Rockefeller Center Tree in 2023: Insider Tips for Visiting with Kids

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is an iconic NYC holiday destination.  Photo courtesy of Rockefeller Center
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is an iconic NYC holiday destination. Photo courtesy of Rockefeller Center
11/22/23 - By Judith Aquino

It’s nearly that time of year again: The Rockefeller Center tree is getting spruced up and ready to welcome visitors as one of the most popular attractions of the holiday season in New York City. With its dazzling lights, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree overlooks the ice skating rink, producing a postcard-perfect sight worth seeing at least once. So, don your gloves and holiday spirit because we've done the legwork to provide you with everything you need to know about visiting the Rockefeller Center tree in 2023, from best times to visit to avoid the crowds to the best restaurants near Rockefeller Center.

Find all the seasonal highlights in our Guide to Christmas in NYC, including other Christmas tree lightings and our picks for must-do holiday activities.


Subscribe to our newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

History of the Rockefeller Center Tree

The first time a Christmas tree was erected at Rockefeller Center was in 1931 when Rockefeller Center workers pooled their money to purchase a 20-foot balsam fir tree. The unlit tree was decorated with handmade garlands courtesy of the workers’ families. Two years later, in 1933, Rockefeller Center organized the first tree-lighting ceremony by putting up a 50-foot tree with 700 twinkling lights. The tree-lighting ceremony is a beloved national tradition to this day.

Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting 2023

The 2023 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a whopper—an 80-foot Norway Spruce, weighing 12 tons and hailing from southern New York. Previous trees have come from New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio—and even Canada.

The annual Rockefeller Center tree lighting takes place on Wednesday, November 29 during Christmas in Rockefeller Center, and includes music, dancers, and live performances. The show and ceremony begin at 8pm but the tree isn't lit until almost 10pm. Before the big moment, the Rockefeller Center tree is wrapped with more than 50,000 multi-colored LED lights—that's more than five miles worth!—and topped with a star covered in 3 million Swarovski crystals.

If you plan to watch it live in person, you need to arrive very early. The crowds show up hours before the tree-lighting ceremony begins. It's probably the least kid-friendly of all the Christmas tree lightings in NYC, and we wouldn't suggest trying it with little ones in tow!

Visiting the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in 2023

Our best advice for visiting the tree is to go early or late in its season and early in the day. Once it's lit on Wednesday, November 29, the lights stay on daily from 5am-midnight. The tree remains up through Saturday, January 13, 2024.

Both 49th and 50th Streets are closed to traffic between Fifth and Sixth Avenues daily from 11am-midnight to allow more people to get a glimpse of the tree. It's our experience that you're better approaching the viewing area from Sixth Avenue than Fifth, which tends to draw more crowds with its big-name stores, holiday decorations, and St. Patrick's Cathedral.

While there's no secret un-crowded time to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the least-crowded time to visit is on a weekday in the early morning or late at night, after 9pm. If you visit during Christmas week, expect plenty of company.

On Sunday afternoons from Sunday, December 3-Sunday, December 17, Fifth Avenue is closed to traffic giving pedestrians plenty of room to roam and take a peek at the tree. We can't get enough of the view of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree from Fifth Avenue, framed by the angels lining the Channel Gardens!

Another awesome vantage point is the rinkside chalets, which can be reserved for drinks and light bites. Each chalet seats up to six adults and has a lovely window overlooking the rink with the tree towering above it.

Special Christmas Events at Rockefeller Center

To make your trip to view the Rockefeller Center tree extra special, plan your visit to coincide with its Merry Tuba Christmas event, a musical extravaganza of voluntary tuba players celebrating the holiday season. The concert takes place on Sunday, December 10, at 3:30pm.

Rockefeller Center is a great holiday destination, beyond the Rockefeller Center tree, including catching a showing of the classic Radio City Christmas Spectacularlooking at the holiday windows and light show at Sak's Fifth Avenue, or visiting the immersive pop-up Candy Cottage of Christmas Magic.

Originally published in 2021.

Places featured in this article: