Behind the Glass: A Guide to NYC Holiday Window Displays

Christina Parrella

Among the many reasons to visit New York City during the holiday season are the City's famed department-store window displays. Macy's is credited with starting the tradition back in 1874, showcasing some wind-up toys and an array of porcelain dolls; since then these enticing holiday setups have grown in both size and wow factor, as NYC's major retailers attempt to outdo each other year after year. Our slideshow runs down the season's best window treatments, but come see them for yourself to get the full effect.

Barneys New York. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Barneys New York
Theme:Chillin' Out
Highlight: With help from Okamoto Studio, Barneys New York iced out its windows—literally. The "Ice Carvers" display features artful carvers at work in a walk-in locker cooled to a chilly 3–15 degrees (Fahrenheit); their finished creations become part of the presentation.

Bergdorf Goodman. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Bergdorf Goodman
Highlight: The always over-the-top Bergdorf Goodman partnered with Swarovski for its 2015 holiday window display. Featuring more than 7 million sparkling crystals in total, the five windows depict different scenes: "The Crown Jewels" features prismatic suits of armor; "The Treasure Chest" contains a sculpture of Neptune; and "The Crystal Ball" shows a fortune teller's parlor. In a word: magical.

Bloomingdale's. Photo: Billy Farrell

Theme: Holiday Through the Senses
Highlight: Bloomingdale's invites onlookers to experience the holidays using their five senses. Incorporating silk flowers, mirrored sculptures and a specially designed pine fragrance, the display features snowmen, giant peppermint candies and reindeers done up in gold.

Henri Bendel. Photo: Jennifer Cooper

Henri Bendel
Theme: An Izak Zenou retrospective
Highlight: The famed Bendel girls, created by fashion illustrator Izak Zenou, are the main focus here. The high-end store, which is celebrating its 120th anniversary, turned its main window into a vintage Parisian apartment, complete with a fireplace, chandelier and trompe l'oeil picture frames.

Lord & Taylor. Photo: Cindy Ord

Lord & Taylor
Theme: A Few of Our Favorite Things
Highlight: The retailer demonstrates its commitment to holiday vibes with many cheerful scenesa gingerbread house and mini Parisian bakery among them.

Macy's Herald Square. Photo: Diane Bondareff

Macy's Herald Square
Theme:A Charlie Brown Christmas
Highlight: To celebrate the 50-year anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Macy's teamed up with the Peanuts crew to bring Charles Schulz's characters to life. The department store's windows star Charlie, Lucy, Snoopy and the rest of the gang. Don't miss Schroeder's interactive display, which allows visitors to control the keys on his piano.

Saks Fifth Avenue. Courtesy, BFA & Saks Fifth Avenue

Saks Fifth Avenue
Theme:The Winter Palace
Highlight: See the wonders of the world condensed and transformed into winter dreamlands. Sites like the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the Colosseum get an icy touch with sparkles, mirrors and twinkling decor.

Tiffany & Co. Photo: Ricky Zehavi

Tiffany & Co.
Highlight: Tiffany & Co.'s windows celebrate the long history of the jewelry emporium with cozy wintry scenes that take place in miniature theaters of the 19th century. Tiffany's coveted jewelry—including a knock-off of its famed 128.54-carat diamond—will of course take center stage.

Passionate about holiday decorations? Enjoy a meal at these NYC restaurants, which take the ornamental aspects of the season to the next level.