Going to Times Square with Kids? 15 Family-Friendly Things to Do

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Boardway theater in Times Square
Hamilton was the hottest ticket on Broadway before the theaters closed for Covid. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

You can’t visit New York City without checking out Times Square. It’s the Big Apple’s brassy beating heart, full of iconic family-friendly experiences. Plan to take the kids to at least one Broadway show, then add on other fun things to do, like:

  • Pose the family on the famous red staircase for a classic “wish you were here” photo.
  • Soar over the city on RiseNY, the newest attraction in Times Square.
  • Sing along with the singing waitresses at Ellen’s Stardust Diner.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the bright lights, noise and crowds. But I’ve been taking my now-adult kids here since they were little. Here’s what you’ll want to do in NYC’s Times Square with kids (and what you don’t!)

Related: Christmas in NYC: 25 Fun Things to Do

1. Go to a Broadway Show 

A visit to New York City isn’t complete without taking in at least one Broadway show. With over 40 theaters, it’s easy to find a show to fit your mood and budget. There’s nothing more exciting than the buzz that builds in the lobby as the crowd filters in. Gawk at the gold ceilings and enormous crystal chandeliers. I still do, even after all these years. Even the littlest kids can experience the magic of live theater. NY’s New Victory Theater, an integral project in the New 42 redevelopment of Times Square in the 1990s, specializes in family-friendly shows.

I suggest monitoring the TDF website for the latest info on Broadway. Established in 1968, TDF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the stage arts in New York. TDF operates the TKTS booths in the city, where you can purchase same-day discount tickets to many productions.

Want to know more about Broadway? We’ve got tips for what to wear to a show and how to score cheap(er) tickets.

Related: 50+ Best FREE Things to Do in NYC with Kids

Exterior of TKTS booth in Times Square

Where to Buy Broadway Tickets

The flagship TKTS booth is located in the heart of Times Square, under the red steps (read on, if you’re curious), where Broadway, 7th Avenue and 46th and 47th streets converge, known as Duffy Square. Queue up early for the best selection. Undecided on what to see? Ask others on line what they’ve enjoyed.

If you’re a plan-ahead kind of traveler, buy tickets in advance. Disney’s kid-friendly favorites like “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” are sold via Ticketmaster. Another popular site is Telecharge. Alternatively, you can check out availability and seating charts at the theater box offices.

Statue of Father Duffy, one of the fun things to see in Times Square with kids
American military hero Father Duffy keeps watch over Times Square, morning, noon and night. (Note the iconic and oh-so-Instagrammable red staircase behind the statue!) Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

SheBuysTravel Tip: The area in and around the TKTS booth can be busy. Like insane busy. If you’re meeting family or friends, a popular spot to connect is the statue of Father Duffy, the Square’s namesake.

2. Soar Over NYC at RiseNY

The newest family-friendly attraction in NYC is RiseNY. The popularity of Disney’s Soarin’ theme park rides has inspired clones at popular tourist destinations. For example, while visiting Seattle’s Miner’s Landing recently, I saw they have a “Wings Over Washington” VR experience. The new RiseNY 4D immersive experience takes you on a virtual flight over NYC so you can see the incredible city like the pigeons do.

RiseNY tickets also include admission to an immersive NYC history film projected in a theater replica of the City Hall subway station. Plus you can tour seven galleries exhibiting donated displays from the city’s leading museums. Only have one day in NYC? RiseNY will give you a taste of Gotham’s highlights.

M&M dressed as Statue of Liberty at M&M World in Times Square, one of the fun things to do with kids
Sassy Green M&M steals the show at M&M’s World in Times Square. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

3. Get Your Sweet On at M&M’s World

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like M&Ms. A visit to M&M’s World will only deepen your affection. It’s a primary color assault on the senses. Visit all 3 floors and scope out the sale racks. My favorite part of the experience? I made a cup of custom Yankees-branded blue and white candies for my baseball-loving hubby using the store’s Personalized Printer.

Prefer your chocolate without the candy coating? Hershey’s Chocolate World is also in Times Square. Get a milkshake. Or a s’more. Ignore the calories and the worry about over-sugaring the kids. You can walk it off!

Kiosk advertising Broadway Up Close walking tours in Times Square in Manhattan
Want to know how they make all that Broadway magic happen? Take a walking tour to find out! Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

4. Tour Broadway Up Close

Broadway Up Close offers six different theater district walking tours, including one that explores the rich history of New York’s performing arts that could excite a kid with acting dreams. A teen-friendly one focuses on ghostly legends. Got a “Hamilton” fan? You can walk in Alexander Hamilton’s New York footsteps.

Go behind the scenes for the Hudson Up Close tour. The Hudson Theater is Broadway’s oldest and this tour takes you behind the curtains to see what goes on backstage.

5. Shop ‘Til You Drop in Times Square

Much of the action in Times Square is retail-oriented. Personally, I don’t love the shopping mall feel of Times Square. I prefer tiny, unique boutiques. But I’m definitely in the minority.

Many favorite teen-friendly American brands have huge stores in and around Broadway, including Sephora, Express and Steve Madden. Although many brick-and-mortar Disney Stores have closed, the one in Times Square is open for business.

If the kids need a bunch of souvenirs to bring back to their friends, check out one of the many I Love NY gift shops in the area. Do you collect souvenir ornaments from your family travels? Christmas in New York has two locations in Times Square to help you find a NYC-themed decoration for your tree.

If you want something a little special, tuck down Shubert Alley which connects 44th and 45th streets. One Shubert Alley used to be the Booth Theater’s dressing room. It’s Broadway’s oldest gift shop with a wonderful selection of theater-related goodies.

Parked maroon and gold tour bus in NYC's Times Square, one of the fun things to do with kids
Hop on. Hop off. You can explore all of NYC, starting in Times Square. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

6. Take a NYC Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tour

When I head to any European city for the first time, I always do a bus tour to orient myself. Don’t be embarrassed to hop aboard one in the USA. Big Bus Tours and TopView Sightseeing are two of the companies with a presence in Times Square.

Both offer different routes that include stops at many of Manhattan’s most famous tourist attractions, including:

  • Observation Deck at the Empire State Building
  • Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center
  • Radio City Music Hall
    Museum of Modern Art
  • Statue of Liberty view from Battery Park

The sales agents on the sidewalks can be overly enthusiastic. If you don’t like to feel like you’re being hustled, buy your tickets in advance online. And, if you’re planning on touring these attractions, consider purchasing a CityPASS for discounted admissions.

entrance to Krispy Kreme doughnut store in Times Square NYC
Need a sugar fix? A fresh Krispy Kreme doughnut will help you power through your Times Square visit. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

7. Treat Yourself to a Krispy Kreme Doughnut

New York’s the city that never sleeps, right? Well, guess what? Even diehard New Yorkers doze from time to time. And when they wake up, what’s better than a fresh doughnut? Head to Krispy Kreme, the American bakery that opened a massive, 4,500 square foot flagship location at the corner of Broadway and West 48th Street, with a 24/7 walkup window for round-the-clock donut access!

Want to watch the doughnut-making process? Reserve a date and time on the Krispy Kreme website. Kids receive cute paper baker hats. They love them almost as much as the donuts. You’ll find all of the traditional flavors here – chocolate glaze, blueberry, cake batter – and special editions for the holidays. Want to go all out? Buy the “only in Times Square” Big Apple Doughnut. Its shiny bright red glaze coats a Red Delicious creme-filled donut with a pretzel stem. It comes in a green gift box for $10.99 plus tax.

8. Go Bowling at Bowlero

Who goes bowling in NYC? Bowlero is not your average suburban alley. It’s broken up into small bowling nooks, dedicated to New York’s many neighborhoods. Central Park has a huge mural of the iconic Bow Bridge, while Chinatown has dozens of golden, waving Fortune Cat statues. There’s an arcade too. It’s a fun family-friendly spot if an afternoon rainstorm erupts.

If you need even more ways to entertain the kids, check out:

  • Madame Tussauds New York wax celebrity replicas
  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not black hole and more
  • Dave and Buster’s for arcade games

All 3 are right next to one another on W. 42nd Street.

If you’re looking for Gulliver’s Gate, which featured miniature models of New York’s famous landmarks, it closed permanently in 2021.

facade of the Ed Sullivan theater home to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in NYC
Why just watch a show when you can join the audience? Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

9. Be Part of a Live Studio Audience

Attending a live television production is a really fun thing to do when visiting New York. The Good Morning America studio is right in the heart of Times Square. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert tapes at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway and 53rd.

Ticket information and additional FAQs are available on the ticketing website.

10. See a Cabaret or Comedy Show

If your kids are mature teens or young adults, consider including a nightclub show on your itinerary. It’s an opportunity to get dressed up for a night on the town.

Carolines on Broadway is one of the most famous comedy clubs in America. Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Tim Allen all performed here before they were famous.

And Don’t Tell Mama on Restaurant Row features a piano bar, restaurant and cabaret spaces. Check the website to see who’s performing. And don’t hesitate to call them to gauge whether a performance is age-appropriate for your family.

11. Watch the New Year’s Ball Drop?

The one place you never want to be, especially with kids, is Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Imagine the streets clogged with one million people, many over-served. Watching the celebration on TV at home with friends and family is perfect for me. Unless of course, I win the lottery. In which case, I’ll rent out a Times Square rooftop bar for the night of December 31st!

But, on any other day of the year, you’ll want to check out the famous ball. The Waterford crystal orb is permanently mounted at the top of One Times Square. If you’re facing the red steps, turn around and look up!

Pedestrian plaza on Broadway in Times Square.
Ready for your closeup? The pedestrian plaza in Times Square is perfect for posing. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

12. People Watching in Times Square

Times Square was originally known as Longacre Square but was renamed after the New York Times in 1905 when the daily paper opened its new headquarters. The neighborhood, originally prosperous, deteriorated into a tawdry and crime-ridden adult entertainment district after World War II. During the 1990s, government, business and community partnerships worked together to turn Times Square around.

According to the Times Square Alliance, on an average day, nearly 360,000 pedestrians enter Times Square. That makes for excellent people-watching, one of the best free things to do in New York City.

And the best place to sit for a bit and watch the crowds ebb and flow is the red staircase that forms the backbone for the TKTS booth. Installed in 2008, the red steps are an iconic Instagram backdrop for your NYC selfie.

Costumed characters in Times Square in midtown Manhattan
Mario (or Luigi?) and Red Ranger are out to hustle tourists for tips in exchange for a photo op. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

About those Times Square Cartoon Characters

If you’re wondering if Times Square is okay to visit with kids, it is. But you do need to practice the street smarts needed to navigate any big city safely.

Some of the people you’ll see in Times Square are costumed characters. On any given day, you might run into Spider-Man, Winnie the Pooh or Elmo. They’re ordinary citizens who have chosen to don plush suits and panhandle for tips by posing with tourists.

Remember. Times Square is NOT Disney World. And this isn’t a meet and greet. These costumed characters are creative panhandlers. They WILL expect money in return for the photo and can be aggressive if you don’t fork over some cash.

Decline an offer to pose for a photo and move along. There are uniformed police officers all over Times Square. If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, do not hesitate to request assistance.

ornate costumes from Phantom of the Opera on display at the Museum of Broadway
Costumes from “Phantom of the Opera,” including the ornate Red Death are on display at the Museum of Broadway. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

13. Museum of Broadway

The Museum of Broadway is an experiential museum that explores the history of theater in New York City and the most impactful stage productions through the years. It’s designed as an immersive experience so there are plenty of Instagrammable moments including your chance to be a Jet or a Shark in Doc’s Drugstore from “West Side Story.”

Gorgeous costumes are a highlight, including Carol Channing’s showstopping red dress from “Hello, Dolly!”. The museum is a must-visit if you have a drama kid in the family. The museum opens at 10 am (plenty of time to tour before a matinee!) and the last entry is at 8:30. Check the box office for current ticket rates that include a set arrival time or a flexible 3-hour entry window. A portion of each ticket sale is donated to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

14. Marvel Before the Movies

I have very fond childhood memories of searching through racks of comic books for the latest adventures of Archie, Richie Rich and Superman. If you have Marvel-obsessed kids, plan to visit the Times Square outlet of Midtown Comics. Once you’ve looked at a few issues, the kids will be able to see how the opening credits of the films were inspired by the original comic book illustrations.

15. “Diner” and a Show

One of the most iconic NYC Times Square destinations is Ellen’s Stardust Diner. The exterior will be familiar to you. It’s got the look of a vintage 1950s metal-clad diner. The menu offers traditional diner fare but the highlight of a visit is the singing waitstaff! Read on for more “only in NYC” restaurant suggestions.

Things to Do Near Times Square

Because Times Square is one of the city’s major hubs, there are a number of family-friendly things to do within walking distance. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Pose with Patience and Fortitude, the stone lions guarding the NYC Public Library
  • Take a spin on Le Carrousel, the Bryant Park merry-go-round
  • Tour Grand Central Terminal to learn about its history (and secrets!)
  • Head to Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. It’s an especially magical place to be during the Christmas season in NYC.
Entrance to the Times Square subway station in NYC
If you can’t get there from here, it’s not worth going! The subway station at Times Square/Port Authority connects to an alphabet soup of train lines. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Where is Times Square and How Do You Get There?

The heart of Times Square is the Bow Tie – 41st to 47th streets between 7th Avenue and Broadway. But the Times Square Alliance represents a district that extends from 40th to 53rd, from 6th to 8th avenues and throws in Restaurant Row – 46th Street between 8th and 9th avenues.

Getting to Times Square from Grand Central Terminal is super easy. Take the S train to the Times Square-42nd Street Station. It’s super walkable too and you’ll pass tourist attractions like Patience and Fortitude, the stone lions outside the New York Public Library, and Bryant Park (magical in winter with its Christmas market and ice skating rink).

Arriving by bus? Most major carriers, including Greyhound and Megabus, stop at the Port Authority Midtown Bus Terminal on W. 42nd Street.

Unless you must, don’t drive into Times Square. The Bow Tie area is closed to vehicular traffic. This creates a wonderful piazza for pedestrians but pushes traffic to other midtown Manhattan streets. You’ll creep along as the traffic signals pass from green to yellow to red and back again and again, causing significant agitation as it gets closer and closer to your Broadway show time. When you finally get to a parking garage, the staggering prices might make you faint.

My kids’ memories of our trips to Times Square include the sailor-worthy cursing rants of the driver. Until recently, we lived in one of NY’s suburbs without regular train service into Manhattan. So we had to drive into the city. And, no matter how early we left the house, we always ended up in a traffic creep.

When it’s Time to Eat

Look beyond the familiar chain restaurants, like the Hard Rock Cafe, in Times Square. You’re in New York City! Much as I love the riblets at Applebee’s, I can get those anywhere. There are lots of restaurants in Times Square. Many are iconic NYC restaurants. Here are a few of my favorite eateries.

Junior's restaurant in Times Square NYC
Not just dessert. Junior’s has a great menu with plenty of options for hungry families. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Junior’s Restaurant & Bakery

Famous for its cheesecake, Junior’s has been serving American comfort food since the 1950s. Decorated in an orange and white, Creamsicle palette, you’ll find it hard not to smile when you slip into one of the retro booths. Prices are very reasonable by New York standards. My go-to? An open-face Tuna Melt.

Carmine’s

Ask 10 people who just got back from NYC where they ate and it’s likely that 7 of them will say “Carmine’s.” It’s that popular and, fortunately, it’s that good. The family-style Italian entrees are massive and the service is friendly.

Lillie’s Victorian Establishment

There are a number of Irish pubs in Times Square including Connolly’s and O’Donoghue’s. They’re reliable. When you want something that’s a little bit extra, head to Lillie’s. Named for the turn-of-the-century actress Lillie Langtry, the restaurant is packed full of antiquities shipped from a Belfast mansion. Kids can play “I Spy” while waiting for the classic pub fare to arrive.

Havana Central

A pressed Cuban sandwich is always a yummy treat. Get one at Havana Central. Pair it with a mojito and you’ll be refreshed and ready to tackle whatever’s next on your NYC sightseeing list.

Virgil’s BBQ

Almost all of the Broadway shows start at the same time. What that means is that the restaurants experience a crush of theatergoers. Don’t want to miss your curtain? It’s important to let your server know that you’re heading to a show.

I’ve included Virgil’s here because the restaurant produced solid BBQ for me and my sister one matinee Saturday within minutes of ordering because we were pressed for time. Love them for it.

Long view of W. 46th Street in New York, known as Restaurant Row
Lovely tree-lined Restaurant Row in NYC. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Restaurant Row

Want an elevated dining experience when visiting Times Square? Head to Restaurant Row – 46th Street between 8th and 9th avenues. It’s lined with restaurants and brownstone residences and trees and feels a world away from the neon lights.

Hold Fast is one of the newest restaurants to open, while Joe Allen is a classic. Its walls are decorated with posters from Broadway’s flops.

Should You Stay in Times Square?

It’s loud. And crowded. But wonderful. If your stay in NYC is brief, consider staying at one of the hotels in Times Square. You’ll be right in the middle of the action. Plus, access to the subway puts the rest of New York within easy reach for day trips to other neighborhoods.

Here are some of the Times Square hotels to consider.

Margaritaville Resort Times Square

Tropical interior at the new Margaritaville Times Square resort in NYC
A palm tree grows in New York at the Margaritaville Times Square resort. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Did you skip your traditional beach vacation to travel to New York City? Stay at the Margaritaville resort in Times Square to inject an island vibe into your family trip. The property opened in 2021 and includes a Landshark Bar and Grill next to the outdoor pool.

CHECK PRICES / AVAILABILITY

The Westin New York at Times Square

exterior of the Westin New York in Times Square
Look up! The flags above the lobby of the Westin New York make it a little easier to spot. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Use your Marriott Bonvoy reward points at this Marriott property. It’s a pet-friendly hotel (for dogs up to 40 pounds) and offers free cribs for use at the hotel.

CHECK PRICES / AVAILABILITY

There are plenty of other hotels and vacation rentals available near New York. Use this interactive map to help you find a place to stay in the area.
Booking.com

6 responses


  1. Thank you for providing this detailed information. It’s nice to go.

  2. this Sunday to Visit Times Square with Kids. it is best place for kids. thanks for this information.

  3. Thankyou for giving such an information which is very useful to me…..i want to travel newyork soon so by this information i am ready to travel very soon with family…….thankyou soo much…..

  4. I just started planning my first trip to Europe. I had no idea what I was doing till I read your article.
    Thank you for useful tips!

  5. 4.5

  6. 5