things to do in times square

28 Best Things To Do In Times Square NYC (From A Local)

28 Best Things To Do In Times Square NYC (From A Local)

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By Jessie Festa. This post on fun things to do in Times Square is sponsored by Speedify. It also contains affiliate links to trusted partners!

What are the best things to do in Times Square NYC as a local?

Its a question I get asked a lot, especially from guests on my NYC photo tours. The truth: locals typically avoid Times Square like the plague, though, in my opinion, they shouldn’t.

Thanks to my experience leading tourists around Times Square, I’ve come to realize that this neighborhood actually has a lot to offer. In fact, there are some unexpected experiences with a more local feel, especially if you get away from 7th Avenue and Broadway.

In all honesty, you shouldn’t visit NYC without spending at least a few hours at the “Crossroads of the World” as it’s truly a uniquely New York experience.

And in the following Times Square travel guide, I’ll share my favorite Times Square attractions, places to eat, drink, shop, and stay in this Manhattan tourist hub as a local!

😍 Times Square Top Picks:
Short on time? Some of my top recommendations for Times Square NYC include:

🏨 Accommodation:
–Millennium Hotel Broadway Times Square
–Hotel Edison Times Square
–New York Marriott Marquis
Click here for a full list of Times Square hotels

📍 Tours:
–Private NYC photo tour (including Times Square)
–Broadway Theaters and Times Square with a Theater Professional
–Small-Group Broadway Theater District and Times Square Walking Tour
Click here for a full list of Times Square activities & tours

💸 Save Money: Save money while exploring top attractions in Times Square and the rest of NYC with a New York CityPASS or a New York Explorer Pass.

Safety: While Times Square is safe, it’s still smart to pack travel safety essentials – especially as pickpocketing and scams aren’t uncommon in this NYC neighborhood. One top pick is the Shes Birdie Personal Safety Alarm, which is TSA-approved and can help scare away potential attackers. Other recommendations include Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments and Speakeasy Travel Supply Hidden Pocket Scarves.

Hello from the Crossroads of the World!

Best Things To Do In Times Square NYC (From A Local)

On that note, let’s dive into some of the top experiences and attractions in Times Square:

1. Book A Private NYC Photo Tour

Shameless plug: my company, NYC Photo Journeys, offers fun photo experiences that often visit Times Square!

On a private NYC Photo Journey, you’ll explore NYC with a licensed guide who just also happens to be a skilled photographer meaning you leave with beautiful photos of your group to keep!

One of the most popular itineraries is Times Square – Central Park – Upper East Side – Brooklyn Bridge, which offers a stunning mix of architecture, nature, and skyline views along with interesting commentary.

Want to maximize the amount of photos you get and don’t necessarily care about getting a tour? You can also opt for a private NYC Influencer Shoot or a private Professional NYC Photoshoot both of which also include a pre-shoot call to tailor the session to what you’re looking for.

2. See A Broadway Show

Why is New York so popular? One reason is its access to incredible theater, especially on Broadway.

Broadway isn’t just for tourists; locals love it too! In and around Times Square you’ll find New York’s Theater District, which is home to 41 Broadway theaters.

If you’re looking to explore NYC on a budget, download the TodayTix app to find discount tickets on unsold seats.

You can also visit the red TKTS booth in Times Square to snag discount tickets, though you’ll typically wait in a pretty long line. In fact, people start lining up about an hour before the booth opens each day.

Love tours? Check out this highly-rated excursion: Broadway Theaters and Times Square with a Theater Professional.

Oh and pro tip: make sure to save your Broadway playbill, which makes for a great NYC souvenir!

3. See An Off-Broadway Show

Of course, you can also opt for an Off-Broadway show, which simply means that the seating capacity is between 100 and 499 people.

There are a number of Off-Broadway theaters in Times Square, like the New Victory Theater, New 42nd St. Theater, and the Westside Theatre. If you’re looking for things to do on 42nd Street in NYC, the first two theaters in that list fit the bill.

4. Eat Cookies Galore (Some For $1!)

No New York travel guide would be complete without discussing the local food.

Schmackary’s is heaven for cookie lovers, going way beyond chocolate chip. Self-proclaimed “cookie monster” Zachary Schmackary Schmahl lets his imagination run completely wild when coming up with his cookie recipes.

Today, his shop sells flavors like candied yam, maple bacon, funfetti, and a pumpkin-laced “Pick of the Patch”.

Schmackary's cookies things to do in times square
Schmackary’s day-old cookies. Still yummy (and cheap!). Photo via Jessie Festa.

Additionally, there are “Schmackaroons,” krispie treats, shakes, bars, and brownies  all made in innovative flavors using fresh Hudson Valley milk.

You can also snag a deal: just $1 for the still-delicious day-old cookies.

5. Sip On Craft Cocktails

There is no shortage of great cocktail bars in Times Square:

Tanner Smith’sDutch Freds, Lantern’s Keep, and, my personal favorite, The Rum House  a cozy rum bar offering a boozy retreat from bustling Times Square.

Tucked away inside the Hotel Edison, it’s an intimate space accented by wood and copper that features an enticing menu.

While you can’t go wrong with a “Moscow Mule” made with homemade ginger beer, my personal favorite is the “Tortuga” showcasing El Dorado 8-Year Rum, citrus, fresh ginger, and cinnamon for something bright yet warming (especially good if you’re visiting New York in winter).

Another drink to try is the “Rum Old Fashioned” that swaps in Brugal Anejo Rum for the typical bourbon.

While their happy hour offers discounted drinks, if you come in the evening you’ll enjoy live jazz and piano music, too. This helps to make visiting one of the most fun things to do in Times Square at night!

6. Enjoy Latte Art At Its Finest

Looking for the most Instagrammable places in New York City?

Frisson Espresso is a cozy coffee shop just outside the bustle of 7th and 8th avenues. Drinks feature gorgeous latte art, with a few paintings by Adrian Hashimi adding an artsy twist.

It’s a great spot to curl up with some fun travel stories, too!

Tip: If youve never had a canele, make sure to try one here. Its a French custard pastry laced with rum and vanilla, almost like creme brulee with a flan texture.

Frisson Espresso things to do in times square
Latte and canele at Frisson Espresso. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Craving something healthy? Attached is Fresh From Hell, a smoothie and salad cafe with a name that plays on the Hells Kitchen neighborhood (which Times Square connects with).

7. Take In The Views From A Times Square Rooftop

Looking for fun things to do in Times Square with kids? Beasts & Butterflies is a rooftop restaurant and bar offering beautiful views over Times Square. Best of all, it’s open to patrons of all ages.

Another rooftop not to miss is St. Cloud Rooftop, a stylish rooftop atop the luxury Knickerbocker Hotel. This option is for adults only, and features a private cigar lounge, too.

Both of the above rooftop bars offer delicious food as well as indoor and outdoor seating for year-round fun!

8. Visit Mexico Through Food

Los Tacos No. 1 is a hidden gem of an eatery right in Times Square. It serves up fresh and flavorful street-style tacos made with high-quality ingredients, from the house-made corn tortillas to the spit-roasted pork.

Some top options include the carne asada (grilled steak), adobada (marinated pork), pollo (chicken), and, my personal favorite, nopal (grilled cactus). Pair with a Mexican soda for the perfect meal.

By the way, if you’re on a solo trip to NYC, this is a great spot to dine on your own as the eatery features shared standing tables for you to eat communally.

Local tip: As the tacos here are delicious, don’t be surprised to find a line out the door. I’d recommend going at an off time to avoid this.

9. Eat Pizza In A Historic Church

One activity that is a must-do in Times Square is savoring some pizza at John’s of Times Square, an eatery located in the former Gospel Tabernacle Church, which opened in 1881.

Today, you can still take in the stained glasses windows and ceiling as well as the church’s balcony-level seating.

Just make sure to come hungry, as they only serve pizza by the pie (not the slice).

10. Eat NYCs Cutest Pastries

Seriously, do you see my strawberry shortcake? It was super tasty, too.

things to do in times square bibble & sip
Strawberry shortcake from Bibble & Sip. Photo via Jessie Festa.

The alpaca-themed Bibble & Sip serves up quality coffees with creative pastries like matcha cream puffs, everything bagel croissants, and chocolate chip cookie brownies, all made fresh daily.

Why alpacas? Simply because the founder thinks they’re awesome!

In my opinion, Bibble & Sip is one of the most Instagrammable cafes in NYC.

11. Enjoy Views & Free Events In Bryant Park

Known as Manhattan’s Town Square, Bryant Park is a 9.6-acre park known for its relaxing atmosphere, free amenities like ping pong tables and reading rooms, and epic views of the Empire State Building.

Make sure to also check the park calendar, as you can frequently find free movies, yoga classes, juggling classes, chess matches, and more.

It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Times Square for free.

12. Shop For A Cause

Almost all of my clothing is bought from thrift stores, typically Vintage Monk and Buffalo Exchange in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Near Times Square, I absolutely love Housing Works Thrift.

housing works things to do in times square
Shopping at Housing Works. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Housing Works’ mission is to “end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain [their] efforts.” Profits from the thrift store help sustain their parent company nonprofit.

Bonus: they sell books and unique housewares, too! For any fellow-thrift shopper, this will quickly become one of your favorite things to do in Times Square New York.

13. Eat Your Way Around Hell’s Kitchen

When my tour guests ask me about the best places in Times Square for food, I let them know that for local restaurants, bars, and cafes they should make the less-than-10-minute walk over to 9th Avenue to explore Hell’s Kitchen.

This Manhattan neighborhood has long been known for its abundance of independent eateries. Just a few blocks away from the overpriced chain restaurants and tourist traps of Times Square, you will find plenty of choices for great local eats in Hell’s Kitchen.

Empanada Mama serves flavorful, filling Colombian food at affordable prices if you’re looking for a quick bite, while Totto Ramen is a counter-service restaurant where you can grab a bowl of ramen for lunch.

If you’re looking for a nicer spot for dinner, Guantanamera is a buzzing Cuban restaurant with live music on the weekends, while Il Melograno is a neighborhood favorite serving home-cooked Sicilian fare.

14. Shop For Affordable Art

Sure, nearby Chelsea is home to over 300 mainly high-end galleries; though just one avenue from Times Square you’ll find Fountain House Gallery.

Here, walls are covered in colorful modern works for less than $100 as part of their annual “Small Works: $100 & Under” program.

fountain house things to do in times square
Photo via Fountain House Gallery. Photo via Jessie Festa.

What’s really awesome about this gallery is they’re also a nonprofit dedicated to making mental health a priority. In fact, the art is created by artists living with mental illness, confronting stereotypes and stigma surrounding it.

Additionally, two blocks away sits Jadite Galleries, showcasing contemporary works since 1985.

15. Learn About Mental Health Through Street Art

Okay, so this was a bit further out as it’s located on 34th and 9th, but it’s only a 15-minute walk and is one of the more interesting things to do near Times Square NYC.

Part of the Mural Arts Project an initiative of the New York City Health Department and the Fund for Public Health the installation seeks to de-stigmatize mental health issues.

Interestingly, the above-mentioned Fountain House Gallery and artist Andrew Frank Baer are the ones who created these first Manhattan installations.

The message: “Some days I have to push myself to go outside and walk to the park. Say hello! We can embrace ourselves and open doors together.”

things to do in times square street art
This mural helps raise awareness about mental health issues. Photo via Jessie Festa.

According to Street Art NYC, the Fountain House Gallery hosted workshops where community members were able to sketch out the murals, allowing them to be a part of their neighborhood.

In my opinion, this is one of the best free things to do in Times Square.

16. Get Inspired By Unique Gifts

Delphinium Home may be just a six-minute walk from the heart of Times Square, but it feels like a country cottage with a creative keeper.

When I visited last time, the window displayed pastel Post-Its showcasing Love Always Wins thoughts.

Inside, you’ll find quirky presents like a cat-shaped omelet mold, journals with prompt pages, funny cards, and Golden Girls devotional candles. It’s one of the coolest places to visit in Times Square.

17. Get Caffeinated On The Cheap

Looking for cheap things to do in Times Square? Here’s one my fellow budget hunters will love: at Corvo Coffee, everything from the lattes to the muffins is $2.

things to do in times square corvo coffee
Corvo Coffee. Photo via Jessie Festa.

I think the picture pretty much says it all.

18. Enjoy Boozy Brunch At Lilly’s Craft and Kitchen

Looking to enjoy the best boozy brunch in NYC? One top spot is Lilly’s Craft and Kitchen, where on Saturdays and Sundays you can add bottomless brunch for $26 and the purchase of one entree.

A few standout selections include the Breakfast Quesadilla with avocado, cheddar, pepper jack, tomatoes, scrambled eggs, chips, and salsa as well as the Salmon Benedict featuring Nova-Scotian smoked salmon.

More of a night owl? Those looking for things to do in NYC after midnight will love that Lilly’s is open until 4am daily!

19. Pair Your Meal With A Song At Ellen’s Stardust Diner

If you are looking for activities in Times Square for kids, don’t miss Ellen’s Stardust Diner. While it is admittedly touristy, and you may need to wait in line, it’s a great place for families to have lunch or dinner near Times Square.

This 1950s-style diner is famous for its singing waitstaff. Most of the servers are professional performers who belt out classic Broadway tunes as they take your order and serve your food.

singing waitstaff at Ellen's Stardust Diner in Times Square NYC
At Ellen’s Stardust Diner, the waitstaff also perform for you. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Kids and adults alike will get a kick out of the entertainment, especially when the waiters jump on top of the booths to continue their singing and dancing performance.

Not only is it a fun and lively atmosphere, the food at Ellen’s Stardust Diner is also good and the menu contains plenty of kid-friendly options that will suit even the pickiest of eaters. Make sure to save room for dessert, too!

20. Have A Modern Diner Experience At Times Square Diner

Love diners but want to do without the lines and singing? Times Square Diner is a delicious pick! This unassuming but delicious eatery serves up giant stacks of pancakes, homemade burgers, decadent desserts, and other classic diner fare in a super clean and modern space (no 1950s theme here!).

If you feel like imbibing, you can also order alcohol from beer to boozy milkshakes.

Bonus: The menu is reasonably priced, too!

21. Explore Times Square At Night Through Your Camera

Looking to visit New York City Times Square at night? On an NYC After Dark Photography Tour, you’ll explore Times Square with a local photographer, who will teach you how to take stunning evening photos.

In fact, you’ll learn both flash photography and long-exposure photography techniques for truly unique photos!

photography is one of the best things to do in Times Square at night
Photographing Times Square at night is fun experience. Photo via wsfurlan for Getty Images Signature via Canva Pro.

22. Catch A Drunk Shakespeare Performance

If you’re looking for something quirky and fun to do in Times Square, attending a Drunk Shakespeare performance is guaranteed to be a good time.

As you might be able to infer by the name, this is a rowdy and highly entertaining show where one of the professional actors downs five shots of whiskey before attempting to perform Shakespeare.

You definitely have never seen Shakespeare done like this before!

23. Sit In On A Show Taping

Many popular daytime and nighttime television talk shows film in studios in and around Times Square. And the best part is, you can snag free tickets to sit in the audience for a taping!

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon are just a few examples of shows that you can attend.

Each show has an option to request free tickets to sit in the audience, usually through the television network’s website.

For best chances, be flexible with your dates and request tickets as far in advance as possible.

24. Have A Midnight Moment

One of the coolest things to see in Times Square is the Midnight Moment, the world’s largest and longest-running digital public art program.

electronic billboards showcasing contemporary art during the Midnight Moment in Times Square New York City
Enjoying the Midnight Moment in Times Square. Photo: Seribisognaesserlo via Wikimedia Commons.

Every night from 11:57pm to midnight, more than 92 electronic billboards showcase the work of contemporary artists. It’s a truly unique experience!

25. Take In Amazing Times Square Views From A Helicopter

If you’re looking to book a Manhattan skyline tour that allows you to see the city from above, a New York City helicopter tour is a must.

And if you’re looking to take in the beauty of Times Square specifically, opt for a City Lights Skyline Experience.

On your 25-30 minute flight, you’ll take in iconic NYC attractions like the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, and Times Square illuminated at night. It’s a truly special experience that will likely be the highlight of your trip to NYC.

26. Check Out The Best Bookstores Near Times Square NYC

If you love books, don’t miss the best bookstores around Times Square.

The Strand, a New York City literary institution, has a small outpost in Times Square. You can’t miss their bright red kiosk where you can stop and browse for books. (Their larger location further downtown is worth a visit too!)

Close to Bryant Park, you can find Kinokuniya, known for its expansive collection of Japanese books, manga, and other media.

Bookoff is another bookstore near Times Square, this one offering used books at great discounts.

By the way, if you’re looking for things to do when it rains in NYC, getting cozy with a new novel at a local bookstore is a great option!

visiting The Strand is one of the best things to do in Times Square NYC
The Strand Bookstore’s downtown location. Photo via Jessie Festa.

27. Personalize Your Own M&Ms

Okay, so this one is touristy, but even as a local, M&M’s World is a lot of fun. Featuring four floors of M&M’s merchandise, you can buy everything from clothing to home decor, not to mention limited-edition M&M flavors you can’t get elsewhere.

Possibly the best part is getting to personalize your own M&M’s with various colors and messages.

Still craving chocolate? Nearby, you can also visit Hershey’s Chocolate World, where the main highlight is getting to dig into enormous-sized versions of your favorite treats from a Hershey’s Double Chocolate S’more to a one-pound Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and even the World’s Largest Hershey’s Bar!

28. Swing The Night Away

If you like to dance, look no further than Swing 46, a lively jazz and swing club in the heart of Times Square. You’ll swing dance to live bands in a retro ambiance.

This spot is also a supper club, so plan to have dinner here too. You can dine a la carte, or opt for the $55 3-course pre-fixe menu.

Nearby, there is also a fun piano bar called Don’t Tell Mama if you’d like to continue enjoying live music in Times Square.

Best Tours In Times Square NYC

Looking to explore the many fun Times Square activities, check out the neighborhood on a local tour like:

➡️ Click here for a full list of Times Square activities & tours.

Hotels In Times Square NYC

After a day of exploring the many fun places to go in Times Square, rest your head at one of these top local hotels:

➡️ Click here for a full list of Times Square hotels.

And if you’re interested in living in a hotel in NYC, there are numerous extended-stay hotel options too!

Staying Connected While Exploring Times Square

So you know when youre wandering around trying to connect to free public WiFi but the service is shoddy? Or when your phone automatically connects you to weak public WiFi, making your connection super slow?

speedify vpn

Enter the sponsor of this post, Speedify, a VPN service that solves these issues by binding all available connections for the fastest possible speeds. It makes the perfect companion for exploring the many fun things to do in Times Square NYC.

Here’s a neat feature: You can choose how much of your data youd like Speedify to make use of:

speedify vpn

And because its a VPN, your data stays secure even when using unsecured hot spots. Unlike other VPNs where they vanish as soon as your WiFi signal does Speedify bonds to your 3G network until it can automatically link to another WiFi source.

While you’re out exploring the many fun things to do in New York’s Times Square, you’ll be able to connect Speedify with available LinkNYC hotspots, which are typically pretty wonky.

Getting set up with Speedify and LinkNYC is super easy: download the free app, set it up on your device, and choose a package.

You can try their limited free version or sign up for unlimited usage. Then, turn on Speedify with the touch of one button.

From there, you can connect a weak LinkNYChotspot, which bonds with Speedify to become faster. Within the Speedify app, you’ll be able to see it working. In fact, the app tells you how much of each connection it’s using.

You’ll also be able to choose a limit for your mobile carrier data so you never go over on your bill.

In short, it’s a smart tool for staying connected on your trip. This way, you’ll be able to look up what to do in Times Square whenever you need and can easily orient and navigate yourself, too.

Times Square New York subway
Waiting for the subway at Times Square. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Times Square, New York

Q) What is Times Square best known for?

Times Square is well-known for being one of the busiest pedestrian areas in the world and the hub of Broadway.

Q) Is Times Square worth a visit?

Yes, there is no visit to New York without exploring Times Square. It’s home to amazing attractions and restaurants.

Q) What is the best time to go to Times Square?

It depends on your preferences and what you would like to see. However, if you don’t want big crowds, go in the early morning or late at night.

Do you have other suggestions for unique and local things to do in Times Square?

Pin this things to do Times Square guide for later!

How to Explore Times Square (NYC) Like a Local

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Hi, I’m Steven, a Florida native, who left my career in corporate wealth management six years ago to embark on a summer of soul searching that would change the course of my life forever.

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