When you think of New York, certain images come to mind — the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Times Square. New York's Times Square, with its lights and iconic signs, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in New York and with good reason. It is a bustling and exciting family-friendly pedestrian zone filled with theaters, restaurants, shopping and museums as well as many sights fun for kids and adults alike. Tad and Lily were toadally wide-eyed the first time we set foot in Times Square, and I remember feeling that way too. Here's what to expect and how to get around Times Square with tadpoles in tow!
How Times Square Came to Be
This Midtown New York Neighborhood has been called “The Center of the Universe,” “The Great White Way” and “The Crossroads of the World.” But it wasn't always that way!
Back in its early days, the area was known for carriage-making and was surrounded by countryside used for farming and breeding horses. At the beginning of the 19th century, many lots were sold off for hotels and other uses as the city rapidly grew, spreading uptown. The end of the 19th century brought the electric lights, theaters and restaurants, and much of that is what we see today. Times Square was originally known as Longacre Square but was renamed in 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters there. The name stuck even after the paper moved in 1913.
The first New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square occurred December 31, 1904, and the first “ball drop” that has become part of many of our New Years Eve celebrations was introduced in 1907. After the Great Depression and into the second half of the 20th century, the area became much seedier and was definitely not an area to take your children. In the 1990s, the State of New York set out to clean up Times Square and restored its historic theaters. Then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani helped get it cleaned up and make it more family friendly.
Getting to Times Square
There are plenty of options for getting to Times Square. And while driving yourself is an option, it's not one we recommend. Parking is at a premium and expensive even at hotels. It's easy to get to Times Square on the subway. There is a large subway station — the 42nd Street station. You can take B, D, F, M, Q, N, R, 1, 12, 3, 7, or S lines there. Cabs and car services can get you there as well. Times Square is also a popular destination on the various tour buses in NYC, and the Port Authority for city buses is within walking distance. We have more transportation tips in our post on getting around New York City safely with kids, but we find the subway is often the fastest and more affordable away to get around.
Getting Around in Times Square
You will probably notice that it is not square shaped, so think if of more as a town square than a geometrical square. Broadway runs right through it from 42nd street to 50th. In 2009 Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a remapping of traffic on Broadway in Times Square to transform the area into several pedestrian plazas. This makes it safer for families and all pedestrians. You’ll still need to cross some streets, but your interaction with cars is more limited than it once was. In these pedestrian zones you’ll find street performers, musicians, actors promoting their shows, restaurants, food stands, seating and more. It is fun to ride on the wobbly chairs with the kids or lounge on other modern seating while eating a hotdog from a cart or a slice of NY pizza and people watching.
Be aware that the people dressed in costumes who pose for pictures with you expect some compensation for those photos. The zones are surrounded by electric signs, stores and more sensory overload than you can imagine in terms of sights, sounds, smells and tasty treats.
Notable Sights in Times Square
Day and night there is plenty to see — Times Square is hopping 24-7! You'll definitely want your camera to capture the iconic billboards and hustle and bustle! Right in the middle of Times Square between 46th and 47th is the famous TKTS booth, where you can acquire same-day tickets to certain Broadway Shows. You can’t miss it behind the red stadium seating below the famous Coca-Cola light-up sign.
Nearby, you can find the Times Square Visitors Center at 46th and Broadway as well as the Virgin Megastore. ABC’s Studios are between 43rd and 44th. Good Morning America is broadcast live from Times Square, and that can be a lot of fun for the whole family. The New York Times building is on 43rd. At 43rd and Broadway you will find the famous Nasdaq Marketsite. There are theaters all throughout Times Square. The restaurants are open late in this city that never sleeps.
The tadpoles will get a kick out of Hershey’s Times Square and M&M World on Broadway. You can find both Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Madam Tussaud’s off 42nd. If you have Disney fans with you, be sure to check out any magical events that may be hoppening at The Disney Store, from learning the art of drawing to testing your trivia knowledge to parades, show times and story times. Discovery Times Square Museum features limited time educational and immersive exhibits. Comic book fans will love Midtown Comics, right off the strip.
A few blocks away from Times Square is Rockerfeller Center (where they produce the Today Show). You might get a thrill from seeing 30 Rock. Your kids will love the nearby Lego Store and Nintendo World. You can take in the sites of the city below from the observation deck at Top of the Rock.
With so many street vendors, you'll never go hungry. But you might be surprised to learn there are some great, non-touristy restaurants in Times Square. Carmine's and John's Pizzeria, housed in a former church, are favorite Italian spots. Westway Diner offers kid-friendly dining and serves breakfast all-day. There is also Asian, Mexican, steak and even barbecue!
Where to Stay in Times Square
There are many hotels in the heart of the Time Square area. We personally prefer staying in less busy areas, but If you plan to spend a lot of time in Times Square, seeing shows or visiting restaurants, staying nearby can cut down on your travel expenses. You may be able to save money on an NYC hotel by staying at a hotel a few blocks away yet still within walking distance of Times Square. Some of our favorite hotels in or near Times Square are Tryp Times Square South, Even Hotel Times Square South, Hilton Garden Inn NY West 35 Street and Distrikt Hotel New York City. If you plan to see some late Broadway shows with kids, staying in or near Times Square can be much more convenient and easier than transporting them far late at night. (Check out all of our recommended and favorite New York City hotels before you book!)
Our family toadally loves the energetic vibe of Times Square and all the things to see and do there. If you are planning to visit The Big Apple with your tadpoles, put Times Square on your must-do list. If you have visited Times Square with kids and have any tips or suggestions, be sure to shore them in the comments section below.
Related: Tips for Visiting NYC with Kids