after Thanksgiving.
This year, the tree lighting ceremony falls on December 4th. Read all about the Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony here. The lights will be turned off January 13th. The tree is illuminated daily from 05:00 until 22:00 and from December 15th through Christmas Eve, the tree will be lit from 5:00 until 1:00. On Christmas Day the tree is illuminated for 24 hours. On New Year’s Eve, the lights are turned off at 21:00.
Rockefeller Center ice skating
In addition to a beautiful Christmas tree, Rockefeller Center is also famous for its skating rink. Skating in New York at Rockefeller Center is a great experience. The queues at the Rockefeller Rink can be quite long. Do you want to skate here during the Christmas season? Then you can opt for an ice skating package.
New York Holiday Lights Tour
Do you want to see the highlights of Christmas lights in New York but don’t want to do it on your own? Then take this walking tour. With your guide, you walk through the city, past the famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree and the great displays of the shops on Fifth Avenue and more. There will be several stops during the small-group walking tour. The Rockefeller Christmas Tree is only lit in late November or early December. To avoid disappointment, I advise you to take the tour only after the tree has been lit.
Christmas Horse Carriage Ride
Christmas in New York is magical, but it can get even more magical in the back of a horse carriage. During this tour, you can sit back and enjoy Central Park, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, the Saks Fifth Avenue light show, and many more. See how all the lights are twinkling and get the true New York Christmas spirit.
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker is performed by the New York City Ballet each year during the holiday season, starting from the end of November until the beginning of January. With music by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Balanchine, it’s a classic piece loved and watched by many. If you’re in New York, you can enjoy the magical Christmas world including the toy soldiers and incredible visual effects in the David H. Koch Theatre.
In New York, there are a number of Christmas markets you can visit. Two of the best are Bryant Park and Union Square. The Bryant Park Christmas Market starts at the end of October and runs until the beginning of January. This is a large market and because you can also go ice skating and sit in the cafe, it’s the absolute best Christmas experience. You can buy Christmas decorations and ornaments. These Holiday markets aren’t cheap but it’s all about the experience, after all. I once bought a New York taxi tree ornament, as well as a hotdog stand one! The Union Square Christmas Market is a little smaller. It’s on from the end of November to December 24th (closed on Thanksgiving). At this market, you can get food and presents. Read about all the Christmas markets in New York here.
Decorated Shop Windows
If there is one thing during Christmas in New York that will surely put you in the festive mood, it’s the beautifully decorated streets and shop windows. Big department stores really dedicate the whole year to preparing their Christmas window displays, each telling its own story. The shop windows are somewhat of a gift to the public and are not prominently sales-driven.
It’s popular for both locals and tourists to wander past the stores during Christmas time in New York, especially on Fifth Avenue. The department stores with the best shop windows are Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Tiffany’s. Macy’s should, of course not be missed.
When will the Christmas decorations go up?
The Christmas decorations in shops are usually revealed at the end of November, or the beginning of December: typically after Thanksgiving. This is also the case for the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. After New Year, most of the shops will remove their decorations.
Macy’s during Christmas
The department store Macy’s has dedicated a whole floor to a magical Christmas village called Macy’s Santaland. Everything is beautifully decorated both inside and outside the Herald Square store. Even Santa Claus is present during this month-long celebration until Christmas Eve, so you (or your children) can snap a photograph (for a fee). Because Santa is very busy this time of the year, advance reservations are required.
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