Who doesn’t love glitzy, glamorous lights at Christmastime? There’s no better place to see the lights than New York City. Everyone knows about all the lights New York City is famous for like Rockefeller Center and FAO Schwarz. But if you want a different way to experience the lights of New York at Christmastime, I suggest going to the nearby Dyker Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn for an unbelievable display. This is a definite only-in-New-York experience that’s more than worth the trip.
Dyker Heights is about eight miles from Lower Manhattan. Composed of three areas, Dyker Heights is a predominantly residential, traditional Italian-American neighborhood full of brownstones and brick houses in Southwest Brooklyn. The best light displays are in the more exclusive area of Dyker Heights located between 14th Ave and Fort Hamilton Parkway. Depending on your starting point, you may not immediately see what all the hype is about. However, once you get into the heart of the displays, you’ll be amazed. Twinkling blue lights, huge animated bears, toy soldiers, some of which are so big they had to be brought in with a crane, and giant snowmen are just some of the spectacular sights you’ll see. As you stroll through the neighborhood, you’ll see house after house on block after block decorated in their Christmas best. With towering evergreens and sparkling white lights, candy canes, and shimmering garland surrounding the doors to each house, it’s a magnificent scene. Everything in the neighborhood is aglow. All the kids will be excited to see their favorite toy heroes coming to life, including Snoopy, Spider-Man, giant Santas, and Rudolph and crew.
What began in the 1980s with a couple of houses donning Christmas lights has grown into a friendly contest of one-upmanship with no neighbor wanting to be outdone by another. Some say it’s the best light display in the whole New York City area. You can decide for yourself. After seeing this wonderful Christmas display, I think you’ll be just a little happier than you were before -- your smile will be a little brighter, and you may even feel like a kid again. One thing’s for sure. There’s no way you won’t be in the Christmas spirit after touring Dyker Heights.
1. Decide If You Want To Go On Your Own Or With A Tour
To start with, decide whether you want to view the lights on your own or with a tour. If you go on your own, you will need to determine how you get to and from Dyker Heights. If you go on your own, your options for transportation are subway, taxi, bus, or driving your own car. Keep in mind that if you take the subway, you’ll still need to walk about 20 minutes from the closest subway stop to the decorated streets of Dyker. And, you’ll have to walk back to the subway stop after viewing the lights. If you drive yourself, the traffic is heavy and the parking is very limited in the neighborhood, so you’ll have to take this into account to make your decision. If you don’t want to drive or take the subway, other options are to take an Uber, taxi, or my favorite option, a bus tour.
2. Choose The Best Tour For You
If you’d like to go on a tour, there are a few bus tour options that depart from NYC. You’ll meet your tour group at the pre-destined spot and take the bus from there. If you select a bus tour, book early because they’re very popular and will most likely sell out. My favorite bus tour is the original, authentic tour from A Slice of Brooklyn. The bus tour with A Slice Of Brooklyn proves to be very engaging and authentic as the tour guides are Brooklynites, complete with the accent you’d expect; and the tour owners actually know some of the families that live in the neighborhood, including some of the families that actually started the light displays back in the day. You’ll be getting the real deal along with the inside scoop on the history of the display with this bus tour. The bus tour is offered every night beginning December 1 through December 31, except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tour times are 5, 6, and 7 p.m. nightly. They also offer an additional 8 p.m. tour some evenings. The tour meets in Union Square and goes to Dyker Heights from there, for a 3.5-hour tour. On the bus, you’ll enjoy a comfortable, heated ride to and from Dyker Heights. Along the way, you’ll enjoy vintage movies and hear traditional Christmas carols on the bus. The tour is less than $60 per person for adults unless you’d like priority seating, which is a little more. For kids 12 and under, the tour is less than $50.
Another tour option is a guided tour on foot. You’re responsible for getting yourself to and from Dyker Heights, but once you’re there, you’ll be escorted around by a knowledgeable tour guide who will take you to the best houses and provide you with the history of the area. This option is a lot less expensive than the bus tours at around $20, but it’s also a lot shorter at about two hours. You’ll walk about three miles on the walking tour. And remember, December can be cold, rainy, or snowy, so it just depends on the type of tour you’re looking for.
3. Know When And Where To View The Lights
Some houses are decorated right after Thanksgiving, but not all homes are decked out that early in the season. For prime viewing, I’d wait until December so you can make sure you see all the houses. The best time of the day to go is the evening between 5 and 9 p.m. Most houses aren’t lit until everyone gets home from work around dusk between 5 and 6 p.m. Some families start turning off lights around 9 p.m. for bedtime. As far as where to go in Dyker Heights, the best viewing is between 83rd and 86th Street between 11th and 13th Avenue. The most popular houses are the ones that started the tradition, including the Spata House and the Polizzotto House on 84th Street.
4. Dress Warm And Bring A Thermos
It’s cold in New York in December, so remember to dress warmly. If you’ve opted to take the subway and walk to Dyker Heights, dress especially warm because it’s a good 20-minute walk. Also, think about bringing a thermos with something hot to keep you warm. There may or may not be any local vendors selling hot drinks in the neighborhood, so if not, you’ll be all set with your own thermos. And, if you’re bringing kids, make sure you bring along easy snacks and drinks for them as there are no restaurants extremely close to pop into. And, you know kids are always hungry and thirsty.
5. Bring Your Phone Charger
Even if you have the latest iPhone, do yourself a favor and bring a portable charger. You will be taking a lot of videos and photos, so your phone battery may not last like you’re used to. If you have a portable charger, you won’t have to worry about your phone dying just before you get that perfect shot. And, if you’re not taking a bus tour, you’ll most likely need to use your phone to make arrangements to get back into the city, so it’s doubly important to make sure it’s charged up for you.
6. Be Polite And Respectful, And Plan For Crowds
Keep in mind that this is a neighborhood. You’re not in the streets of downtown Manhattan. You’re in someone’s neighborhood where families live. So, keep the noise level down, pick up your trash, don’t block driveways, and just be courteous overall. Also, remember there are no public restrooms in the neighborhood, so make sure you use the facilities before you get to Dyker. Be patient as there will be a lot of excited kids running around and a lot of babies being pushed in strollers up and down the sidewalks. So, don’t be in a hurry. Just relax and take in the surroundings.
7. Don’t Forget Cash
Many families collect money for various organizations and will have a box at the end of their driveway or near their display so you can slip a $1 or $5 bill in to go to charity. Sometimes, people have small tables set up around the neighborhood where they’re selling hot chocolate or tea, and you’ll need cash to pay for a drink.