Trust us: no one is immune to the majesty of a towering evergreen, twinkling with thousands of lights, even if it does draw the crowds. With New York’s tourist numbers down and plenty of tree lighting festivities back up, 2021 just may be the year to experience Manhattan’s holiday joy. In the past, we’ve ranked the most impressive trees in terms of their tendency to attract out-of-towners. But this season, there is less elbowing all around. So pack up a Yeti filled with hot cider, throw on your best pom-pom hat, and hit these stunning trees with all the other locals. We’ll see you there.
The 12 Best Christmas Trees in NYC This Year
1. Rockefeller Center
This is easily the most famous Christmas tree in the city—if not the country/world—so it’s no surprise that it’s also the one most mobbed by tourists. That’s still the case, but who can resist the 79-foot-tall Norway spruce looming over an ice rink? Book yourself extra time to maneuver the crowds, and you’ll be rewarded with a close look at its 50,000 lights on nearly 5 miles of wire and its enormous, nine-foot-wide Swarovski crystal star tree topper. Even late-night visits won’t save you from the oblivious photobombers, so if you need a break, turn around: Saks Fifth Avenue, just across the street, puts on quite the evening light show.
30 Rockefeller Plaza; rockefellercenter.com
2. Bank Of America Winter Village At Bryant Park
New Yorkers know that Bryant Park’s Christmas tree rivals that of Rockefeller Center, and this year is no different. The 43-foot-tall spruce towers over the park, which turns into an ice-skating rink and holiday market in the winter months. You’ll find plenty of fellow locals at the Lodge by Prime Video, where they can snack on s’mores and warm drinks spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream. World-class ice skaters, like Mirai Nagasu and Shawn Sawyer, hit the rink during the tree lighting ceremony, but you’ll see regular ole’ New Yorkers trying their hand at the ice on the rest of the days.
West 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue; bryantpark.org
3. Lincoln Center
When you hear the words holiday performance, we bet you think of the New York City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” That makes the Christmas tree near Lincoln Center in the charming Dante Park a magnet for a jolly night out. Its location at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue—near the Metropolitan Opera, Juilliard, and the Empire Hotel—brings together a smiling crowd of families, students, and out-of-towners. This year that’s especially true, as the Lincoln Center BID has revised its typical tree lighting due to COVID. Instead of one night of festive fun, they will put on a series of events throughout December, including pop-up musical performances and surprise activations. After taking in the decor, you can wander over to the Lincoln Square fountains or pop into Bar Boulud for a glass of wine.
East 63rd Street and Broadway; winterseve.nyc
4. New York Stock Exchange
Head to FiDi to see one of New York’s most iconic Christmas trees right in front of the New York Stock Exchange. The tradition of lighting up an evergreen here dates back 98 years to 1923, making it one of the oldest in the city. It’s at a pretty location along the slope of the famous road, so you’ll still jostle through some groups in the daytime. We recommend going in the evening, when its 500 ornaments are illuminated, and the few other humans are merely after-work tipplers on their way home.
11 Wall St.; nyse.com
5. Metropolitan Museum Of Art
If you’re looking to admire a Christmas tree without freezing your butt off, head to the Medieval Sculpture Hall at the Met. There you’ll find a stunning 20-foot blue spruce set against a backdrop of the reja of a Spanish cathedral. Admire the 18th-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs that adorn the tree as well as the crèche (nativity scene) at its base. Tourists and locals are no strangers to the popular art mecca, even amid the pandemic, but there’s some solace: New Yorkers can enter the museum for free with proof of residence, whereas out-of-towners will be forking over an admission fee.
1000 Fifth Ave.; metmuseum.org
6. Park Avenue Trees
Why go in search of one tree when you could see 104 of them glistening with white lights? Head to Park Avenue uptown, where dozens of illuminated trees appear on the malls from East 54th to East 97th. The tradition actually started in 1945 as a way to honor those who died in World War II, and today it serves as a symbol of peace. Take an evening stroll up the wide boulevard, and you just may find yourself darting into an Upper East Side classic, like Sant Ambroeus for a decadent hot chocolate or Bemelmen’s Bar for a strong Manhattan.
Park Avenue; fundforparkavenue.org
7. Washington Square Park
This downtown gathering place is a truly cheerful spot to admire a twinkling evergreen: The park is always swarming with musicians, especially carolers during the holidays. (On Christmas Eve, there’s an annual caroling performance with the Rob Sussman Brass Quartet.) Swing by any night for a truly picturesque shot of the tree in front of the marble triumphal arch. It’s great for the ‘gram. Bonus points if there’s snow.
Fifth Avenue and Washington Square North; washingtonsquarenyc.org
8. South Street Seaport
One of the city’s most joyful trees is found in the South Street Seaport. This quaint area of lower Manhattan has a great pine for a classic holiday pic—you can walk right up to the tree without too many crowds. We suggest bringing along a mug of hot cocoa and taking in the views, then strolling the cobblestone streets and perusing the area’s shops for holiday gifts. Plus, the Seaport has a variety of festive events during the holiday season, so check the website for events like a toy drive, ugly sweater party, and holiday crafts—with drinks, of course.
19 Fulton St.; seaportdistrict.nyc
9. American Museum Of Natural History
For the past 50 years, the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side has celebrated the holidays with the city’s most unique tree: the Origami Holiday Tree. The 13-foot pine is covered with more than 1,000 origami “ornaments” inspired by the museum’s collection of fossils, rocks and dioramas. That includes origami versions of the famous blue whale, T-rex dinosaur, and gemstones from the Hall of Gems and Minerals. This year, the tree is particularly sparkly, filled with more gold-colored paper than usual in honor of its golden anniversary.
200 Central Park West; amnh.org
10. Columbia University
OK, we know this is not technically a Christmas tree, but it is one of the most festive spots for a romantic holiday photo. Every year, Columbia University covers the trees that line College Walk with thousands of lights, which creates a rather stunning image. It’d be difficult to frown for this pleasant stroll. Head there at night, when most of the students are off pulling all-nighters and you’ll have the place to yourself.
West 116th Street and Broadway; columbia.edu
11. Louis Vuitton Store
If you cannot erect a Christmas tree on Fifth Avenue, you do the next best thing: a 2-D version. The Louis Vuitton flagship unveiled its own 12-story “tree” plastered to the exterior of the building. The tree, covered in neon lights, can be seen from blocks away but we recommend standing on the opposite corner of 57th Street to really take in the view. Of course, it’s covered in LV logos too.
1 East 57th St.; us.louisvuitton.com
12. Harlem Meer
Central Park has no shortage of oaks and elms, but the best evergreens are found each December on the east side near 110th Street: a flotilla of Christmas trees. No joke. These trees literally float above the Harlem Meer, so it's best to stop by in the early evening just before sundown. That’s when you see a glisten of their reflections in the still waters but can be out of the park for happy hour nearby.
Central Park at 110th St., centralparknyc.org
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