Washington Square Park Christmas tree 2023

The annual tree lighting in Washington Square Park.

A brightly lit Christmas tree under an archway in New York City

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When it comes to the Christmas tree, nobody does it quite like New York City. The much-anticipated, much-photographed Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree seems to get all the PR, but there are other far more creative trees around the city.

From origami trees to planetary light walks, here is a quick guide to New York’s artsiest and most extra Christmas trees, holiday displays and must-see light shows that illuminate New York City throughout the holiday season.

The Rockefeller Center tree
Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images
Rockefeller Center’s annual lighting ceremony on November 29.

Let’s get the traditional tree out of the way. Since 1931, Rockefeller Center has been putting up a legendary Christmas tree for all of New York City to enjoy—or at least those willing to brave the throngs of tourists. This year’s tree hails from Vestal New York and is decorated with over 50,000 multi-colored LED lights. The tree’s Swarovski star perched on the top was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind and weighs roughly 900 pounds because it’s covered in over a million crystals.

American Museum of Natural History’s origami tree

Until January 15, this super artsy tree at the AMNH is worth a trip to the Upper West Side. Their 13-foot tree is themed around “Proboscideans on Parade,” featuring garland and origami tree ornaments inspired by the museum’s latest exhibition, “The Secret World of Elephants.” They’ve adorned their tree with over 1,000 origami pieces based on elephants and elephant relatives, like the wooly mammoth. They also have origami ornaments modeled after the Blue Whale and the Tyrannosaurus Rex (perennial favorites at the AMNH). It’s produced in partnership with OrigamiUSA, and each ornament is hand-folded by local, national and international origami artists.

New York Public Library’s 42nd Street tree

Visit the NYPL’s 42nd Street location to see their epic tree in Astor Hall (they also have Charles Dickens’ personal copy of A Christmas Carol) and enjoy some caroling, live jazz and more throughout the holidays. Also check out their Christmas tree ornaments designed by Illustrator Michael Storrings, portraying the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, in a snowscape, which they sell in their shop. The glass ornaments are hand-painted and covered in glitter.

Bergdorf Goodman’s Christmas tree

This gold-painted tree feels like something out of a fairytale. Bergdorf Goodman’s tree is new this year, I’m told, and it “reflects the magic of the holidays and the creativity and craft that goes into everything at Bergdorf Goodman,” a rep tells me. The tree has golden acoustic guitars, violins and horns and is topped off with a giant deer. The whole thing was designed by Bergdorf Goodman’s in-house visual design team led by Linda Fargo, senior vice president of store presentation and director of women’s fashion. It’s all part of their “Isn’t it Brilliant” holiday theme for 2023.

The Bow-Filled Bonanza at the Times Square EDITION

Photo: Lexi Lambros
The New York EDITION tree.

Nobody does artsy quite like EDITION hotels. In New York City, we have two, the New York EDITION (near Madison Square Park) and the Times Square EDITION (right in the heart of loud Times Square). This year, both hotels have had their tree taken over by architecture and design duo, Adam Charlap Hyman and Andre Herrero, decorated in collaboration with CH Herrero. The duo designed Victorian-era-inspired festive trees for the holiday season, inspired by hand-painted Victorian paper Christmas cards to create hand-painted ornaments that pay homage to New York landmarks like the Flatiron Building, the Alice Austen House (which honors a much-overlooked photographer in Staten Island) and figures like Qween Jean (a costume designer) and Greta Garbo. In a statement, Charlap Hyman calls it “our love letter to New York,” adding that “each tree speaks to our pure and sincere appreciation for the cultural texture that gives our lives here so much meaning.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s classic Christmas tree

The Met continues a longstanding holiday tradition with its iconic, historic Christmas tree. The 20-foot blue spruce is set alongside an 18th-century Neapolitan Nativity scene and has lifelike angels nearby, as it’s set in front of an 18th-century gold Spanish choir screen (which feels very heavenly) from the Cathedral of Valladolid in the museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall. It has fifty animals and background elements like homes, Roman ruins and an Italian-style fountain, and it’s on view until January 7. If you’re free on January 5 and 6, check out David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Little Match Girl Passion,” which will be staged in front of The Met’s Christmas tree at 7 p.m. on both days (free with admission). Also check out their robust collection of Christmas tree ornaments on sale in the gift shop, many of which are inspired by items in the museum’s collection.

Lincoln Square’s holiday installation

One square in the upper west side brings together the city’s cultural institutions—the opera, the ballet, music and film. At the heart of it is Dante Park, located on Broadway at 64th Street. A new installation called “Magical Lights” features eight oversized trees adorned with hanging blue, purple, red and orange vines that dangle from the tree branches. It’s unlike your typical Christmas tree but still covered in illustrious lights and best enjoyed during one of the scheduled singalongs, which activate the décor’s sparkly attributes, beautifully pairing color with sound.

The Astra Lumina installation
Courtesy Astra Lumina
The dazzling lights of Astra Lumina.

If you’re willing to make the hike to Queens, the Astra Lumina night light walk will not disappoint. For those looking for a trippy Christmas, the Lumina Enchanted Night Walk is an otherworldly illumination experience from Moment Factory. They’ve teamed up with Fever to present Astra Lumina at the Queens Botanical Garden in time for Christmas. It’s holiday cheer meets planetary illusions. With projections, lights and music, the garden becomes a sci-fi-inspired world with a colorful path and stunning displays of light. It runs until January 1 and is open from 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily (it takes roughly an hour to walk through).

Plaza Hotel’s Christmas trees

This year’s Plaza Hotel trees are all white and red. White frosted tips on the trees are covered in faux cranberry branches in this magical lobby display. This is a must-see attraction at the Plaza, but be warned that it’s very busy and access may be limited to hotel guests only (unless you visit before 10 a.m. or after 10 p.m. when it’s open to the public).

The Wall Street Hotel’s holiday display

This glamorous FiDi hotel has a grandiose display that pays tribute to the family that founded the hotel, the Paspaleys. This Australian family is known for founding a jewelry brand that specializes in pearls, as they’re pioneers of the Australian South Sea pearling industry. The lobby of the hotel has a 14-foot tree covered in ornaments that are themed around pearls, the moon and water in a tribute to the Paspaley brand’s 2024 jewelry collection. 

Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Lightscape
Photo: Liz Ligon
The ‘tree’ at Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Lightscape.

If you can make it out to Prospect Park, it’s worth visiting Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s after-dark illuminated light walk, Lightscape, which is on view through January 1. It features eighteen light works from local and international artists accompanied by colorful installations and music. Look out for the 24-foot-tall star called the “Supernova”—an interactive art piece from UK-based art group, Squidsoup. There are also light icicles and moody sculptures scattered among the garden’s trees, manicured landscapes and ponds.

The Washington Square Park Christmas tree

Nothing says downtown quite like the community Christmas tree right underneath the Washington Square Park Arch. This 40-foot New Hampshire tree is donated annually by the Washington Square Association, a group of locals who organize tree lighting and caroling events every year. And it has been a neighborhood tradition for roughly a century. The Washington Square Park Christmas tree is lit 24 hours a day until mid-January so you can get your perfect New York City photo-op here post-Christmas, without the hassle of the holiday crowds.

Washington Square Park Christmas tree 2023