Rosheda Stephenson calls NYC and the Caribbean home. Her travel articles are meant to inspire passion, adventure and curiosity.
Exactly how or why Times Square got dubbed the center of the universe is uncertain. What is certain is that as one of the most-visited places on Earth, it pulsates with an energy that is hard to find anywhere else.
Neon billboards flashing day and night provide the background to the sound of daily crowds numbering into the hundreds of thousands and possibly representing all the nations on earth. They flock to the small area to see New York City’s mixture of traditional and unique entertainment that is irresistible to first-time visitors.
This list of 12 things to do in Times Square highlights the best the area has to offer.
1. See an Iconic NYC Play at Times Square's Broadway District
Perhaps the biggest reason to visit Times Square is to see one of the world’s iconic plays. Long recognized as the epicenter of the world’s theater scene, Times Square’s Broadway District is the only place to see the original plays that have been celebrated worldwide for decades.
Head to the Majestic Theater at 44th Street and 8th Avenue to see the exciting Phantom of the Opera that has been thrilling audiences for almost 30 years. For family fun, take the kids to see the emotional Lion King at the Minskoff Theater at the corner of Broadway Avenue and 45th Street.
Other Broadway favorites include Chicago (the Ambassador Theater at 49th and Broadway Streets) and Wicked (the Gershwin Theater at 51st and 8th Streets).
2. Get a Unique Caricature of Yourself From a Street Artist
Forget the cheesy t-shirts and baseball caps. Those looking for a unique NYC souvenir must try posing for a portrait from one of the many caricature artists scattered along Times Square’s busy streets.
Each artist has his own style so look at his portraits to get a feel of how your picture may turn out before paying the $5–10 fee. While all hilarious, past caricatures of myself have looked totally different. One exaggerated my eyes so much, I looked like I had alien saucers superimposed on my face, while another gave me a decided feline look that was pleasing and creepy at the same time.
3. See the World in Miniature at Gulliver’s Gate
Perhaps because I love travel, or maybe because great craftsmanship and art excite me, this is one of my favorite things to do in Times Square. See the whole world in two hours at this collection of superb replicas of many of the major world sites.
See the great architecture of the ancient worlds of the Middle East, the natural wonders of South America, Europe’s greatest cities, Asia's landmarks and of course the great New York City in small scale. The New York City replicas include small yellow cabs, skyscrapers illuminated with real lights and detailed replicas of some of NYC’s iconic buildings. The excellent rendition of the Grand Central Terminal is complete with trains and an exact reproduction of the terminal's architecture.
Just the artistry of the incredibly detailed models is worth the visit, but add the educational element of visiting the world in one day and this lesser-known attraction is a must in Times Square. Gulliver’s Gate is located at 44th Street and 7th Avenue. Plan a visit online.
4. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth at the Hersheys or M&M Chocolate Stores
If you have a sweet tooth or a chocolate addiction, the three floors of chocolate goodness in these two stalwarts of the chocolate world will feel like you died and went to heaven.
Located right across from each other at the corners of Broadway Avenue and 48 Street, Hershey’s Chocolate World and the M&M store both contain three floors filled with chocolate and chocolate memorabilia that the true chocolate lover will love perusing.
In addition to round balls of chocolate goodness, the M&M store offers M&M branded clothing, stuffed toys, mugs and the chance to personalize your chocolate. Right across the street, the Hershey’s store has all the Hershey’s favorites and more.
5. See the Odd at Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium
Those into oddities, horror movies and the strange will probably think this museum is the best thing to do in Times Square. Even if you aren’t interested in the macabre or scary, Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium should be an interesting way to spend an hour or two.
Apart from scary exhibits like shrunken, human heads in jars and Medieval Era torture instruments, there are also numerous displays featuring interesting and educational facts that the inquisitive visitor will enjoy adding to her mental list of conversation starters. Look out for facts on interesting people in history like the replica of the fattest man who ever lived (New Yorker, Walter Hudson who at his heaviest weighed 1600 pounds and had to be removed from his apartment with a forklift upon his death), a good baseball trivia section for the sport fanatic and an educational section on cockroaches.
Kids will love the room dedicated to Cheetos and comprised entirely of figures made from Cheetos and the dark tunnel game where laser beams are scattered through a scary dark tunnel which the player must finish without tripping on a beam! Plan your visit online.
6. People Watch at Duffy Square
Smack in the center of Times Square sits a small square area designed for sitting, people watching, eating or just taking in the invigorating energy of Times Square.
Duffy Square is named after Father Francis Duffy, a New York priest and soldier celebrated for his service in World War 1 and the Spanish American War. His monument sits in the middle of red, wrought iron chairs and tables and stadium seating where people from all over sit to gaze upon the flashy billboards or take in passersby.
Duffy Square is also the perfect place to stop for a rest and have a bite from any of the nearby casual food stands. Duffy Square occupies the two blocks between 45th and 47th Streets at the corner of Broadway Avenue.
If you are looking to visit other iconic spots in New York City, here are 17 relaxing things to do in Central Park and 11 things to do (and eat!) under the Brooklyn Bridge.
7. See the Latest Movie in Two of NYC’s Biggest Movie Theaters
Many movie lovers stop to see a new movie when they visit the U.S.A. Seeing the latest blockbuster movie is the perfect thing to do in Times Square Times because of its two mega movie theaters, the AMC and the Regal.
Between them, the AMC and Regal theaters show hundreds of movies weekly. Even more convenient is their location across from each other at the corners of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. Can’t find the movie you want at one theater? Just head across the street, for even more options. The theaters are in the busiest section of Times Square so give yourself enough time to get there for your movie.
8. See Celebrities in Wax at Madame Toussads
Bring your camera to the New York branch of the ever expanding Madame Toussad's for sculptures of American celebrities so realistic that you will have a hard time convincing your friends you didn’t really meet them. Marvel at the artistry and painstaking care put into making each sculpture look real.
If you have teens or 'tweens this is one the best things to do in Times Square with that age group because of the decidedly pop culture focus of the museum. Watch as they go crazy for the sculptures of iconic pop stars like Beyoncé, Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift. Be sure to plan for enough time as teens can end up spending hours snapping selfies in this museum!
Madame Toussads is located at 42nd and 8th Streets in an area where there is great shopping. Check out my Guide to Shopping in Times Square if shopping is on your agenda.
9. Eat American Food in Some of the Best Restaurants
New York City is undoubtedly one of those places where international cuisine plays a major role on the culinary scene. Everything from Ethiopian to Swedish food can be easily found in the city.
Times Square is no different, but those looking specifically for American food like steaks, burgers, pizzas and locally brewed beer will find an excellent selection stuffed into the small area. American chains like Five Guys Burgers, Hard Rock Café, Red Lobster and McDonald's are well represented.
More formal eateries can also be found, but these will take some planning as reservations need to be made months ahead in some cases. If you do choose to indulge yourself at one of Times Square's fine dining establishment, be sure to consider local favorites, Capital Grille and Aureole.
10. Eat Famous Cheesecake at Junior's Restaurant
It needs not be said that this restaurant serves lots more than cheesecake, but to New Yorkers the name Juniors is synonymous with cheesecake. There was a time when both locals and visitors to the city had to head to Brooklyn for a slice of the rich cheesecake that has induced many to break diets and new year’s resolutions.
Now, with the opening of the Broadway District branch in the middle of Times Square, the world’s best cheesecake is closer to those in Manhattan and has proven to be one of the few things in Times Square that New Yorkers would even brave the tourist crowds for.
Cheesecake lovers get to choose from more than 15 varieties of cheesecake that includes red velvet (my personal favorite) and carrot cake cheesecake. There is even a sugar-free version for diabetics and happy birthday versions.
For those who need to eat a meal before dessert there are American classics like burgers and steaks, and a bar. Juniors is located at the corner of Broadway and 45th Streets in the middle of some of Times Square's best shopping.
11. Discover New Artists at the Museum of Modern Art
Although technically located outside of Times Square, this celebrated space for both traditional and emerging ideas in the art world is close enough to Times Square to make walking from Times Square quite easy.
For art lovers, the Museum of Modern Art is one of the most interesting things to do in Times Square, but even if you aren’t that interested in art, this museum is an excellent way to get exposed to art in its many interpretations. The collections range from the works by immortalized artists like Cezanne and Matisse to newer names with novel ideas.
Speaking of Matisse, if you are a genuine lover of art, check out my article on the novel Grounds for Sculpture where reincarnations from Renoir, Monet, Manet and other Matisse contemporaries will fascinate those willing to take a one-hour day trip to nearby New Jersey.
The Museum of Modern Art is located just outside Times Square at 53rd Street and 5th Avenue.
12. See Standup Comedy at Carolines Comedy Club
From the time I first visited this comedy giant more than ten years ago to this day it has consistently served up the best, most interesting names in comedy and really good food. If you like stand-up comedy this really is the thing to do in Times Square.
The seating is very intimate so try to bring a group if you mind being seated in extremely close proximity to strangers. Food is a bit pricey, but all the items I've tried are surprisingly good. The chicken meals and the French fries are a must. As with establishments of this nature, there is a two-drink minimum once you enter the main area.
Did I Convince You to Do Any of The Things on This List?
Times Square is one of those places that the visitor to New York City should experience at least once. Happy Travels!
How to Get to All the Things to Do in Times Square
© 2017 Rosheda Stephenson
Laeee Williams on February 16, 2020:
These are not great recommendations.
Rosheda Stephenson (author) on August 19, 2017:
Thanks for the compliment Sasha. Do tell if you end up doing anything from this list!
Sasha Jasrain on August 09, 2017:
Nicely written! I loved reading about these activities and will definitely consider this the next time I travel to NYC!