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, including some being live streamed for everybody around the world to enjoy.
Here are best FREE holiday light shows in New York City in 2020.
Maintain social distancing and dress warmly for the outdoor light shows. Try to avoid weekends, when they are most crowded.
Saks Fifth Avenue
In addition to its famous holiday windows, there’s a grand sound and light show covering the entire facade of the landmark store, which also has become an annual tradition.
Thousands of LED lights, in the shape of a magical castle, change shapes and colors to a holiday soundtrack saluting different holiday traditions, including José Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad,” and the theme from holiday film favorite Love Actually, Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”.
The light show is about five minutes long and plays daily from dusk to just before midnight, every 10 minutes until Jan. 10.
The theme of this year’s Saks Fifth Avenue holiday windows is This is How We Celebrate, shining a light on the importance of spending time with loved ones and the different ways people and places celebrate across the USA.
The six main windows showcase how different people celebrate in iconic settings around the city, with each over-the-top celebration scene bringing a different quintessential New York moment to life:
- A musical celebration on bustling Broadway in Times Square
- A classic barber shop getting a visit from some adorable kids and their pets, wanting to look their best for the New Year celebration
- A couple on their way to deliver gifts via the Roosevelt Island tram
- An aspiring dancer getting an autograph from her ballerina idol
- A celebration surrounding the neighborhood food truck at a holiday block party
- A friendly competition of holiday lights and decor at neighboring houses in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
New for 2020 –
Saks Lights Up Fifth Avenue events will feature prominent New Yorkers from the fashion and entertainment communities and others, lighting up the Fifth Avenue flagship each night from inside one of the windows. Each event will benefit a charitable cause, with $100,000 in donations to be made by Saks over the course of the holiday season to non-profit organizations serving New York City and beyond.
The events will be livestreamed on select weekdays, through Wednesday, December 23, 2020 beginning at 4:30 p.m. EST.
Recordings will be available to view through Sunday, January 3, 2021.
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, every half hour, from 5pm to 7pm. 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 December 24th.
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 touchless kiosks activated by waving your hand 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. The charity changes each year.
Last year it was 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.
This year it is to ROAR (Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants), which supports New York City restaurant employees facing unprecedented economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Luminaries is daily, through Jan. 8, 2021 at the Winter Garden in Brookfield Place
This massive complex opened officially in 2019, so this is its second holiday.
It’s been completely overhauled from last year when there was an impressive light show featuring five huge star-shaped sculptures, each with 12,000 lights, which changed color to a soundtrack of classical holiday music.
This year, more than two million lights dot the shopping and dining complex, but no show of dancing lights, and there’s a Santa Station for a virtual visit at the North Pole.
The North Pole is on Level 3 of the shopping complex, where kids can “phone” Santa for a virtual conversation, along with seeing Rudolph and his friends or peek inside the workshop to see Santa’s helpers. There also are some special surprises when you or the kids move your phone over the North Pole and Workshop. But you have to download the app first.
Also, because of holiday shopping and holiday visitors, The Vessel is more popular than it’s been the last few months.
Comprised of 154 intricately interconnecting flights of stairs — almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings — the vertical climb offers remarkable views of the city, the river and beyond.
These become available onsite beginning at 9:30am. Same day tickets are available on all of the interactive kiosks in the Shops and Restaurants at 20 Hudson Yards, and at the interactive kiosks on the Public Square and Gardens.
All tickets are issued on a first come, first served basis.
Tickets are distributed for the next available timeslot and allow for a one-time entrance during your assigned time slot.
Limited quantities of tickets are also available for future reservations in a 14-day window. These tickets can only be reserved online.
Also, a limited number of Flex Pass tickets will be allocated each day for future reservations, on a first come, first served basis, for large groups including sightseeing tour groups.
These tickets are not free. There is a “convenience fee” of $10.00 each. Flex Pass tickets can be booked up to six months in advance, and can be purchased online only
Every year, this Brooklyn neighborhood shines with a FREE Christmas light spectacular that glows and blinks for blocks.
In past years, nearly every house participated, and traffic was often gridlocked with private vehicles and even organized tour buses.
We’ve heard from a local resident that fewer houses are participating this year. The exhibits are expensive, and some Dyker Heights residents have lost their jobs, and even loved ones, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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, which is 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.
This holiday exhibit in Flatiron isn’t exactly a light show, but it is an outdoor sculpture with spotlights that play with users.
Point of Action invites New Yorkers and visitors to contemplate the experience of seeing one another—and being seen.
Once the viewer steps out of their usual routine and into the installation’s threshold, there are multiple opportunities for connection with fellow viewers and with passersby. Six-foot circles affixed onto the Flatiron Public Plazas create nine “spotlights,” each with its own vertical metal frame.
Ropes weave through each frame and part, like a curtain figuratively pulled aside, to make room for the viewer to take the spotlight, connecting with other viewers as they move out and beyond.
Lighting emitted from a halo above each circle strengthens the framing; lights embedded into the sides of each frame add another layer to the viewer.
Presented by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute.
- Flatiron Public Plazas on Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street
- Through January 1, 2021
And, beginning Dec. 12, 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.