New York City is a wondrous place to visit during the holiday season, decked out in lights, tinsel trim, and Christmas trees seemingly around every corner. The glittery, enchanting department store windows are a sight to behold at the major bustling retailers around Manhattan. The festive window display tradition dates all the way back to the 1870s, according to Macy's, the first retailer to start the trend.
Consider a holiday walking tour where you can see some of the most popular New York City department store holiday window displays like the 3 Bs: Bloomingdales, Barneys, and Bergdorf, as well as Sax Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and Macy's. Learn about stops along the way to warm up with a hot beverage or a good meal, some shopping highlights, and must-see attractions.
The Walking Tour
The 6-department-store walking tour covers about two miles and should take about two hours depending on your pacing. If you stop into the stores, then all bets are off. You might get lost in there for a couple of hours.
For the best walking tour experience, wear warm clothes, comfortable shoes, and keep an eye on your belongings, as the area around the various window displays can be crowded.
About Window Unveilings
The holiday windows at each department store are unveiled on different schedules, but all should be on view from Thanksgiving through the New Year.
Keep in mind that it can be difficult to actually see the window decorations during the unveiling events because of crowding, but the performances and excitement can be fun.
Best Time to Go
The best time to go depends on if you like to feel part of a big crowd. If you prefer to skip long lines, then keep in mind that crowding at the windows is at its greatest on weekends and in the early evening.
And, although the windows are best enjoyed when it is dark, they can be appreciated during the day as well, when the crowds are thinner.
First Stop: Bloomingdale's
The holiday windows walking tour begins at Bloomingdale's, where the windows center around a theme, for example, years past have included "Light," and "The Surprise and Delight of the Holidays Through the Senses," which had "smell-o-vision" displays wafting the scents of cinnamon into the crowd.
Bloomingdale's is located on Lexington Avenue between 59th and 60th streets. You can take a cab there or if you want to use the subway system, take the N, R, W, 4, 5, or 6 to the 59th Street/Lexington Avenue stop.
Bloomingdale's has one of the best cosmetic departments in the city, as well as a dizzying array of merchandise from high-end handbags to luxury linens. During the holiday season, the store has lots of great sales and promotions, and you can sign up to be a loyal shopper for additional discounts and promotions.
Nearby on Third Avenue and 60th Street, go to Dylan's Candy Bar if you want to explore a candy store that would make Willy Wonka's head spin.
Barneys New York
From Bloomingdale's, walk two blocks west along 60th Street (if you cross Park Avenue you are heading the right way) until you reach Madison Avenue. Barneys is located on Madison Avenue between 60th and 61st streets on the west side of the street.
Barneys' holiday windows are New York City's most unusual. They tend to highlight contemporary themes and are usually different than the holiday windows you will see at any other store. For example, in years past, glass blower Dale Chihuly designed the "Chillin' Out," windows; the Love Peace Joy Project was a collaborative work by several world-renowned artists; and the trademark art of the Haas Brothers was on display as "Haas for the Holidays" in 2017.
For a bite to eat, you can visit Fred's, which is famous for its French fries. Fred's is inside the department store on the 9th floor.
As for a chocolate lovers pitstop, check out Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland shop just off of Madison Avenue on 61st Street.
From Barneys, walk one long block west along 61st or 60th Street until you arrive at Fifth Avenue. Head south on Fifth Avenue. You will know you're going the right way because the street numbers will be in descending order. And, you will see the ornate Pulitzer Fountain in front of The Plaza. The Plaza might be a good spot to take a walking break for afternoon tea. The hotel itself is always beautifully decorated for the season.
Continue walking south along Fifth Avenue and you will find the holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman along Fifth Avenue from 58th to 57th streets. These windows never fail to impress, they usually feature antiques and couture fashions in beautifully designed scenes.
From Bergdorfs, as a bonus stop, cross Fifth Avenue and take a peek at the decorations at Tiffany & Co. In addition to impressive window displays, the interior of the store features beautiful trees with decorations in the store's signature blue motif.
Saks Fifth Avenue
Continue walking down Fifth Avenue on the east side of the street. On the way to Saks, you will pass St. Patrick's Cathedral, between 51st and 50th streets, which is free to visit.
Saks Fifth Avenue is located on Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th streets. The holiday windows at Saks are playful, often appealing to children and their families, such as paying homage to the 80th anniversary of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 2017.
Saks is located across the street from Rockefeller Center, which is always worth a visit during the holiday season. Home to New York City's most famous ice rink, as well as the iconic Christmas tree, do not miss the opportunity to visit Rock Center after you view the holiday windows at Saks.
Lord & Taylor
From Saks, continue traveling south along 5th Avenue. You will pass the New York Public Library and Bryant Park. Bryant Park features the Winter Village Holiday Shops and a free ice skating rink before reaching Lord & Taylor which is between 38th and 39th streets.
The windows at Lord & Taylor appeal to children and adults and typically feature classic holiday imagery, like a snowy "Enchanted Forest" one year, and scenes from a snow globe in the "Best and the Brightest" in 2017.
Macy's Herald Square
No tour of New York City's holiday windows would be complete without your final stop at Macy's. To get there from Lord & Taylor, continue south along Fifth Avenue to 34th Street. Walk west along 34th Street and go two blocks to Broadway.
You may want to consider a stop at the Empire State Building, since it is located on Fifth Avenue at 34th Street. And, even if you do not take the time to the observation deck, do not forget to look up.
Macy's has two sets of windows with holiday displays, six total, one set on Broadway between 34th and 35th streets, and another set along 34th Street. During peak hours, more than 10,000 people per hour will pass by the windows usually featuring iconic New York City holiday scenes and encapsulating the feeling of the season.