This post contains a Times Square map and walking tour of things to see and do. Times Square is the most popular tourist attraction in the world with approximately 330,000 visitors every day, over a million every New Years Eve and fifty million a year. Sometimes called ‘The Crossroads of the World’ and ‘The Center of the Universe’, it begins where 7th Avenue meets Broadway and extends from West 42nd Street to West 47th Street, and is best known for the electric billboards called ‘spectaculars’ that blanket the surrounding buildings. This is a self guided tour that will highlight the many things to do and see in Times Square.
Tip: Many popular attractions in or near Times Square, such as Top of the Rock and Madame Tussauds are included for free with all of the tourist discount passes as well as hop-on, hop-off bus ticket packages. Read our post comparing all the passes available to you.
Be sure to check out our full list of self guided New York City tours, particularly our:
Stop A – MadameTussauds 234 West 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues
The world famous wax figure attraction has over 200 wax figures of famous musicians, A-list stars, sports legends, world leaders and more. There is a Marvel Super Hero 4D ultra-sensory super heroes film. Be sure to take selfies with the Hulk, Captain America, Thor and Ironman! Don’t let the full prices listed below scare you away. There are many coupons, vouchers and discounts for Madame Tussauds available to lower the price of entry significantly. See our blog post for all the details or purchases tickets here.
Stop B – Times Tower (1905) + the Time Ball – One Times Square (corner of Broadway and 7th Avenue, West 42nd and West 43rd Street)
Times Square was originally known as Long Acre Square, and in the late 1800s consisted of a large open space surrounded by drab apartments. The arrival of electricity and the subway system transformed the square and Adolph S. Ochs, owner and publisher of The New York Times from 1896 to 1935, opened Times Tower in 1905. It was the second tallest building in the city at the time, but only eight years later the Times outgrew the space and moved to a new location, not before beginning the New Year’s Eve Spectacular – a tradition that continues today. The building is topped by the time ball and has been mostly vacant since 1995, apart from a Walgreens on the two lower levels, and it generates more than $23 million a year in advertising revenue.
‘The Ball’ is a 12 feet (3.5 m) diameter sphere, weighing 11,875 pounds (5400 kg) and covered with a total of 2,688
Waterford Crystal triangles. It is capable of creating more than 16 million colors and billions of patterns, and has been the ball since 2007 – the latest in a long series of redesigns since the ball was first dropped in 1908. The actual notion of a ball ‘dropping’ to signal the passage of time dates back to England’s Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1833, where a ball would drop at one o’clock every afternoon to allow the captains of nearby ships to precisely set their chronometers.
An estimated one million people fill Times Square every New Year’s Eve, with millions more watching nationwide and over a billion throughout the world. The celebrations in Times Square feature star-studded musical performances, balloons and more than one ton of confetti. Revelers begin to gather in the late afternoon on New Year’s Eve, with prime viewing areas filling up quickly. Then at exactly 11:59 p.m. EST, the Ball makes its 60-second descent down the flagpole. There are no portable restrooms in Times Square during the celebration, no alcohol is permitted, there are no public food vendors and temperatures are often below freezing. Learn some tips on getting a good spot in Times Square on New Years Eve.
Stop C – Condé Nast Building (2000) – 4 Times Square (Broadway between West 42nd and 43rd streets)
This 809 ft (247 m) tall building is among the tallest in New York City and one of the finest examples of green skyscraper design in the United States. Environmentally friendly chillers, along with a insulating and shading curtain wall ensure that the building does not need to be heated or cooled for the majority of the year. The offices of Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour are in the building, and it’s the locale of action sequences in The Amazing Spider-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films.
Stop D – Knickerbocker Hotel (1906) – 6 Times Square (corner of Broadway and 42nd Street)
A hotel until 1920, after which it was turned into office space and was the home of Newsweek magazine from 1940 to 1959, it was converted back into a hotel in 2013. The building is in the Beaux-Arts style, constructed of red brick with terracotta details.
Stop E – The Environmentally Friendly Billboard – 3 Times Square (at 7th Avenue and 42nd Street)
Times Square’s first environmentally friendly billboard was lit up in 2008 and is powered by wind and solar energy. It’s 126 feet (38 m) wide and 47 feet (15 m) high, and fitted with 64 solar panels and 16 wind turbines, some of which are visible from street level. By generating its own electricity the sign saves around $15,000 a month, and annually prevents 18 tons of carbon spewing into the atmosphere. There’s no backup energy source either, so after a few days without enough wind or sun, the billboard goes blank.
For a huge billboard that isn’t so concerned with environmental friendliness, check out Google’s Android billboard.
Stop F – Broadway Pedestrian Plaza – Times Square
Mayor Michael Bloomberg transformed Times Square into a pedestrian plaza in 2009, in order to ease traffic congestion and cut down on pedestrian accidents. The trial was so successful that Times Square became a permanent pedestrian plaza in 2015.
Stop G – United States Armed Forces Recruiting Station
Situated on a small traffic island between Broadway and 7th Ave is the most famous recruiting station in the country. When it was first erected in 1946 it was a simple ”cottage style building” that was so small it didn’t even have a bathroom for the recruiters! In 1999, the current station building was created and is a state-of-the-art structure that resembles a three-dimensional U.S. flag. Its high-tech sleek design fits in seamlessly with the neon lights of Times Square. It is much more than just another flashy sight- this recruiting station receives over 1,000 applicants every year.
Stop H – Site of the former Paramount Theatre Broadway between West 43rd and 44th Street
This former illustrious stage and movie theater opened in 1926 with a film showing of the Paramount film, “God Gave Me Twenty Cents.”. During its 40 year run, the Paramount showcased some of the most famous and talented performers and movies of the day, including Frank Sinatra. The theater itself was magnificent in design, having been modeled after the Paris Opera House with white marble columns, red velvet drapes, a grand staircase, and an enormous crystal chandelier in the lobby. Despite its splendor, the theater fell victim to the times and closed in 1966. The auditorium was razed and converted into office space, and the once majestic entrance and lobby were gutted to make way for retail space. Today the ground floor of the former theater is the Times Square branch of the Hard Rock Café.
Stop I – Discovery Times Square – 226 West 44th Street
This large-scale exhibition center Discovery Times Square showcases changing exhibitions on the hottest and most entertaining topics of today. They are immersive and interactive exhibits and are a perfect way to entertain all the members of your party, of all ages. Past exhibits have included Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition; King Tut: Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, Pompeii, and Harry Potter. The center has set hours, however prices vary based on the exhibit. For information on hours, ticket prices and exhibition schedules see our post Discovery Times Square ticket deals.
Stop J – One Astor Plaza (1972) – At 7th Avenue between West 44th and West 45 streets
A 745 ft (227 m) skyscraper completed in 1972, it is currently the headquarters for Viacom and houses the MTV Studios, Minskoff Theatre, Best Buy Theater and some retail outlets. The three MTV studios are used to record segments for MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and other affiliated networks.
This is also the location where one of the most famous photographs in NYC’s history was taken. The photo was taken as New Yorkers were celebrating the surrender of the Empire of Japan (Victory of Japan Day). A sailor passionately kisses a dental higenst, Greta Friedman, who was at the time unknown to him.
Stop K – Location of Failed Times Square Bombing Attempt – Southeast corner of 45th and Broadway
In 2010, would-be bomber Faisal Shahzad parked a SUV filled with a crude propane bomb just outside of an entrance to the theater hosting the Lion King. Two street vendors, Lance Orton and Duane Jackson (read more on their story), noticed smoke coming from the car and called the police, who detonated the bomb.
Stop L – The Naked Cowboy, Topless Women and superheroes – Times Square
As it’s packed with tourists at most hours, Times Square is also popular with scammers, frauds and tricksters who will try almost anything to separate tourists from their money. There are counterfeit goods for sale, as well as fraudulent show tickets, and passes to some of the most suspect comedy shows in town. Times Square also hosts topless women known as ‘desnudas’ and costumed characters who pose for photos in the hope of receiving tips. They sometimes resort to violence if not compensated, resulting in headlines like ‘Minnie Mouse and Hello Kitty get into fight over tips’.
However, there is definitely at least one exception – the famous Naked Cowboy. Dressed in only tighty-whities and a guitar, the well buffed Robert John Burck struts his stuff while playing country tunes and posing for photos with passerbys. The Naked Cowboy gladly accepts gratuities, but unlike his aggressive neighbors, Burck simply relies on the words TIPS written on his boots and the kindness and curiosity of visitors.
Stop M – Billboards on Broadway
The advertising billboards that surround Times Square are called ‘spectaculars’ and comprise some of the most expensive outdoor advertising space on the planet. They raise approximately $23 million per year in revenue, with an average cost per spectacular of around $1.1 million to $4 million a year. It’s quite a bargain considering that advertising during the Super Bowl costs up to $3.8 million for 30 seconds. All those ‘spectaculars’ consume about 161 Megawatts, enough to power 161,000 average US homes, three times the power used by all of Sierra Leone, and twice the electricity used to power all the casinos in Las Vegas.
The Most Spectacular of the Spectaculars – Broadway from West 45th Street to West 46th streets
Opened late in 2014, the massive billboard spanning the entire block between West 45th Street and West 46th Street stands eight stories tall and is nearly as long as a football field. It’s also higher resolution than any television on the mark
Stop N – Palace Theater – West 47th Street and 7th Avenue
When it opened on 1913 it was the most famous vaudeville theater in the United States and every performer dreamed of playing the palace. If you landed a gig at the Palace you could say you finally “made it.” The ‘Who’s Who’ list of celebrities who have performed on the Palace stage, include Ethel Barrymore, Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, Jerry Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Bette Midler, Shirley MacLaine and Diana Ross. In the late 1980’s, a 45-story Double Tree hotel tower was built above the theater and now the theater facade is practically invisible behind an enormous wall of billboards. Only the marquee is visible.
Stop O – Duffy Square – Intersection of Broadway & 7th Ave at 47th Street
Francis Patrick Duffy (1871 to 1932) was a Canadian-American soldier, Roman Catholic priest and military chaplain. He journeyed into the thick of battle to recover wounded soldiers and is the most highly decorated cleric in the history of the United States Army. He also conducted vital work in Hell’s Kitchen and Times Square, and is honored by a statue on the island that carries his name.
The only Times Square statue honoring a Broadway legend, George M. Cohan was an American entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer and producer. He wrote, composed, produced, and appeared in more than three dozen Broadway musicals and published more than 300 songs including the standards ‘Over There’, ‘Give My Regards to Broadway’, ‘The Yankee Doodle Boy’ and ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag’. Known as ‘the man who owned Broadway’, he is considered the father of American musical comedy.
Stop P – TKTS Booth – Intersection of Broadway and 7th Ave at 47th Street
The TKTS booth in Times Square (read our full post here) offers same-day discount tickets to dozens of Broadway and off-Broadway shows, selling over 1.5 million last year. The matinee performances go on-sale from 10 am, while evening performances at either 2 pm and 3 pm depending on the day. The shows with availability are listed via the TKTS Mobile App, and other TKTS booths are located in Brooklyn and at the South Street Seaport: www.tdf.org. A word of warning – many of the so-called online discount sites offer tickets at prices higher than the original. For a full schedule of shows visit: broadway.org.
Stop Q – Hotel Edison (1931) – 228 West 47th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenue)
Built in 1931, Hotel Edison has room for 1,000 guests over 26 floors, and is one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in New York with its curved edges, bold lines, and an interior that is both elegant and bold. When the hotel opened, the lights were famously turned on by Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb.
Stop R – Restaurant Row – West 46th Street between Broadway and 9th Avenue
With options galore, along Restaurant Row it’s possible to enjoy cuisine from most corners of the world as well as celebrity chefs. There are more than 20 options on this two-block stretch such as the French ‘Le Rivage’, beer inspired ‘House of Brews’, Spanish favorite ‘Mason Sevilla’ and Barbetta, which is almost as old as Times Square itself, and still owned by the same family who first opened its doors in 1906.
Stop S – St. Malachy’s Catholic Church (1902) – 239 West 49th Street (Between Broadway & Eighth Avenue)
By 1920, St. Malachy’s found itself in the heart of a burgeoning theater district and the traditional parishioners were joined by actors, dancers, musicians, craftsmen and tourists. St. Malachy’s subsequently scheduled masses, confessions and missions to accommodate the rigors of theater and nightclub schedules, and on opening nights, many in show business still light candles for the success of their shows.
Stop T – Times Square Church – 237 West 51st Street, on the corner of Broadway
This multi-denominational church has regular sermons, services and performances from gospel choirs: www.tscnyc.org. Volunteers from the congregation participate in over forty ministries around the world, ranging from feeding the homeless in New York City to staffing an orphanage in South Africa. PRO Tip: There is no need to go to Harlem or join a guided tour to hear great gospel music. The choir at the Times Square Church is terrific. Check out the video below.
Stop U – Ed Sullivan Theater Broadway between West 53rd and West 54th streets
This 13-story theater was built in the 1920s by Arthur Hammerstein. Opening night was November 30, 1927 and since then it has been a place for top-notch performances and talent to perform. The Central Broadcasting Network (CBS) bought the theater in 1935 and it was a radio broadcast station. With the invention and spread of television in the 1950s, CBS transformed the theater into a television studio. For the next 17 years, the theater was named CBS-TV Studio 50. Then, in 1953 the most significant change to the theater occurred. CBS moved one of its lesser known TV personalities from a show held at CBS’s Maxine Elliott Theater. that man, of course, was Ed Sullivan. Thus, The Ed Sullivan Show was born and would broadcast For the next 23 years, and be seen by millions of people across the nation. Perhaps the most famous moment in musical history took place in the Theater on February 9, 1964, when The Beatles made their United States television debut. Approximately 73 million viewers tuned in to watch the stage. In 1993, David Letterman began a 22 year run as the host of the wildly popular show, “Late Show”. In 2015 comedian Stephen Colbert took over the nightly slot and is carrying on Letterman’s “Late Show” legacy. Check out our post on getting tickets to see the Late Show.
If you enjoyed this tour, please share this with your friends and family.
Be sure to check out our full list of self guided New York City tours, particularly our: