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13 of Boston’s best holiday decorations, ranked

The Boston Common tree has the best backstory, but #sorrynotsorry, it isn’t the most Instagrammable.

All of Boston's holiday decorations are beautiful, but there are about a dozen of them every Bostonian should see at least once. / Photos by Globe Staff

Every year after Thanksgiving, Boston transforms itself into a twinkling, festive winter wonderland. A week of tree lightings and other celebrations kick off a month of pretty lights everywhere to remind you: ’Tis the season, damn it, be merry!

There are beautiful holiday decorations all over the city, but about a dozen rise above the rest — standing taller, shining brighter, and offering better events programming. Because this is the internet, I’ve decided to play Merry Mary, Quite Contrary, and rank them. The rules:

  • Rule #1: They must be public, free for all to stroll through and enjoy.
  • Rule #2: I’m avoiding neighborhood-specific decor, such as wreaths and bows around picturesque Beacon Hill and other town square-esque decor.
  • Rule #3: There can always be exceptions.

And yes, please disagree with me in the comments section below. More importantly, share what other holiday decorations you recommend. Plus, here’s a map of all the locations on this list.


Without further ado, here are Boston’s 13 best holiday decorations, ranked:

The Flour and Grain Exchange building on the Greenway, decked out with a big red bow. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/David L Ryan, Globe Staff

13. The big red bow on the Flour and Grain Exchange building by the Greenway

Every year, this building facing the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is wrapped in a gigantic red bow. The message reads “Season’s Greetings” from property owner Related Beal. It’s Boston’s version of Cartier in New York. It’s big, eye-catching, plastic-y, and branded. 117 Milk St.

The tree in Copley Square.Erin Clark/The Boston Globe

12. The Copley Square tree

It’s hard to ask a tree to stand tall against the iconic contrasting structures of Trinity Church and 200 Clarendon (a.k.a. the John Hancock Tower). In previous years, the tree in Copley Square has skewed too blue and, with such sparse string light distribution, the tree was almost hard to find in the poorly lit space. This year’s tree is nice and bright, though, and brings a cozy, warm glow to an often too-dark-at-night square.

11. The Seaport tree

Remember rule #2? No neighborhood decorations? Good news: The Seaport is not a real neighborhood, and therefore I’ve broken no rules. This right here is an absolutely stunning tree. All decked out and perfectly suited for its clinically commercial environs. Points for being big and Instagrammable. Negative points for still being in the Seaport. Seaport Common, 85 Northern Ave.


The James Hook & Co. tree.Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe

10. The James Hook and Co. tree

On the correct side of Fort Point Channel is a smaller, far less promoted tree by James Hook & Co. Yes, that James Hook. The seafood shack locals know to go to because waiting among tourists at The Barking Crab is for amateurs. Much like James Hook itself, this tree is relatively small and unassuming. It is the Charlie Brown tree of Boston as far as this ranking goes, and I say that with the sincerest admiration and love for the Peanuts crew. It is a beacon of calm and relief for those returning from a night out in the Seaport. 440 Atlantic Ave.

9. The Faneuil Hall tree

The good news? This is a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous tree every single year without fail. It’s as close to New York’s Rockefeller Center-level festive as Boston gets. The downside? Faneuil Hall attracts crowds of tourists, so some locals (*raises hand*) understandably try to steer clear. To see this grand holiday tree, you may need to wade through throngs, weave around street performers, and not fall and crack a tooth on the cobblestone to see it. Every half-hour 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. through New Year’s Day, the Blink! light show promises another level of sensory overload. Take the kids! (If you have the energy.)

8. The Prudential Center’s 31 Nights of Light

Every night of December, the Pru lights up with different colors for “31 Nights of Light" to highlight 31 nonprofits. It may not be as eye-catching as it is during the World Series, but it’s still a nice gesture you can see from all over Boston. The 31 nonprofits and their respective days are listed on the Pru’s website. This year’s lineup includes Pine Street Inn, Autism Speaks, and more.


A rabbi prepares for the annual menorah lighting on Boston Common in 2016.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

7. The menorahs at Copley Square and on Boston Common

They’re no Menorasaurus Rex, but the Common and Copley Square menorahs are a lovely sight year after year. The Boston Common menorah has straight branches extending from the middle (more triangular in shape) and lantern tops. Meanwhile, the Copley Square menorah branches have joints for a more angular look and are topped with orange lights. Copley Square; Boston Common off Tremont Street nearest Park Street T station.

The Macy's tree.Erin Clark for The Boston Globe

6. The Macy’s tree in Downtown Crossing

OK, wait. Before you bounce, hear me out. Yes, it’s actually only half a tree sticking out from the building. Yes, it’s really way too red this year. Intended to be Macy’s red, perhaps, but after last year at the White House, red holiday trees just feel a little ... odd. But look: When you’re in DTX, you’ll take whatever you can get, right? Every year when that Macy’s tree lights up, the busy intersection of Washington and Summer streets gets that much more tolerable. 450 Washington St.

A star lights up Downtown Crossing.

5. The star nets in Downtown Crossing

See #6 above. These pieces can be seen on just about every street in the Downtown Crossing area. And even more so than that freakishly red tree atop Macy’s, they really do help set the mood for the season. Washington Street and side streets between the State and Chinatown T stations.


The Liberty Hotel's upside-down trees in the lobby rotunda.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/David L Ryan, Globe Staff

4. The Liberty Hotel’s upside-down trees

Lots of hotels have holiday trees on display to cheer up guests away from home, but the Liberty Hotel’s holiday decor is special. I’m breaking rule #1 to include the upside-down trees hanging above the lobby at this historic hotel. It’s technically not a public space, but you can wander in for that Instagram — and get ready for lots of likes because this is truly a whimsical sight. 215 Charles St.

The holiday tree on Boston Common.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

3. The Boston Common tree

Confess-your-own-unpopular-opinion time: This is not the best tree around town by far, aesthetically speaking. Neither are the somewhat haphazardly strewn rainbow-colored lights on trees throughout the Common. That said, there’s something sweet about the Crayola-on-trees look. The Parkman Bandstand is also decked out, and big bright blue snowflakes adorn lampposts. The tree is gifted annually from Nova Scotia to celebrate a historic friendship dating back to 1917, when Boston sent help after a ship explosion in Halifax killed 2,000 people and left hundreds more injured or homeless. With a backstory like that, how can you not fall in love with this symbolic tree? Boston Common on Tremont Street near the Park Street T station.

Holiday lights sparkle in the rain on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.John Blanding/Globe Staff
The Public Garden lit up with holiday lights.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

2. The Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall lights

The same night of the Boston Common tree lighting (where, by the way, you never know who might show up), the Friends of the Public Garden also light up the Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The already picturesque Public Garden bridge is enveloped in peaceful blue string lights — for the perfect photo, take your pics from far enough away to capture the lights’ reflection in the water. For further serenity, continue on to the sparkling Comm. Ave. Mall, a delightful place to promenade every season of the year, including winter.


1. The Christopher Columbus Park trellis

Take note, wannabe spouses. Here is a slam-dunk made-for-social-media spot to pop the big question. Romantic proposals aside, anyone can enjoy a stroll under the Christopher Columbus Park trellis, which bathes everything below it in a blanket of bright blue. One might even say it resembles Classic Blue, Pantone’s 2020 Color of the Year. 144 Atlantic Ave.

Want to go check these out yourself? Here’s a map of all the locations on this list:

What holiday decorations are your favorite? What have I missed? Shout out in the comments below.

Yiqing Shao is the Director of Innovation at the Boston Globe. She can be reached at yiqing.shao@globe.com. Follow her @yiqing_shao and on Instagram at @yiqingshao.