Nothing can prepare you for the sensory overload the first time you step into Times Square. The sidewalks are filled with a tremendous concentration of humanity—roughly 300,000 pedestrians pass through every day—and the intersection’s high-wattage marquees ensure that it’s always bright, even late at night. Named for The New York Times, whose 1 Times Square address served as the newspaper’s headquarters from 1904 to 1913, the area is now an entertainment district and business hub, serviced by one of the busiest subway stations in the world. During the latter half of the 20th century the neighborhood turned seedy, but over the past two decades it has become a safe, family-friendly destination that no visitor will want to miss. It’s the place to catch the famous New Year’s Eve ball drop, the glittery shows on Broadway and an array of other attractions. In this slideshow, we’ve collected tips on what to see, where to shop, what to eat and even insider info on some of the many colorful characters waiting to be discovered on its streets. For more information, read on. —nycgo.com staff
Where it is: Times Square proper encompasses 42nd to 47th Streets, from Broadway to Seventh Avenue, but the area really extends from around 40th to 50th Streets, between Sixth and Eighth Avenues.
How to get there: Take the 1, 2, 3, 7, A, C, E, N, R, Q or 42nd Street Shuttle to Times Square-42nd Street/Port Authority Bus Terminal subway station.
Seven days a week, visitors and locals pour into Broadway’s 40 theaters, eager to experience the award-winning musicals, critically acclaimed revivals and star-studded plays that define Midtown’s Theatre District. Each season (June–May) typically sees on average 40 new productions, and attendance for the 2013–14 year surpassed 12 million. It’s this dedicated fan base that has made The Phantom of the Opera the longest-running show currently (and actually ever) on Broadway— more than 11,200 performances and counting. It’s also why the Tony Awards, held regularly in Radio City Music Hall, were established in 1947—though the history of theater on Broadway dates back to the 1890s, when the Empire, Olympia and Victoria were all constructed. (Note: the Lyceum and New Amsterdam are the oldest theaters that remain, both originally built in 1903).
The Great White Way remains a quintessential part of New York City culture, a place not just to see the latest musical but to revel in the glamour of the entertainment scene; a gaze west down 44th or 45th Street from Seventh Avenue reveals marquee after marquee—just as magical as the lights along Broadway. Helen Hayes is the smallest Broadway theater among them, at just under 600 seats (look the other direction on 44th to see the sign and neoclassical facade of the Belasco, another intimate, historic venue). Connecting 44th and 45th mid-block between Seventh and Eight Avenues is Shubert Alley, home to a free outdoor concert the week before the Tonys and an annual fall flea market and auction fundraiser, and just a place to mill about during intermission. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has created a handy historical guide [.PDF] to lead you on a walking tour and put some Broadway landmarks in perspective.
To browse what’s currently playing and to purchase tickets to shows, visit our Broadway guide. For deals of up to 50% off same-day tickets to productions, visit the TKTS Discount Booth in Duffy Square. Bonus: the glass-enclosed booth is under some bleacher-style steps, ideal for resting weary legs and surveying the scene. —Andrew Rosenberg
Broadway theaters tend to command the spotlight, but there are other worthwhile shows waiting in the wings just off the Great White Way.
Off-Broadway shows take place in theaters smaller than those on Broadway (typically 100–499 seats as opposed to 500–2,000), with ticket prices that can be less than half the cost of a Broadway show—with additional discounts available at the TKTS Booth. A number of these venues are concentrated on the western stretch of 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, outside Times Square proper. Check out the shows at Theatre Row, a multi-story complex of six stages. Farther down the block are two major, institutional theaters: Playwrights Horizons, which hosts work by new and established American dramatists at; and classic works at the Signature Theatre, notable for its $25 cap on ticket prices and for its architect—one Frank Gehry.
New World Stages features shows ranging from downsized Broadway musicals like Avenue Q to new spectacles like the Gazillion Bubble Show and Clinton, which celebrate the magic of super-sized soapy orbs and a saxophone-blowing president, respectively.
There are also cabaret-style shows at Don’t Tell Mama on Restaurant Row, a reliable place to see Broadway singers in a more intimate setting. The newly reopened Diamond Horseshoe, beneath the Paramount Hotel, offers a glamorous throwback experience. The main attraction here is an extravagant variety-style spectacle called Queen of the Night, which features acrobats, showgirls and audience participation. There’s quirkier material at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, a 100-seat space that’s hosted the likes of one-acts and one-man/woman shows. Its current Thursday night mainstay, Broadway Sessions, is a late-night revue featuring local actors who stop in for a song after their curtain calls.
But the music scene in Times Square goes beyond show tunes: B.B. King Blues Club and Grill, the Best Buy Theater and the Town Hall all host a reliable slate of touring pop and rock acts, and jazz lovers can hear some of thegenre’s best every night at Birdland. —Brian Sloan
If you’re looking for a dining experience as entertaining as the performances in the Theatre District, look no further than Times Square.
The biggest new restaurant on the scene might be cavernous Urbo, which is actually multiple establishments in one: choose food from one of three open kitchens in the ground-floor restaurants; enjoy some baked goods and Blue Bottle coffee at the café; or head upstairs for a fancy cocktail and bar fare. But still commanding attention since its opening in 2012 is the brash Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar. Why not stop by and see what all the fuss is about? Proprietor Guy Fieri, best known as the host of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, promises to take guests to “Flavor Town” with sashimi tacos, bacon mac’n’cheese burgers and “triple double” pie.
If you want the dinner-theater experience, check out Ellen’s Stardust Diner. The waitstaff there will serenade you with show tunes as you chow down on American favorites like burgers and malts. The rising stars here have already made it on Broadway (so to speak), as that’s where the 1950s-style venue is located (at the corner of West 51st Street).
Even a familiar place like McDonald’s gets a glitzy spin in Times Square. A visit to the location on West 42nd Stree (open 24 hours a day) is quite a production: its grand marquee makes those walking in feel as if they’re about to see a Broadway show. Along the same lines, Times Square is home to the world’s largest Applebee’s (at Broadway and West 50th Street). The three-story eatery is also one of the few Applebee’s that opens early (at 7am) and serves breakfast.
The no-frills Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen will satisfy cravings for Chinese soup dumplings, dim sum and noodles. Lazzara’s Pizza is the answer if you’re hungry for a cheesy pepperoni pie. The Cuban comfort food at Margon is worth waiting in line for. This is especially true of the meaty sandwiches, octopus salad and fried fish with rice, beans and sweet plantains. Actually, the district’s cultural panorama of restaurants is as diverse as the crowds taking selfies. The tiny Gazala’s Place offers delicious Druze food, Num Pang Times Square builds creative Cambodian sandwiches and the Kati Roll Company features fragrant, filling Indian wraps.
For light, casual Japanese food, look no further than Yakitori Totto —which serves grilled chicken on a stick—and Ippudo Westside for savory, flavorful ramen. Belgian beers and moules frites are the draws at BXL Café, while there are English and Scottish ales to go with a mind-boggling Scotch list and solid pub food at St. Andrews Restaurant & Bar. More into wine? Aldo Sohm Wine Bar has a luxurious feel (it’s a spin-off of Le Bernardin, after all), yet there are some steals among the bottles and epicurean snacks on offer. The food and drinks at the hip Bea are all over the map, and ideal for post-theater dining since it’s open nightly until 1am. Most of these places aren’t glittery, but they’re gold. —Julie Besonen
Like almost everything else located in the area, Times Square’s stores promise larger-than-life experiences—and they deliver. Take, for instance, the 1,700-square-foot MAC Cosmetics flagship. The exterior is illuminated in LED tiles, while its sleek interior features numerous makeup stations, touch-screen computers and many makeup artists working the floor.
As big as it is, the MAC store is dwarfed by Forever 21’s massive 90,000-square-foot location, which includes 151 fitting rooms and over 30 cash registers ringing up the brand’s affordably priced merch. In addition to three floors of women’s apparel, makeup and accessories, there’s also a floor devoted to menswear—rare for the brand—and girls’ clothing. Night owls, take note: the emporium is open until 2am.
By way of contrast, the minimalism at Muji is refreshing. Located in the New York Times Building, this 4,350-square-foot space, which overlooks a tranquil garden, resembles a downtown loft. Its high ceilings and glass windows augment the brand’s restrained approach. The store stocks more than 2,000 quality products, ranging from stationery and colored pencils to furniture, clothing and bed linens.
Meanwhile, H&M’s 42nd Street outpost clocks in at an impressive 42,000 square feet, with 44 dressing rooms and 24 cash registers that’ll hopefully keep long lines at bay. The store has a high-tech, collaborative feel with interactive mannequins, a virtual catwalk and social media lounge that boasts space to relax, free WiFi and iPads. Another useful aspect of the store is that it allows customers to check out from the dressing room, thereby impeding any last-minute decision to stock up on unneeded accessories at the register. —Christina Parrella
When Times Square underwent an extensive facelift in the 1990s, there were some, well, less-than-savory establishments peppering the area that bit the dust. But there were also enduring, perfectly reputable businesses that survived those changes—even if some, like 2014 casualties Café Edison and Smith’s Bar & Restaurant, eventually succumbed. So the ones that remain must have something special. One such place is Kaufman’s Army and Navy, which has been in its current location since 1946. Looking for BDUs, a watch cap or a bridge coat? You’ve got a good chance of finding it, or pretty much any other military-surplus supplies, in the packed aisles. A few spots are music related: namely, Rudy’s Music and Alex Musical Instruments, both founded in the late 1970s and part of what was once the City’s so-called Music Row (48th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues). The former is a two-story guitar emporium, with knowledgeable sales folk and a lovely array of electric and acoustic axes; the latter specializes in accordions, providing a true time warp in its appointment-only Accordion Museum.
Continuing the arts theme, the Drama Book Shop has been around in some form since 1917, providing a nice complement to the theaters. If you want to delve past the Playbill you get when attending a show, just detour here to find all kinds of manuscripts, memorabilia and theater-related literature. A number of longstanding local hangouts—Sardi’s, Joe Allen, Café Un Deux Trois—do pre- and post-theater dining, but if you want to eat at a real throwback, hit up bare-bones Margon, on 46th Street. This Cuban diner, around since 1970, is fast, inexpensive and delicious; fight your way to a spot for your octopus salad or Cuban sandwich. Whatever you’ve done during the day, you can’t go wrong by ending your night at boxing-themed dive bar Jimmy’s Corner. Friendly bartenders, well-priced drinks, a low-key vibe and a local crowd make this the oldest-school of hostelries in the hood.—A
One of the biggest secrets is an event that actually occurs every single night. If you’re in Times Square just before midnight—11:57pm to be exact—you’ll see more than 15 screens simultaneously shut off their glitzy advertisements and display a coordinated work of digital art (sometimes even incorporating sound) until the clock strikes midnight. The display is part of a creative effort called “Midnight Moment,” in which commerce temporarily gives way to art.
There is, of course, one night where this doesn’t happen: New Year’s Eve, an event that has a secret or two of its own. For example, the confetti that rains down at midnight contains wishes that are digitally submitted by visitors to the Times Square Alliance website.
If you’re looking somewhere a little clandestine to dine or knock back a beer, check out the underground Sake Bar Hagi, which features Japanese izakaya fare (and, owing to its hidden storefront, isn’t filled to the brim with tourists—though it’s plenty crowded).
Some other “secrets” involve the area’s old theaters. For example, there is a beautiful Greco-like mural in the AMC Empire 25 leftover from the original Empire Theatre, and the Hard Rock Cafe was once the Paramount Theater, where legends like Frank Sinatra and the Beatles performed—though more interesting is the fact that the clock at the top of the tower, some 33 floors up, chimes as a curtain reminder for theatergoers.
Finally, the famous 1 Times Square building has but one true tenant: Walgreens. Owing to the advertisements that cover its skin, however, the tower still earns many millions in income. —Alyson Penn
If you spend more than a few moments in Times Square, chances are someone will ask you if you like comedy. They’re not just curious—these intrepid young men and women want to sell you tickets to shows at venues like Stand-Up New York (which is actually on the Upper West Side).
Dyler Crews, who was 24 when we spoke to him in 2012, is one of the folks who want to know whether you enjoy listening to people tell jokes. His motivation was twofold: first, he got cash for selling tickets. And second, it was a way for the aspiring comedian, who’d moved to New York City from Georgia, to get a foot in the door at Stand-Up New York. “It’s all about who you know,” he reasoned. While he hadn’t yet taken the mic in prime time, he’d scored “a couple bits of stage time toward the later end of the night.” Dyler said he’s a pretty successful salesman and had no trouble making a living (“In a day, I can make anywhere from $200 to $400”), but that sometimes New Yorkers are not happy to hear his pitch. “They’re like, ‘I’m from here.'” He doesn’t approve of such reactions. “I’m offering you dirt-cheap tickets and alcohol! It’s a good time.”
Perhaps, but it must be said: if you do like comedy and want to be sure what you’re spending your hard-earned cash on, you can always buy ahead of time to see an act you already know. Times Square’s Carolines on Broadway—which hosts headline sets by big-name performers like Louis C.K. and Wanda Sykes—doesn’t hawk tickets on the street. If you’re looking for passes to one of its shows, you’ll have to buy online or at the box office. Other good bets (outside the neighborhood) include Gotham, and the Comedy Cellar, while a number of other venues citywide offer cheap or free shows (our Comedy Calendar has suggestions). —JZ
Even by New York City standards, Times Square offers a dense concentration of colorful, attention-getting gentlemen and ladies. Take, for example, the Naked Cowboy (aka Robert Burck), a young man who has parlayed playing acoustic guitar in a cowboy hat and skivvies into a full-fledged career (follow your dreams, kids.) While his act and the concept behind it are whimsical, he takes the pursuit very seriously, and has sued his rival, the so-called Naked Cowgirl, for trademark infringement. He eventually dropped the charges but did start licensing out his image to other aspiring Naked Cowboys and Cowgirls. He even announced a run for president in 2012, although it seems no serious campaigning ever took place.
Another prominent Times Square presence is the abundance of renegade Disney, Marvel and Sesame Street characters. These individualls are not officially licensed by the characters’ creators, and usually wear costumes that seem a tad different from the genuine article. You may want to keep your distance—and keep in mind that you’re never obligated to pay or tip them.
On a happier note, costumed Broadway show promoters (we’ve seen ones wearing cheerleader outfits for Bring It On and cabaret gear for Chicago) frequently use their talent and creativity to lure passersby into their shows. And while jaded New Yorkers may not often stop to take advantage of the services offered by caricaturists, for visitors the drawings can be a fun personalized keepsake.