New York at Christmas time offers many things to do: illuminated storefronts, decorated streets and avenues, skating rinks... But if there's one thing you can't miss, it's the decorations in Dyker Heights.
With a lot of imagination and creativity, the neighbors of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn have turned their neighborhood into a must-see in New York at Christmas. You've never seen anything like it except in the movies - get ready for the display of color and holiday lights and set out to discover one of New York's best neighborhoods!
What is Dyker Heights like?
Dyker Heights is actually a residential neighborhood in Brooklyn that would be nothing special if it weren't for the fact that every Christmas its residents imbibe the Christmas spirit to transform their homes into a place that looks like something out of an American movie thanks to a huge decorative and illuminative display so typical of these dates.
Some choose discreet and sophisticated lights to decorate their homes while others indulge in excess and fill them to the brim with all kinds of garlands, balls, inflatables and Christmas figurines singing Christmas carols.
Why go to Dyker Heights at Christmas?
If you like Christmas decorations and lights, I highly recommend it because it's quite a sight to see a neighborhood themed "American style" for Christmas. The locals go out of their way to impress visitors every year, and visitors have a blast taking pictures of Santa Claus, reindeer, snowmen, elves and more - you'll be hard pressed to find a dark house at dusk!
How to get to Dyker Heights
Dyker Heights is located in southwest Brooklyn, between the neighborhoods of Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge. You can go on your own by public transportation or by taking the Christmas Lights Night Tour, in a comfortable vehicle that will take you on a round trip from downtown Manhattan.
By public transportation
Dyker Heights is approximately one hour by subway from Manhattan. It does not have a subway station but the surrounding neighborhoods do. There are several options to get there by public transportation (see here for a guide to using the New York subway).
Hop on the R subway line and get off in the Bay Ridge neighborhood at the 86 St. stop. There are cafes and stores around this subway stop, so if you need to go to the restroom or want to buy something to warm up you'll have to do it here. Remember that Dyker Heights is a residential neighborhood and there are hardly any stores. To get there you only have to walk about 15-20 minutes from the subway.
Take the D subway line and get off at the Bensonhurst neighborhood at the 79th St. stop. Although there is also some shopping in this area, the atmosphere is not like Bay Ridge. 20 minutes walk from the subway station will get you to Dyker Heights.
You can also take the bus from Wall Street on the X28 line, an alternative that leaves you at 86th St. and 12th Ave, a five-minute walk from the decorated houses. To return by bus to Manhattan you can take the B1 bus.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour
Christmas is a magical time of year in New York and there are many ways to enjoy it. If you love the Christmas atmosphere, I recommend that you take the Christmas Lights in Dyker Heights tour so you don't miss out on any of this tradition as there are details that you might miss out on if you do it on your own. This is undoubtedly one of the best tours to see the lights of New York City at Christmas.
Not only will you see the lights of this picturesque neighborhood, but you will explore it listening in Spanish to the guide's anecdotes about this fun event and you may even meet some of the owners of the brand new houses. Plus, you'll save time along the way and won't be so cold in the middle of winter in New York City as you'll be riding in a vehicle with the group instead of transferring on public transportation.
As a finishing touch, on the way back to Midtown you will stop at the Brooklyn Bridge to contemplate the spectacular skyline of Manhattan. In short, it is a very complete tour to enjoy the Christmas spirit of New York and I assure you that you will leave Dyker Heights with a smile on your lips. If you are also a Christmas lover, you can not miss the best Christmas trees in New York.
What are the most famous houses in Dyker Heights?
The most spectacular decorations in Dyker Heights are located between 83rd and 86th Streets and between 10th and 12th Avenues. Since this is a neighborhood initiative, not every year the same houses in the neighborhood are decorated, but there are always surprises. These are the most popular:
Lucy Spata House
The house of the precursor of this tradition gathers crowds of tourists. It's like the crown jewel of Dyker Heights. You'll recognize it by the army of dazzling figurines in her garden made up of snowmen, toy soldiers and dozens of angels that she placed in honor of her mother who died in 1986. It is located at 1152 84th Street.
Polizzoto Family Home
On the same street but at number 1145 is the home of the Polizzoto family, which stands out for its giant Santa Claus at the entrance of the house, the spectacular merry-go-round in the garden and toy soldiers almost 9 meters high.
James Bonavito House
The Christmas decoration of his home is considered the most elegant in Dyker Heights and James Bonavito knows quite a bit about it since he is the owner of B&R Christmas decorations.
Gold, white, green and red lights decorate the facade and garden along with life-size figures.
House of Sam the Greek
The three-story home at 71st St. & 14th Avenue is decorated from top to bottom with 260,000 lights and no detail is missing. Sam himself turns them on when Christmas arrives.
Blue Christmas House
The outdoor decorations are all blue. Inside, half of the house is decorated with Christmas motifs and the other half for Hanukkah since the family that lives there is half Christian - half Jewish.
When do the Dyker Heights lights go on?
There is no exact date for the Dyker Heights Christmas lights switch-on although some neighbors do it on Thanksgiving weekend. However, the best way to make sure all the decorations are up is from mid-December through Christmas Day. Several neighbors even leave them up past New Year's Eve.
What is the best time to visit the neighborhood?
In December the sun goes down around 4:30 PM in New York. I advise you to go to Dyker Heights a little before it gets dark so you can attend the lights switch on but if you can't, don't go too late as at 9 PM many houses turn off the lights.
When most of the Christmas decorations are turned on is during the weekend but it is also when there are more visitors in the neighborhood and some houses are crowded with people.
Dyker Heights Christmas lights trivia
When did the tradition of Christmas lights begin in Dyker Heights?
It all started in the 1980s, when neighbor Lucy Sparta decided to decorate her house with Christmas decorations in honor of her deceased mother. Gradually, other neighbors joined her initiative until today it has become an annual event and an undeclared neighborhood competition for the best decorated house at Christmas. In fact, some families even pay professional decorators to make a personalized and different design.
This tradition attracts thousands of people to the Dyker Heights neighborhood each year and is so popular that guided tours have sprung up to learn about every little detail of the neighborhood.
Where do neighbors keep the decorations for the rest of the year?
Many neighbors store the ornaments in their own homes, either in storage rooms or garages. The size of these homes is quite large so with a little organization it is not surprising that they have a specific space to store them.
Other residents are kept by decorating companies because they are the ones who provide the lights and decorations when families hire their services.
How much do the decorations cost?
It depends on the decorations and the size of the house, but there is talk of figures ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 between electricity bills and the services of specialized decoration companies. A lot of money!
How do neighbors get into their homes?
If residents clutter their homes with decorations and lights until there's no room in the yard, how do they get inside without tripping over them? Luckily for them, most homes have a secondary door in addition to the main entrance, so neighbors don't have to run an obstacle course every time they want to enter the house.
What else to do in New York at Christmas?
Christmas is one of the most magical times to live in New York. The city is filled with Christmas trees, lights, carolers, decorated avenues and stores... Without a doubt, it is the time to travel to the city because it is beautiful and there is so much to see. As Andy Williams said in his popular song: It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
In the heart of Midtown Manhattan do not miss the Rockefeller Center at Christmas, where you can contemplate its historic tree and skate on its ice skating rink. And if you feel like exploring the city beyond Manhattan, the Christmas lights at the Bronx Zoo will blow your mind.
And while you're in Brooklyn I recommend you to visit the neighborhood (if possible, get to know it in the daylight, before reaching Dyker Heights to enjoy its markets, its architecture, its parks ...). If you are up for it, here is a guide I have prepared on what to see and what to do in Brooklyn or what to see and what to do in Williamsburg, the Jewish neighborhood of New York.