Avoiding the Rockefeller tree lighting

My BFF Kari Lin and I last year in front of the Rockefeller tree — but NOT during the tree lighting!

First posted on December 3, 2013. Updated with current information.

The number one thing you should not do tomorrow night (Wednesday, December 3) under any circumstances? Go anywhere near Rockefeller Center.

Tomorrow is the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree, and according to the events website, tens of thousands of people will crowd the sidewalk in an attempt to see the tree be lit and to catch some of the performances. While the lineup is impressive, even if I didn’t have a choir rehearsal I would be staying away from the tree tomorrow evening.

One year while in college I happened to be in the city on the Wednesday of the tree lighting and I decided to wander by Rockefeller Center on my way back to Grand Central. I never got close enough to even see the tree, let alone find a spot to settle in and hear some music. The sidewalks were packed with a tide of people relentlessly moving toward Rockefeller Center, where they’d stop and I’d be squished in the crowd–without even being able to see anything. I took myself out of the flow, stopped in a pizza place for a slice, and headed back to the train station.

Last year a friend told me that there are usually police barriers up on the streets, forcing people to walk single file, and they put all the spectators in pens. So while it may be possible, if obnoxious, to be near Rockefeller Center tomorrow evening, I’d still say, skip the tree lighting. Who wants to be in a pen?

But the tree—and the skating rink—at Rockefeller Center are a NYC Christmas tradition, as much as the Rockettes (of whose performance, which I saw when I was little, I remember…well, little. Mostly I remember the wand with a snow globe on its end that I got my parents to buy me). The tree is huge, covered in colored lights, and lovely, so I do recommend visiting it. The rink (which is a bit of a rip off compared to Bryant Park and even Wollman, which I refuse to call Trump Rink) is open till midnight, and the tree is usually lit till 11:30, so while it may thin out a bit later in the evenings, your best bet for having slightly fewer tourists to deal with is probably to go early in the week.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something on Wednesday night, consider staying home and watching the tree lighting from the comfort of your own couch! And then tell me how it was, because I’ll be in rehearsal.

Any other NYC tourist spots to avoid this week and check out another time?


  1. Haha, I’m not feeling bad about missing it now! I’ve always feared the crowds so have saved my visits for when it’s a little less busy… but to be honest, it’s still always busy at night time. I guess the best option is to get there super late… or just to prepare to be patient!

    • I know, it’s too bad! The tree and rink at Bryant Park seem a little less crazy and are definitely worth visiting, too. Right now I’m too swamped to actually make it out to see any tree besides the one in my apartment! I have a sneaky feeling I may wait and visit the Origami Tree at New Years…

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