15 holiday trees in NYC that are not at Rockefeller Center
The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center may be the most popular conifer in New York City, with 125 million people visiting the tree each year, but it certainly is not the only one. Every holiday season, spruces adorned with colorful lights and ornaments pop up across the five boroughs. The city’s many holiday trees each offer a unique take on the tradition, which began in NYC in 1912 when the first public Christmas tree was erected in Madison Square Park. For those looking to skip the Midtown crowds this year, we’ve rounded up 15 of the best holiday trees, from the origami tree at the American Museum of Natural History to the flotilla of trees in Central Park’s Harlem Meer.
Madison Square Park
The nation’s oldest public Christmas tree lighting ceremony can be found in Madison Square Park. In December of 1912, a horse-drawn truck traveled with a 60-foot tree from the Adirondacks to Manhattan. Adorned with 2,300 colored bulbs from the Edison Company, the tree became the first of its kind, sparking the idea for outdoor Christmas trees in public spaces across the country. Continuing its over 100-year tradition, Madison Square Park will be hosting its annual tree lighting ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 9 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Details here.
Photo courtesy of the NYSE
New York Stock Exchange
Since 1923, the New York Stock Exchange has been lighting up Downtown Manhattan with a sparkling Christmas tree. As one of the city’s oldest holiday traditions, beating out the first tree at Rockefeller Center by a decade, the NYSE Christmas tree lighting ceremony is also one of the most star-studded events of the season. The 98th annual event took place on Dec. 1 and featured performers like the Harlem Globetrotters, the Salvation Army Band, Senri Oe, and a special appearance from Santa Claus.
Photo by Credit: J. Kratochvil
The Seaport District has become a one-stop shop for winter fun and holiday festivities. In addition to its stunning skyline-facing rooftop ice rink at Pier 17, the neighborhood boasts one of the prettiest holiday trees in the city. The Seaport District’s spruce was lit on Dec. 2 during a free ceremony that included live music, pictures with Santa, and other festive activities.
20-foot blue spruce is adorned with a collection of 18th-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs, with a Nativity scene at its base. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Another favorite remains the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 20-foot blue spruce, part of the museum’s Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche display. Located in the Medieval Sculpture Hall, the tree is decorated with 18th-century cherubs and angels, along with 71 figures at the Neapolitan Nativity scene at its base. The late artist Loretta Hines Howard began collecting the crèche figurines in 1925 and developed the idea to present the tree with the Nativity scene underneath, debuting at the Met in 1957. The tree will be on view until Jan. 9.
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History’s Origami Holiday Tree returns this season with a new theme: Gems of the Museum. To celebrate the museum’s 50th origami tree, there are 50 specially created gold-colored models in recognition of its “golden anniversary.” Among the dazzling hand-folded paper artwork are models seen from the new Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, inspired by the new Sharks exhibition and iconic museum figures like the Blue Whale. The tree’s ornate decor includes more than 1,000 hand-folded paper models created in partnership with Origami USA. After over a year of planning and paper folding, volunteers have just four days before Thanksgiving to decorate the 13-foot tree. See the craftmanship for yourself on the museum’s first floor until Jan. 9.
Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Visitors can enjoy the Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s special paper-crane tree, a 30-year-old tradition. The 20-foot-tall “Peace Tree” sits in the lobby of the stunning Morningside Heights’ cathedral, serving as a symbol of harmony, longevity, and reconciliation. A legend in Japan says anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes is granted one wish. According to the church, their holiday tradition was inspired by Hiroshima survivor Sadako Sasaki, who spent the last few years of her young life folding origami cranes. This season, the Peace Tree will be on display from Dec. 16 through Jan. 6. The Crafts at the Cathedral returns this year from Dec. 6 through Dec. 8, offering handmade goods and gifts from over 75 vendors.
While the Midtown park has been giving us holiday vibes since opening its shops and ice skating rink in October this year, the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park‘s sparkling tree is officially lit and ready to kick off the season. The village, now in its 20th year will be open daily through March 6, 2022.
Photo courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy
For uptown Manhattanites, the Christmas tree in Central Park offers a great alternative to the chaos of Midtown. For over 20 years, the Central Park Conservancy brings a beautifully decorated flotilla of trees to the Harlem Meer, located inside the park off of 110th Street.
The Plaza Hotel
A holiday icon in its own right, the Plaza Hotel offers some of the city’s most quintessential experiences, especially for those out-of-towners celebrating in the Big Apple. Admire the lovely architecture of the Henry Janeway Hardenbergh-designed hotel while taking in the towering Christmas tree in its lobby. The Plaza is also hosting a number of holiday-themed events, from a Home Alone-inspired package to photos with Santa.
Photo courtesy of Tavern on the Green
Tavern on the Green
The historic restaurant Tavern on the Green is bringing holiday cheer to Central Park this year with a 20-foot Christmas tree. Decorated with roughly 2,000 ornaments and 10,000 lights, the Tavern’s tree stands outside of the restaurant at 67th Street and Central Park West. Head inside the restaurant to see even more lovely Christmas decorations.
Washington Square Park
Hosted by the Washington Square Association, the tree lighting at Washington Square Park serves as the city’s second-longest event of its kind, preceded only by the Madison Square Park ceremony. Since 1924, a stunning Christmas tree has sat under the Washington Square Arch, framing the spruce with its marble. It was originally modeled after the first lighting of the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C.’s President’s Park. The Association held its 97th annual tree lighting ceremony on December 8.
The 2018 Winter’s Eve event; Photo by Walter Wlodarczyk for Lincoln Square BID
Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square
After 20 years of hosting one big winter festival, the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District announced this year they will offer a different type of celebration. A series of free pop-up performances and family-friendly activities will take place all month long. The holiday tree, a 30-foot Concolor fir from Bliss, New York, will return to Dante Park this year, located at Broadway and 64th Street. Get the details here.
Dumbo Bid 2017 Christmas Party; Photo © Julienne Schaer
Dumbo Business Improvement District
Find one of the best holiday trees in Brooklyn under the Manhattan Bridge. The tree sits in front of the 45-foot high Archway, the perfect background for your holiday snapshots. Other festive activities in Dumbo this year include Brooklyn Flea, Santa’s Mailbox, projections of animated trees, and a Christmas tree and wreath market.
The 2017 holiday tree at the museum; Photo courtesy of the Lewis Latimer House Museum
Lewis Latimer House Museum
The Lewis Latimer House Museum, once the home of African American inventor Lewis Latimer, opens its doors this holiday season with a STEM-themed event. On Dec. 18, the Flushing-based museum is hosting a “Holiday Tinker Festival,” an ode to Latimer, who helped develop the telephone and the lightbulb. Participants can make pop-up architecture cards, drink hot cocoa, and watch the colorful tree lighting ceremony in the museum’s garden at 5 p.m. Register here for the free event.
- How NYC brought Christmas tree markets to the U.S.
- New York City was home to America’s first-ever electrically lit Christmas tree
- 104 years ago, the nation’s first public Christmas tree went up in Madison Square Park
Editor’s note: The original version of this story was published in December 2019, and has since been updated.