When we visit travel forums and message boards, one of the most asked questions is where to stay in New York and What the best hotels in Times Square are. One of the first places first-time visitors of new york think of is times Square and naturally, this is where they think they should stay right in the middle of things. So when they post these questions up on the forums the “experts” all pile on telling them they are wrong and not to stay anywhere near Times Square.
“It’s just too busy!”, “The locals don’t go near that hell hole!”, “Too expensive and not worth it” are some of the typical comments. And while these types of opinions do have a point, they are often simply repeating the prevailing sentiment rather than really expressing personal experience. We take a more nuanced view, and it’s one that is often expressed to by the more rational members of these boards, And that is are you SURE you want to stay in Times Square? This article is designed to answer the question of Should we Stay in Times Square New York?
Is Staying On Times Square A Bad Idea?
Staying on Times Square by default is often a mistake, there are many genuine reasons people avoid the area, however, there are also many reasons to love staying right in the heart of things. We have stayed there many a time and never become overawed with the crowds and the business of the place.
So in this article, we take a balanced look at what it really is like to stay on the Square. The reasons you may wish to stay there, what the upsides are and also the issues and problems with being right in the middle of tourist central. Some of Times Squares issues vary by time of year so we point out the ties you REALLY need to think twice about staying on the Square. We also point out the places you can stay that have mos of the positives without the negatives of staying right on Times Square. Let’s Start with the Positives.
Why You SHOULD stay in Times Square
Without a doubt, the single best reason for staying in Times Square is the Location. You are right in the beating heart of the City and most tourist attractions and sights are right within walking distance.
There is obviously the square, the Rockefeller center, 5th Av and its iconic shops, The Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, New York Public Library, Broadway, and of course the Square itself. Even Central Park and is only a few blocks to the north.
There is something scintillating about staying right on the Square, looking out your window and seeing the glow, stepping out into the bright lights of an evening, and generally just being in the heart of the City that never sleeps. There are of course downside to this, but it just feels right, kind of like how you expected your New York trip to be!
Get the Right hotel room and the view is one of the best views on earth. Looking down on the bright lights and throngs of people while you sip away on a cocktail from the comfort of your own room. All the hassle and stress of navigating the City melts away and you peruse the scene from above.
Naturally, a Hotel Room like this will not be cheap, but if you can stretch to a Times Square View room then you will be spoiled with one of the world’s finest vantage points.
There are a ton of places to eat right in the square so you will never be stuck for something to eat. The options may not be the best eateries the city has to offer, many are chain restaurants that will be familiar to many and available across the states but there are a few interesting options. The Chain Restaurants might be a little cliche but they offer familiar dining at a time where you might be very stressed out and just looking for something you know to fill a hole.
You are also right next to Hell’s Kitchen, home to some of the finest and diverse dining in the world. As you would expect with Broadway being the home of Dinner and a Show, there are many fantastic dining options with walking distance of the Square. There is even a 3 Michelin Star Restaurant, Le Bernardin, just off 7th Av on 51st Street.
So while the actual lineup of restaurants on the square is so-so at best there is a host of fantastic dining options only a short walk away.
Real Estate Prices on the Square are, shall we say, at the high end. So many hotels are also at the high-end in terms of class! There are some really nice hotels in the immediate area. We take a look at these in our best Times Square Hotels list.
The big hitters here offer fantastic rooms with stunning high floor views, plush interiors, and Great amenities such as restaurants, rooftop bars, and terraces. Some of the best Hotels in the City are right on the square and most have some kind of unique selling point to keep one step ahead of the competition.
The Prices are actually not as terrible as some people make out. There is a lot of competition and as such prices are very competitive. We have on several occasions stayed in Times Square hotels as they are some of the cheapest options, certainly when considering central Mid-Town locations.
As Ever Hotel Prices are a live market and while these bargains come up regularly, they are not the norm. However, in all but the busiest periods, the prices do really stack up quite well considering where you are staying.
Of Course this New York so Cheap is subjective, don’t expect bargain basement prices, as they just do not exist in the city, even when the accommodation would justify this.
It’s Quiet (er)
Yep, we said it. We know this will instantly get people’s backs up. After all, anyone who has spent time in the square will testify it is ANYTHING but quiet. However, for the purposes of staying there, it really is quiet. Let’s be clear, we are talking noise here not a measure of busyness, as Quiet has two meanings. So if you are looking for a quiet and peaceful night’s sleep Then a Times Square Hotel Room really can offer this. More so than most NYC Hotels.
How can we say this when Times Square is a bustling mass of people, chaos, and noise? Well, there is something missing from Times Square, at least most of it, Cars. New Yorkers, especially Cabbies, LOVE their horns. There is no time of the day they refrain from letting everyone in the local vicinity know they are displeased by something. This means hotels are often plagued with traffic noise all night. As Times Square is largely pedestrianized, this is far less of a problem.
We say less of a problem as it is only partially pedestrianized, so there is still some traffic noise, but on the whole, there is far less traffic, and the incidence of car horns seems much lower than other honk happy locations!
Actually, the whole square takes in a kind of quiet serenity during the wee hours of the morning, a curious calm after the storm, or before the storm…well both actually.
Why You Shouldn’t Stay in Times Square
If that has got you excited for your Stay on Times Square then great. You may have found this article after booking and are looking for some reassurance your stay will be OK after hearing bad things afterward. Well, click away now, hopefully, we have provided all the positive reinforcement you need.
However, if you are still in the planning phase, let’s get real and look at the downsides to staying in one of the busiest tourist locations on earth!
In our reasons to stay in Times Square section, we listed the location as the number one reason, and really it is the overriding factor, likewise the crowds are the number one reason NOT to stay in time square, and again it’s the overriding argument.
To fully express this you do need to appreciate just how packed the square can become. Times Square is one of the most visited tourist locations on the planet and unlike its rivals such as central Park or the Las Vegas strip, Times Square is pretty small, only 11,600 sqft (Approx), a few blocks. Compare this to Central Parks 843 acres, 1.317 sq miles, or the 2 miles of Las Vegas Boulevard.
This means Central Park and the Las Vegas strip can easily accommodate their visitors. But Times Square really struggles. Over 333,000 people visit times square every single day, that’s more than the theoretical maximum capacity of ALL 4 Disney World Theme Parks in Orlando, in fact, you can throw in Disneyland and California adventure in there too!
So that’s the entire capacity of the 6 Busiest American theme parks jam-packed into a square not much bigger than 5 City Blocks! Ever been to a Disney Park? They are pretty rammed right, now squash them down to a few blocks and times them by 6. And remember this is the Average. On busy days numbers head to half a million, and New Years’ eve 2+million!
Now Imagine your hotel Lobby opening out onto this! Imagine navigating this as you arrive with your cases. Think about every time you want to leave our hotel you have to battle through one of the busiest sections of tarmac in the world!
At times in the Square, we have literally been at a standstill. A human wall of bodies blocking any forward momentum at all. You can queue for 4/5 cycles of a traffic light just to get the chance to cross. At times it feels like the most packed concert crowd you have ever been to, just a seething mass of frustrated people trying to get somewhere.
None of this is an exaggeration. The Square really can, and does, get like this. But it’s not like this all the time. The Numbers we quote above have a big caveat, Most Visitors to Theme Parks stay all day, the vast majority of Times Square Visitation is throughput. People enter one end, enjoy the spectacle as they journey through, and leave. Visits of over 1 hour to the Square are rare.
But it is still an insanely busy location, this can be mitigated by a number of factors. Most hotels have Lobby entrances on the Side Streets. The large majority of the footfall is contained on the 7th Av and Broadway instection, leaving the side streets relatively clear. Some hotels are not even technically on the Square, but still, overlook it and can be considered Times Square Locations, others carrying the moniker are not times square at all but are local and use the name to attract business.
While most true times Square Hotels will be affected in some way by the high traffic of the area there will be some form of mitigation. The street-level real estate is far too valuable to waste on the lobby of the hotel!
The fact is though, you are right in the cut and thrust of the Square and it’s impossible to completely avoid the madness. Why would you want to? If you are not going to embrace the chaos of the area, then staying in Times Square is not for you. The tourist throngs are definitely one of the downsides, but so much so that if you cannot bear even the thought of them, you really should rethink your Hotel Location. There are loads of other options in New York, many with the upsides of Times Square without the obvious downs of staying inside a sardine can.
The Reality is often not as bad as our words make it sound, we have had incredible trips and love being right amongst the hubbub of the square. After all, we are heading out of it most of the time. But if you have a real aversion to crowds, it is a lot to contend with.
Covid-19 Note – New York is very quiet at the minute and these sort of visitor numbers are but a dream for the city at present. There is very little crowding in the Square to date, but we are all hopeful that when the time is right the numbers soar again. God knows the City needs it right now.
We never really look for the “authentic experience” when visiting a city. Really it doesn’t exist. The Authentic experience in most places is, people go to work then come home and watch Netflix. Instead, we look for the highlights reel, the best the city has to offer, and indulge in it as we are on vacation, unlike the locals who have to earn their keep! That said, the feel of Times Square is so far over on the tourist trap needle any hint of authenticity goes out the window.
If you are even hoping for a hint of the “real” New York you won’t find it here. If you lived here would you brave the sort of manic crowds described above? We love the tackiness and are willing to take it for what it is, but for some, it’s way too much. Times Square is a place to visit, briefly then leave. Get it ticked off the list then never return. We fully understand this, but we see the square more as iconic than a tacky hole. But people view things differently.
If you are looking for the nuanced charm of New York’s Architecture, Imagining Park Views, or the Sophisticated Upscale Manhattan of the movies, then this gaudy tourist hotspot could be a real turn off!
Price Gouging Hotels
We mentioned how hotel rates on the square can be quite competitive, they can also be eye-wateringly high too. The High competition can drive things down when occupancy rates are low but the popularity of the area means they can tolerate much higher prices when things get busy.
Especially around holidays, big events, and New Year’s eve things go through the roof. If the Prices on your chosen dates start making you choke! Consider alternative areas. The prices across the city are much more stable than on the square.
Price Gouging everything Else
While you can get good deals on hotels here, that is about the only good deal you are likely to find on the square. Everything else is more costly than elsewhere in the city. Hotdogs, Souvenirs, Attractions, even having your photo taken with Elmo all cost more on the Square. Even Chain Restaurants will bump their prices to cash in on that Time Square Premium.
Heading just a few blocks off the square usually secures a return to normality but when you are in the Times Square Bubble things are always more costly.
Where Tourists Gather, the less desirable element is also drawn to take advantage. Whether this is the infamous CD dealers, Costume characters, Fake Attractions Salespeople, or even Time-Share Sharks, the Square is filled with people that most people would prefer were not there.
Most of these can be easily avoided, see out Times Square Survival Guide, but it can still be offputting when you have to deal with them daily, saying no to people over and over is a chore after a while.
The area is well policed and quite tourist-friendly but there is always the chance of real undesirables such as pickpockets. But sensible precautions and alertness should minimize this risk and there is just as high a risk in other parts of the city and more risk in other cities on the whole. We have never had a problem, but any tourist destination carries the risk of petty crime.
Honestly, the biggest problem is the people who are allowed in as we mentioned above. On a fleeting visit it’s no problem to just ignore the hustlers, but day after day it wears you down.
Overall – Should You Stay On Times Square?
It all comes down to your trip requirements. If the thrill and buzz of staying right in the heart of the City are what you are looking for then Times Squares’ drawback can mostly be overlooked and in many cases mitigated.
However, if the thought of walking out into a crowd of 2-300,000 people every time you leave the hotel fills you with dread and disgust you will likely detest the area and will be completely unable to look past the downsides and leave feeling very let down by the experience.
If un-authentic tourist traps are your idea of hell you will find the square gaudy and obnoxious and these are not good traits for a pleasant trip.
The Main upside of staying on Times Square, its near-perfect location, is a strong reason to put up with the crowds, however, there is no necessity to forgo this by not staying on Times Square. Other locations are as good if not better in terms of location. These may have other negatives and quirks to staying there but on the whole, these are still perfectly located, far less tacky, and allow you to experience Times Square as little or as much as you please rather than having it rammed down your throat!
Alternatives to Times Square
While Times Square is in Midtown there is a stark difference between Actual Times Square Hotels and Midtown Hotels in General. Mid-town is a bit of a misleading term as it references a large section of the City. But we are referring to Mid Town in this sense as the area immediately surrounding Times Square.
Often these use the Times Square Minker but are distinctly separate. They should more accurately use the term Near Times Square. There is a good range of hotels in the area, from cheap clean Chain hotels to independent boutique locations, right up to the high-end luxury brands.
Staying Near Times Square heralds all the advantages of staying on the square without the impact of the huge crowds on your stay.
To the West of Times Square and Broadway is Hell’s Kitchen. This menacingly sounding neighborhood has, like most of new york, been completely gentrified and now no longer houses the menace the name was cooked up for when it was occupied by the rougher elements of the Irish immigrant population up until the ’70s.
Now the area is considered fairly upmarket but still affordable and cool with a mixed cultural population. The area’s most notable contribution to the present New York is its eateries. Hell’s Kitchen has become a mecca for eating out. Restaurant Row (46th Street between 8th and 9th) and the surrounding area is a cauldron of varying cuisines from around the world. If a culture has a cuisine you should find a corresponding restaurant along the row.
Restaurants here are mainly independent and inexpensive by New York Standards. Here you could eat in a different restaurant every night and experience a culinary journey around the world without leaving the neighborhood.
Hotels are mainly independent boutique hotels or trendy budget chain Hotels such as Pod and Yotel. The further from the Hudson River the hotel is located the better the location as far as tourist attractions go as the majority of what you will want to see is on the east side of midtown. But hotels here run right up till 8th Av, just a block away from Times Square.
Murray hill is similarly located to Hells Kitchen only on the East Side of Times Square. It could be argued that Murray hill is actually better located than Times Square. Many of the Points of interest to tourists are in Murray Hill. The Grand Central Terminal New York Public Library, The Crysler Building, even the Roker feller Center and Empire State building depending on your definition.
The Downside of Murray hill is its business-like demeanor. It feels very serious, a bit grey-suit and grown-up. Still, its great location means you can simply use the hotel to sleep and spend the majority of your time elsewhere. Which is what we tend to do regardless of where we stay.
Park Street / Columbus Circle
To be honest this is the best location in the City. You are a few blocks from Times Square, With access to anything city-related on one side and the wide-open spaces of the park on the other. Hotels here are plush and high-end with a wealth of amenities.
In fact, we can come p with only a single reason not to stay here. Price. Does any of the above sound like it’s going to be cheap? Nope, and it isn’t. While you can get some bargains from time to time on the whole this is the pricey end of New York Hotels. Accommodation in the city is seldom really cheap but here you can expect to pay a pretty premium even for basic lodgings.
Have Your Say
Times Square splits opinion like nowhere else in New York so we are sure many of you have differing views on our take on Staying on times square. Maybe you think we overstated the crowds, maybe you think we overplayed the positives? Whatever, we would love your take on the location? have you got a favorite Hotel? Did you have a really bad experience? Just let us know in the comments below.