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No family vacation to New York City would be complete without a visit to Times Square. The entertainment district is home to Broadway’s theaters, towering skyscrapers with illuminated billboards, tons of restaurants and crowds of tourists. Don’t be overwhelmed! Check out the things you’ll want to do in Times Square with kids…and the ones you don’t.
Lights! Action! Broadway!
Broadway’s theaters have reopened. Alleluia! Confession. I’m a Broadway addict and tried to feed my habit with a community theater production of The Odd Couple. While entertaining, it just wasn’t the same.
When the Broadway shows halted production, Times Square’s famous bright lights dimmed considerably. But now the city’s buzzing with excitement, even with mask and vaccine requirements.
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If your visit to NYC includes taking in one (or more!) Broadway shows, I suggest monitoring the TDF website. Established in 1968, TDF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the stage arts in New York. It opened the New Victory Theater in 1995, a performance space dedicated to kid-friendly entertainment. TDF operates the TKTS booths in the city, where you can purchase same-day discount tickets to many productions.
Read More: Free things to Do in NYC with kids.
Broadway Ticket Info
The flagship TKTS booth is located in the heart of Times Square, under the red steps (read on, if you’re curious), where Broadway, 7th Avenue and 46th and 47th streets converge, known as Duffy Square. Queue up early for the best selection. Undecided on what to see? Ask others on line what they’ve enjoyed.
If you’re a plan-ahead kind of traveler, buy tickets in advance. Disney’s kid-friendly favorites like The Lion King and Aladdin are sold via Ticketmaster. Another popular site is Telecharge. Alternatively, you can check out availability and seating charts at the theater box offices.
TDF constantly posts the latest information on openings, virtual performances, health and safety protocols and more. As of this writing, you must be vaccinated and masked to attend a Broadway show.
TravelingMom Tip: The area in and around the TKTS booth can be busy. Like insane busy. If you’re meeting family or friends, a popular spot to connect is the statue of Father Duffy, the Square’s namesake.
Beyond Broadway: Top Things to Do in Times Square
Get Your Sweet On at M&M’s World
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like M&Ms. A visit to M&M’s World will only deepen your affection. It’s a primary color assault on the senses. Visit all 3 floors and scope out the sale racks. My favorite part of the experience? I made a cup of custom Yankees-branded blue and white candies for my baseball-loving hubby using the store’s Personalized Printer.
TravelingMom Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we're traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.
Prefer your chocolate without the candy coating? Hershey’s Chocolate World is also in Times Square. Get a milkshake. Or a s’more. Ignore the calories and the worry about over-sugaring the kids. You can walk it off!
Broadway Up Close Walking Tour
Broadway Up Close offers six different theater district walking tours, including one that explores the rich history of New York’s performing arts that could excite a kid with acting dreams. A teen-friendly one focuses on ghostly legends. Got a “Hamilton” fan? You can walk in Alexander Hamilton’s New York footsteps.
I’ll be first in line for the company’s Hudson Up Close tour in January 2022 when it is expected to resume. The Hudson Theater is Broadway’s oldest and this tour takes you behind the curtains to see what goes on backstage.
Shop ‘Til You Drop in Times Square
Much of the action in Times Square is retail-oriented. Personally, I don’t love the shopping mall feel of Times Square. I prefer tiny, unique boutiques. But I’m definitely in the minority.
Many favorite teen-friendly brands have huge stores in and around Broadway, including Sephora, Express and Steve Madden. Although many brick and mortar Disney Stores have closed, the one in Times Square is open for business.
If the kids need a bunch of souvenirs to bring back to their friends, check out one of the many I Love NY gift shops in the area. Do you collect souvenir ornaments from your family travels? Christmas in New York has two locations in Times Square to help you find a NYC-themed decoration for your tree.
If you want something a little special, tuck down Shubert Alley which connects 44th and 45th streets. One Shubert Alley used to be the Booth Theater’s dressing room. It’s Broadway’s oldest gift shop and you’ll find a wonderful selection of theater-related goodies here, when they reopen in the fall.
Take a NYC Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tour
When I head to any European city for the first time, I always do a bus tour to orient myself. Don’t be embarrassed to hop aboard one in the USA. Big Bus Tours and TopView Sightseeing are two of the companies with a presence in Times Square.
Both offer different routes that include stops at many of Manhattan’s most famous tourist attractions, including the observation deck at the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, the Museum of Modern Art and the Statue of Liberty view from Battery Park.
The sales agents on the sidewalks can be overly enthusiastic. If you don’t like to feel like you’re being hustled, buy your tickets in advance online. And, if you’re planning on touring these attractions, consider purchasing a CityPASS for discounted admissions.
Who goes bowling in NYC? Bowlmor Lanes is not your average suburban alley. It’s broken up into small bowling nooks, dedicated to New York’s many neighborhoods. Central Park has a huge mural of the iconic Bow Bridge, while Chinatown has dozens of golden, waving Fortune Cat statues. There’s an arcade too. It’s fun family friendly spot if an afternoon rainstorm erupts.
If you need even more ways to entertain the kids, check out the wax figures at Madame Tussauds New York, the black hole at Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Dave and Buster’s. All 3 are right next to one another on W. 42nd Street.
If you’re looking for Gulliver’s Gate, which featured miniature models of New York’s famous landmarks, it closed permanently in 2021.
Be Part of a Live Studio Audience
Attending a live television production is a really fun thing to do when visiting New York. The Good Morning America studio is right in the heart of Times Square. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert tapes at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway and 53rd.
Ticket information, Covid protocols and additional FAQs are available on the ticketing website.
Cabaret and Comedy
If your kids are mature teens or young adults, consider including a nightclub show on your itinerary. It’s an opportunity to get dressed up for a night on the town.
Caroline’s, located on Broadway, is one of the most famous comedy clubs in America. Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Tim Allen all performed here before they were famous.
And Don’t Tell Mama on Restaurant Row features a piano bar, restaurant and cabaret spaces. Check the website to see who’s performing. And don’t hesitate to call them to gauge whether a performance is age-appropriate for your family.
The New Year’s Ball
The one place you never want to be, especially with kids, is Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Imagine the streets clogged with one million people, many who have been over-served. Watching the celebration on TV at home with friends and family is perfect for me. Unless of course I win the lottery. In which case, I’ll rent out a Times Square rooftop bar for the night of December 31st!
But, on any other day of the year, you’ll want to check out the famous ball. The Waterford crystal orb is permanently mounted at the top of One Times Square. If you’re facing the red steps, turn around and look up!
Museum of Broadway
You’ll have to wait until the summer of 2022 for this attraction, but you can sign up now for the latest updates. The Museum of Broadway will be an experiential museum that explores the history of theater in New York City and the most impactful stage productions through the years. It’s designed as an immersive experience with video projections to engage visitors.
People Watching in Times Square
Times Square was originally known as Longacre Square but was renamed after the New York Times in 1905 when the daily paper opened its new headquarters. The neighborhood, originally prosperous, deteriorated into a tawdry and crime ridden adult entertainment district after World War II. During the 1990s, government, business and community partnerships worked together to turn Times Square around.
According to the Times Square Alliance, on an average pre-Covid day, nearly 360,000 pedestrians enter Times Square. That makes for excellent people watching, one of the best free things to do in New York City.
And the best place to sit for a bit and watch the crowds ebb and flow is the red staircase that forms the backbone for the TKTS booth. Installed in 2008, the red steps are an iconic Instagram backdrop for your NYC selfie.
About those Cartoon Characters
Some of the people you’ll see in Times Square are costumed characters. On any given day, you might run into Spider-Man, Winnie the Pooh or Elmo. They’re ordinary citizens who have chosen to don plush suits and panhandle for tips by posing with tourists.
Remember. Times Square is NOT Disney World. And this isn’t a meet and greet. These costumes characters are creative panhandlers. They WILL expect money in return for the photo and can be aggressive if you don’t fork over some cash.
Decline an offer to pose for a photo and move along. There are uniformed police officers all over Times Square. If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, do not hesitate to request assistance.
Where is Times Square and How Do You Get There?
The heart of Times Square is the Bow Tie – 41st to 47th streets between 7th Avenue and Broadway. But the Times Square Alliance represents a district that extends from 40th to 53rd, from 6th to 8th avenues and throws in Restaurant Row – 46th Street between 8th and 9th avenues.
Getting to Times Square from Grand Central Terminal is super easy. Take the S train to the Times Square-42nd Street Station. It’s super walkable too and you’ll pass tourist attractions like Patience and Fortitude, the stone lions outside the New York Public Library, and Bryant Park (magical in winter with its Christmas market and ice skating rink).
Arriving by bus? Most major carriers, including Greyhound and Megabus, stop at the Port Authority Midtown Bus Terminal on W. 42nd Street.
Unless you must, don’t drive into Times Square. The Bow Tie area is closed to vehicular traffic. This creates a wonderful piazza for pedestrians but pushes traffic to other midtown Manhattan streets. You’ll creep along as the traffic signals pass from green to yellow to red and back again and again, causing significant agitation as it gets closer and closer to your Broadway show time. When you finally get to a parking garage, the staggering prices might make you faint.
My kids’ memories of our trips to Times Square include the sailor-worthy cursing rants of the driver. Until recently, we lived in one of NY’s suburbs without regular train service into Manhattan. So we had to drive into the city. And, no matter how early we left the house, we always ended up in a traffic creep.
When it’s Time to Eat
Look beyond the familiar chain restaurants, like the Hard Rock Cafe, in Times Square. You’re in New York City! Much as I love the riblets at Applebee’s, I can get those anywhere. There are lots of restaurants in Times Square. Many are iconic NYC restaurants. Here are a few of my favorite eateries.
Junior’s Restaurant & Bakery
Famous for its cheesecake, Junior’s has been serving comfort food since the 1950s. Decorated in an orange and white, Creamsicle palette, you’ll find it hard not to smile when you slip into one of the retro booths. Prices are very reasonable by New York standards. My go-to open face Tuna Melt is $13.50.
Ask 10 people who just got back from NYC where they ate and it’s likely that 7 of them will say “Carmine’s.” It’s that popular and, fortunately, it’s that good. The family-style Italian entrees are massive and the service is friendly. The restaurant underwent a Covid renovation and reopened in September 2021.
Lillie’s Victorian Establishment
There are a number of Irish pubs in Times Square including Connolly’s and O’Donoghue’s. They’re reliable. When you want something that’s a little bit extra, head to Lillie’s. Named for the turn of the century actress Lillie Langtry, the restaurant’s packed full of antiquities shipped from a Belfast mansion. Kids can play “I Spy” while waiting for the classic pub faire to arrive.
A pressed Cuban sandwich is always a yummy treat. Get one at Havana Central. Pair it with a mojito and you’ll be refreshed and ready to tackle whatever’s next on your NYC sightseeing list.
Almost all of the Broadways shows start at the same time. What that means is that the restaurants experience a crush of theatergoers. Don’t want to miss your curtain? It’s important to let your server know that you’re heading to a show.
I’ve included Virgil’s here because the restaurant produced solid BBQ for me and my sister one matinee Saturday within minutes of ordering because we were pressed for time. Love them for it.
TravelingMom Tip: Check out Virgil’s BBQ wings recipe!
Want an elevated dining experience when visiting Times Square? Head to Restaurant Row – 46th Street between 8th and 9th avenues. It’s lined with restaurants and brownstone residences and trees and feels a world away from the neon lights.
Hold Fast is one of the newest restaurants to open, while Joe Allen’s is a classic. Its walls are decorated with posters from Broadway’s flops.
Should You Stay in Times Square?
It’s loud. And crowded. But wonderful. If your stay in NYC is brief, consider staying at one of the hotels in Times Square. You’ll be right in the middle of the action. Plus, access to the subway puts the rest of New York within easy reach for day trips to other neighborhoods.
Here are some of the Times Square hotels to consider.
Margaritaville Resort Times Square
Did you skip your traditional beach vacation to travel to New York City? Stay at the Margaritaville resort in Times Square to inject an island vibe into your family trip. The property opened in 2021 and includes a Landshark Bar and Grill next to the outdoor pool.
The Westin New York at Times Square
Use your Marriott Bonvoy reward points at this Marriott property. It’s a pet-friendly hotel (for dogs up to 40 pounds) and offers free cribs for use at the hotel.
Additional Places to Stay Near Times Square
There are lots of options for hotel stays near Times Square, including vacation rentals. Check out our favorite NYC hotels for families, or use this interactive map to help you find a place to stay in the area.