Forty-seven million people visited Times Square in 2008—making the New York City crossroads the most popular tourist destination not only in the United States, but in the entire world. Sometimes, in fact, it feels like all 47 million are there at once.
When I first moved to NYC nearly nineteen years ago (gee, I’m old) Times Square was still swarming with adult “bookstores” and crack vials in the gutters. Broadway theatergoers tried to overlook the eyesores and stayed within the acceptable boundaries. There weren’t many megastores (if any) or restaurants that you’d want to bring your family into. But that’s changed.
Through the 1990′s, thanks in part to a mayor named Rudy and a mouse named Mickey, Times Square transformed. (Actually, although Rudy and Mickey get some credit, it took the work of far more people and organizations to make this happen—like the Times Square Alliance and The New 42nd Street.)
A couple of months ago, another transformation occurred in Times Square. Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg closed the intersection to traffic to create a huge pedestrian mall. The move was meant to improve traffic patterns on streets and overcrowded sidewalks. (Trust me, until you’ve tried to get back to your office through Times Square on a busy tourist day, you haven’t really experienced sidewalk traffic.) Streets are also closed to vehicles about ten blocks downtown in Herald Square near Macy’s flagship store.
The street closings are planned at least through the summer. And the City has even brought in lawn chairs for seating. (With so many New Yorkers even taking to the new setup, the problem now is finding a free chair. If you can’t find a seat, think of it as a museum or zoo where you can stroll around and gawk at the locals.)
So, now that Times Square is even more attractive to tourists, what is there for a family to do? The possibilities are almost endless, but here are a few favorites.
See a show! Offerings for kids on Broadway have exploded in the past couple of decades. Not only are there Disney productions, but tweens and teens especially have taken to musicals like Wicked and Shrek. For a complete and up-to-date list, check out (what else?) Broadway.com. For shows that aren’t immediately selling out, discount tickets are even possible through TKTS booths at South Street Seaport, in Brooklyn, and right in Times Square.
Shop! I don’t want to make any generalizations, but if you’ve got a female in your group, you know a vacation is likely to include shopping. Times Square has everything from souvenir shops to megastores. My seven year-old daughter’s favorites are Toys R Us—which has a three-story indoor ferris wheel and a two-story Barbie department—and M&M’s World—where you can choose from about ninety bazillion colors (maybe I’m exaggerating, maybe I’m not).
Eat! New York has some of the best (and maybe the greatest variety) of restaurants in the world. To be honest, most of them aren’t in Times Square. But the world’s crossroads does have some great offerings too. If you like Italian, New York is the place to get it. In Times Square, try Carmine’s for its huge family servings. Or check out Ellen’s Stardust Diner for singing waiters and a gallery of Miss Subway photos.
Times Square is packed with activity every day of the year—some more than others—and there’s a huge range of things to see and do for any age, taste or budget. For more, go to the official website of Times Square. But don’t get too caught up in the speed of things. Be sure to take some time to just people-watch the other tourists and locals too—that’s part of the fun.