If I were a moth, I would literally only be one for a second; I’d fly to the light so fast I’d be zapped before I could admire my own wings. As a human, I’m not much better — a total magpie, eternally drawn to bright, shiny things. But I am also lazy. Come holidays in New York City, to get in the spirit I have a tendency to either admire festive photos on Instagram from my bed, or venture to the obvious spots: the Fifth Avenue shop windows (Bergdorf, Saks, Barneys, Bendel’s), the Rockefeller tree, Central Park. They’re beautiful and worth it, but what a shame to be so limited! There are many festive lights to scope in this city, across all five boroughs.
For that very reason, the Man Repeller team put out an Instagram call for people’s favorite lit-up New York City spots. We compiled the brightest with some of our favorites and put together the below guide, so that whether you live in the Tri-State Area, are in town visiting, or are a moth looking to flex your sparkle-seeking, aerodynamic appendages, there’s something to delight and entertain this holiday season.
Garabedian Family Christmas House
The lights: The Garabedian family is not fucking around with their Christmas celebration. They’ve been doing this for 40 years, so they’re pros at festivity. Expect a full nativity scene, Santa’s sleigh and life-size celebrity “guest appearances” (think mannequins of Cher and Elizabeth Taylor).
Inside scoop: The display is lit up after 5 p.m. every day until January 6th.
Where is it and how do I get there? 1605 Pelham Pkwy in the Bronx. Take the 2 or 5 train to Pelham Parkway Station.
New York Botanical Gardens
The lights: Channel your inner child’s favorite Mr. Rogers memories at the Holiday Train Show, which takes place in the middle of the gardens. You’ll be surrounded by illuminated trees plus a whole bunch of scaled, iconic New York buildings and structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge, Yankee Stadium and the Statue of Liberty, under TONS of twinkly lights. Harling loves this because she grew up going to the Botanical Gardens, and it’s chock full of that magical holiday elixir known as nostalgia (and fake snow).
Inside scoop: The show runs until January 15th. $23 for adults, $20 for students, $10 for kids 12 and under. Visit in the evening when the illuminated display truly comes to life.
Where is it and how do I get there? 2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY. Take the Metro-North Harlem local line to Botanical Garden Station or the B, D or 4 train to Bedford Park Blvd Station. And from the station exit, take the Bx26 bus east to the Garden’s Mosholu Entrance.
Canarsie Christmas House
The lights: Bring your sunglasses, that’s how bright this Brooklyn home is: half a million lights make this sparkle-scape shine, where Kings County Democratic Chair Frank Seddio carries on a tradition that began with his house’s former homeowners in 1963. There’s a Hanukkah station, a Kwanzaa stations, a nine-foot-tall Minion and, according to reports, a 25-foot-tall replica of the Parachute Jump in Coney Island. These halls are decked harder than a polar bear can ice skate.
Inside scoop: Said Mayor de Blasio at this year’s unveiling: “This is a beautiful example of what we love about NY City and what we have to cherish and always protect. These are people come from every background and every faith, all together as a community to teach the world that we found a way to get along very well.”
Where is it and how do you get there? E. 93rd St. and Flatlands Ave, Brooklyn. Take the L train to Rockaway Parkway Station.
The lights: This is what your eyeballs call, in all caps, “FA LA LA LA LA, LA LA LA LA.” An entire neighborhood gets together to make their homes look like the inside of a snow globe made up of Laser Pegs. Louisiana and Abie both recommend it.
Inside scoop: Brace yourself for tourists (but it’s worth it): the Brooklyn blocks that participate see over 100,000 tourists per year. Per The Daily Beast, some households have charity donation boxes outside their homes, there’s an ice cream truck (never too cold for sprinkles) and one home has their own hot chocolate stand.
Where is it and how do you get there? Southwest Brooklyn between Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst and Gravesend Bay. (The largest concentration of homes are on 11th Avenue to 13th avenue and from 83rd to 86th street.) Take the D train.
The Largest Menorah in Brooklyn
The lights: The Largest Menorah in Brooklyn is exactly what your wildest dreams would conjur or so I’d imagine: a massive menorah stands at 32 feet tall in Park Slope’s Grand Army Plaza, courtesy of Chabad Park Slope. It’s lit every night of Chanukah alongside live music. Hot latkes are handed out and the website promises gifts for the children.
Inside scoop: It’s not the only giant menorah in town. The Lubavitch Youth Organization of Crown Heights has one at 59th Street and 5th Avenue, first erected in 1977. NYDailyNews.com reports: “The bases of both menorahs top out at 32 feet, the maximum allowed by Jewish law, but the center candle in Brooklyn stands six inches higher than its counterpart across the river.” It’s all in the name of fun and festivity. “Rabbi Shmuel Butman, director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, insisted there’s no rivalry, just a brighter holiday season for everyone.”
Where is it and how do you get there? Grand Army Plaza, Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn. Take the B train to 7th Ave or the 3 to Atlantic Ave.
Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint
The lights: As if there wasn’t always an occasion that called for them, now’s the time to break out your candy cane pants and take them for a walk: the main drag in Greenpoint, Manhattan Ave, is a cozy, twinkling delight of local shops and holiday cheer, and you’re going to want to contribute, sartorially.
Inside scoop: Haley stumbled upon this winter wonderland by accident during one of her three yearly jogs and instantly fell in love with its mood-boosting quality. What’s especially adorable is these lights are funded by the small business neighbors who are committed to making it happen every year. Here’s a news story about it.
Where is it and how do you get there? Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint Brooklyn. Take the G train Nassau Ave.
The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral
The lights: Did you know that St. Patrick’s is one of the few places in the United States with catacombs? Well it is! They’re buried beneath the cathedral. Here’s where the lights come in: Per Kate, candlelight tours take you through the labyrinth of legendary New Yorker’s resting places. It’s a who’s who from bishops to Civil War generals. Raise your flashlight if you’re in!
Inside scoop: Tours are held daily starting at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. and run around 90 minutes. Tickets are $35 per person.
Where is it and how do I get there? 273 Mott Street, on the corner of Spring Street in Manhattan. Take the N/ R/6/F train to various stops and walk up Mulberry Street.
John V. Lindsay East River Park Running Tracks
The lights: Get sweaty in crowds but don’t mind a little sweat? Escape the clumps of holiday tourists and head to this locals-mostly getaway to see some of the best views of Manhattan and Brooklyn. (Running’s optional, to be honest. You can always try to rally a reindeer sleigh?)
Inside Scoop: Elizabeth loves this spot for its stunning views of New York City’s twinkling city lights and iconic three NYC bridges. Head over after sunset with a friend, blanket and plenty of hot cocoa.
Where is it and how do I get there? 430 FDR Drive in Manhattan by car, or take the J/Z train to Bowery station and walk.
Holiday Market in Union Square
The lights: Holy hot toddy, is this the place for you if you’ve delayed your holiday shopping. (Especially if you love a trinket.) The holiday market in Union Square isn’t quite as overwhelming as the one in Bryant Park, yet it retains the magic of Santa’s Workshop in the heart of downtown New York. There are lights, sure, but mostly there is kiosk after kiosk of local artisans who feature gifts should you be a last minute kind of elf.
Inside scoop: To truly appreciate the spectacle while avoiding some of the daytime crowds, visit in the evening, when the illuminated displays truly come to life.
Where is it and how do I get there? 14th street Union Square. Take the 4/6/L/N/Q/R and W (on weekdays).
The lights: Right by our office, the “Welcome to Little Italy” sign is always such a nice, year-round-but-especially-festive-this-time-of-year surprise as you round the corner and glance down the street. Emily describes it as a pleasant, almost quaint, small-town hello that transports you back to NYC circa 1940s.
Inside scoop: Plenty of restaurants and cafes line the streets; grab a cannoli at Cafe Pallermo while you decide where to eat.
Where is it and how do I get there? The sign itself is on Mulberry street (in between Grotta Azzurra Ristorante and Cafe Roma). Some historical trivia: Little Italy on Mulberry Street used to extend as far south as Worth Street, as far north as Houston Street, as far west as Lafayette Street, and as far east as Bowery. However, it’s now only three blocks total on Mulberry Street. Take the N/ R/6/F train to various stops and walk up Mulberry Street.
The lights: If you have ever wondered what it might feel like to drink inside of a lit-up, over-decorated Christmas tree, visit Rolf’s and you’ll understand. Step inside and you essentially become a human ornament (so why not go all out and dress accordingly?).
Inside scoop: It’s a great Instagram opportunity, and they accept walk-ins (no reservations until after December 26th — decorations stay up until May, however!) but be prepared to wait forever. So long as you have something to do during the wait, it’s worth it if you’ve never been.
Where is it and how do I get there? 281 3rd Ave. Take the 6 train to the 23rd Street stop.
The West Village
The lights: Bring your selfie stick and best brunch outfit. Ambitious townhouse owners turn their homes into mini North Poles and deck the (outside) halls with literal boughs of holly in this neighborhood made for the holidays.
Inside scoop: Leandra loves how simply walking through this neighborhood during this time of year can make you feel less alone, or like you’re among the happiest people in Manhattan. “It’s both chilling and warming,” she says, if you’re into that kind of thing. Highlights include Perry Street, Jane Street, Cornelia, Bank Street and Commerce Street. Stop at Buvette on Grove Street if you need a cozy pit stop.
Where is it and how do I get there: Downtown New York. Take 1/2/3 train down to Christopher Street Station or the A/C/E down to West 4th Street.
The Gurino Family Home
The lights: If you’ve ever wondered what a non-edible gingerbread house would look like in real life, WELL HERE YOU HAVE IT. Rumor has it there’s music playing, a hot chocolate station and free cookies for all.
Inside scoop: Lights are on from 4 p.m. to midnight until January 6.
Where is it and how do I get there? 185-07 80th Drive, Jamaica Estates, Queens.
Rockaway’s “Little North Pole” House
The lights: If the Rockaways are known for the surf in the summer, Rockaway resident Joe Mure makes sure it’s known for the holidays in the winter. The NY Daily News suggested you call him Santa Claus, and each year, he lights up his home so much so that it’s known as the Little North Pole. It’s a lot of joyful bling. The lighting ceremonies have become a neighborhood tradition, and “dozens of community members” volunteer to help Mure set up. According to the Rockaway Times, “all money raised throughout the holiday season goes towards the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.”
Inside Scoop: The lights go on at 5 p.m. A donation box is outside the house until the end of December.
Where is it and how do I get there? 144-03 Neponsit Ave, Rockaway Queens. Take the 6/4/A/F train.
Joe DiMartino’s “Lights for Life” House
The lights: Can you believe I had never once considered the holiday pun “s-elfie” in all my years writing bad jokes? Not once! Luckily, the Lights for Life Facebook page taught me all about it: you can take a s-elfie with Santa Claus on Saturday, December 23rd, and every dollar raised will benefit the Staten Island University Hospital Pediatric Cancer Unit.
This will be Joe DiMartino’s 15th year putting on the home-spun holiday lights show. “To date,” writes Where2GoNewYork.com, “Joe has raised over $200,000 through the generosity of his visitors, in memory of his late wife, Debra Ann who was killed in the World Trade Center Attacks on September 11, 2001.”
Inside scoop: Come and visit until January 2nd. The lights go on every night from 5 p.m. onward.
The lights: TELL ME HOW we have gotten through an entire list about holiday lights and not once have we managed skating on ice? Well thank goodness we’re about to fix all that with Winter Wonderland Staten Island, which has absolutely everything: the aforementioned skating ring, a nightly lights show, “a life sized working Gingerbread House bakery” (okay!), an Igloo bar where you literally drink inside an igloo, mini golf, gift-stocking opportunities, plus so much more.
Inside scoop: It’s only open until the 23rd so strap on your skates and skedaddle!
Where is it and how do I get there? 75 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY 10301. Take the ferry.
Illustrations by Gabrielle Lamontagne.