New York City Christmas tree lights are starting to twinkle in neighborhoods all across the city! While the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in midtown is a spectacular sight to behold, there are plenty of other trees in museums, historic houses, public parks, and libraries throughout the city that are also worth a visit. From origami bugs to 18th-century cherubs, these towering trees are decked out in all manner of ornaments and lights. Find out where you can soak up some holiday cheer while (hopefully!) avoiding the crowds. We’ll continue to add to this list as more trees are lit!
1. American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History’s 13-foot Christmas tree is full of bugs! Every year the museum puts up an origami-covered tree and this year, its theme – Beautiful Bugs – reflects a new exhibition inside the Gilder Center. The new exhibition is the Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium, set to open with the Gilder Center in February. The insectarium is the first Museum gallery in more than 50 years dedicated to insects.
The origami tree tradition has its roots in entomology. In the 1970s, Museum entomologist Alice Gray began creating paper models of insects based on the Museum’s collections. Those models made their way onto a small holiday tree in one of the scientific offices, and a new tradition was born.
This year’s tree features more than 1,000 origami pieces depicting some of the world’s most amazing insects, including long-legged grasshoppers, brilliantly-colored butterflies, and even the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species recently observed in increasing numbers in the New York area. Iconic museum pieces including the Blue Whale, Tyrannosaurus rex, and Titanosaur also hang on the tree. You can view this unique tree in the Grand Gallery through January 9, 2023.
2. Central Park
Central Park’s Harlem Meer is aglow with holiday lights from a flotilla of trees. Floating on the lake in front of the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center at 110th Street on the East Side of the park, the flotilla is made up of multiple lighted trees, the tallest of which is topped with a glittering star.
Of Central Park’s 18,000 trees, almost 1,000 are evergreens. In the winter, you can find lovely wintry scenes of snow-covered spruces, hemlocks, pines, hollies, and cedars in various areas of the park including Arthur Ross Pinetum and Cedar Hill.
3. The Met Museum
Like the American Museum of Natural History’s Tree, the tree at the Met Museum takes inspiration from the institution’s collections. Standing twenty feet tall in front of the eighteenth-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid in the Museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall, the tree is adorned with cherubs and angels from the 18th century.
The Met’s tree tradition started in 1957 when museum patron Loretta Hines Howard started to decorate a tree at the museum with Nativity figures she had been collecting since 1925. Now, the Met holds more than 250 such objects from Howard’s collection. At the base of the tree is an eighteenth-century Neapolitan Nativity scene, surrounded by an array of over seventy figures. The tree will be on view through January 8, 2023 along with a historic menorah. The Menorah, on view in The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Galleries, was created for the Great Synagogue in Lviv (present-day Ukraine) and dates to 1866. It is one of the largest silver Hanukkah lamps known.
4. Madison Square Park
This year marks the 110th anniversary of the first public holiday tree lighting in the United States, which took place in Madison Square Park on Christmas Eve 1912. The tree was called the “Tree of Light.” The idea of a public holiday tree lighting was conceived by social activist Emilie D. Lee Hereshoff. Hereshoff wanted to provide those who couldn’t afford their own tree with a special celebration.
The first public New York City Christmas tree, which was sixty feet high and twenty feet wide, was donated by The Adirondack Club. At least 20,000 New Yorkers came out to see that first lighting ceremony. When you visit the tree today, you can also stop by the Star of Hope. This star-topped pole marks the spot where the first tree was placed. The tree is now in the northern section of the park.
5. Washington Square Park
Nestled within the opening of the Washington Square Arch you’ll find another historic New York City Christmas tree. A tree-lighting ceremony has taken place at Washington Square Park since 1924. The 45-foot tree under the Arch is lit for the season between the hours of 4 pm and 1 am.
Along with the traditional lighting of the tree, this festive site is also a gathering place for caroling on Christmas Eve. Every year the public is invited to belt out “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men” and other songs of the season. You can download the Washington Square Arch caroling songbook on the Washington Square Arch Association’s website.
6. Wall Street
2022 marks the 99th Wall Street tree lighting! Situated in front of the New York Stock Exchange, the Wall Street tree is covered in multi-colored lights and topped with a big bright star. The tree is accompanied by festive lighting on the columns of the New York Stock Exchange facade.
Every year, the tree lighting is met with festive fanfare. Musical guests help ring in the holiday season at the ceremony and Santa is usually on hand too!
7. Bryant Park
Perhaps the next most popular tree after Rockefeller Center, the tree at Bryant Park is surrounded by the Bryant Park Winter Village which includes shops and an ice skating rink. This year’s tree comes from Lloyd, NY, a hamlet about 100 miles north of NYC in Ulster County.
The 55-foot Norway Spruce was donated by an anonymous family and is 90 years old. The house on the property where it comes from was built in 1880. The tree was planted by the family’s second generation to mark the homestead’s corner.
DUMBO is where you’ll find one of Brooklyn’s best alternative New York City Christmas trees. The twenty-foot Fraser Fir from Domes Tree Farm will stand at the Pearl Street Triangle through the new year. The tree isn’t the only spectacle that will light up the night in DUMBO this holiday season.
Visitors going to see the tree will also get to watch a series of projected animations on the side of the Manhattan Bridge. The animations were created by the Dumbo-based Augenblick Studios. A 30-minute loop of animations created by 20 different artists will play every night through December 31st from 5pm until 10pm.
Standing next to the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse and the South Street Seaport Museum, you’ll find the glowing South Street Seaport tree. The tree stands tall on the historic cobllestone streets of the seaport district which boasts historic ships, stunning views, and landmark buildings that date as far back as the late 1700s.
Thoughout the holiday season, businesses surrounding the tree and the Seaport Museum will be hosting various festive activites. Make boats out of holiday paper, create a gardland of nautical flags, or just enjoy the scenery!
10. Arthur Avenue
In Ciccarone Park, a colorful Christmas tree will shine throughout the holiday season. The tree lights up a section of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx’s Little Italy. The Christmas tree is one of many festive holiday displays in the area.
While in the Bronx, you can also check out the Holiday Train Show or NYBG GLOW at the New York Botanical Garden, as well as Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo. You can spot the tree at the intersection of East 188th Street and Arthur Avenue.
11. The Hendrick I. Lott House
At one of the oldest buildings in Brooklyn, you’ll find a charming New York City Christmas tree. The historic Hendrick I. Lott House in Marine Park hosted its annual tree lighting with Sinterklaus (Dutch Santa) in attendance. The Lott House was built in 1720, with an expansion in 1800, making it 302 years old.
Next, check out Top 10 Secrets of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and 7 Dazzling Holiday Window Displays