USA 2016 Travel Diary: My top 5 picks of interesting things to do at Times Square

While New York has its fair share of iconic places, I must say Times Square is definitely the CRAZIEST of them all. In fact, it’s probably the busiest place in the whole of New York. Times Square also pertains to a whole neighbourhood in Midtown, Manhattan, but it’s more typically known as this super busy intersection at the heart of Manhattan.

Actually, it doesn’t really feel like an intersection because of all the tourists hanging around. I’m surprised cars can still travel around here haha! But make no mistake: Vehicular traffic here is at a crawl. Can’t say the same for human traffic though!

As a fellow tourist myself, I highly recommend a visit to Times Square. There’s nothing quite like it! This place is literally an explosion of people– you’ve got a bazillion tourists milling about, intertwined with a whole bunch of people dressed in mascots and ‘Frozen’ costumes. You also have police officers in uniform trying to maintain some semblance of order. (Good luck with that!)

Let’s not forget these dudes dressed up as Lady Liberty, and the occasional naked ladies with body paint. (Sorry boys, no photos.)

Add to that the constantly flashing signs and the giant billboards all over the place and you’ve got yourself something that reminds you of a carnival in the middle of a very big city. Since this is the main hub of the Broadway Theatre District, lots of posters for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are understandably displayed here. You’ll also spot the long line of people trying to get discount theatre tickets from TKTS.

While I am not much of a fan of jam-packed places like this, I did enjoy seeing for myself the insanity that is Times Square. I now understand what everyone means when they talk about how chaotic it can be. I also totally understand why native New Yorkers avoid this place like the plague. It’s tough for people who constantly need to be somewhere to navigate the sea of humans! 😀

But really, if there’s a word I would use to describe Times Square, it’s ‘quirky’. There are a lot of fun and interesting things you can actually do here whether or not you’re a theatre fan, and now I’ll share with you my favourite interesting things to do at Times Square!

1. Take a walking tour around the Theatre District

Obviously the best way to appreciate any new place is to know a bit about its history and hidden stories. In my opinion, there’s no better way to do that than to join a walking tour! I highly recommend the one from New York Tour1 because their guides really know what they’re talking about. Plus they’re a lot of fun!

Our guide shared a bunch of interesting tidbits about the Theatre District, like stuff about the ghost light and how actors have this paranoia about uttering the name of a certain Scottish Play. That last one is my favourite among the superstitions he mentioned. 🙂

As we all know, Broadway is widely considered as the highest level of theatre. Making it here is definitely a huge accomplishment! Some 41 theatres sit in this area, whether Broadway (meaning theatres with over 499 seats) or Off-Broadway (theatres with 99 to 499 seats). But before all the lights and the singing, this area used to be one of the most notorious places in New York.

In the late 1980’s, the blocks comprising the Times Square of today was one of the most crime-riddled in the city. We’re talking about murder, rape, drugs, prostitution, and pornography– all the things that made locals and tourists alike run the other way. It wasn’t really until the mid-1990’s that Times Square started to resemble what it is today. Restaurants and tourist attractions started to open up in the area alongside the theatres, and the installation of all the lights and LED signs turned it into the ‘Great White Way’. Here’s a really interesting site to get to know more about the history of the Theatre District.

Interestingly enough, during the time we were here, there were a bunch of movie and TV stars doing some shows on Broadway. Saoirse Ronan was starring in a Salem Witch Hunt story called ‘The Crucible’, and Sean Hayes had comedy ‘An Act Of God’ in The Booth Theatre. Jeff Daniels was also starring in ‘Blackbird’ with Michelle Williams.

Along with all the unique shows, I love how each theatre screams its own personality! A little trivia: The Booth Theatre (below) was named after iconic Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, who also happened to be the brother of the infamous Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. What are the odds right?!

We were told some pretty curious stories about The Longacre Theatre. From the story, you’d think it was cursed or something. Apparently a lot of shows that booked in this theatre never made it into their regular run, not because they were bad by any means but because something always went wrong somehow. (For instance, sponsors suddenly pulling out their support.)

This was where we would’ve seen Lea Salonga on her return to Broadway with George Takei in ‘Allegiance’, but it didn’t manage to sell enough tickets to stay on Broadway. As a fan of Lea Salonga, I can’t help but feel bad about it. Currently, the theatre has ‘A Bronx Tale’ on.

Around the time I went to New York, ‘Hamilton’ was all the rage. So much so that tickets were impossible to get, and the ones that were available cost an arm! This show was written and directed by this dude named Lin-Manuel Miranda, and he also stars in it so I mean, yeah, the man’s pretty amazing.

Currently, he’s no longer the one playing ‘Hamilton’, but he sure has done his job! This show has made such an impact in the Broadway world thanks to its unique way of presenting history through a musical– rap songs anyone?– that I hear they will probably release it as a movie with the original cast. Maybe then I’ll get to see it?

If you were hypothetically heading to New York this instant, what Broadway show are you most interested in seeing? I’m really curious to know!

2. Head up the steps at Duffy Square to people-watch

If you like to people watch, you’re going to be in for a doozy here. It is by no means a QUIET place to people-watch, nonetheless as I mentioned above, you are going to end up seeing a lot of things here. You have to climb up those red stairs all the way to the top. It’s a great place to get the iconic Times Square postcard view. After snapping photos, you can just quietly chill.

It would be so cool to witness the historic New Year’s Eve Ball Drop from here, wouldn’t it? Wonder what they’ll do for 2017.

To the right of the square is a giant souvenir shop called Grand Slam you might want to check out if you’re planning to buy keepsakes or gifts.

3. Pop into Junior’s for some good ol’ New York Cheesecake

Once you’ve tired yourself out with people-watching, walk down the steps and towards 45th Street. Right across Mariott Marquee you will see the giant sign advertising Junior’s Famous Cheesecakes. We’re heading towards the bakeshop in this instance because the restaurant is always packed with people. Anyway, I had something else in mind for dinner (see bottom of post!) so we wanted to grab a little afternoon snack instead.

Since it was already late afternoon, this felt more like dessert before dinner. My Dad uncharacteristically approved because he was as excited as I was to eat New York-Style Cheesecake IN New York. My Dad and I knew we wanted something with fruit on top but it was still hard to pick. Seriously, look at all the cheesecakes! (And all the other desserts too!)

While I was researching about where to get good New York Cheesecake in Manhattan, I came across quite a few comments from native New Yorkers referring to this place as a “tourist trap”. There were some rebuttals in there that convinced me to still give this place a go, and you know what? I am glad I did. Junior’s cheesecakes are pretty damn good!

As much as I like cheesecake, I can never finish a whole big slice by myself. My Dad and I shared this Strawberry Cheesecake and my goodness, it was delicious! I love how the cheesecake itself isn’t as heavy as I was expecting since it’s such a thick layer. It’s surprisingly really smooth. And it’s got that savoury-tang I love from cream cheese, sweetened just the right way by the crust and the strawberry topping. SO GOOD!

4. Pay a little visit to Madame Tussaud’s

Okay, so our visit here was just so we could really make the most out of our New York Passes (which you can read more about in this post), but I ended up enjoying myself way more than I expected! My Dad, who is game for everything, kind of had this contagious energy as we went through the exhibit. He was like, ‘Let’s take pictures with these famous people!’

Aaaaand I eventually went along with it. 😀

Most of the wax figures are pretty accurately done, but some have certain features that don’t seem to be 100% similar to the person. But you know, it must really be creepy to be in here after closing hours.

To tell you the truth, this isn’t the first time I’ve been to a wax museum. I’ve been to Madame Tussaud’s in Hong Kong and it was a similar experience for me. Going in, I didn’t think seeing figures of famous people would be a big deal, but it ended up being kind of fun and crazy. Maybe it depends on your mindset and those of the people you’re with when you go in.

I would say that the one in Hong Kong is nicer and colder because it is newer, but the exhibits are totally different since of course there are more Asian actors featured in Hong Kong. In any case, you definitely have to come here with a hyperactive friend or family member because it’ll be a lot more fun! Trust me. 😉

5. Watch Broadway shows, of course!

I admit, my Dad and I went a little overboard with the Broadway shows while we were here. We watched three 8PM shows during the four nights we were here. (Thus missing the sunset hour and for the first time ever having no sunset photos during a trip!) We bought tickets in advance for the first two shows we watched while the third one was completely unplanned.

The first show we watched was ‘Fun Home’. (They’re staging a version locally at the moment with Lea Salonga starring as the mother of the main character.) Despite being one of the older shows running for the season, ‘Fun Home’ still attracted quite the crowd.

‘Fun Home’ is a musical adapted from the memoir of cartoonist Alison Bechdel, and it is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist. It’s all about her struggles with her own sexuality as a young girl, as well as her relationships with her gay father and the rest of her family. Present-day Alison narrates her life from her childhood, and you see a mini-Alison and a teenage Alison play it out before you. Frankly, it’s quite a poignant journey of self discovery.

It made me cry by the end.

A very interesting set-up for this musical is how the stage is actually in the centre of the theatre, sort of like a stadium.

The next show we watched was my pick, simply because I am a HUGE Sara Bareilles fan. I think she is one of the best singer-songwriters of this generation, so when I heard she penned the songs for ‘Waitress’ and I was going to New York, I told myself I wasn’t going to miss this!

This musical is based on the old movie by the same name (which was adapted from a book as well) and tells the story of a waitress and gifted pie-maker named Jenna. Jenna has a good-for-nothing husband and when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant one day, she takes off to visit her doctor in a panic. (Trust me, you don’t want her husband as a baby-daddy.)

Upon arriving at the clinic, she realizes her old gynaecologist has retired and has been replaced by the dashing Doctor Jim Pomatter. An affair ensues, and the story is all about how Jenna sorts out her life while trying to hold on to her dreams, her love, and her sanity, with her baby in the mix.

This musical stars the very talented Jessie Mueller, and gosh I loved the way she sang Sara’s songs with such emotion! (The whole cast was great actually!) I had been listening to the album Sara Bareilles released before seeing this so I was already familiar with the songs, but in the context of the story, the cast had a very different take on how they performed the songs. I loved both versions equally.

Sadly, since this was still a relatively new show at the time, tickets were selling out like hotcakes (even though they were expensive!) and the only seat we could get was up on the balcony. I wasn’t happy about being this far from the stage but I wasn’t complaining if it meant I could watch the whole thing. And yes, it was great. And yes, I was wishing so hard that Sara would suddenly pop up and surprise everyone. 😀

After discovering the TodayTix App thanks to our walking tour guide, we decided to watch one more show to see how it worked. The tickets on that app were shockingly cheap compared to the list price on the Broadway website, but there was one play that our tour guide could not recommend enough:

I admit I was on the fence about whether we needed to see another show, but my Dad wanted to take advantage of the cheap tickets, pulling out the ‘How long until we get to return to NYC to watch Broadway again?’ card on me. And I have to say it was the best decision ever!

‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time’ is about a 15-year old boy named Christopher. He’s a very smart boy but he has a lot of difficulty handling day-to-day life and communicating with others. One day he becomes the prime suspect for the murder of their neighbour’s dog, and he decides to figure out the truth for himself to clear his name. And thus begins the journey that changes his whole life.

This play was incredible. INCREDIBLE. I can’t really think of any adjective to describe it that will do it justice, only that it’s one of the best stage productions I have ever seen in my entire life. I feel really lucky to have gotten to see it before it went off on a national tour!

I know for sure I didn’t like the book this much. I read it a long time ago and still have a bit of an idea how it went, but I have to point out that the adaptation from book to stage was brilliant! They translated the book in ways I never could’ve imagined, making good use of the stage, again, in ways I couldn’t have imagined!

I am not a theatre geek by any means, but my family and I do occasionally like to watch these kinds of productions back here at home. My favourite that I’ve seen locally is ‘Phantom of The Opera’, but in the span of three nights I feel like I’ve reached my typical yearly quota already. And I couldn’t have been a happier camper! 😀

BONUS: Have a meal at Num Pang Sandwich Shop

You guys know I’m not one for randomly recommending things, but I feel compelled to talk about this sandwich shop. This is the place where I had some of the best sandwiches of my life, and I would very very much like to come back here on my next trip to New York. It will be on my to-do list FOR SURE.

Looking through the menu, it’s easy to see that you’ll be in for a treat regardless of what you order. The choices are so unique! One of the reasons why we went for the Coconut Tiger Shrimp Sandwich was because we were curious as to how toasted coconut flakes would taste in a savoury sandwich.

And can I just say, I love the art all over the shop. They’ve got some cool graffiti on one part of the shop and lots of chalk art scattered all over on their boards. I can imagine myself hanging out here with my friends.

The two sandwiches we ordered were the Coconut Tiger Shrimp and Peppercorn Catfish. My Dad and I sliced each sandwich in half so we could get a taste of both, and they were so good I didn’t even think about taking pictures anymore!

I literally devoured my shares and immediately wanted to buy more to take home with me. Only I knew it wasn’t going to work because the breads would probably become tough once they were not fresh anymore.

What I love about these sandwiches is how the flavourfully seasoned seafood complemented the pickled vegetables and spicy mayo so well! I favoured the Peppercorn Catfish (above) a tad more because it had a sweet but smoky kick that I really liked. I also really like fish. The baguette is lightly buttered and toasted to complete the whole experience. Also as a fan of cilantro, I was grateful for the generous amounts of it!

PS. I’m buying the cookbooks, you guys.

Well congratulations for reaching the end of this super long post! I hope you found it to be a fun read because as always, walking down memory lane is a fun exercise for me! Despite how overwhelming Times Square can seem to be at first, once you get your bearings you’ll find that it’s not to so intimidating to be in this place full of people and flashing lights. I think it does a good job of making you feel like a tiny person in a big big world though!

It’s easy to get to Times Square from any point in NYC because pretty much all the subway lines run through here. Anytime my Dad and I get on the wrong line (which was rare since the subway isn’t that hard to navigate), we take the train to Times Square Station and change into the right one. You may also want to consider staying at one of these Best Hotels for Experiencing New York Times Square​ by HotelsCombined to maximize your Times Square experience.

Have you been to Times Square? I hope to hear your own unforgettable Times Square memories in the comments section below! 😉


Junior’s Cheesecake

1515 Broadway
45th St. B/W Broadway & 8th Ave
New York, NY 10019
Hours: Mon to Thurs 6:30am to 12am / Fri & Sat 6:30am to 1am / Sun 6:30am to 11pm
Contact Nos: (01) 212-302-2000
Website | Facebook

Num Pang Sandwich Shop

148 W 48th Street (between 6th and 7th Ave),
New York, NY 10036
Hours: Mon to Fri 11am to 9pm / Sat & Sun 11am to 6pm
Contact Nos: (01) 212-421-0743
Website | Facebook | Instagram

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