Times Square is one of those rare places where no matter how bold or grandiose your description of it gets, it still somehow comes across as an understatement. For many visitors, Times Square isn’t just another New York City neighborhood, it’s the essence of New York City itself. That’s because this electrifying area is one of the most popular attractions located anywhere in the world. Tens and tens of millions of people visit its vibrant streets each year, and no trip to New York City is complete without standing in its brilliant, chaotic, one-of-a-kind midst.
Times Square Neighborhood History
Believe it or not, Times Square was originally known as Long Acre Square, and during the latter decades of the nineteenth century it functioned primarily as a hub for horses and carriages. In those days it enjoyed a not-so-stellar reputation as a kind of redlight district frequented by pickpockets, low-level criminals, and ne’er-do-wells. In 1904, the New York Times newspaper agreed to move its headquarters into the area and the city’s mayor announced Long Acre Square would thereafter be known as Times Square. With the development of mass public transportation and the construction of a train station in the neighborhood, Times Square came into its own as an important entertainment and cultural center of the city in the first few decades of the twentieth century.
Though Times Square’s fortunes would ebb and flow throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, in recent decades it has reemerged as one of New York City’s most iconic attractions. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Times Square each and every day, and it’s estimated that nearly a quarter of all money spent in New York City by visitors is spent here.
Exploring Times Square
Times Square is famous for its massive billboards and flashy advertisements that blink and glow 24/7/365. A significant part of the Times Square experience consists of throwing yourself into this lively mix of bright lights and big crowds and soaking up the atmosphere, rich as it is in stores, restaurants, larger-than-life signs, and street performers with cult-like followings.
Many popular attractions are located in or near Times Square. The New York branch of the Madame Tussauds franchise, with its wax figurines and immersive exhibits, is here on 42nd Street, as is The Ride. This 75-minute bus excursion is an innovative take on the conventional guided tour. Along the way, you won’t just be able to see some of Midtown Manhattan’s most famous landmarks from your window, you’ll encounter a handful of “surprise” live street performances designed to amaze and delight.
Plenty of other guided New York City tours cover Times Square, too, and multiple other popular attractions are found nearby as well. These include Rockefeller Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Empire State Building, Edge at Hudson Yards, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and of course, the iconic theaters of Broadway. Nearby neighborhoods of note include Hell’s Kitchen, the Garment District, and Chelsea.
The core of Times Square consists of the intersection where Seventh Avenue, 42nd Street, and Broadway come together. Most New Yorkers would describe the broader Times Square area as a sort of bowtie-shaped district that includes nearby Duffy Square and runs between 42nd and 47th Streets.
Times Square Dining
There is no shortage of places to grab an unforgettable meal near Times Square. As befits a global destination like Times Square, you’ll find all types of food in the area. From award-winning Mexican to acclaimed sake bars, American chains to elegant steakhouses, there’s something for every palate (though not necessarily budget, as Times Square isn’t cheap!) here.
For something truly special and distinctive, seek out a meal at one of the venerable establishments that comprise Restaurant Row. This block of West 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues is lined with memorable places to eat, and is a favorite of the Broadway crowd. Two of the most beloved places on Restaurant Row would have to be Barbetta, an Italian restaurant which has been in business for over 115 years; and Joe Allen, a cozy joint that’s been serving up American comfort food since 1965.
Times Square Shopping
Shopping is a quintessential part of a visit to Times Square, and many major brands have destination stores in the area. Classic, big-name retailers like Gap, American Eagle, Loft, and Express have brick-and-mortar spots here, as do national chains like Sephora, Old Navy, and Forever 21—to name just a few.
For a unique outing, you won’t want to miss the Disney Store, Hershey’s Chocolate World, or M&M’s New York, where you can create your own personalized candy blend with custom messages. Pelé Soccer is considered one of the better soccer stores in the world, a full-service shop where you can purchase kits, boots, and assorted gameday gear while even watching a live match from their in-house bleachers and large projection screen.
Times Square is prime souvenir-purchasing territory, so there are boatloads of shops in the vicinity selling knickknacks, trinkets, and trip mementos. Conversely, if you’re in the market for an entirely different experience, major New York City shopping destinations like Fifth Avenue, Chelsea, and the Meatpacking District are not that far from here.
Explore Times Square Like a Local
- Though Times Square is where many visitors go to pick up their New York City souvenirs, be advised that you’ll pay a premium for purchasing said souvenirs here. If you want to save a pretty penny on your souvenirs, consider shopping for them elsewhere, in another popular New York City neighborhood like, say, Chinatown.
- If your heart is set on a particular restaurant, by all means make a reservation in advance of your visit. Not all establishments accept reservations, and some of the have idiosyncratic parameters—like, for instance, they only take reservations one week in advance—but it’s definitely worth researching the subject at the specific place you have in mind. Better safe than sorry!