While there’s no best time of year to visit New York City, there’s certainly something to be said for seeing the Big Apple during the holidays.
With grandiose decorations decking practically every single storefront, Christmas tree galore on each corner, and yuletide pop-up installations, nothing beats grabbing your camera and heading out to capture some ultra festive photos!
This guide to the best NYC Christmas photo spots is going to make sure you don’t miss a beat if you travel to the city this winter.
Read on for the ultimate guide to where you can take pictures of New York in December, including my advice on what time of day to visit and if there are any costs involved. Also, make sure to check out my Christmas in New York itinerary for 4 days as well!
*Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through my link.*
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Table of Contents
13 Best NYC Christmas Photo Spots
1. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
When you think of the classic Christmas photo spots in NYC, the legendary Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is surely going to come top of the list.
Every year without fail, a massive tree is erected in the square outside the landmark around the middle of November in time to be lit up right after Thanksgiving while a huge throng of onlookers gathers.
This year’s Norway spruce clocks in at a height of 79 feet (24 meters) tall with a width of 46 feet (14 meters) and a weight of 12 tons.
You can combine visiting the tree with taking a spin on the ice rink, yet another beacon of the holidays in New York, which occupies the space right beneath the tree and is one of the quintessential NYC winter activities.
Location on Google Maps: Rockefeller Center
How to get there: Closest subway stations are 47-50 Sts-Rockefeller Ctr for lines B, D, F, and M, and 5 Avenue-53 St Station for lines E and M. Alternatively, M2, M3, M5, and M7 bus routes stop along W 50th St and 6th Avenue.
Best time to go: Since this is literally the quintessential Christmas photo spot in New York, you can imagine how crowded it usually gets. If you want to beat the crowds, try to get there very early, preferably around 7-8 am. It’s also worth stopping by in the evening to see the lights in the dark but taking photos at this time will be very challenging.
Cost: Viewing the tree is one of the best free things to do in NYC in winter! Tickets for the ice rink start at $20 US per person.
2. Saks Fifth Avenue
Saks is the number one destination for shoppers who flock to New York to update their wardrobe or complete their Christmas shopping list, but it’s equally popular among Instagrammers due to its incredible window displays!
To put things into perspective, this year’s installation at the flagship Saks Fifth Avenue was unveiled by the CEO Mark Metrick alongside none other than Michelle Obama.
The 2021 theme of the core six windows is particularly special, being centered around reuniting with loved ones over the holidays and the designs were inspired by the children of New York who shared how they dream of celebrating this year.
This is one of the best NYC Christmas photo spots to visit in the evening as it means you can watch the extravagant light show which illuminates the main facade of the department store.
Stand across the street near the Rockefeller Center or shoot from the Channel Gardens (first picture down below) for the best views.
Location on Google Maps: Saks Fifth Avenue
How to get there: The M50 bus stops right outside on W 50th St. 5 Avenue-53 St Station and 47-50 Sts-Rockefeller Ctr Station are the closest subway options. Saks Fifth Avenue is less than 5 minutes walking distance from the Rockefeller Center so it’s best to visit both NYC Christmas photo spots in one go.
Best time to go: First thing in the morning to avoid the crowds or right after sunset if you want to catch the light show.
3. Cartier Fifth Avenue
Cartier Fifth Avenue gives Saks a run for its money in terms of the grandest Christmas decorations in New York City. The theme of this year’s window display is modeled on the perfect present, with the storefront being wrapped by a giant ribbon of red lights and gold wrapping paper.
Simple yet ever so glamorous, you’ll not help but feel encouraged to pop inside to have a look at the current selection of jewelry and watches! As with Saks, you’ll want to find a spot across the street to capture the storefront in all its glory.
Location on Google Maps: Cartier
How to get there: It’s right around the corner from the Rockefeller Center and Saks so you might want to visit all three in one swoop. 5 Avenue-53 St is the closest subway station while the M1, M2, M3, M4, and M5 buses all stop outside on 5th Avenue.
Best time to go: As you need to shoot from across the road, early morning works best (preferably on the weekends) to avoid traffic.
4. Radio City Music Hall
Known endearingly as the “Showplace of the Nation”, Radio City Music Hall is the headquarters for precision dance company the Rockettes and a thriving concert venue on Sixth Avenue.
The annual Christmas Spectacular is a huge event that brings in tourists and regulars who catch it every year. Attending the show is definitely one of the best things to do in New York City in December!
To celebrate the holidays, the front of the music hall is currently adorned with a neat Christmas tree in festive hues of red and gold with a single star marking the top. Stand across the street and you can take your NYC Christmas photos with the skyscrapers of Manhattan towering in the background.
Location on Google Maps: Radio City Music Hall
How to get there: Again, as Radio City Music Hall is a 5-minute walk from either of the stores listed above as well as the Rockefeller Center, you can tick off all of these Christmas photo spots in NYC at the same time or follow the previous public transport advice.
Best time to go: Early in the morning works best but I know that it’s impossible to visit every place in the morning, so you can make this one work practically anytime. You just need to be patient with the crowd and be mindful of the cars on the street!
Cost: Free although you might want to snap up tickets to the Christmas Spectacular starring The Radio City Rockettes. Admission starts at $66 US.
5. Candy Canes on Sixth Avenue
Six giant sculptures of red and white striped candy canes have been put up on Sixth Avenue, right across the road from the Radio City Music Hall. There is a fence around them so climbing is off-limits but you can have fun posing on the sculpture of wrapped bonbon sweets in front of them that resembles a bench.
This is definitely one of the “sweetest” places to take your Christmas photos in New York.
Location on Google Maps: Sixth Avenue opposite Radio City Music Hall
How to get there: The Candy Canes on Sixth Avenue are right across the road from the Radio City Music Hall so you can head there while visiting the previous listings. Alternatively, 5 Avenue-53 St and 47-50 Sts-Rockefeller Ctr remain the closest nearby stations with the M5 and M7 being the most convenient bus routes in the area.
Best time to go: You can go any time of the day.
6. Christmas Balls Fountain
One of the coolest New York Christmas decorations to pop up in the city each year is this kooky installation of red baubles in the fountain on Sixth Avenue. The fountain is always playing host to some kind of seasonal structure so this changes throughout the year, but the baubles are a firm favorite for photographers.
The Christmas Balls Fountain is a pile of oversized red and gold decorations that hover on the surface of the water. You can actually get a shot of them with the Radio City Music Hall in the background which is pretty cool!
Location on Google Maps: Christmas Balls Fountain
How to get there: Cross the road from the Radio City Music Hall and you’ll see it. The closest subway station is 47-50 Sts-Rockefeller Ctr while buses M5 and M7 stop right in front on Sixth Avenue.
Best time to go: Anytime! The fountain occupies a huge place so even if it’s crowded, it’s still relatively easy to shoot there.
7. Fox News Christmas Tree
Located right outside the headquarters of Fox News, the Fox Square Christmas Tree is charming with its red, gold, and white-themed baubles. The “All American” Christmas tree is surrounded by larger-than-life nutcrackers and wrapped gifts which provide a fun backdrop for your NYC Christmas photos and are particularly nice for traveling families.
Location on Google Maps: Fox News
How to get there: 47-50 Sts-Rockefeller Ctr subway station is directly across the road from the pop up while the M5 and M7 pass by along Sixth Avenue. You can visit the Fox Square Christmas Tree alongside all other mentioned NYC Christmas photo spots so far.
Best time to go: Any time.
8. Hudson Yards
Hudson Yards is a neighborhood and shopping mall close to the Lincoln Tunnel which is packed with over a hundred stores and almost as many restaurants. It’s a major destination for city residents and tourists at this time of year and one of the most impressive displays of New York Christmas decorations.
For 2021, the whole mall is embellished with twinkling streams of golden lights with suspended Christmas trees and an enchanting hot air balloon. It’s a fairly unusual display which makes it worth the trip west. Plus, there are two more spots nearby to visit at the same time as you’ll see below!
Hudson Yards was hands down one of my favorite NYC Christmas photo spots to take pictures at. I loved it so much that I went back 3 times! So do yourself a favor and definitely include it in your New York itinerary – trust me, you’re going to love it!
Location on Google Maps: Hudson Yards
How to get there: 34 Street-Hudson Yards is the closest subway station. Bus routes M11 and M12 stop within walking distance of the shopping complex.
Best time to go: Basically any time works, but you might want to head there after dark to fully enjoy the lights. I tried shooting both at daylight and after dark and I ended up loving the night pictures more.
Cost: Free but consider budgeting in any shopping or eating while you’re there.
The Vessel is a honeycomb-shaped structure that spans 150 feet (46 meters) and comprises 16 floors of connected staircases. It’s sandwiched amongst the towers and shops of Hudson Yards and provides the opportunity to survey the views over Manhattan and the Hudson River from its 80 landings.
Not all the floors are open at present but you can visit the base level and there are still heaps of different vantage points to explore – plus festive decor all around – which makes for some creative Christmas photos in New York.
Location on Google Maps: The Vessel
How to get there: The Vessel is situated within the Hudson Yards shopping mall complex so you can visit these two NYC Christmas photo spots together and follow the directions above.
Best time to go: Any time but morning works best before it gets too busy. Its official opening hours are Monday through Saturday 10 am – 8 pm and Sunday 11 am – 7 pm.
10. The Edge
The daring neighbor of the Vessel, the Edge is the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere and making a stop here results in epic aerial pictures of New York in December (and generally any time of the year).
Located 100 floors up, the observation deck is suspended out of the summit of the building so it really feels like you are floating among the clouds. It’s almost impossible to beat these 360-degree views!
In time for Christmas, the interior is brimming with beautiful Christmas trees that provide the dreamiest photo opportunity with the Manhattan skyline in the background.
Even if your New York trip doesn’t fall on Christmas, it’s still worth visiting the Edge as it is one of the most Instagrammable places in New York all year round!
Location on Google Maps: The Edge
How to get there: Follow the directions as above for getting to Hudson Yards and consider visiting this cluster of photo spots at the same time. The entrance of the Edge is located on Level 4, right next to Shake Shack.
Best time to go: As soon as it opens, to avoid contending with the crowds. If you don’t mind the crowds, sunset is another phenomenal time to visit! The opening hours are from Monday to Thursday 9 am – 10 pm and from Friday to Sunday 9 am – 12 am. It’s best on a clear day.
Cost: General admission to the Edge typically starts from $36 US but you can also choose some add ons such as a glass of champagne or a personalized photo book. Since it’s a fairly new observatory, it always receives a big crowd so it’s worth booking your tickets in advance.
If you can summon the courage – and have deep pockets – then you might also want to investigate the City Climb which requires scaling the outer edge of the tower and then leaning out to peer down at the streets, 1,200 feet (365 meters) below. Tickets for this start at $185 US.
11. Pulitzer Fountain
Named after the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer who died in 1911 after bequeathing $50,000 US for the creation of the fountain, the Pulitzer Fountain is a beautiful addition to your New York itinerary at any time of year.
But it’s even better during December when its festive facelift makes it one of the cutest NYC Christmas photo spots on my list!
At the moment the fountain is adorned with playful figures of skateboarding penguins and ice skating polar bears while seals balance gifts on the edge of their noses. The arctic theme is further reinstated by the icebergs and at certain times of the day, you will hear music from composer Paul Brill.
Location on Google Maps: Pulitzer Fountain
How to get there: The Pulitzer Fountain is located at the southeastern corner of Central Park, a stone’s throw from the 5 Av/59 St subway station. Bus lines M1, M2, M3, M4, and 0028 stop close by on Fifth Street.
Best time to go: Any time.
12. Zuccotti Park
Located in the Financial District, Zuccotti Park is a peaceful destination for local workers to head with their lunch to take a break among the ample seating and trees. At this time of year, it’s also one of the prettiest displays of Christmas decorations in New York City.
The trees and bushes are woven with lights to create an urban winter wonderland. Zuccotti Park is relatively off the beaten track but definitely keep this place in mind if your NYC exploration brings you to this neck of the woods.
Location on Google Maps: Zuccotti Park
How to get there: Wall Street and Fulton Street are the closest subway stations. Buses X27, X28, and M55 stop right next to the park on Broadway.
Best time to go: Visit when it’s dark so that you can see the lights lit up. During the day, you wouldn’t notice them.
13. Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
The final listing on my guide to the best Christmas photo spots in NYC is actually the only location outside of Manhattan Island.
Dyker Heights is a residential neighborhood in Brooklyn where the residents share one thing in common: a love of Christmas decorations! Every year, the houses of Dyker Heights are decorated with lights, wreaths, trees, nutcrackers, and much much more.
It takes around 1 hour to reach Dyker Heights from Manhattan but trust me, it’s 100% worth it! After getting there, you should factor in at least an hour to explore the neighborhood or even more, if you plan to take lots of photos (nobody will judge you!).
The whole neighborhood is beautiful during the holidays but my favorite part was 83rd and 84th Street between 10th Avenue and 13th Avenue. All you’ll need is a dusting of snow to make this experience even better!
Location on Google Maps: Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
How to get there: The closes subway stations are 71 St and 79 St with the D line, or 86th St with the R line but you’ll still need to walk around 15-20 minutes from either of them. If you want to save yourself from all the hassle, you can also book a Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Bus Tour where transportation is already taken care of.
Best time to go: My tip is to arrive around 30 minutes before sunset so that you can see the houses in daylight and then once they’re all illuminated by night.
Map for the Best Christmas Decorations in New York City
Below you can find a customized map that includes all the best NYC Christmas photo spots to ensure you’re not missing out on anything.
If you open up this post on your phone and you click on the bracket in the upper right corner of the map, it will open up in your Google Maps app so you can always have it with you. Super convenient, right?
Where to Stay in New York City
Selecting where to stay in NYC can be a really challenging task, especially if you’re visiting New York in December! The holiday season is always popular among international and domestic tourists alike, so prices usually skyrocket really fast.
My best tip is to book your accommodation as early as possible! We booked ours around September and when I checked the same hotel in November, the price was almost double already.
Since most of the NYC Christmas photo spots are located in Manhattan, more specifically Midtown Manhattan, I would start looking at hotels in that area. If you don’t mind spending more time commuting, you can also stay in Lower Manhattan or in the Upper East Side or Upper West Side.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the neighborhoods in NYC, be sure to check out my guide about the best areas to stay in New York City that includes 10 amazing neighborhoods with lots of useful tips and information about each area.
If you want to take your vacation to the next level, check out these incredible NYC hotels with the best views!
Below you can find my top picks for where to stay in New York in December.
LUXURY – 1 Hotel Central Park
Offering a restaurant and a fitness center, 1 Hotel Central Park is located right next to Central Park. Each room will provide you with air conditioning, a seating area, and a private bathroom. The on-site restaurant, Jams, features an open kitchen and it is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
MID-RANGE – Hyatt Place New York/ Midtown-South
Just a 5-minute walk from the Empire State Building, this Manhattan hotel offers free Wi-Fi and modern rooms equipped with a flat-screen TV. A corner sofa and a refrigerator are included in each room at Hyatt Place New York. A work desk along with coffee-making facilities is also included.
BUDGET – MOXY NYC Times Square
MOXY NYC Times Square offers pet-friendly accommodations and features free WiFi and a fitness center. All rooms are equipped with a flat-screen TV and air purification systems and each room has a private bathroom. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant and a rooftop bar.
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