Take a free, self-guided walking tour of the best NYC Christmas windows ... it's the perfect way to get in the holiday spirit!
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Christmas in New York is truly magical!
And my favorite way to capture that holiday spirit is by walking along 5th Avenue to see all the amazing holiday window displays. Somehow, each window gets better than the next, and it's inspiring to see so much Christmas creativity in one place.
When I lived in NYC, my husband and I did this walk every year. We'd take a day off work and make an special occasion of it!
It's been a few years since we made the walk. But we just returned from NYC where we had so much fun recreating this special holiday tradition.
While I was there, I realized that you'd probably like to take part in this fun and festive walk, too! So keep reading for all my insider tips, plus a detailed, interactive map of the best NYC Christmas windows.
Best NYC Christmas Windows
You will find beautiful Christmas window decorations throughout NYC. This city knows how to do Christmas right!
But some spots are better than others, so let's get right to it ...
Where are the best Christmas decorations in NYC?
The best way to see the most (and the best) windows, all in one place, is by walking up 5th Avenue from Midtown to the Upper East Side. And this free, self-guided walking tour covers everything you'll want to see:
- Macy's Herald Square - see the famous windows and visit NYC's most popular Santa.
- Bryant Park - visit the holiday market, take a selfie with the Christmas tree, and go ice skating.
- New York Public Library - take a family photo with the wreath-bedecked lions.
- Rockefeller Center - check out NYC's most famous Christmas tree or go ice skating in the popular rink.
- Radio City Music Hall - home of the Rockettes!
- Famous Stores - admire the beautiful windows at all the classic department and luxury stores. Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Co., Cartier, and Bloomingdale's, to name a few.
- More - these classic spots are just the tip of the iceberg ... there are so many other sights to see!
Keep reading for a detailed walking tour, free map (that you can use on your phone), and tons of tips that will make this walk an unforgettable holiday experience!
NYC Holiday Windows Walking Tour Map
To help you make the most of your walk, I created a FREE NYC holiday windows walking tour map.
I know that getting around New York can be confusing if you're not familiar with the city's layout. There's nothing I can do about your sense of direction (ha!) or the crowds (Christmas in NYC is crazy busy), but this map should make your life a little easier.
So check out the preview below, then open the interactive Google Map on your phone during your walk.
Where to Start Your Walk
You can begin anywhere along 5th Avenue, but my two favorite starting points are the Flatiron Building and Macy's Herald Square:
Traditionally, we like to start at the Flatiron Building (the Flatiron District and nearby Grammercy neighborhood are very charming). From there, we walk up 5th Avenue, then switch to Madison Avenue in the Upper East Side, ending at The MET. Warning: this is a very long walk though (almost 60 blocks) and it will take you the better part of a day to complete.
Macy's Herald Square
If you're short on time, traveling with kids, or it's super cold out, start at Macy's Herald Square. Then, you can end at E 58th Street or continue on through the Upper East Side on Madison Avenue, ending at The MET (or sooner). You'll hit all the biggest highlights and save time with this route.
And I just want to note that we like to walk from south to north along Fifth Avenue. You can of course make this walk in the reverse direction, if that makes more sense for you!
Where to End Your Walk
Here are my three favorite places to end the walk:
5th Avenue and 59th Street
Whether you're short on time, traveling with little ones, all windowed-out, or just freezing your butt off, 59th Street is a great place to end. You'll have covered all the hot spots along 5th Avenue, and you'll be at Central Park. Stopping here will give you time to explore the park or check another activity of your NYC bucket list.
Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side
Why stop at 5th Avenue, when there are so many gorgeous Christmas windows to see on the Upper East Side? You'll find iconic NYC department stores (like Barneys and Bloomingdale's) on the UES, plus loads of upscale shops and restaurants. You'll also escape the crowds that you encountered on 5th Avenue.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
If you have it in you, continue your walk all the way up Madison Avenue to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (located at 5th Avenue and E 82nd Street). Along with all the art you'll encounter here, you'll also find a gorgeous Christmas tree. A glass of champagne and snacks in the Balcony Bar are the perfect ending to a long day.
When to Go
To get the most bang for your holiday buck, make your 5th Avenue walk sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when picking the perfect day:
- Many NYC Christmas window displays go up before Thanksgiving, but I'd recommend waiting until the end of November or at least until Thanksgiving to see most stores decorated.
- My favorite time to check out holiday windows on 5th Avenue is early to mid-December.
- New York gets extremely crowded at Christmastime, and you'll encounter throngs of people now matter when you go. For fewer crowds, make the walk during the week or start as early as possible on Saturday or Sunday. Also, avoid days with massive events, like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting.
- Many stores will keep their holiday displays up through New Year's. If you visit after Christmas though, you'll may miss other holiday activities (like the holiday markets that pop up all over the city).
- I usually go during the day, but if you want to see everything lit up, make the walk at night.
- Decorations change every year, so they'll probably look different from the photos below.
Read my Guide to Christmas in New York for more tips for planning a visit to NYC during the holidays.
Free, Self-Guided Walking Tour of the Best NYC Christmas Windows
Okay, this is what you're here for, so let's get started ... you'll find tons of holiday cheer and inspiration straight ahead!
And remember, you can START this walk at the Flatiron Building OR Macy's Herald Square OR anywhere else your heart desires! And of course, feel free to flip directions and END at the Flatiron Building / Macy's, if you'd prefer.
Flatiron Building (STARTING OPTION 1)
This neighborhood is filled with charm and shops!
Start your walk by getting a photo with iconic Flatiron Building from the plaza across the street. If you're feeling hungry, pop into nearby Eataly for a snack or meal.
Note: beginning here will add a lot of extra time to your walk, so start at Macy's if you want a shorter route.
Madison Square Park
Take a quick walk through the park to check out the tree.
Feeling hungry? Grab a bite at Shake Shack if the line isn't too long.
From Madison Square Park, continue walking north on 5th Avenue until you get to the Empire State Building.
This stretch isn't anything super exciting, but you'll pass some restaurants and smaller shops with cute displays. You'll also encounter fewer crowds, so it's a good way to ease yourself in!
Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is an NYC classic that you won't want to miss ... check it off your bucket list during this walk!
Step inside the lobby to see the pretty tree and holiday decorations.
While you're there, you could also take a ride to the top! You'll find the highest open-air observatory in New York on the ESB's 86th floor. Craving even more amazing views? Visit the Top Deck on the 102nd floor, too.
Macy's Herald Square (STARTING OPTION 2)
Have you even been to NYC if you haven't visited Macy's? Deep questions ... ha!
Macy's Herald Square Christmas windows have never been my favorite (it's super crowded here, and the windows feel very commercial), although they were pretty cute this year. BUT it's a fan favorite, so if you've never been, it's worth a visit. And the kids will definitely love the windows here.
Macy's is located at 6th Avenue between W 34th and W 35th, so you will need to take a short detour off of Fifth Avenue to get here.
While you're there, visit Santa. You'll need to make a reservation and lines can be long ... you've been warned!
New York Public Library
From Macy's, return to 5th Avenue, then continue north until you get to the New York Public Library.
Get a photo with the wreath-bedecked lions out front.
Then, if you have time, step inside to warm up. The interior of NYC's main library is stunning!
You'll find Bryant Park, which is pretty much holiday central, located behind the library.
While you're at Bryant Park, check out the giant Christmas tree (it's the perfect spot for taking a selfie/family photo), take a spin on the ice rink, warm up with a hot chocolate, or visit one of my fave holiday markets.
It gets very crowded here!
My husband and I jokingly refer to the stretch between Bryant Park and Rockefeller Center as Hell's Half Mile. Let me know if you agree after visiting.
Grand Central Terminal
After Bryant Park, take another detour off 5th avenue to visit this iconic NYC train station.
The station itself is beautiful and decorated for the holidays, but you'll also find a holiday market, shops, train show, and restaurants. Plus, bathrooms if you need them.
After leaving Grand Central, return to 5th Avenue and head north.
You'll find tons of shops and decorations on this stretch leading up to the Rockefeller Center, as well as those throngs of people I promised earlier (hard to believe, but it gets even more crowded).
You'll know you're getting close to Rockefeller Center when the crowds start to move at a snail's pace!
It can get seriously claustrophobic here. If you can't deal with crowds, take a quick peep at the tree from the sidewalk, then keep moving (or trying to move).
Feeling brave? Squeeze through the crowd to check out the Christmas tree and ice rink. You'll find some great photo opportunities here if you're extremely patient.
If you want to skate, be sure to make reservations ahead of time or be prepared to wait in a very (very) long line.
Saks Fifth Avenue
Okay, moving along!
You'll find Saks Fifth Avenue right across from Rockefeller Center.
You can actually get some really beautiful views and photos of Saks from the plaza in front of the Rockefeller Christmas tree, so make sure to check that out. Then, cross the street to view the windows up close.
Tip: the crowds around the Christmas windows at Saks Fifth Avenue can get really thick. However, go around the corner at E 50th Street, and you'll have those windows (decorated with the same theme as those out front) mostly to yourself.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
Take a few moments to check out this beautiful church located right next door to Saks.
For most of the time we lived in NYC, this historic church was covered in scaffolding. It was so nice to see that the work was finally complete!
Across from St. Patrick's Cathedral, you'll spot Atlas, a large bronze statue.
This Art Deco statue was installed in 1937 and depicts Atlas carrying the celestial vault on his shoulders.
During the holidays, the little plaza where the statue sits is decorated with wreaths and trumpet blowers, making for a fun pic.
Radio City Music Hall
Next, you'll take another small detour off 5th Avenue to visit Radio City Music Hall, home of the Rockettes.
The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular is a holiday classic and definitely worth seeing.
But even if you can't make it to the show, stop by to check out the charming exterior of the building. Its colorful lights and massive Christmas tree are quite festive.
Giant Christmas Ornaments
Don't head back to 5th Avenue just yet!
Walk to the plaza kitty corner from Radio City to get a photo in front of the giant ornaments.
Return to 5th Avenue
You'll return to 5th Avenue next.
The stretch between 51st and 59th is a treasure trove of decked out windows and buildings. Don't hesitate to move back and forth across the street when something catches your eye!
Cartier, Uniqlo, Tiffany's, and Louis Vuitton are always some of my faves ... I'm sharing more on those stores next!
Cartier may just have had my favorite holiday decorations this year ... it's a toss up between them and Bergdorf's!
The bow-wrapped vintage building is just so beautiful (you can see it in the first pic in this article), and the displays in the windows are quite charming, as well.
Santa, can you bring me a Cartier Love Bracelet this year? If not, I'll settle for a Juste un Clou Bracelet ... Hello? Can you hear me, Santa?
Okay, let's get real.
I'm dreaming of Cartier, but Uniqlo is more my budget!
And Uniqlo had one of the cutest, most colorful displays this year ... make sure to step inside to see it all.
Tiffany & Co.
The exterior of Tiffany & Co. is adorned with oversized jewels, which is quite fitting.
Make sure to view the windows at Tiffany's up close, too, for a peek into their "workshop".
The colorful windows at Louis Vuitton are definitely worth a peep!
Each window is a little different, but I loved this colorful, sparkling Christmas tree.
Bergdorf Goodman (ENDING OPTION 1)
The windows at Bergdorf's are definitely some of the best and most over-the-top!
And just when you think you've found your favorite window, the next one tops it. Make sure to walk around both corners of the building here to see all the windows.
Feel free to stop your walk here and continue on into Central Park (or somewhere warm) OR continue on to Madison Avenue for more department stores, lots of designer shops, and plenty of restaurants.
To continue on, we're going to walk past Madison Avenue (don't worry, we'll return in a bit), so we can get to Bloomingdale's.
From Bergdorf Goodman, head up to E 59th Street, then keep going until you get to Lexington Avenue, where you'll find Bloomingdale's.
The windows here are always fun. This year, they have a Grinch theme, and one of the windows has an interactive karaoke display where you can show off your singing chops!
Barneys New York
After visiting Bloomingdale's, cut back over to Madison Avenue to check out Barneys.
The windows at Barneys always unique! This year, the windows are all about small changes that can make a big difference (not shown).
Madison Avenue (ENDING OPTION 2)
From Barneys, continue walking up Madison Avenue as far as your feet will carry you.
Along the way, you'll pass everything from Lauderie to Ralph Lauren to Kate Spade. This is a great place to do Christmas Shopping, if you have a lot of bank!
There are tons of shops along Madison Avenue, so where you stop is really up to you. If you're up to it though, I'd suggest continuing on to The MET.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (ENDING OPTION 3)
If you've made it all the way to E 82nd Street, then you deserve a Christmas cookie (or ten).
I love ending the walk here! Just make sure to check out The MET's hours to ensure that you arrive at least an hour before they close (generally, 5:30 PM from Sunday through Thursday and 9:00 PM on Friday and Saturday).
While you're there, you'll want to view the beautiful, angel-adorned Christmas tree with its Neapolitan Baroque Crèche underneath. Then, finish your day with snacks and a glass of champagne in the balcony bar.
Helpful Tips for Planning a Trip to See Holiday Windows in NYC
I hope you enjoyed reading about all these gorgeous NYC Christmas windows! This fun walking tour never gets old, because the window displays change every year. Why not turn it into a holiday tradition?
Before you visit though, check out these tips to make planning your trip a little easier (and remember to use the free walking tour map):
What date do Christmas decorations go up in New York?
Most holiday window displays go up before Thanksgiving. Dates vary, and many department stores have special events unveiling their windows (visit individual store website's for those exact dates). Window decorations usually come down shortly after New Year's.
The History of New York City's Christmas Windows
Did you know that Macy's decorated their first Christmas window in 1874? Kind of crazy! Read more about the history of New York City's windows here.
What to Wear
Figuring out what to wear can be the tricky! If you're planning to shop in upscale stores, you'll want to look pulled together ... but you also need be to warm and comfortable.
We've done this walk on warm days with temps in the high 40's, but other times it's been bitter cold. Check the weather forecast before packing!
The best thing you can do is wear layers, removing them if necessary as you step in and out of stores. I'd recommend some variation on the following outfit for a cold day:
- Jeans (or Warm Pants)
- Long Sleeve Shirt
- Warm Sweater
- Scarf and Hat
- Warm Socks
- Comfortable Shoes or Boots ... make sure to wear waterproof boots if there is snow on the ground, otherwise your feet will get wet, and you'll be miserable!
- Knee-Length Winter Jacket, Ideally with a Hood
- Lightweight, Thermal Undergarments ... only if it's super cold.
You can see what I wore this year below. It was in the low 40's, and my husband didn't wear a winter jacket (not sure what he was thinking). Needless to say, he was cold!
Other Place to See Holiday Decorations in NYC
Of course, 5th Avenue isn't the only place to find gorgeous Christmas decorations in NYC. You'll spot them scattered throughout every corner of the city.
Check out some of my favorites spots to see holiday decorations in New York:
- I love walking along Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side for classic New York charm, shopping, and restaurants.
- The Shops at Columbus Circle have a pretty holiday display in their atrium.
- Shop your way through one of NYC's many European-style, outdoor holiday markets.
- Visit the New York Botanical Garden for the Holiday Train Show.
- Have a little extra time in your itinerary? Head to Brooklyn to see the amazing Dyker Heights Christmas Lights.
- Check out the World's Largest Menorah in Grand Army Plaza. We also spotted a large menorah in Herald Square.
- In Lower Manhattan? Drop by The Oculus, the World Trade Center's transportation hub. Not only is the architecture cool, but you also find a small holiday market and a mall here.
- Look up as you walk NYC's busy streets ... many are adorned with colorful lights, bright stars, or sparkling snowflakes!
Read my Christmas in New York post for info these ideas and more!
Want to see a roundup of NYC holiday windows from years past?
The Christmas window displays are different every year! Check out the photos I took when I loved in NYC:
Unfortunately, I missed a few years after our move ... I'll try to be more consistent in the future!
Where to Eat
NYC has thousands of restaurants, but figuring out where to eat can be challenging during this walk. There are lots of options along 5th Avenue, all of which may be packed and/or impossible to get into. And once you get the Upper East Side, things tend to get pricey.
Here are a few suggestions, all vegetarian-friendly (and all indicated on green on the walking map) ... make reservations for nicer places:
Between Flatiron and the Empire State Building
Pop into Eataly near the Flatiron Building for food or coffee, or get a burger at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. You could also grab a bite to eat in Korea Town. My fave restaurant closed recently, but there are tons of tasty options here ... the buffet at Woorijip is yummy, my husband loves Turntable Chicken Jazz, and BCD Tofu House is also supposed to be great.
Near Bryant Park / New York Public Library
Pick up a coffee, pastry, or light meal at Maison Kayser (there are two nearby locations). Grab a sandwich or bowl of soup at Panera or Pret A Manger (which also has two locations nearby) or a burrito at Chipotle. There are restaurants and food stands in Bryant Park itself, too.
You'll find lots of restaurants here, from casual options in the Dining Concourse to the classic Grand Central Oyster Bar (not surprisingly, vegetarians will be hard-pressed in the Oyster Bar) .
Upper East Side
A great option near Bloomingdale's is The Bar Room, a super charming restaurant with delicious food and creative cocktails (and reasonable prices for NYC/the UES ... reservations recommended). Serendipity 3 is another restaurant worth considering near Bloomingdale's. It's super popular, so if you want to sample their Frozen Hot Chocolate (or anything else on the menu), you must have a reservation. Closer to the MET, Dos Toros Taqueria is a good, Chipotle-esque option. There's also an UES location of one of my fave NYC restaurants, Xi'an Famous Foods, although it's a bit off the beaten track for this walk. Demarchelier is a tasty option near The MET.
Where to Stay
Wondering where to stay? Here are a few ideas:
Hotel Indigo Lower East Side - we stayed here during out latest visit to NYC, and I loved it! Our room was very spacious by NYC standards and had great views of both One World Trade Center and the Empire State Building. It's located in a fun neighborhood that's far removed from Midtown's holiday madness.
Lotte New York Palace - Gossip Girl fans may be familiar with "The Palace". If you're looking for a classic, old school, upscale New York hotel, this is it. You may even rub elbows with a diplomat or two. There's plenty of fun here for kids, and adults will enjoy the life size Molton Brown Advent Calendar (receive a complimentary product every day!).
The Plaza - here's another fancy NYC hotel with lots of fun holiday activities for kids, often involving the classic literary character Eloise. You kids will love having tea with Santa here, and they can even send Santa off on Christmas Eve!
InterContinental New York Barclay - for a luxurious, but moderately-priced hotel (at least by NYC standards), check out the InterContinental. This hotel is conveniently located near Rockefeller Center and Grand Central Terminal (it was originally a railroad hotel, built to service the men and women traveling to New York City).
Warwick Hotel - this is another beautiful, historic NYC hotel. It was built by William Randolph Hearst in 1926, and his mistress, the actress Marion Davies, had her own specially-designed floor in the building. You'll find plenty of old world charm here!
The Standard High Line - here's another hotel for those looking to escape busy Midtown. I love the The Standard's location in the Meatpacking District ... there's tons of shopping and restaurants just outside its doors, and it's literally perched over the High Line, one of my favorite spots in NYC. You'll also find an ice skating rink here, which is free for guest after 8:00 PM.
Not sure where to start? I always find the reviews on Trip Advisor are super helpful when narrowing down hotels!
What else is there to do in New York at Christmas?
Looking for more things to do in NYC during the holidays? Check out my Guide to Spending Christmas in New York for tons of tips and ideas!
Have your ever checked out NYC's holiday window displays?