10 NYC Christmas Trees and Holiday Lights That Are Not At Rockefeller Center
I love Rockefeller Center’s gigantic Christmas tree as much as any other New Yorker. But I’ll only visit at 3AM when the crowds have subsided a bit. It is the largest tree in town, but it is far from the only one.
I am happy to share my own favorite holiday alternatives to Rockefeller Center with you.
This list is a walking tour from the tip of lower Manhattan to the Upper East Side. Each tree has a distinct story, and many have a remarkable history. So slip on your walking shoes and your gloves, and come find the holiday spirit in the trees and lights along the way!
NOTE: I’ve added TWO BONUS TREES on the West Side of Manhattan because they are equally wonderful.
10 NYC Christmas Trees and Holiday Lights That Are Not at Rockefeller Center
Starting at the lower end of Manhattan, the first stop on our tour is the big, bright Christmas Tree in the South Street Seaport. You can go ice skating and the out for a nosh at any nearby restaurant.
South Street Seaport Tree and Skating Rink (Photo courtesy of South Street Seaport)
2. Wall Street NYSE Tree: I can’t find much information about this tree, but I worked at 40 Wall Street for several years, and I always felt that this tree was one of New York’s best kept holiday secrets. It stands right outside the Stock Exchange, and it is a glorious tree decorated with extra large baubles.
Wall Street NYSE Tree (Photo by Markets of New York City)
3. Zucotti Park Trees and Twinkly Lights: Head back across Wall Street and North on Broadway towards Zucotti Park (of Occupy Wall Street fame). The park was beautifully renovated after September 11, 2001, and its trees are filled with twinkly lights. During the holidays, you will find a grove of simply lit evergreens. It is a good place to sit and sip a cup of hot chocolate before heading over to City Hall.
Holiday Grove at Zucotti Park (Photo by Markets of New York City)
4. City Hall Holiday Fountain: The central feature of City Hall Park is a wonderful, multi-tiered fountain. For the holidays, the fountain fills with trees and turns into a garden of lights. The flickering gas lamps around the fountain give you the feeling of being back in Old New York.
Markets Along the Way:
Head straight up Broadway from City Hall, and you can turn left (west) onto Houston before you get to Washington Square Park to find The Marketplace at St. Anthony’s on weekends between Thompson and Sullivan Streets.
Take a brief detour by turning left (south) off Houston and down Sullivan for a block, and you will find Gallery La La Artisan Market.
Head back north up Sullivan to Bleecker Street, where you will find The Market NYC, open Wednesdays – Sundays.
If you go east on Bleecker, it’s a good detour to find the Pompeii Artisan and Flea Market on Bleecker between Carmine and Leroy Streets, open Saturdays and Sundays.
Holiday Fountain of Lights at City Hall Park (Photo courtesy of NYCParks.gov
5. Washington Square Park Christmas Tree Under the Arch: 2014 marks the 90th anniversary of the lighting of the Christmas tree at Washington Square Park. It graces the famous arch at the southernmost end of 5th Avenue. You can see the Empire State Building right behind it, some 26 blocks north.
Washington Square Park Christmas Tree (Photo by Markets of New York City)
6. Madison Square Park Tree: The tree at the north end of Madison Square Park is the oldest public holiday tree in the United States. This year’s tree, located at the north end of the park towards 26th Street, is decorated with hand-blown blue glass bulbs contributed by the City of Strasbourg in France. (The photo below is from 2013 – I will update it shortly.)
On the way uptown from Washington Square Park, head straight up University Place until you see the red and white strips of the Union Square Holiday Market. It is an excellent place for holiday shopping and for grabbing lunch, dinner or a snack. (See my story about the best holiday markets for food in Edible Manhattan this month!)
Keep walking North up University Place, and you will find the Union Square Greenmarket on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. This farmers market is the largest in the city, and you can find great gifts for food lovers on your list, including rooftop honey, blueberry syrup, NY State maple syrup, merino sheep wool, lavender sachets and so much more.
Keep heading up Broadway (University turns into Broadway at the top of the park) and stop in ABC Carpet & Home between 17th & 18th Streets to visit their tabletop, kitchen and food market, abcmkt. It’s full of splendid foods and decorative items for your table and your kitchen.
Take a short detour to the right on 25th Street to visit the Chelsea Flea Market, one of Manhattan’s premier flea and antiques markets, open Saturdays and Sundays year-round.
The Oldest Public Christmas Tree in the US at Madison Square Park (Photo by Markets of New York City)
7. Bryant Park Tree and Winter Village: From Madison Square Park, you can walk straight up 5th Avenue till you get to the glorious NY Public Library between 40th and 42nd Streets. Take a left on 40th heading west, and you will come to the stately Christmas tree just behind the library in Bryant Park, surrounded by a village of glass-walled holiday shops. You can also skate for free if you have your own skates, or rent them there.
Right in Bryant Park are the Holiday Shops, a village of mostly handmade and local gift items, as well as delicious foods to eat while you shop.
On 42nd Street between Madison and Park Avenues is Grand Central Terminal and the vibrant Grand Central Holiday Fair in the historic Vanderbilt Hall.
Christmas Tree at the Bryant Park Winter Village (Photo by Markets of New York City)
8. UNICEF USA Snowflake: Look up! This giant snowflake is not a tree, but it became a fixture in the world of New York holiday lights when it first sparkled over 5th Avenue at 57th Street in 2004. The snowflake, made from 16,000 Baccarat crystals, serves as “a beacon of hope for children everywhere, and reminding its visitors that ‘like snowflakes, every child is unique, wholly distinct, and singularly precious.”
The UNICEF Snowflake has been glowing at 5th and 57th since 2004
9. Park Avenue Tree Lighting: 104 illuminated fir trees have lined the center median of Park Avenue between 54th and 91st Street for 70 years. They were first lit in 1944 during WWII to commemorate the deaths of men and women during the war. Today, they remain “a symbol of peace and a reminder of the sacrifices made to attain it.” It is a sight to behold. (Thanks to my friend Kathy Blake for sharing her neighorhood’s tradition with us!)
Park Avenue Christmas Trees (Photo Courtesy of TracysNewYorkLife.com
10. Metropolitan Museum Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Creche: This spectacular tree is the perfect place to end our tour. Over 200 Neapolitan figures depict the Nativity scene and surrounding village the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tree and nativity creche have been displayed each season for over 40 years. It holds a special place in my heart and in the hearts of many New Yorkers and visitors to the city. Don’t miss any of the wonderfully handcrafted details all around the tree.
Metropolitan Museum Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Creche (Photo by Markets of New York City)
BONUS TREES ON THE WEST SIDE!
11. Lincoln Center Tree: Lincoln Center for Performing Arts lights a wonderful tree with ornaments representing the performing arts. It graces the center of the plaza, surrounded by the theater, the opera house and the concert hall at Lincoln Center Plaza on Columbus Avenue between West 62nd and 65th Streets.
Christmas Tree at Lincoln Center (Photo courtesy of GuestOfAGuest.com)
12. Cathedral of St. John the Divine: St. John The Divine Episcopal Cathedral hosts some of my favorite events in the city, including the Winter Solstice Concert. Each year, students at the Cathedral School light a Peace Tree inside the Cathedral, decorated with handmade paper cranes, symbolizing long life. It is the largest cathedral in the Western World. Ad the Hungarian Pastry Shop is right across the street. (Priorities, people, priorities.)
Peace Tree at St. John the Divine Cathedral (Photo courtesy of St. John the Divine)
You can walk this entire tour in a day, and the route will take you through neighborhoods, parks and holiday markets. Fortify yourself along the way with the spirit of the holidays, when New York sparkles the most.
Happy Tree Hunting!
~Karen Seiger, Markets of New York City
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