How To Get Through Times Square Like A New Yorker, But Still Experience It Like A Tourist
When most people think of New York City, they think of Times Square. Times Square (previously called Longacre Square until its name was changed in 1904) is a unique and bustling cultural hub and major commercial junction. Every day 370,000 people walk through the busy streets of this famed intersection, some on their way to work, others marveling at the sights. The fast-paced city traffic along with the bright lights of the billboards and shops make Times Square the quintessential symbol of New York City, in everything from pop culture to tourism literature, and beyond. And with the annual New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, countless movie and television sets, as well as daily morning shows filmed in Times Square, it’s hard to imagine New York City without it.
Although Times Square is a major tourist attraction, many local New Yorkers walk through it every day, and boy do they know how to walk. If you’re planning to visit New York City, wouldn’t it be fun (and helpful) to know the inside tips to help you navigate this urban jungle within a jungle? Here are some of Times Square’s best-kept secrets and some essential tips every pedestrian on the block should know.
Cheap Broadway Tickets
Some of the lowest prices for Broadway (and Off-Broadway) show tickets can be found at a TKTS Booth, in the heart of Times Square. They are typically 25-50% off of the original price, meaning that you'll likely pay about $60-$85 per ticket, instead of the regular $100+. Not a bad deal!
If you are a student, head to the show’s theater itself to see if they offer student rates. Most do, but be prepared to have your student ID on hand.
Expand Your Horizons
Many first-timers in Times Square tend to stay on Broadway only; don’t make this mistake! Saunter up 6th and 7th Avenues for more “pop culture” landmarks, such as the Late Night Theater, Rockefeller Center, and the entrance to Central Park.
Discounts & Special Events
You don’t have to live in NYC to know where the good deals are. Visitors can thank The Times Square Alliance for keeping tourists in the know about specials, discounts, and events going on in Times Square, which are updated daily, so you’ll never miss a beat. Head to the Alliance’s site for specials and discounts on a wide range of events from happy hours, to lunch specials and other awesome activities.
Break The Chain
Just because there are ample hyper-commercial chain restaurants in Times Square doesn’t mean you should eat at them. While some people do find comfort in eating at the restaurants they’re used to from home, one of the best ways to truly experience New York is to eat at the small, local restaurants that the city is so well known for. But with all of the available options, where should one start? Location-based apps, such as Yelp, OpenTable, or FourSquare will not only help you find restaurants, but provide you with reviews, menus, and other great information to help you make a decision. Without ever setting foot in the neighborhood before, you could easily use these apps to discover the best happy hour around Times Square. No “help” from locals required.
Pro dining tips:
OpenTable offers you the option to reserve a table before you get to the restaurant, so you won’t lose any time sight-seeing. New Yorkers are famous for not wasting any time – now you can be too!
Don’t be afraid if your search for sustenance takes you “off track” to 8th or 9th Avenues (Hell’s Kitchen). Some of the best Italian and Thai food is featured there, as well as great drink specials and craft beer bars that are far more reasonable than the elevated tourist prices of Times Square.
Enjoy The Crowd
“People watching” is one of the most interesting, ever-changing, and free experiences New York has to offer. And with all the foot traffic in Times Square, it is hands-down one of the best places to do it. Specifically, Father Duffy Square - an incredible place to people watch because of its huge red steps (bleachers) which are specifically intended to allow people to view Times Square from an elevated position. It can be found between 45th and 47th Streets, above the TKTS discount ticket booth.
Times Square Shopping
Times Square is known for its lights, its crowds, and… its stores. In general, the stores are known to carry a wider assortment of products in order to accommodate all the traffic, and of course compete with the many other stores in the immediate area. Some of the stores offer more than just shopping alone. For example, the Times Square Toys "R" Us features an indoor Ferris wheel, and Walt Disney World’s flagship store houses a life-size Barbie condo on the second floor-themed to lead you through the Enchanted Forest. Like chocolate? On 48th Street and Broadway, Hershey’s Chocolate World offers NYC themed sweets, and right across the street is M&M’s World. Just like anything else in the neighborhood, shopping in Times Square isn’t a chore, it’s an experience.
Christmas In New York
There are those that would argue that Christmas is the best time to be in New York City. The streets of the entire city are decorated with Christmas and holiday themed window displays and lights. Times Square is certainly no exception to this rule. If you’re in town during the season, drink some mulled wine or eggnog (if you’re not of legal age, there’s plenty of hot cocoa to be found!), shop the busy stores, and enjoy the season. Don’t forget to take in some ice skating and see the famous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center too. It’s just a short walk from Times Square, and well-worth the experience.
New Year’s Eve Ball Drop
If you plan on spending New Year's Eve in Times Square, make sure to get there early (and we mean early). As the area becomes more crowded, NYPD starts barricading people into organized sections, and once you’ve been sectioned off, you won’t be able to eat, drink, use the bathroom, or leave the area. Also, New York City gets very cold in December, so you should plan to dress accordingly, especially as you’ll be standing in one place for a while. The good news is, as terrible as this all may sound, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that many people will never experience. So if you’re up for the challenge, we encourage you to tough it out and celebrate New Year’s Eve with one of America’s most well-known traditions – in Times Square, and ,possibly, on TV! Get updated information on all the festivities on the Times Square Alliance’s dedicated webpage.
If you’re in a group, do not walk as three or more people across. Two people is the horizontal limit, especially in a place as crowded as Times Square, where the streets are filled with tourists, locals, performers, vendors, and anything else you can possibly imagine. Remember that if you stop in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture, you can disrupt the flow of walking traffic. To avoid being called out for this, respect people’s limited space, and pull off to the side so that people can go around you while you snap a photo.
Do not stand in the busy streets of New York City to take photos, either. With the high volume of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, it makes it much harder for them all to stop if there’s an obstruction in their path. For your own safety, and some great pictures, head to those red bleachers we mentioned before and take some amazing photos from the elevated viewpoint.
Times Square Characters
If a mascot or character (such as the Naked Cowboy) walks up to you and your group, you do NOT have to take a picture with them; it’s completely acceptable to keep walking. However if you do take a photo with a street performer, they will ask for a tip. Be advised - you do not have to pay them any money, even if you do get a picture! While a tip or payment is not required, it is good practice and you should consider giving them something for their time, effort and added fun to your Times Square experience.
Hold on tight to your phones and cameras. This is best practice no matter where you are, but in the busy streets of Times Square it’s even easier to get bumped into, drop something, and never see it again.
Now that you’re armed with ample tips and tricks for enjoying one of the busiest sections of the beautiful “City That Never Sleeps,” get out there and enjoy this famous neighborhood! Times Square might be intimidating at first, but if you know how to navigate it smoothly and with savvy, there’s so much to enjoy and no trip to NYC would be complete without it.
Visiting the city soon? Our pier is just down 42nd Street from Times Square - we'd love to have you on one of our sightseeing tours.