What to Do in Times Square, Theatre District & Rockefeller Center
Times Square is the crossroads of commerce and the performing arts, exhilarating and overwhelming at once. The huge video-billboards and neon advertisements can distract even the most hardened New Yorker, while awestruck visitors marvel at the splashy supersigns, the "zipper" flashing the latest news, the dense displays of head- and taillights, and the constant flow of 1.5 million pedestrians.
In the past, Times Square bore a reputation as the city's seedy underside. Its spirit and style have changed dramatically since the 1990s, when Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani approved a massive overhaul of the area's offerings, motivated in part by the Disney Corporation's interest in Times Square's potential as a commercial hub. Since then, the crime rate has plummeted, and the sidewalks are among the cleanest in the city—to say nothing of the rapid influx of retail stores, restaurants, and tourist attractions.
At the top of One Times Square, the Waterford-crystal New Years Eve Ball awaits its big drop at the turn of the new year. This honored ceremony has run nearly every year since 1907, when the ball was made of iron and wood.
All of the Broadway shows on the "Great White Way" lie within the boundaries of Times Square. With 39 theatres, many of which are landmarked, the Theatre District is home to the highest concentration of showplaces in the world. The Theatre District is comprised of Times Square and the area to the west, from Broadway to Ninth Avenue between West 42nd Street and about 56th Street. For a complete list of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway shows, click here.
A short walk east of Times Square is Rockefeller Center, located between Fifth and Seventh Avenues and 49th and 51st Streets. The most famous building in this area is GE Building ("30 Rock"), which is home to NBC's New York studios. Favorite NBC programs like "Saturday Night Live," "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon," and the "Today" show are taped at Rockefeller Center. It's also where you'll find the NBC Experience/Studio Tour and Top of the Rock, the refurbished observation deck that re-opened in 2005 after being closed for 20 years. Rockefeller Center also features an extensive food court in its basement floor and the popular winter ice rink during the holidays.
Nearby on Sixth Avenue is the "showplace of the nation," Radio City Music Hall, home of the Rockettes, the Mighty Wurlitzer, the annual Christmas Spectacular, and various concerts and performances. Visitors can also tour Radio City seven days a week.
The Diamond District (47th Street from Fifth to Sixth Aves.) is jammed with individual stores and exchanges, their windows ablaze with shimmering diamonds and other fine gems. Imagine one store with more than two million items of fine jewelry and diamonds—this is that store, with an unparalleled selection of styles in every conceivable price range. Store owners are often seen roaming up and down the street, ensuring that their prices can't be beat.
Just north of Rockefeller Center is the world-class Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), home to Van Gogh's The Starry Night and Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup Cans, in addition to work by Picasso and Pollock. The Paley Center for Media, the International Center of Photography, and the main branch of the New York Public Library are also within walking distance of Times Square.
The Theatre District blends into what is called Hell's Kitchen, the northwest corner of Midtown West broadly defined by an eclectic—and exceptional—restaurant culture. The name Hell's Kitchen supposedly comes from the scene of a riot in the 1920s, when a policeman remarked, “This place is hell itself.” His partner said, “Hell’s a mild climate. This is Hell’s Kitchen.”
Thankfully, the area has adopted a much milder demeanor since then. In fact, this inclusive community boasts the most LGBT-owned businesses in the city and ties with Chelsea as the neighborhood with the most same-sex households. Along Ninth Avenue are several gay bars like Flaming Saddles Saloon and drag shows at Therapy. For WorldPride, Hell's Kitchen will host Pride Island, the music festival at the piers along the Hudson River.
Restaurant Row, the packed street of diverse dining options, lies along West 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. The best restaurants in Hell's Kitchen include Blue Seafood Bar, Saar Indian Bistro, and the wine bar Dianne & Elisabeth. Also located in Hell's Kitchen is SPYSCAPE, the museum that casts each visitor as a secret agent.
Just north of Hell's Kitchen is Columbus Circle, located at the southwest corner of Central Park. Read more in our guide to The Upper West Side.
Dining in Times Square/Theatre District quick links: Bobby Van's, Capizzi Pizzeria & Wine Bar, Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Guantanamera, Hard Rock Cafe, HB Burger, Heartland Brewery & Chophouse, La Masseria, Patsy's Italian Restaurant, Sen Sakana
Sightseeing in Times Square/Theatre District quick links: Bike and Roll NYC, Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, CitySights NY (double-decker bus tours), Gray Line Sightseeing, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Radio City Music Hall, Ripley's Believe It or Not!, Top of the Rock Observation Deck, NFL Experience Store, NatGeo's Encounter: Ocean Odyssey