For most New Yorkers, Times Square is avoided at all costs. It’s loud, chaotic, packed to the gills, and between the lights and the billboards, nearly seizure inducing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater. I think that’s true for anyone living in a city with a big tourist attraction, the locals rarely visit.
For travelers, it’s too iconic to ignore, and once inside, it’s like a car crash, you can’t look away. It’s an absolute must for photography lovers, there’s always something going on that will inspire a few pictures or ten.
Last weekend, I decided to venture back into the fray and shoot for a few hours to practice my black and white photography. The night was oppressively hot but the action was in high gear. I was thinking about a friend from Australia who’s coming into town next month and has Times Square high on her “must-see” list. It occurred to me—as I did my best to weave through the dense crowd without getting stepped on—that a brief primer might be in order for those who’ve never been.
And voilà! I bring you – The Good, The Bad and the “Eww” of Times Square.
People watching: it’s probably one of the best places in the world to immerse yourself in the raucous, whimsical, crazy drama that is life. Over the years I’ve witnessed proposals, marriages, break ups, spectacular toddler meltdowns, knock-down-drag-out family fights, amazing street performances and artists, and a variety of star-studded events. (I should point out that my office was in Times Square for nearly seven years). You never know what you’ll find and you’ll never be bored. And, of course, there’s New Year’s Eve, which I only watch on TV because it’s just too cold, but obviously, a bazillion other people do not agree with me.
- Tip: If you’d rather watch all the action than stroll through it, there are two great places to kick back. 1. At Broadway between 42nd and 43rd streets, you’ll find small tables and chairs at the ready. 2. On Duffy Square, at the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue above the TKTS booth, are ruby-red, glass steps that can fit, according to the New York Times, up to 1300 people at a time.
A unique world view: People call the United States a melting pot and in the few blocks that make up Times Square it couldn’t be any more true. Russian, French, Spanish, Portugese and Chinese, were just a few of the languages I overheard during a recent 10 minute walk through what is always an incredibly diverse and interesting crowd.
- Tip: Give yourself plenty of time to wait in line.
You’ll never go hungry: From street vendors to gourmet food trucks and restaurants galore, you’ll have no problem satisfying even the most exotic craving. Restaurant Row, on 49th between Broadway and Ninth Avenue, offers an array of global cuisines perfect for pre-theater dining. A few of my favorite Time Square haunts include Osteria Al Doge, Brooklyn Diner, Orso, and for those looking for a nice bar (though pricey) and great American cuisine, try The Lamb’s Club.
Kids love it: There’s no doubt your kids will be dazzled by all the action, lights and activity. Stores like Disney, Hershey’s Chocolate World and Toys R Us, the latter with an indoor Ferris wheel, will also delight. If they love Elmo, Hello Kitty, Superman and the like—and really, what child doesn’t? You’ll find a bevy of costumed characters milling about who’ll jump at the chance to take pictures with your little darlings. (See also “The Bad.”)
Big screen action: Revlon’s “Loveison” (Love Is On) jumbotron on the corner of 43rd and Broadway is a major attraction. Crowds gather to wave and holler at the camera excited to see themselves on the big screen. It’s hysterical to watch.
Camera friendly: At night, areas in Times Square are so bright you don’t need a tripod, which is perfect because without a permit you can’t use one anyway.
There are a lot of people. Seriously. A lot: In good weather the crowds can be overwhelming. Keep small children close. With so much going on it’s easy to become separated. (Tip: There’s an NYPD sub station next to the subway at Broadway and Seventh Avenue. If you need help, they’re close by )
What personal space?: There is little respect for personal space in Times Square, you will inevitably get bumped or shoved. Not in a dangerous fashion necessarily, more in an I’m-so-mesmerized-by-Times-Square-I’m-not-looking-where-I-am-going, kind of way. If you have mobility issues you might want to stay in one of the seating areas noted above.
Selfie Central: Since it’s not a personal fancy of mine I’m somewhat biased on the subject of selfies. If you’re one of the vast number of people who love it, Time Square will be your Valhalla. You’ll join hundreds of people—often at the same time— vying for the perfect shot. Tip: Be careful not to get beheaded by someone’s selfie stick.
Cranky Elmos: Some of the people who dress up like Elmo and other fantasy characters throw their arms around your shoulders as if you’re a long-lost friend, and offer to take a picture with you. Beware, they expect you to pay for the pleasure, and if you take a photo without paying them they can get testy. Signs throughout Times Square clearly state that tipping street performers is at your discretion, so don’t let them tell you otherwise. (On the flip side: if you ask Hello Kitty to pose with your family, a tip is a nice gesture.)
I think this is pretty self-explanatory…