I was walking in New York with Eunice, referring to the map that I got from the hotel. I wanted to go to Times Square, so I headed to its direction. Block after block, probably the most famous intersection in the world was not in sight and I was already feeling restless looking at the massive crowd that was before. Standing in front of Hard Rock Cafe, I asked the locals:
“Excuse me, how do I get to Times Square?”
They looked at me, puzzled.
“You are at Times Square!”
I looked above and saw all the billboards surrounding me. This was Times Square.
There I was, at one of the most famous intersections in the world. I looked around, amazed that I could barely recognize the place although I’ve seen it countless of times before. As I walked to the center of it all, I looked up to see the massive digital screens and billboards surrounding every corner of the square, covering almost every other building there. Sensory overload. Then there’s the extremely diverse crowd, walking in every direction possible. Some, hollering at strangers.
It was overwhelming!
More than 100 years ago, in the 1904, the daily newspaper The New York Times built its headquarter, the Times Building (then the tallest building in New York) on Longacre Square. The square’s name was then changed to “Times Square”. The New York Times moved in less than 10 years. The ownership of the building changed over the years, as its facade and surroundings.
Other notable buildings were build around the square, including office buildings of large companies, hotels like The Astor and theaters like the Paramount Theater. As the area became more commercialized, billboards started filling in. Theaters and halls were growing like mushrooms, moving from downtown to 42nd Street Times Square from 1920s up to 1950s, forming what is now the Theater District, just on the west side of Times Square.
New York went through some challenging times in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, Times Square became a seedy area, filled with massage parlors, porn theaters, prostitution hotels and sex shops and plagued with terrible crimes. It was so bad, that then Mayor John Lindsay created a “vice” map and more than doubled the police force to help tackle crimes happening in the city. Shady spots on the 42nd Street were torn down, good businesses were brought in. Thanks to the Mayor, Times Square and its vicinity was revitalized to become what it is today — a bustling commercial spot that’s family friendly. The place to be to see the ball drop on New Year’s.
Oh, as for the Times Building, the building is now unrecognizable not only because its exterior surface had changed, but also because its currently, completely advertising space. The former office building is now empty except for the Walgreens pharmacy on the first few floors.
To learn more about the history of Times Square, check this out.
Things to do at Times Square
So what can you do at Times Square today?
Well. As soon as you arrive, grab a coffee at Starbucks and walk to the center to immerse in sensory overload. Just see and feel it all. If you have time, try counting the number of the digital screens and billboards. For fun. If you’re lucky, you can even see yourself on the screens!
As you stand in the square, you’d notice random figures in costumes walking around, enticing you to come close. They’re street performers, dressed up as iconic TV characters and figures — from the characters of Disney to Sesame Street to DC to Marvel to Lady Liberty — for you to take pictures with. There will also be characters like a grown man with bloated belly in diapers wearing a baby mask, dancing in the streets and a topless cowboy grandma with a guitar, ready to snap a selfie with you. They say that Tokyo is weird but seriously, people here are weirder. Although you’re not legally obligated to tip these street performers after taking photos with them, you’re generally expected to. Else, prepare to argue your right or run — either are not recommended.
Then you’ll also notice the billboards showing what’s playing in theaters now. If there’s one thing you should consider doing, it’s to go to a Broadway show — the theaters are just sround the corner. At Times Square you’ll see billboards of plays currently showing e.g. Aladdin, Chicago, Hamilton, The Lion King, Wicked etc. So many, all at once! Tickets generally cost around $100 or more, however last minute Broadway show tickets can be bought for less at the TKTS booth. Before buying though, check out the reviews to see which shows are worth your time and money.
If you have more time to kill, there are family-friendly attractions to visit, like Madame Tussaud’s and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Or go to tour the Radio City Music Hall.
Finally, bring something home. There are so many flagship stores at Times Square. Well, there are a couple of high street fashion stores here, but they’re not that exciting. If anything fashionable excites me, it’s at Sunglass Hut. As for beauty, the Sephora and MAC flagship stores there are huge and offer the widest range of products possible, most times at prices better than KL. As for souvenirs, you must stop by Hard Rock for New York shirts and pins and the many NYC souvenir stores surrounding Times Square for magnets, mugs, etc. It’s also good idea to bring chocolates home from the Hershey’s Chocolate World and M&Ms World, too.
To learn more on what’s happening at Times Square, check this out.