Times Square is one of New Yorks’s most Iconic landmarks and tourists instantly gravitate to the bright lights and hustle and bustle of the heart of the City that never sleeps. Once there, however, people are often a bit lost for things to see and do, a quick look at the billboards shop fronts, and hordes of people and they move on. However, if you take a bit of the time to look around and get under the Skin of the Square you will find a lot more to see and do than you initially thought!
We take you through all the best sights, attractions, and things to see and do when exploring this ultimate New York City landmark. Times Square has a bit of a love-hate thing going on and many people simply want to get the heck away from it, but give it some time and explore the area properly and you might find a new level of appreciation for this maligned Tourist Hotspot. To help you along we give you the 10 Best Things to Do in Times Square, New York.
Things to Do in Times Square, New York
As we take you through our list we show you a wide variety of options, some free some fairly costly. The key to enjoying the Square is to not take it too seriously. it is after all almost entirely one giant tourist trap. A place for visitors to come and enjoy some entertainment. It is not the “real” New York, but an area of escapism and entertainment. So try and enjoy yourself and go with the flow a bit, there are plenty of more serious parts of New York you can pursue later, this is meant to be the fun part!
Check out our Times Square Survival guide for all our tips on making the most of Times Square!
1 – Dinner and a Show – Broadway
Many Guides state Locals steer clear of Times Square like it was the plague and on the whole, this is true, however, there is one thing that attracts even the most tourist-phobic local into the Square, Theatre.
It is impossible to get away from when visiting Times Square, you are in one of the two biggest and best theatre districts in the world (London being its big rival), and going to see a show on the insanely famous Broadway is an absolute MUST when visiting New York.
The Array of shows is world-beating, with classics such as Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Les Mis, Wicked, and The Lion King to the more modern Classics such as Hamilton, Moulin Rouge, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Whatever you choose to see be assured a night of fun-filled awe, Shows don’ open, and certainly don’t last, on Broadway unless they are stellar productions.
Naturally, for an evening on the town, you will require sustenance, and Times Square has a huge number of dining options making the quintessential Dinner and a Show the highlight of your trip.
2 – World-Class Selfies!
Really what is the point of coming to New York if you are not going to capture the moment with a silly grin, with a badly framed backdrop, of somewhere obscenely famous, to rub it in, to the folks back him that you are here and they are there!
We know it’s now a terrible Cliche, that even granny is taking selfies now, but you are in Times Square, and if you are not going to get a selfie here, where the hell are you going to!
New York has some awesome Selfie Back drips but none quite live up to the bright lights of Times Square. So practice that grin and get ready for the ultimate Instagram post of you and the bright lights of NYC!
In all seriousness, Times Square is very photogenic and you are not going to be able to resist grabbing some shots. The bright lights and high contrast actually make it quite a challenging scene, but the garish colors and endless angles also make it quite forgiving if all you are after is the priceless vacation snap. You also don’t need to waste time trying to get people out of your frame, it’s not possible and People are part of Times Square!
Note – Characters!
The Costumed Characters of Times Square have become a feature of the Square. And while many people find enjoyment paying for a Photo from one of these dubious masked pretenders, you are in no way obligated. They are now confined to their Green Zones and if you are not interested just avoid them. However, if you want a photo with a grubby Elmo, sketchy Ironman, or gender-confused Statue of Liberty, go right ahead and expect to cough up a dollar or two for the privilege. Just agree on a Price FIRST!
3 – One Times Square
If you ever wondered where Times Square got its name this building holds the Answer. Originally Occupied by the New York Times, the Square became known locally as Times Square, as in “the Times” Square. After a few years, this colloquial name stuck and the Square official name was changed from Longacre Square to Times Square in 1904!
The Building is still the main focal point of the Square rising up from the center of the south side of the square overlooking the masses below. Atop the building is the famous Ball as Giant Swarovski Crystal ornament used every year to usher in the new year.
The building is now largely empty after the New York Times Relocated only 8 years after occupying the building, amazing how fast a name stick! Now the building’s primary purpose (apart from hosting the Ball Drop) is the giant advertising screens. Considered one of the most valuable advertising locations in the world.
The Building is definitely a thing to see rather than do. The only access to the blinding is the Ground LEvel Wallgreens, that for some reason we always find our way into. The Building remains one of the most iconic parts of the Square, and despite most people being completely unaware of what the building is or was, it is instantly recognizable to millions as the Times Square Building.
4 – TKTS Platform
If you are looking for Cheap Broadway Tickets The TKTS Booth is a good bet for snapping up half-price tickets for same-day performances. The Booths sell off unsold tickets cheaply to ensure the auditoriums are full to maintain the atmosphere. Of Course, do not expect to find the very popular shows here, Hamilton for example sells out MONTHS in advance! But if you just want to see a show and are not overly fussed about which the TKTS booths could be the answer.
That is not the reason for mentioning them here though. The inclusion of them on this list is due to their raised platform that acts as the roof of the building. The Sloped roof has been converted into a stadium-style Stand. Rising up above the Square and providing elevated 270° views of the Square.
The steps of this stand provide small amounts of seating for people to take the weight off and take in the sights and sounds of the Square. It is also a natural point for people to grab their selfies and Instagram snaps confirming you really are in Times Square!
The Stand sits directly opposite the One Times Square Building so the whole Qaure is laid out before you. It’s a really simple idea and one that brings so much to the whole Times Square experience.
5 – The Ride NYC (and other tourist attractions)
The Ride is a bit of an odd attraction. It is a bit of a mash-up of different things, Part Tour Bus, Part Show, Part Street Entertainment. Really the overall idea is a bit corny and ultra touristy. It certainly was not a natural fit for our overly conservative British demeanor. However, we really love the Ride.
As we said it is not the sort of thing we thought would suit us, but the excellent and incredibly energetic, tour hosts really help build the atmosphere and get you over any shyness and cringyness of the Tour.
The Tour itself takes in all the highlights of the midtown area, starting and ending in Times Square and looping around Midtown past The Park Columbus Circle, Empire State, Hells Kitchen, Grand Central, Radio City Hall, and many more sights. It’s a great little introduction to the City. The Tour us is very unique as it offers Stadium Seating and floor to ceiling windows, so you look out the side of the Bus like a giant Cinema Screen!
There are two very lively and entering hosts who guide you around the City, and the unique art of the tour comes from the Live entertainment/Street acts who pop up along the way. These performers are simply strewn around the City, posing as regular citizens/tourists and they erupt from nowhere into song/dance, all the while the surrounding people having little idea what is going on!
As we said it sounds pretty awful really but it is actually a whole heap of fun. We really recommend it, especially as an opening tour to get a quick feel for the City. Just remember to pack a sense of humor, it is not meant to be a serious excursion!
Value Wise the ride is pretty expensive really, for a 75-minute tour around id town we think $69 per person is steep! However, it is included on some City Passes which makes it feel like it’s free!
To get as much onto our list we didn’t want to cram in all the different tourist attractions so we have included them all here, some are better than others and we find utilizing a City pass here really helps with the potential disappointment if an attraction turns out to be less wonderful than anticipated!
Madame Tussauds – New York’s version of the famous Wax Work Museum. We don’t feel this is the best example of the franchise. The exhibits are pretty unrelated to the City as a whole and it’s quite a small location and can leave you feeling short-changed. It’s ok if you need to kill a few hours.
Ripleys Believe It or Not – Another typical tourist attraction and a large collection of oddities from around the world. Some people really love the quirky collection while some people don’t seem to get it and feel let down.
Big Bus Panoramic Tour – Open-top Bus tours are the ultimate in tourist activities. Nothing screams I AM A TOURIST more than sitting atop a bright red open-top double-decker tourist bus! But heck if you are in Times Square you probably are a tourist. And we still love these tours. Used as a cross between transport and tour they are a great way to get around if you are not in a hurry.
6 – M&M’s and Hershey’s World
As you walk along the Square at some point the string warm comforting smell of melted chocolate will catch in your nostrils. When this happens you are sure to have just walked past either M&M’s or Hershey’s World stores. Look up you won’t miss them! The smell, disappointingly, is not from a large cauldron of melted chocolate at the back of the store as you may imagine, but instead from the chocolate-scented air freshener that is pumped out into the street.
It certainly works as people flock in their droves to these chocolate lovers’ mega stores. Inside, they really are nothing more than large brand stores, with a huge array of novelty items. The big draw really is the huge array of flavors available as pick and mix. There are every possible flavor and many completely unique items only available in the stores.
You won’t spend long here, but both shops are definitely worth checking out for chocoholics, and remember to keep an eye out for free samples, there is almost always someone offering freebies at one of the stores!
7 – Rooftop Bar
There are several rooftop bars available around Times Square where you can relax and get away from the madness while sipping on a classic Manhatten. Our favorite bars are not all in Times Square but there are a few good options all with Times Square views. Expect high prices as you pay a premium for that view, but the chance to get away from the crowds and just take it all in is priceless.
Bar 54 – Our favorite Rooftop bar in Times Square. Excellent but very pricey cocktails with a simply breathtaking view. While drinks are eyewateringly expensive (around $23 for a cocktail!), the premium is worth every penny when you consider how much you would pay for a rooftop experience usually in New York, If you look at this as a $23 entry fee, with a free cocktail, it makes a bit more sense! And to be honest there are plenty of bars in Times Square without any view at all who will charge you that regardless!
The View Lounge – Atop the New York Marriott Marquis is their revolving restaurant. Dining here is rather pricey but a cheaper option is their View Lounge offering an everchanging view out over the Square. Again prices are on the “ouch” side and there is a cover charge in the evening, but the revolving view from the 48th floor makes all that go away!
Broadway Bar 49 – Not quite a rooftop but elevated with a fantastic view of broadway and the Square. Prices are far more down to earth ($16 for cocktails, $7 beer). While it’s not quite the rooftop experience of the others, being able to take the weight of your feet and still enjoy the spectacle of the square makes this one of our top picks!
8 – Shopping
Shopping is not the best in the Square. We tend to head to the main shopping areas such as 5th Av, 34th Street area, and possibly the Outlets at Woodbury Common. There are still plenty of high-end brand name shops on the square.
We tend to just window shop and browse rather than buy as there are few bargains to be had really. There are plenty of gift shops, but again most of these are overprices to cover the extortionate rents of a unit on times square!
Many people flock to the Disney Store, however, we found it a little disappointing, it is quite small and the displays are less intricate and elaborate than other Disney stores we have visited.
9 – Street Food
While on the whole prices are far better for Street food away from Times Square, there is something so iconic about eating a hotdog right on Times Square. You will definitely pay a few extra dollars for the privilege but sometimes a few dollars is worth it for the experience.
Also Look out for Pretzels and Hot nuts, all snacks that are iconic, and help warm the cockles on cold winters nights in the square. Rays Pizza also has a restaurant in the Square where you can get NYC Pizza by the Slice, again this is not the best pizza or the cheapest prices, but it’s all legendary stuff that you just have to try when there!
10 – New Years Eve
Ok, this one is time-sensitive. Obviously, if it’s June you are not going to be celebrating New Years’ Eve! But we couldn’t ignore it as millions every year flood into the square to celebrate the new year dawning. Regardless of the time of year, you will see the Ball and the New Year Countdown!
New Year’s Eve in Times Square is many people’s lifelong dream, the chance to get to see the ball drop in one of the most famous locations in the world and usher in the new year with millions of other revelers is bucket list stuff. The truth is the experience is a little complicated and very challenging. To the point, we put together a survival guide to get through it! And you will need one, you cannot just rock up in the evening and expect to see anything or get even close!
Still, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one not to be missed.
Note* 2020 is likely to be virtual, so don’t plan on visiting the square this year as the pandemic has all but put pay to any large groups gathering anywhere in New York!
Bonus – Get the Hell out of there
Times Square is definitely a Marmite kind of place. Some love it some hate it. We honestly think it is somewhere every New York Visitor needs to experience, for better or worse. The truth is for some the BEST thing to do in Times Square is escape!
This can be easier said than done, as the crowds can be so intense continuing forward movement is, temporarily, impossible. If you are not sure the Square is for you check out our Survival Guide and enjoy the incredible relief when you finally make your way out of the Square and feel the flood of happiness knowing the horrors of Times Square are behind you!
Have Your Say
Let us know your favorite things to do in Times Square? Is it all about broadway or more about taking in the incredible sights and sounds of the City? Whatever you enjoy about New Yorks’s most iconic location just let us know in the comments. Maybe you are one of the Suares haters? We still would love to hear from you, what is it you hated about the square?
If you have anything at all to say just fire off in the Comments Below!