Explore New York City

Where to See Cool Holiday Light Shows in NYC

Holiday Displays in the City

Barneys is missing. Lord & Taylor is no longer. And you’ll have to wait until next year to experience the beloved train exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens. But there are still many ways to see sparkling lights and holiday decorations this year in New York City.

Holiday Windows

The holiday windows at Bloomingdale’s turn and sparkle with colors and glitter | WhereTraveler
(©Meryl Pearlstein)

While the department stores may be emptier than usual this year, they haven’t turned down the volume when it comes to creating a festive holiday showcase on their exteriors. The holiday windows at Bloomingdale’s turn and sparkle with colors and glitter. Macy’s windows pay tribute to the many heroes of the year including our frontline workers. The music and light show on the façade of Saks Fifth Avenue is a must-see, too, if you’re in the vicinity of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Support the stores, if you can, by shopping in person and acknowledging their good work for the year.

The music and light show on the façade of Saks Fifth Avenue is a must-see | WhereTraveler
(©Meryl Pearlstein)

Hudson Yards

If you can tear yourself away from The Vessel or down from The Edge (which is also decked out with holiday lights and a garland), you should venture inside the Hudson Yards mall where Shine Bright at Hudson Yards is a brand-new twinkling, floor-to-ceiling display of more than two million lights. Floating hot air balloons and Christmas trees add to the twinkling magic. The display will be up through January 1.

Brookfield Place

Through January 3, the mall’s annual Luminaries tradition invites participation with an interactive installation in the Winter Garden. Each hour, you’ll enjoy a special light show featuring music by groups like The Bird and the Bee and Pentatonix. A canopy of colorful lights is formed from hundreds of lanterns suspended among the palms. Below, contactless wishing stations let you send a motion-activated wish to the lanterns prompting a magical display of lights and colors. And you’ll be doing a good deed, too. For each wish that you make, Brookfield Place will donate $1to an organization that’s near and dear to me, ROAR (Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants), which supports New York City restaurant employees facing economic challenges as a result of the pandemic.

NYBG Glow

The New York Botanical Garden shines brightly into the night with a new outdoor NYBG Glow color and light experience | WhereTraveler
NYBG Glow (Courtesy New York Botanical Garden)

Each year the New York Botanical Garden schedules its beloved train show for the holidays with New York City vignettes and buildings created out of flora and fauna foraged from nature, but this year the show is limited to NYBG members and Bronx community partners. Don’t despair, though, NYBG has something else for celebrants in 2020. The general public event shines brightly into the night with a new outdoor NYBG Glow color and light experience. Through January 9 on weekend nights, you’ll see a glowing world around the Haupt Conservatory. As you explore, colors, dazzling lights and nighttime illuminations in the reflecting pool and area create a winter wonderland that might conjure up visions of Disney’s World of Color. Adding to the festivities are ice carving displays, roaming dancers and musicians. Expect a Hip Hop Nutcracker performance of the re-imagined Tchaikovsky classic as well. Timed-entry tickets are required for entry.

At NYBG Glow you'll explore colors, dazzling lights and nighttime illuminations in the reflecting pool | WhereTraveler
NYBG Glow (Courtesy New York Botanical Garden)

The Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights

Around the corner, the Bronx Zoo doesn’t disappoint with its seasonal celebration of lights. Through January 10, you’ll see illuminated animals and flowers, ice sculptures, a decked-out Christmas tree, and light-strung buildings as you wander along “a safari” path through Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America, and the Ocean. Costumed characters, stilt walkers, and projections onto buildings add to the sparkle. New this year, the Luminous Garden is filled with larger-than-life plants and animals.

The Bronx Zoo doesn’t disappoint with its seasonal celebration of lights | WhereTraveler
(Courtesy Bronx Zoo)

The Lights of Dyker Heights

It’s hard to imagine a Christmas without the over-the-top lights displays of the houses in Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. Started in 1986 by Lucy Spata as a give-back to brighten up the neighborhood, the decorated homes and yards have attracted busloads of tourists to the streets each year. Due to COVID, you may have an easier time viewing now, as walking tours are replacing buses and only private groups of 20 or less are allowed. It’s an immediate way to uplift the spirits as you marvel at the passion and creativity here. Most displays stay up through January 1. The main area is 83rd through 86th streets between 11th and 13th avenues.

Lights from Lincoln Center

While the theaters of Lincoln Center remain shuttered until 2021, the exteriors are still ablaze with lights. The gateway to Lincoln Center, Josie Robertson Plaza is illuminated in purple, red and pink tones. Adding further holiday merriment, lanterns float on the reflecting pool and lights adorn the trees in the back campus.

LuminoCity Festival

Randall’s Island turns into a trippy light extravaganza again through January 10. Sculptures, mushrooms, characters, and towering light displays will keep the entire family entertained as you walk through the expansive LuminoCity Festival park area. Masks are required as you explore the imaginative adventures of Lumi, a character hailing from a universe created from a unicorn’s horn. Timed entry keeps the crowds moving through the narrative journey of love, loss and life.

The Lights of Manhattan

And here’s a little bonus. You can watch the changing colors of the Empire State Building and the lights of downtown NYC on their ESB Live Cam. Two cameras give you two always-changing views. I could watch these for hours.