For years I'd been hearing about the awesome Christmas displays in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. I'd seen the Flickr feeds and the YouTube videos but I didn't make the trek out there until 2011. Once I saw those jaw-dropping sights in person, I knew visiting "Dyker Lights" would become an annual family holiday tradition.
But living in upper Manhattan, Dyker Heights is a serious schlep. It's really not doable via public transportation, especially at night with kids in tow. It's better to drive there. Last year, I hitched a ride with a neighbor but this year I decided to play tourist and went on A Slice of Brooklyn's Christmas Lights guided bus tour. Even though my daughter and I saw many of the same houses both times, our visits were quite different. If you're considering taking the kids to Dyker Heights this holiday season but are wondering which is the best way to go, here's how the two experiences compare.
While there are certainly other impressive holiday light displays in New York City, New Jersey and on Long Island, nothing in the tri-state area compares to Dyker Heights. It's not that each individual house is so spectacular (although a few truly are); it's the overwhelming number of Christmas displays in one area. It's block after block of twinkling lights, illuminated inflatables, animatronic figures, giant nutcrackers and one insanely massive Santa.
While the hot spot is 11th to 13th Avenues between 83rd and 86th Streets, there are more spectacular houses further out—if you know where to look. And Tony Muia, the owner of A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours, certainly knows where all the gems are. On his three-and-a-half-hour Christmas Lights guided bus tour, my daughter and I saw a bunch of displays we had missed last year, including Sam the Greek's outrageous three-story home, which was one of the best in the area. We also got to see the displays in Bay Ridge, which, though not as amazing overall, were still impressive. Plus our wonderful guide, Angela, shared info about many of the families who mount these displays year after year along with humorous tidbits about her home borough, all in an authentic Brooklyn accent that charmed the tourists (my daughter and I were the only New Yorkers on the sold out bus).
If you live in New York and hate the idea of taking a guided tour of anything here, you may want to make an exception for the Christmas Lights Tour, especially if you don't own a car. Yes it's $50 for adults and $40 for children under 12 (I really do wish they offered a family rate), but you don't have to go to the expense and hassle of renting a car, navigating your way out there and—hardest of all—finding parking afterward. (Note: The tour used to include a stop for hot chocolate and cannoli but as of 2015 that has been discontinued.) Plus you learn lots of cool details—how it all began back in the '80s with Lucy Spata's house, how her neighbors initially complained but now they try to one-up her—and watch vintage Christmas TV specials on the bus, which picks up and drops off near Union Square.
If you're an intrepid do-it-yourself type and want to go on your own, my advice is to visit after Christmas Day (like we did last year). Parking is a little easier and the crowds are thinner, although you'll never have the streets to yourself. You can also stay as long as you'd like as we did feel a little rushed on the guided tour. If you have older kids, you can even try reaching Dyker Heights via subway. The D to 79th Street is the closest stop but it's still quite a walk away. Chances are you'll already be cold and tired when you get there. Instead, rent a Zipcar and you can even hit the awesome animated display in South Slope on your way home.
However you get there, Dyker Heights is definitely worth the trip. It's one of those unforgettable only-in-New-York experience your kids will talk about for years to come.
Read about other things to do in Dyker Heights or find family-friendly restaurants near the displays.