What to Eat, See, and Do in Times Square in NYC

Post-lockdown, its neon lights and frenetic vibe have become a welcome reminder of why we love this city so much.

Times Square
Times Square | Sam/Flickr
Times Square | Sam/Flickr

Love it or hate it, everybody knows of this 5-block stretch sometimes referred to as the “Crossroads of the World”—and that’s what makes it so legendary.

Named in 1904 after the New York Times Building that once resided on 42nd Street, Times Square runs between 42nd and 47th Streets and Broadway/Seventh Avenue in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. As a major transportation hub to many MTA subway lines and the nearby Port Authority Bus Terminal, Grand Central Terminal, and New York Penn Station, its central location and proximity to landmarks like Central Park, Macy’s, and Rockefeller Center is also what helps attract up to 370,000 pedestrians a day.

Throughout its history, Times Square has undergone many transformations. But in our current post-lockdown times, where many patches of the city continue to remain empty since the start of the pandemic, the blinding neon lights and frenetic energy of Times Square have become a go-to place that serve as a reminder of why we love New York City so much.

Whether you’re heading here for the iconic New Year’s Eve ball drop or are just in need of a general mood boost, here’s what to eat, see, and do in Times Square in NYC.

Times Square
Dan Perez/Flickr

Spend hours in this pedestrian-friendly zone while taking selfies and basking in street entertainment

Thanks to years of city planning with the goal of decreasing vehicular traffic, Times Square has become a pedestrian's paradise.

The area is littered with outdoor furniture like tables, chairs, and benches—along with the iconic TKTS red steps—that encourages limitless chilling and people-watching. Get ready to easily spend hours here, and at any given time of day or night, chances are, there are street performances and open-air entertainment of some kind happening as well.

Be sure to try out different selfie backdrops with both the north and south of Times Square in the background. And when it comes to all of those superheroes and costume characters hanging around, be warned: tips are highly encouraged when taking a photo with them (aka it is not free and they will demand it).

Hadestown on Broadway
Hadestown on Broadway | Photo by Matthew Murphy

Experience world-renowned culture via Broadway musicals, comedy clubs, and more

Beyond the vibe and people-watching of Times Square, there are definitely more ways to soak in some culture.

One quintessential experience is standing in line at the TKTS Booth to secure discounted tickets to the hottest Broadway musicals and shows. Some additional hacks on snagging cheap Broadway tickets include lining up at nearby box offices for standing room passes. After you’ve watched a show, be sure to check out the newly-opened Museum of Broadway.

For some laughs, head to the premier comedy nightclub, Carolines on Broadway, before it closes its doors at the end of the year. Madame Tussauds New York is home to five floors of wax figures and the largest animatronic exhibit in NYC, Face Off with King Kong. For a good-hearted scream, RiseNY offers full-motion, 180-degree simulation rides and more. And for bowling, arcades, billiards, and interactive games, there’s the 90,000-square-foot Bowlero.

Mermaid Oyster Bar
Mermaid Oyster Bar | Photo by Alex Staniloff

Dine at sole Big Apple locations of chain restaurants alongside chef-driven eateries and hot dog carts galore

When it comes to iconic NYC street food, there’s perhaps no place better for ordering from a hot dog cart or enjoying some pretzels or roasted nuts. But for a bit more sustenance, choose from an array of eateries that showcase both big-named chains and chef-driven menus.

For local institutions, the area is home to branches of Carmine’s for heapings of Southern Italian dishes meant for sharing and Junior’s for their signature cheesecake and diner eats.

Times Square also has the only Bubba Gump Shrimp Co in town and the sole Olive Garden within Manhattan. The popular Filipino fast food chain, Jollibee, recently debuted their flagship location here as well, and Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a classic must-try known for their singing waitstaff.

When it comes to menus backed by notable restaurant groups and names, Mermaid Oyster Bar is a seafood favorite (be sure to check out their happy hour deals); Los Tacos 1 is popular for their Mexican offerings within a fast-casual setting; Lagos Restaurant & Lounge serves Nigerian fare in a high-energy, multi-level space; The Lambs Club with contemporary American cuisine from chef Michael White offers a classic leather-banquette experience; NYY Steak is a stellar steakhouse with a baseball and Yankees theme; Ichiran is great for slurping ramen and solo-eating within their Ramen Focus Booths; Peachy Keen is super fun and playful with a ‘70s concept; Café d'Avignon at The Moxy Hotel fulfills any coffee and baked bread needs; and the new Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips from the famed chef is a British pub with seafood, chips, and nostalgic milkshakes.

If you’re open to exploring nearby neighborhoods, the exciting restaurant lineup at Rockefeller Center has become one of the hottest new food destinations in town, and there’s always pre- and post-show dining options within the Theater District.

When it comes to grabbing a drink, head to the Irish pub, Connolly’s for a pint; RT60 Rooftop Bar atop the Hard Rock Hotel New York for drinks and sky-high views; the dive, Jimmy’s Corner; O’Donoghue’s for beers on tap and flat screen televisions; and the R Lounge at the Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel for a front-row seat of the heart of Times Square.

Hershey's Chocolate World (Times Square)
Hershey's Chocolate World (Times Square)

Shop for I ❤️ NY souvenirs and unnecessarily big (and over-priced) candy bars

Being in a Times Square state of mind means dropping some bucks on over-priced souvenirs that you can attach, “I bought it in Times Square,” when gifting.

Along with general gift shops and outlets of big retail chains like Muji, H&M, and Sephora, there are multi-story, decked-out locales of the Disney Store, Hershey Chocolate World, M&M World, and more for a Time Square-centric experience.

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Tae Yoon was born and raised in Queens, and is the Senior Editor of Thrillist New York.