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Rockefeller Center in Christmas

Christmas in New York is a world apart. If you are lucky enough to visit the Big Apple during this magical season, Rockefeller Center will be the epicenter of your Christmas. Here's why.

Cecilia Gaitán

Cecilia Gaitán

7 min read

Rockefeller Center in Christmas

Enjoying the Rockefeller Center Christmas lights. | ©Johnell Pannell

One of the essential things to see and do in New York at Christmas is to visit Rockefeller Center. It is a privilege to see its majestic tree, its lights, ice skating on the temporary ice rink that occupies its square or even escape to see the Rockettes at Radio City, very close to the Rockefeller.

I'll tell you a little more in detail what you will find at Rockefeller Center if you go at Christmas so you can feel the magic of one of the most awaited times of the year by New Yorkers. Get your camera ready!

1. Delight in the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree| ©Elías Andrés José
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree| ©Elías Andrés José

Touring Manhattan at Christmas time is a spectacle. And one of the icons you can't miss this season is the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

This is not just any fir tree, but belongs to the "Norway spruce" species, brought especially from Connecticut, Pennsylvania or New York itself. And it meets certain requirements such as being older than 50 years and measuring a minimum of 20 meters.

Every year, in mid-November, the assembly of this tree, which has already won the hearts of all New Yorkers and visitors, begins. It is decorated with more than 50,000 multicolored LED lights and crowned with a star covered in more than 3 million Swarovski crystals, designed by the firm since 2004.

The lights are officially turned on the Wednesday of the week following Thanksgiving and the tree is lit from 6 a.m. to midnight. On Christmas Day, the tree is lit 24 hours a day and on New Year's Eve from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm.

You can see it until the first days of January, when they remove it and turn it into firewood to donate the wood to a non-profit organization.

Origin of the tree

The tradition of installing a Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center began back in 1931. The workers who were working on the construction of the building complex decided to put up a fir tree and decorate it with ornaments made by their own families.

This initiative was the genesis of what today is one of the **city'**s major tourist attractions. And in 1933 the first lighting ceremony was held, which today draws crowds.

The anecdote: the tree of solidarity

The great tree at Rockefeller Center does not turn off its magic even if it turns off its lights. Its spirit goes beyond Christmas as it has a charitable purpose.

Since 2007, once the holidays are over and the decorations are removed, the tree is donated to the Habitat for Humanity Foundation. This organization is in charge of burning the wood and using it to build and recover homes for families without resources.

Without losing sight of the environment, Rockefeller Center selects fir trees in their last life cycle, so that they can be used for this charitable purpose, didn't you know?

2. Go crazy with the incredible lighting of the lights ceremony

The lighting ceremony| ©iStock
The lighting ceremony| ©iStock

One of the most anticipated and exciting moments of Christmas in the Big Apple is the lighting of the lights on the Rockefeller Center tree. This ceremony is known as "Christmas Tree Lightning" and is a spectacular show with giant screens and live music. Each year different celebrities, such as Mariah Carey, John Legend and Diana Ross, among others, perform.

If you want to attend this ceremony, you should keep in mind that it is free, so I recommend arriving about 3 or 4 hours before to be able to find more or less a good place.

Useful information so you don't miss it

  • When: The first Wednesday after Thanksgiving (check the calendar to see what day it falls)
  • Where: In the Rockefeller Center plaza, next to the statue of Prometheus and "The Rink" ice skating rink. Between 48th and 51st Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues.
  • Hours: Usually starts between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and lasts until 9:00 p.m. and 9:22 p.m.
  • Until when can I see the lights: From early December to early January, from 6 AM until midnight.
  • Other options: If you can't go or want to see what it's all about, NBC, which has its offices in Rockefeller Center (where the Top of the Rock is), broadcasts the ceremony live every year.

3. Ice skate at Rockefeller Center

The Rink| ©Tim Hufner
The Rink| ©Tim Hufner

At the end of October, as soon as Halloween is over, the holiday spirit begins to palpitate in New York. And one of the characteristic attractions of the festive season that opens its doors is the famous ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center, "The Rink".

The Rink is very crowded and at Christmas time there are usually long lines. So if you want to go, I advise you to buy your ticket in advance. You can do it through the official website.

The rink is open from the first week of December until the end of April of the following year. And its schedule is from 9 in the morning until midnight.

Undoubtedly, at Christmas it is a wonderful experience that will make you feel like you are in a movie. The huge ice rink, at the foot of the giant tree, Christmas carols playing over the loudspeakers... Christmas spirit at its best.

Prices and schedules to go to The Rink

The prices to access The Rink, vary depending on the day and time, if it is in high season or not. The cheapest time is early in the morning and late at night before closing. But you should know that this varies during the festive season, so I recommend you to look carefully on the website as they will indicate the corresponding price depending on the day and time.

How much does it cost to ice skate at The Rink?

  • Adults (13 years and older): 17 € to 47 €.
  • Children (6 - 12 years old): 17 € to 47 €.
  • Children under 6 years old: 7 € to 19 €.
  • Skate rental: about 8,70 € (10 USD) and the lockers are free.
  • Access as a spectator: you can purchase the "Chaperone" ticket for free and it is valid as an adult accompanying the skater.

Ceci's Traveller Tip

The best time of day to go ice skating at Rockefeller Center is early in the morning. It won't be crowded yet and tickets are the cheapest.

4. Immerse yourself in The Rockettes, a must-see Christmas show at Rockefeller Center

The Rockettes| ©iStock
The Rockettes| ©iStock

New York offers many Christmas attractions and traditions. One of them is going to see The Rockettes perform at Radio City Music Hall in Rockefeller Center.

The Rockettes is a company of dancers, which since 1933, holds a 90-minute show for the Christmas season, the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular". This is the quintessential Christmas show and if you go to New York you can't miss it. Impeccable choreography, impressive sets and special effects in the best American style, leave on stage the best of the Christmas spirit.

They are presented from mid-November to early January, with 2, 3 and even 4 performances depending on the day.

I recommend you to buy your tickets to the Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in advance at Hellotickets, as the demand is very high.

Useful information so you don't miss it

Reserve your tickets for The Rockettes

5. Climb to the Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock| ©iStock
Top of the Rock| ©iStock

If you visit New York at Christmas and you are touring the Rockefeller Center area, you should not miss the climb to the Top of the Rock. Seeing Manhattan from above, with Central Park and its skating rink in the background is unforgettable, and even more so if you are lucky enough to see the city covered in snow!

Weather the weather is good or bad, you can enjoy the views from its indoor observation decks and you can even climb to the Top of the Rock at night to see the illumination of the Big Apple from the top of Midtown. Sounds great, doesn't it?

Well, I can also recommend this guide with the best places to eat near the Top of the Rock to warm you up and give you energy before or after the climb.

Reserve your ticket to the Top of the Rock

6. Stroll through the Channel Gardens and enjoy Rockefeller Center's Christmas window displays

Rockefeller's Christmas decorations| ©Freestocks
Rockefeller's Christmas decorations| ©Freestocks

Another attraction that Rockefeller Center is preparing for the holidays is the decoration of its gardens.

The Channel Gardens connect Rockefeller Center's main plaza with 5th Avenue. These gardens separate the British Empire Building and La Maison Française. Hence the reference of its name to the English Channel, which links the United Kingdom with France.

At Christmas time these gardens and their ponds are all decorated with luminous statues of angels playing the trumpet, nutcrackers, giant balls and various figures full of lights. You won't get tired of taking pictures!

Christmas in New York is magical and special. That's why I recommend you just walk and walk and don't get carried away by the cold of winter in New York. Admire its shop windows, its streets, its buildings and all the staging that the city displays for this emotional date.

The Rockefeller Center area is one of the most visited during the holiday season. There, from Radio City Music Hall and all along 6th Avenue, between 45th and 50th Streets, giant and spectacular decorations are installed that are worth seeing.

A fact: the Saks Fifth Avenue store is famous for the Christmas decorations set up every year and the images projected on its facade, exciting!