Should You Stay in Times Square?
Ah, New York. They say if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. I just love the energy and the possibility of New York. It’s a city that makes you think that you can do anything. But it can be overwhelming. Especially when you’re trying to plan your very first trip there. There are almost 300 hotels in Manhattan alone. Never mind B&Bs, hostels and vacation rentals. Add in the other four boroughs and you’re looking at choice paralysis of epic proportions.
So when you’re thinking about where to stay in New York, your first step is to pick a borough. I enjoy Brooklyn but for a first visit, I recommend staying right in Manhattan. Next, pick a section of Manhattan: Uptown, Downtown, or Midtown.
- Uptown Manhattan is the area above 59th Street; Upper Manhattan is the area above 96th Street.
- Downtown Manhattan is the area below 14th Street; Lower Manhattan is the area below Chambers Street.
- Midtown Manhattan is the area between 34th Street and 59th Street.
Can I pause for a hot second to say how much I love the numbered street grid system that covers most of Manhattan? It makes it so much easier to navigate once you get the basic directions.
But back to picking a New York neighbourhood. So far I’ve stayed in Turtle Bay, Murray Hill, Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen, the Lower East Side, the Bowery, Spanish Harlem, as well as Bushwick and East Williamsburg in Brooklyn. So I’ve tried out more than a few neighbourhoods. They all have their pros and cons. But let’s examine one in particular for your first visit to New York.
Let’s say you split the difference and pick Midtown Manhattan. What’s the most famous neighbourhood in Midtown? Times Square of course. It covers the rectangle from 39th to 52nd Streets; 7th to 9th Avenues…and about 60 hotels…and what feels like a million people.
Should You Stay in Times Square or Not?
Ask a New Yorker if you should stay in Times Square and they’ll give you a fast, straight up, “Hell, no!” These days it takes something pretty special to get me to stay anywhere near Times Square but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. There are a few perks to the neighbourhood. Everything seems bigger in Times Square. More lights. More people. More excitement. You’re in the middle of it all. But is bigger better?
Pros of Staying in Times Square
Close to Many Subway Lines
Unless you like spending lots of time in traffic and spending more than you need, you’ll want to take the subway to get around New York. One pro of staying in Times Square is that you’re near many different subway lines. Within the confines of Times Square you can catch the A, C, E, N, Q, R, W, B, D, F, M, S, 1, 2, 3, and 7 lines. *whew*
Close to Broadway Theatres
One bucket list item for many New York visitors is catching some world class theatre on Broadway. I’ve been to the city eight times now and it’s still one of my favourite things to do. Well, the Theatre District, where the majority of Broadway theatres are located, actually overlaps with parts of Times Square so you’re in a prime location to catch a show. You won’t have to worry about getting caught in traffic getting from your hotel to the theatre. You’ll be able to easily walk.
Great for People Watching
Most of New York has excellent people watching but Times Square dials it up a notch. My favourite spot to do this is to grab a spot on the red stairs over the TKTS booth in Father Duffy Square. It’s eternally filled with tourists and buskers. You might spot the Naked Cowboy and there will be at least half a dozen people in character costumes wanting to part you with your money for a photo opp.
Late Night Shopping
If the urge to shop hits you after 9pm, your options are limited… except in Times Square. Forever 21 and H&M are open until 2am. Express until 1am. M&M’s World, MAC, Levi’s, AEO, and Aldo until midnight. Superdry until 11pm. If late night shopping is your jam, Times Square is where you want to be.
Cons of Staying in Times Square
The downside of all the people for people watching? All the people you’ll have to walk through to get anywhere. It’s generally worse between 7pm and 8pm before theatre shows but it’s always full of people and it can get aggravating if you want to walk at a normal speed. The crowds can make make some people quite anxious. Keep a hand on your purse and a close eye on your travel buddy when in those crowds. It can be easy enough to be separated from either.
Slow to Get Around
The sidewalks may be wide but when there are that many people it’s just going to take longer to get where you’re going. Even if you’re walking, give yourself extra time to navigate through Times Square if you have to be somewhere particular. Double the time if you’re in a vehicle.
Harder to Hail a Taxi
Another problem with crowds of people? Almost impossible to get a taxi. You’ll see a good number on the streets but they’ll probably already have fares (if the light on the roof is on, you’re go to hail). Even if you get one you’re probably now just paying to crawl through Times Square traffic. A better bet is to walk a block or two away from the crowd (toward your destination) and try again there.
Restaurants are Overpriced
By and large I’ve found Times Square restaurants to be overpriced and underwhelming. Avoid the Irish pubs. I once had a server grunt and nod her head rather than use words when asked where the washroom was located. Keep in mind that there’s often a mandatory 18% tip added to all bills here. While there are exceptions, of course, Times Square certainly isn’t my first destination for delightful dining.
Overall, I prefer to stay outside of Midtown altogether but if it’s your first time visiting the Big Apple, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay in the middle of the action. Just be prepared for slow crowds and eat elsewhere.
What’s your favourite New York neighbourhood?