There’s something magical about New York City at Christmas. From the elegant storefront windows done up with glitter, the majestic Christmas tree at Rockefeller centre, towering over an icy rink perfect for skating, and even the little wooden booths at New York’s Christmas markets. The holiday season is a wonderful time to visit the Big Apple, and while the decorations and lights in Manhattan won’t disappoint, I recently found out that when it comes to Christmas lights in New York City, the best ones are actually in Brooklyn. As for the best way to see them? I recommend the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour with a Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours.
The History Behind the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
The Christmas lights in Dyker Heights are famous in New York City, but not so much to outsiders and visitors. I only found out about them myself when my friends at Mad Hatters NYC told me I had to add a Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour to my list of things to do in NYC at Christmas and I’m so glad they did.
The Dyker Heights Christmas lights are a relatively new tradition considering that New York is a pretty historic city. It all started in 1986 when Brooklyn resident Lucy Spata bought 40 massive Christmas angels to decorate her front lawn in honour of her mother. Unsurprisingly, the neighbours didn’t like it and complained, even going so far as to report her to the police. Of course, the police couldn’t do anything other than warn her that the neighbours were unhappy, but Lucy didn’t care. In fact, she even took it a step further and hired a band to play music on her lawn, adding some audio to her already very visual Christmas display. Eventually, the neighbours came to realize the power in the phrase ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ and the tradition of the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights was born.
Lucy Spata’s neighbours, the Polizzottos, were the first to join Lucy in going over the top with Christmas decorations by creating a Toyland scene complete with giant toy soldiers, carousels with elves, and a massive animatronic Santa. Of course, the rest of the neighbourhood soon joined in as well and all across Dyker Heights you can find plenty of extravagantly decorated homes. From giant trees wrapped in fairy lights to life-size mangers on lawns, animated window displays showing Santa Claus sneaking through a home to deliver presents and old-timey decorations made from tin. Walking around Dyker Heights feels like you stepped into Santa’s village at the North Pole.
Unsurprisingly, most of these homes are professionally decorated by B&R decorating services. Their signs can be found on the front lawns of many of the most elaborate homes and they start their work as early as September. Of course, being in the Christmas decorating business means you better join in and, I have to say, the B&R homeowners house is pretty spectacular as well.
The best part about the Dyker Heights Christmas lights? It’s all free, even though the homeowners pay hundreds of dollars in electricity bills over the holiday season, there’s zero charge to visit. The Dyker Heights Christmas lights have become a tradition that has been going steady for over 30 years and while some houses occasionally skip a year (normally when there is a death in the family) the tradition keeps on bringing joy and happiness to the thousands of people who make the trek to see the displays every year.
Why Take a Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour
So, if there is no charge to actually see these lights, why pay to take a Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour? It’s a valid question because, yes, you can go see them on your own. But here’s the thing; as a visitor to NYC, do you know how to get there? Do you know the best routes to take once you arrive? Which houses are worth seeing? Do you want to risk getting lost along the way? Especially when it’s below freezing outside?
Plus, by taking a Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour, you get to see more than just the main houses of Dyker Heights. While this neighbourhood may be the main draw of the tour, there are a few other spots in the neighbourhood that are definitely worth a visit. These include a home with its own radio station that you can sync to in order to see the lights dance to the music, the blue-light house in Bay Ridge, and my personal favourite; the home of ‘Sam the Greek’ who does all of his own lights and decorations.
I’m always up for an adventure, but sometimes it really is best to leave it to the professionals which is why I highly recommend actually taking the Dyker Heights Christmas lights tour with a Slice of Brooklyn. It’s a hassle-free, entertaining way to see the best of the Dyker Heights Christmas lights. Plus, half of our group were New York locals so I’m pretty sure that speaks for itself.
Why Choose a Slice of Brooklyn for the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour
The team behind Slice of Brooklyn are the ones that originally created the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour, and while there are a few more companies offering the experience today, I’m saying stick with the originals.
First off, the guides are from Brooklyn. They know the area, they know the stories, and when it comes to the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour, they actually know the homeowners as well. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past several years of travelling, it’s if you’re going to do a tour right- you do it with the locals.
Another obvious draw to taking the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour with A Slice of Brooklyn is that they make it easy. Really easy. The pick-up and drop off location is in Union Square Manhattan; a central spot that’s easy to find and connected to multiple subway lines. You’re asked to arrive 15 minutes before you leave and after checking in with the guide you get a comfortable seat on the bus and the rest is taken care of for you.
A Slice of Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights Christmas Lights tour is described as a bus tour, but don’t worry; you don’t spend all your time on the bus. There are several opportunities to get off, walk around and take photos. The time spent on the bus is well spent as well; with fun video clips, stories, and vintage TV Christmas specials featuring old-timey stars like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.
Finally, a Slice of Brooklyn has a pretty good track record. As in they have never left anyone behind. That may seem silly, but remember, the Dyker Heights Christmas lights attract around 10,000 people each year. That means the streets can be pretty crowded and groups can be easily separated. However, they had a team on the ground as well as we walked around, keeping track of us and directing us (without rushing us) along the right route. I’ve been on a few tours where people have actually been lost and left behind (including at a border crossing in Vietnam- nightmare!) so this aspect was something that really stood out to me.
What to Wear for the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour
The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights tour runs rain or shine (moon and star shine that is, since this is a night tour), so be sure to dress appropriately. While you do spend a bit of time on the bus, there is a bit of walking as well including about 45 minutes through the streets of Dyker Heights. With that in mind, I recommend making sure you have the following:
- A hat, mittens, and a scarf might be necessary. Although, if you are planning on taking a lot of photos then you may want to trade those mittens for touch-screen gloves like these so you can easily use your phone or camera and keep your hands warm.
- Comfortable (warm) walking shoes or boots. You get on and off the bus a few times and have about 45 minutes to walk around the neighbourhood.
- If there’s a chance of rain, definitely bring an umbrella. This light-weight travel size one is perfect.
Final Tips for the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour
This was the second time I have visited NYC at Christmas time, and I can honestly say that the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights tour was the highlight for me. My inner Buddy the Elf was in full force as I wandered starry-eyed past these homes that looked like they belonged at the North Pole rather than in Brooklyn. If you love Christmas as much as I do, then the Dyker Heights Christmas lights tour with A Slice of Brooklyn is an absolute must do. That being said, there are a few things you should know.
First off, booking early is essential. This Dyker Heights Christmas lights tour is popular among visitors and locals alike, and it books up quickly. Once you have your NYC Christmas trip booked, organize your spots on this tour. Trust me when I say you don’t want to miss out.
Secondly, make sure you are on time. Our tour said we departed at 6pm and the bus left right at 6pm. When in doubt, leave extra early. For a fast-paced city, things in NYC move pretty slowly when it comes to traffic so allow yourself extra time. Even the subway experiences some delays during rush hour.
Ready to go? You can book your spot on A Slice of Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights Christmas Lights tour here.
Huge thank you to Tony from a Slice of Brooklyn who invited my mom and me on this tour. Big thanks as well to our amazing guide Marc, and our driver Edwin. As always, all opinions are my own.