There are three kinds of people who encounter the famous Times Square: NYC Locals, frequent visitors, and tourists.
If you're a local or a frequent visitor to NYC, you've been to Times Square countless times and you usually want to avoid it at all costs and just get where you need to be. But sometimes, you find yourself spending more time there than you usually do, like when friends who aren't locals come to visit. You'll reluctantly show them around, point out Madame Tussaud's, the giant Sephora store, the "big red steps", eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, and try to avoid looking at the topless women walking around in exotic outfits. (@ Tourists, yes you read that correctly.) If that was spot on, then look no further for better things to do, because you came to the right blog post!
Now on the other hand, if you're a tourist, Times Square is something like Disney World. There is no other place quite like it, and there's so much to do and see that you have to experience it at least once in your life. Gigantic stores, characters of all sorts, occasional street performances, flashing signs and displays-- it's a lot to take in! Speaking from a frequent visitor perspective, I have a little bit of experience being both a tourist and a local. I've visited Times Square with foreigners before, where I was able to see the pure joy on their faces like kids at Disney World as they ran to the Nike store. I've also had to put on my disguise as a local to fight through crowds to make it to a Broadway show on time. Do not be discouraged because locals have had more than their fair share of the place.
Getting to the point, here are a few Do's and Don'ts to help you make it out of Times Square alive. If you've never been there before, not knowing what to do in Times Square can be extremely stressful, and you can find yourself caught in a number of tourist traps. If you're a local or frequent visitor and you're showing friends around, or just pretending to be a tourist for a day, you want to make the best out of your experience and act like an expert on the place. So basically, I will gladly warn you about all the tourist traps that you should stay away from, but I'll also tell you about all the touristy things you can do that are completely harmless.
DO: Visit the TKTS Booth to get discounted Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets.
This is really the only reason I usually go to Times Square. The TKTS Booth offers discounted Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets for that day, so you can buy the tickets in the morning or afternoon and then see the show that night. The lines can get super long on certain days, but you can score amazing seats and super cheap tickets to select shows. The last time I went to the Booth, I walked away with second-row orchestra seats to Disney's Newsies. It's a fun way to experience Times Square and have a set schedule.
DON'T: Make eye contact with anyone wearing a costume.
The things people will do for money. Hardly any of these people are legitimate performers, and they'll try to get you to do all kinds of things- take pictures, try on clothing, or take their mixtape. One thing they all have in common? They'll demand you pay for it. The only place you should go near anyone in a Mickey Mouse costume is Disney World. I once had an elderly Chinese woman come up to me and give me religious trinkets and ask for money. This was when I was a lot younger, so I just thought she was giving them to me out of kindness. I was wrong, it was uncomfortable, and I certainly learned my lesson after that.
DO: Take a picture with the Naked Cowboy.
I usually warn against going near anyone in a costume (see the previous "DON'T") but the Naked Cowboy is just one of those things you'll only see in Times Square. Not only has he been doing this for years, but he's also trademarked, he's been seen on MTV and CNN, and he even has a documentary series "American Icon" about his attempt at stardom. He also takes tips instead of demanding for money.
DON'T: Eat at any of the restaurants in the center of Times Square.
Olive Garden, Starbucks, Applebees, Fridays?? Come on. OK, well then there's Carmines, Hard Rock Cafe, and Junior's, that are more unique to NYC, but they're pretty overpriced for average-tasting food. Instead, take a short walk to Restaurant Row, on W 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, or at Hell's Kitchen on 8th Avenue. There, you can find authentic cuisine of any country-- Thai, Italian, Irish, Japanese, Ethiopian-- you name it.
DO: Stay at Citizen M Hotel.
If you want to spend a night or two nearby Times Square, this hotel is absolutely amazing. I stayed here when I attended the Tony Awards (maybe I'll blog about that story) and I fell in love with its modern decor and rooftop bar. Located right outside Times Square, Citizen M is famous for its extra-large king-size beds against huge windows in each room, providing a great view of the city. The king-size beds are the only room option for booking, so you'll want to be traveling alone or with one other person.
DON'T: Stop and smell the roses.
This is New York City we're talking about. People walk like they have somewhere to be (and let's be real, they probably do) so please don't be that tourist that stands in the middle of the sidewalk getting in everyone's way. At least pull over close to the curb or to a building so you won't get run over by the masses of people going both directions.
DO: Take a break and sit on the Red Stairs (part of the TKTS Booth) and people watch.
Manhattan is filled with so many different types of people-- entertainers, celebrities, foreigners, locals-- that you can entertain yourself simply by stopping and watching them. Times Square itself is so busy that you'll definitely want to stop to take a breather eventually, so why not do it the old-fashioned touristy way? Also, they say if you stand in the middle of Times Square for 15 minutes, you'll see someone you know. Try it out and see for yourself!
DON'T: Come anywhere near here during New Years Eve.
On TV, it looks like a big party, but it's actually a big nightmare. There are so many people waiting to watch a tiny disco ball slowly descend anticlimactically down a pole on top of a building that it's extremely hard to get around anywhere. Just spend New Years at home with your friends and throw your own party... you'll be saving a ton of energy and you'll be a lot happier.
DO: Explore the stores in and around Times Square.
The stores around Times Square are huge. You've got everything from makeup like Sephora and MAC, to novelties like the M&M World, to clothing stores like Forever 21, American Eagle, and Nike. They might be crazy and crowded, but it's all part of the Times Square experience!
DON'T: Go inside the Starbucks.
Never have I ever been inside a Midtown Starbucks that wasn't insanely packed with people. Let me just say this; the one at Times Square is ten times worse. If you want good coffee, take a walk to Bibble & Sip, Cafe Grumpy, or Ramini Espresso Bar & Cafe. All 3 are very good and very aesthetic (because you know that's my top priority).