Who knew that a tree could have so many fans?
With visits by nearly 125 million people each holiday season, a TV audience of over six million, and countless photos and mentions on social media, it’s arguable that–besides being the quintessential New York experience–the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center is the most famous tree in the world.
The roots of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree trace themselves back to December 1931, when, at the height of the Great Depression, construction workers on the site decorated a 20-foot-high balsam fir with handmade garlands made by their families. In 1933, officials at the commercial building complex decided to make the tree an annual tradition, and the very first tree-lighting ceremony was held.
This year’s Tree is an 80-foot-tall Norway Spruce from Vestal, New York. After being cut down on November 9, all 12 tons of it will be put on a truck and carefully shipped to midtown Manhattan, where for the next two weeks, artisans will adorn it with more than five miles of wire holding over 50,000 multi-colored LED lights. Topping the Tree for the fifth year will be a 900-pound, three-dimensional Swarovski star with 70 spikes and three million crystals.
The official tree lighting ceremony will be held on Wednesday 29th, and broadcast nationally live on NBC’s annual “Christmas at Rockefeller Center.” And while it’s fun watching close-ups on TV, nothing beats seeing the tree live in person.
Where is the tree?
In Rockefeller Center, of course! The Tree is located in the area above the skating rink between 49th and 50th Streets just west of Fifth Avenue.
How do you get there?
Because midtown traffic is notoriously congested during the holiday season, the subway is your best bet. Take the B, D, F, or M trains to the 47th-50th Rockefeller Center stop.
Find the subway nerve-wracking? Check out our NYC Subway Guide and you’ll be riding like a pro in no time.
When can you visit it?
The Tree will be lit daily from 5am-12am until January 13th at 10:00pm. On Christmas Day, the Tree is lit for 24 hours, and on New Year’s Eve it is lit from 5am to 9pm.
What are the best times to visit?
If you want to beat the crowds, the best times to visit are late in the evening. The advantage of going in the evening is you can also see neighboring Saks Fifth Avenue’s spectacular holiday light show. If you go early in the morning, you’ll also experience fewer people, and you get the opportunity to check out the action in the Plaza during the live broadcast of “The Today Show”!
What if you don’t like crowds?
If you don’t want to deal with crowds, avoid going from mid-morning around 10 a.m. until mid-evening at 9 p.m.
Tips for photos
If you have time, the ideal location for the perfect photo is in the Channel Gardens. The entrance is on Fifth Avenue between West 49th and 50th Streets. Expect to wait and battle crowds.
If you’re a skater who doesn’t mind risking having a few thousand people see you fall on the ice, take a spin in The Rink at Rockefeller Center and grab a selfie with the tree and iconic statue of Prometheus.
If you’re in a hurry, the J Crew store on 50th Street is as close to the tree as you’re going to get.. Stop in the store and buy something. As you exit with your J-Crew bag, ask the security guards nicely if you can snap a few photos. They’re usually really cool about it.
Grab a bite and a drink
Looking to multitask? You can grab a bite and have a little holiday cheer while looking at The Tree.
City Winery’s Rockefeller Center Wine Garden is a great place to rent an igloo or brave the chill with an al fresco drink.
Après Skate Chalets that line the ice rink offer food and beverage service and seat up to six adults.