Of the roughly 50 million tourists who visit NYC each year, many look forward to one thing in particular – seeing the big city lights. The city that never sleeps boasts plenty of light bulbs that never sleep either and the glittering displays across the Big Apple are such a popular attraction that there are bus and walking tours devoted just to showing them off to visitors. Without further ado, here is a list (guaranteed to be non-exhaustive!) of some of the best illuminated views in New York:
- Times Square – this is a must-see if you’re going to tour the city lights in the Big Apple. With its stories-high billboards and brightly illuminated LCD screens, Times Square is the starting point of many of the city’s light tours.
- Madison Square Park – from here you can view multiple glowing wonders like the Empire State Building, whose lights have changed color in recognition of various events and holidays since 1976. In 2012, the Empire State Building was outfitted with computer-operated LEDs that are capable of changing colors instantly and display 16 million hues. You can also see the Flatiron Building and MetLife Tower from this vantage point.
- Rockefeller Center – the impressive light display at this iconic mecca of NYC entertainment includes the famous 30 Rock building, aka the Comcast building and home of NBC Studios, which serves as the centerpiece of the 19-building complex. The 70-story tower overlooks the famous Rockefeller Center skating rink, and during the holidays is the perfect perch from which to view the iconic Christmas tree in all its illuminated glory. The neon lights of Radio City Music Hall are almost worth the trip all by themselves.
- Washington Square Arch – this majestic marble archway built in 1892 as a symbol of the centennial celebration of George Washington’s inauguration may not be as glitzy as some of the more famous NYC landmarks, but it possesses a simple beauty which, in the glow of its humble white lights at night, is awe-inspiring at a fundamental level. You won’t be disappointed by this historic site, located in Greenwich Village in Manhattan.
- Macy’s Fifth Avenue – yes, it’s commercial (like so many of the New York City lights) but it’s also darn beautiful at night. The multi-colored glow that illuminates the entire building on all sides is truly a thing to behold.
- The Chrysler Building – you knew it would be here, and of course it is – inarguably one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, the famous 77-story landmark structure, which was completed in 1930, can best be viewed from the Empire State Building’s observation deck. The distinct curved and stacked stainless steel apex and lights outlining the unique triangular windows will surely make your heart skip a beat.
- The Broadway Theater District – this collection of 40 theaters between 42nd and 53rd Streets and 6th and 8th Avenues is a major part of the reason for New York’s notoriety as the city of neon lights. Nicknamed “The Great White Way” because of the many bulbs that have glowed across the district for over 100 years, it’s not so much white anymore yet it’s more impressive than ever. The massive, colorful billboards advertise the classic shows to choose from – Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and many more. The excitement that buzzes throughout the area along with the glow is simply not to be missed.
- Chinatown – this classic tourist spot in Manhattan, and home to the biggest enclave of Chinese people anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, is radiant at night with vibrant red lantern lights hanging over the streets and a brilliant neon glow framing the restaurants and markets. Bonus – enjoy delicious authentic food while you’re enjoying the sights!
- Grand Central Terminal – this amazing hub of NYC subway traffic is not, perhaps, the most colorful light display the city has to offer but it’s got something better – history and nostalgia galore. The terminal is more than a hundred years old and while lights outside glow white, they illuminate the building in such a stately, dignified way that the image will probably stay with you for a good long time (but take lots of pics just in case). The best thing about this NYC landmark is that the light show isn’t confined to the outside – the 10 elaborate Beaux-Arts chandeliers that hang throughout the main concourse will take your breath away. And now you can view them sans any guilt about the energy they’re consuming – in 2009 all ten fixtures received spankin’ new energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
- The Manhattan Skyline – of course, it’s cliché, but you simply cannot visit New York City without being able to say you had “the best view of the Manhattan Skyline ever”. Word has it one of those best views can be had from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City. The top of the Rock (30 Rock, that is) is also a premium viewing point for Lower Manhattan, the Empire State Building, and more of New York’s biggest and brightest lights.
Maybe you’re in NYC for the shopping, or the shows, or the unbelievable (and scrumptious) ethnically diverse food scene. All of those things definitely make the trip to Gotham worth the time and effort, just be sure not to pass up the phenomenal night light display while you’re there!