The 6 Best New York City Christmas Light Tours

New York is a magical city at Christmas. Its decorations, lights and trees will make you enjoy an unforgettable holiday. Don't let the cold weather stop you and go out and explore its streets and avenues with the help of an expert.

María Cano

María Cano

11 min read

The 6 Best New York City Christmas Light Tours

The streets of New York at Christmas | ©Clay Leconey

The beauty of New York is indisputable, but if you have the opportunity to visit it at Christmas time you will fall in love for life. Christmas in New York is internationally known for the spectacular lighting of neighbourhoods like Dyker Heights or Manhattan or its famous Christmas trees that fill the city with magic.

In such a big city, a good option is to join a guided tour that shows you the best lighting of its streets, squares, buildings, etc. Here are some options. If you don't know what to see and do in New York at Christmas, start by taking note of the following tours:

1. Guided tours to discover the lights of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn

Dyker Heights is a Brooklyn neighbourhood full of single-family homes with gardens. And, on this special day in the calendar, the neighbourhood takes the opportunity to decorate its homes with a multitude of lights, Christmas decorations, giant Father Christmases, reindeer, toy soldiers, candy and much more - a real competition between neighbouring families!

One of the decorated houses in the Dyker Heights neighbourhood| ©Richie S
One of the decorated houses in the Dyker Heights neighbourhood| ©Richie S

To visit Dyker Heights I recommend a guided tour to get to know in depth all the history and curiosities of this neighbourhood. In this article on how to visit the lights of Dyker Heights you will find all the details of this neighbourhood that leaves no visitor indifferent.

Which famous houses in Dyker Heights will you see on your tour?

The most famous houses are located on 83rd and 86th Streets at 10th and 12th Avenues, and although the itinerary may vary a bit from year to year, tours usually take you to see them:

  • Lucy Spata: The most famous house is that of Lucy Spata, located at 1152 84th Street. This Dyker Heights neighbour is the one who started the tradition of decorating her house with numerous figures and Christmas lights. She was joined by the rest of the neighbourhood.
  • Polizzotto: Another home known for its Christmas decorations is that of the Polizzotto family at 1145 84th Street. This house is easily recognisable because it has a merry-go-round and a large Father Christmas in the yard.
  • Sam the Greek: Next to Lucy Spata and the Polizzotto family, another of the most characteristic houses in the neighbourhood is Sam the Greek, located between 71st and 72nd Streets on 14th Avenue. This house is decorated with lights all along the façade and in the garden.

Interesting details

  • Price of guided tours: There are different categories of guided tours of Dyker Heights. This tour can be done either on foot or by bus and the approximate price from which you can do this tour is from €40 by bus or from €20 on foot.

  • Duration of tours: The duration of the Dyker Heights walking tour is usually one and a half hours, while the bus tour is three and a half to four hours and can be complemented with other parts of the city.

  • How to get to Dyker Heights on your own: The neighbourhood is located between Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst in southwest Brooklyn ( 45 minutes-1 hour from Manhattan). To get there you can take the D or R underground line or you can also take the bus from Wall Street.

  • Best time to see Dyker Heights: from mid-December (in principle they start to light up after Thanksgiving, but there are always a few stragglers) and just before dusk, so you'll have a chance to see all the lights come on. It is also advisable not to go after 9pm, as many houses start turning off their lights after that time.

Book a Brooklyn Christmas Tour

2. Christmas lights from the tour bus

One of the most famous houses in Dyker Heights| ©Hellotickets
One of the most famous houses in Dyker Heights| ©Hellotickets

One of the most popular ways to enjoy New York's Christmas lights is with a tour bus tour. It's more comfortable and you'll escape the dreaded New York City cold this time of year to some extent.

What you'll see on your Christmas sightseeing bus tour

The bus will take you through the Dyker Heights neighbourhood and will also take in other iconic areas of the city such as Rockefeller Center, where you can admire New York City's most spectacular tree with over 50,000 lights, Fifth Avenue and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Interesting details

  • The duration of a guided bus tour can range from three and a half to four hours and includes walking tours of the Dyker Heights district.
  • The price of the bus tour varies depending on the length of the tour, but can be found from around €40 per person.

Book the sightseeing bus

3. Christmas Cruise to see the city lights from the Hudson River

View from the Empire State Building Cruise| ©Joisey Showaa
View from the Empire State Building Cruise| ©Joisey Showaa

If you are looking for an original alternative to see the Christmas lights I recommend you to take a cruise on the Hudson. From a yacht or sailboat you will have the chance to enjoy, in a different way, the beauty of the illumination of neighbourhoods like Manhattan or Brooklyn. These cruises depart at different times of the day, but the best time to enjoy the lights is at dusk.

In fact, there's also the option of taking a dinner cruise on the Hudson while you're protected from the cold of New York City in December. Sounds good, doesn't it?

What you'll see on your Hudson cruise at Christmas time

With a cruise you'll get to see the New York City skyline, as well as the spectacular Christmas decorations of Manhattan and Brooklyn. In addition, you will have the opportunity to see, among other places, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, One World Trade Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge and Williamsburg Bridge.

If you have doubts about whether to do this cruise, here is this post about How much does a Hudson River cruise in New York cost and you will see different alternatives.

Interesting details

  • The price: the price of a Hudson River cruise starts at 35€.
  • Duration: between one and a half and two hours. The duration of the Hudson River cruise is between one and a half and two hours.

4. Enjoy the magic of Christmas on a very special form of transport

If flying over New York is already a spectacle in itself, imagine what it's like to see the Christmas lights from the sky with a helicopter flight from New Jersey. With a 30-minute flight, you'll be able to see the city's main monuments lit up.

Don't rule out a treat either, and since travelling to New York at Christmas is a unique moment, how about taking a limousine ride to see the Christmas lights? A luxury that lasts about three and a half hours and that you won't forget.

And if you want to feel like you're the star of a vintage Christmas movie, this is your option: Christmas lights tour in a horse-drawn carriage.

Horse-drawn carriage Christmaslights tour

5. Manhattan's Christmas lights walking tour

Rockefeller Center at Christmas| ©Michael Vadon
Rockefeller Center at Christmas| ©Michael Vadon

Most guided walking tours of Manhattan's Christmas lights start at Rockefeller Center for Christmas, where you'll see New York's most famous tree, which stands at no less than 20 metres tall, has almost 50,000 LED lights and is crowned by a Swarovski star weighing almost 400 kilos.

After seeing America's most famous tree, and the skating rink at its foot, the tour continues along Fifth Avenue, whose shop windows are carefully designed for this time of year. From there, the guide will head to the MeatPacking and Greenwich Village neighbourhoods and stop at the High Line to enjoy the wonderful views from the High Line.

Details of interest

  • Duration: The duration of this Manhattan Christmas lights walking tour can vary, but is usually approximately four hours.

  • Price: The price of the Manhattan Christmas lights tour starts at €38.

6. Tour the Christmas lights on a self-drive tour

Madison Square Park at Christmas| ©Jeffrey Zeldman
Madison Square Park at Christmas| ©Jeffrey Zeldman

And if you decide to take a tour on your own, I recommend you get a map and choose the time of day when night falls to start your tour.

Rockefeller Center

Start at Rockefeller Center, one of the most emblematic places and one that will make you aware of the magic and meaning of Christmas. Since 1931, this square has been home to New York's most famous Christmas tree, which is 20 metres high, has almost 50,000 LED lights and is crowned by a Swarovski star weighing almost 400 kilos.

Fifth Avenue

After Rockefeller Center, I recommend you go to Fifth Avenue, the heart of Manhattan, where the Christmas decorations are also like a movie. The lights of the city are joined by the shop windows, which are elaborately decorated at this time of year. In fact, some of them feature the collaboration of renowned artists. And speaking of films, this is the best tour for film and Christmas lovers: Manhattan's Christmas lights and film locations tour.

Bryant Park

Another place you can't miss is Bryant Park where there is also a spectacular Christmas tree and the park is beautifully lit. It's also home to one of New York's most popular skating rinks.

Madison Square Park

Also, don't forget to visit Madison Square Park where the Tree of Light is held, an event that consists of decorating the different trees in the area with gold and silver lights. Afterwards, don't miss the Christmas tree under the Arc de Triomphe where the popular carol concert is held every year.

Dyker Heights

But without a doubt, the most outstanding place to see the Christmas lights is Dyker Heights, a residential neighbourhood where locals decorate their homes and gardens with millions of Christmas lights and decorations.

Traveller's tip

I recommend you travel to New York between mid-December and before the end of the year to soak up the city's Christmas culture.

Recommendations for a tour to discover Christmas lights

Wall Street Christmas decorations| ©Andrew Dallos
Wall Street Christmas decorations| ©Andrew Dallos
  • Bundle up: It is essential that when you go on a Christmas lights tour you dress warmly and wear boots with thick, non-slip soles.
  • Bring water and snacks: The Christmas lights tour takes you through some residential neighbourhoods such as Dyker Heights where it is difficult to find a café or a place to have a drink. So I recommend you bring water and some snacks.
  • Hot drinks: As the tour is completely outdoors, we recommend that you buy some tea, coffee or chocolate to take with you from time to time in order to escape from the cold.

Best time to go out to discover the city lights

Christmas in Bryant Park| ©Mike Carey
Christmas in Bryant Park| ©Mike Carey

The best time to discover New York City's Christmas lights is just before nightfall to get a chance to see the lights come on and avoid the cooler temperatures of the evening or early morning.

Given the time of nightfall in New York City in December and January, it's best to head out around 4:30pm.

If after this tour you still want to know more about all the possible plans that New York has to offer at Christmas, don't hesitate to visit the post What to do and see at Christmas in New York.

By the way, if you feel inspired and feel like leaving Manhattan, you can always go and see the Christmas lights at the Bronx Zoo. Quite a spectacle!

Other recommended tours: visit Manhattan's Christmas markets

Grand Central Holiday Fair entrance| ©Patrick Cashin
Grand Central Holiday Fair entrance| ©Patrick Cashin

Strolling through the Christmas markets is another of the city's great attractions when the winter season arrives. Here's which ones you can't miss:

  • Grand Central Holiday Fair at Grand Central Terminal: This market is located in the Vanderbilt Hall terminal and has numerous craft stalls where you'll find jewellery, housewares, jewellery, art?
  • Winter Village in Bryant Park: This is arguably the most famous flea market in New York City and also the largest. It has more than 120 stalls with products and you can find anything you can imagine. And if your stroll coincides with lunchtime, you'll have plenty of options.
  • Union Square Holiday Market. This open-air market is located in Union Square Park and has just about everything: handmade jewellery, accessories of all kinds and plenty of food and drink stands.
  • Columbus Circle Holyday Market Located in the southwest corner of Central Park. It has nothing to envy to a European flea market. You can even find mulled wine.
  • The Market in Westfield: This market is very curious because of its location. It is located in the central square inside The Oculus in the World Trade Center. It is well worth a visit.

Skating rinks in Manhattan you can't miss

Central Park Ice Skating Rink| ©Georgio
Central Park Ice Skating Rink| ©Georgio

And of course, when Christmas comes around, one of the most popular things to do is to meet up with your friends or partner and go ice skating. Some of the most popular ice skating rinks are located in the best parks in New York City:

  • Rockefeller Rink, The Rink at Rockefeller Center: This is the most popular ice rink in New York. It is located in the Rockefeller Center plaza.

  • Bryant Park Rink, The Rink at Bryant Park: This rink, located in the middle of Bryant Park, is a favourite of many New Yorkers because it overlooks the Empire State Building.

  • Central Park's skating rink, Wollman Rink: To the southwest of Central Park you'll find this skating rink that stands out for its charm.

Manhattan's Christmas windows that you will see on guided tours or on your own

Bloomingdale's window display in a New York City Christmas.| ©Sabeen Shahid
Bloomingdale's window display in a New York City Christmas.| ©Sabeen Shahid

Take the opportunity to ask your guide about other iconic locations where you can enjoy the Christmas lights and window displays. The legendary Macy's department store, for example, always has animated window displays to the beat of the music in its huge windows (you'll see hundreds of tourists and curious New Yorkers peering in).

New York's big-box stores also get into the Christmas spirit and carefully decorate their windows. You can see them all on a tour of New York's Christmas windows. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Bloomingdale's: between 59th and 60th Street all the way to Lexington Avenue.
  • Bergdorf Goodman: between 58th Street and Fifth Avenue.
  • Tiffany & Co: on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.
  • Cartier: on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street.
  • Macy's: between 34th and 35th Streets and Broadway.

Manhattan Christmas Trees that you will see on the tour or on your own

Photo of a Christmas Tree| ©Johnell Pannell
Photo of a Christmas Tree| ©Johnell Pannell

As mentioned above, New York 's best Christmas trees are true works of art, and another attraction for New Yorkers and tourists alike. This Christmas lights tour by Limousine will take you to see them all, but the trees you can't miss on your New York Christmas tour are:

  • The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree: This Christmas tree is 20 metres tall, has more than 50,000 LED bulbs and is crowned by a Swarovski star weighing no less than 400 kilos.
  • Madison Square Park Christmas Tree: This is the oldest Christmas tree in New York City. It was first put up in 1912.
  • The Christmas tree at the American Museum of Natural History: The Christmas tree at the American Museumof Natural History is characterised by its origami decorations.
  • The Bryant Park Christmas tree: This tree, next to the one in Rockefeller Center, stands out for its lighting, with more than 30,000 lights.
  • The Wall Street Christmas tree: This Christmas tree has a history. Specifically, it was the first in New York City to have electric lights.
  • The Christmas tree of the MET Museum: The Christmas tree of this museum is the most traditional one. At its base there is a nativity scene with more than 200 figures and it is decorated with angels and cherubs dating from the 18th century.