NYC is magical any time of year, especially at the holidays, when there are special FREE holiday light shows to dazzle us and entertain us.
Here are the NYC on the Cheap choices of the eight best – in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island – including returning favorites, the first-ever holiday light show at the new Hudson Yards, and one that is not free but definitely worth the admission price.
Enjoy! And dress warmly for the outdoor light shows
Saks Fifth Avenue
In addition to its famous holiday windows – this year featuring scenes from Disney’s Frozen 2 – there’s a grand sound and light show covering the entire facade of the landmark store.
Thousands of LED lights, in the shape of a magical castle, change shapes and colors to a soundtrack set to a soundtrack of “Frozen” songs and holiday favorites.
The light show is about five minutes long and plays daily from dusk to just before midnight, every 10 minutes until Jan. 10.
And it’s just one block from the word-famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
This annual display is back at The Shops at Columbus Circle, in the Time Warner Center, and as mesmerizing as ever
This is the largest specialty crafted exhibit of illuminated color mixing in the world, featuring twelve 14-foot stars that hang from the ceiling of the 150-foot Great Room, or atrium.
The lights “perform” daily, changing color slowly and gracefully, from 5pm until 11pm. Stand there for a few minutes until your own favorite color arrives.
The atrium, of course, is at Columbus Circle, and the actual circle with the statue of Christopher Columbus is one of the best spots to watch the show.
Or, you could watch from inside, from the balcony overlooking the atrium. Both locations are Instagram friendly.
- Holiday Under the Stars is daily through Jan. 5
This annual display also returns, to the giant Winter Garden atrium in Lower Manhattan, and it is also as mesmerizing as ever
Luminaries is an installation of glowing lanterns suspended from the canopy, which change color and intensity at the direction of visitors, making this an interactive light show
There are three so-called Wishing Stations where touch-activated wishes can be sent to the canopy of lanterns above, activating a magical display of lights and colors.
Visitors are encouraged to watch light shows every hour and send wishes to the canopy above from the glowing wishing stations.
Once again, Brookfield Place will donate $1, up to $25,000, for every wish made during the holiday season to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a national non-profit that is committed to raising funds for research to develop new, improved and less toxic treatments for pediatric cancer.
Since Cookies for Kids’ Cancer launched in 2008, there have been more than 10,000 events in all 50 states and 16 countries. For more information, to sign up for a bake sale or purchase cookies, please visit www.cookiesforkidscancer.org.
- Luminaries is daily, Dec. 4 through Jan. 3, 2020 at the Winter Garden in Brookfield Place
- Santa is in residence from Nov. 29 through Dec. 24
Since this massive complex opened officially earlier in 2019, this is its first Christmas season, and Hudson Yards is doing it in style, with a series of five large, star-shaped sculptures.
Each one is comprised of 12,000 lights, which are individually controlled and synchronized to a soundtrack of classical holiday music.
The light show, designed by artist Christopher Schardt is called Lyra, is inspired by the five-star constellation of the same name.
According to Greek mythology, Lyra is the instrument Orpheus used to create music so captivating that everything in its vicinity, including inanimate objects, could be charmed. And it’s the Greek root of our English word lyrical.
The “Shine On” show is every evening at 5PM, and the lights will undulate continuously throughout the day and night with images of stars, plants, birds and abstract designs dancing across the surface of the stars.
- FREE, daily through Jan. 5, 2020
- Also, every Saturday and Tuesday through Dec. 24, Hudson Yards is offering FREE musical and dance performances, cookie decorating and other experiences throughout the day.
- See the complete list of FREE holiday events here
This is the largest lantern show in NYC history, featuring more than 120 lantern exhibits, live entertainment and interactive experiences, the first-ever Hello Panda Festival is designed to stir the senses and inspire imaginations.
The event celebrates the traditional Chinese art of lantern making with magical displays of light and color, handcrafted by world-class artisans, plus cultural performances and arts experiences, a holiday market and 60 international food vendors curated by The World’s Fare, serving up the cuisines of Thailand, Italy, Mexico, America, China, the Mediterranean, and more.
There are different themes each week and different activities every day. These magnificent lantern displays are built on-site by artisans, using a variety of materials including silk and chinaware.
All the lanterns are illuminated by environmentally friendly and cost-effective LED lights.
Adventure & Discovery features dinosaurs, ocean creatures and safari animals. Kids can get a chance to explore and find hidden treasures.
Hello Panda Festival offers Chinese cultural experiences, including arts and crafts such as Chinese paper-cutting, dough sculpture, sugar painting, embroidery, calligraphy and jade crafts
This is a ticketed event, but tickets range from COMP to $21.34, depending on date.
- Get tickets here for dates through early January.
- Hello Panda Festival is at Citi Field
Every year, this Brooklyn neighborhood shines with a FREE Christmas light spectacular that glows and blinks for blocks.
Nearly every house gets into the spirit. Since the traffic is often gridlocked, the advice is to park nearby and walk. Or take the D train and walk
The center of the bright lights action is Dyker Heights Boulevard, from 83rd St. to 86th St., from sundown to whenever an individual homeowner decides to turn off the lights, usually around 9 or 10pm.
- Take the D Train towards Coney Island to the 79th Street stop inn Brooklyn.
- Exit near intersection of 79th Street and New Utrecht Avenue.
- Go northwest on 79th Street towards 16th Avenue, to Dyker Heights Blvd.
Okay, this one isn’t free, but it is so unique and spectacular that we are including it.
This light show returns to Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden for the second year, honoring a holiday tradition that goes back to ancient China.
There are more than 1,000 LED light installations, some as large as 30 feet high, including animals such as pandas, which reflect traditional Chinese culture.
There also are dinosaurs, also is popular with children in China, along with lantern hippos, birds in cages, and other animals and flowers, too. The lanterns are made in China, created by more than 100 artisans.
- Winter Lantern Festival is open Wed.-Sun. (closed Mon/Tues), through January 12, 2020.
- Tickets are entry timed, but you can stay as long as you like
- Depending on day and time, prices are $23-$25 for adults, $18-$20 for Seniors/Military/Students with a valid ID, and $15-$17 for children ages 3-12.
- Parking is an additional $20 at the center, or $10 at the Empire Outlets
- Click here to book tickets with no service fee
New to NYC this year is a bright and colorful kaleidoscope of lights in Flatirorn North Public Plaza, in the shadow of the famed Flatiron Building..
It’s part of th eighth annual “23 Days of Flatiron Cheer”, Sunday, December 1st through Monday, December 23rd, with free, holiday-themed events showcasing the intersection of shopping, dining, and culture in the Flatiron and NoMad neighborhoods. This year’s lineup includes free performances, fitness classes, holiday recipes, prizes, hot beverage giveaways, and much more.
Feast with “Flatiron Foodies.” Every Monday, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership is sharing favorite holiday recipes from Flatiron restaurants. Recipes include Pumpkin Roulade (Pumpkin Swiss Roll with Maple Cream Filling) from Park Avenue Autumn. Following weeks will feature recipes from maman and Harding’s among others. Recipes will be available on FlatironDistrict.nyc and in the Partnership’s weekly newsletter.
Relax and win prizes “Live on the Flatiron Public Plaza.” Every Friday and Saturday from Noon to 4pm, enjoy festive activities on the Flatiron North Public Plaza with free hot beverages, a chance to spin the Flatiron prize wheel, play winter-themed cornhole, and grab a “Cheer” tote bag full of discounts. You can also drop off a food or personal care item to benefit Urban Pathways.
Tote around Flatiron. Every Friday and Saturday, during “Live on the Plaza” events the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership will distribute free “23 Days of Flatiron Cheer” tote bags filled with discounts to neighborhood businesses.
Walk, explore, discover. Every Sunday at 11:00 AM, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership will lead free, holiday-themed walking tours led by professional guides, taking in some of the City’s most notable landmarks.
- Get more information at flatirondistrict.nyc/holiday2019
- FREE, daily through Dec 23rd.
And, beginning Dec. 22, for eight nights, the nightly lighting of the world’s largest Hanukkah Menorah at Fifth Ave. and 59th St., and the largest Menorah in Brooklyn at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Park.
Evelyn Kanter is a native New Yorker who has written for the NY Times, NY Daily News, NY Post, New York Magazine, and is a former on-air reporter for WCBS Newsradio 88 and WABC-TV Eyewitness News. She’s also the author of several NYC guidebooks, including her latest, 100 Things to Do in NYC Before You Die.