This is part one of a two part post.
The bright lights, the massive advertisements, the energy, the people watching. What’s not to love about hanging out in Times Square?! It’s amazing!
Well, yes and no.
Don’t get me wrong, I think every visitor to NYC should absolutely, positively, spend some time in Times Square, especially at night. The massive collection of energy from all the lights and the excitement of the people is additive. If you stop and look around, you’ll see so many people with huge smiles on their faces. They’ve dreamt about being here. They’ve seen it in a thousand movies and watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. It is the center of the universe if you ask some people. Hell, I’m one of the most jaded New Yorkers you’ll find and I still love walking through there at night if I happen to be in Midtown. I get it.
That said, once you get your fix of Times Square, I’d highly recommend that you get into the heart of Manhattan, which in my humble opinion, is below 14th Street.
Midtown and Times Square offers convenience for travelers that want to be near “all the action” and don’t want to have to go all over Manhattan, especially if it’s your first time visiting NYC. Again, I get it, but when I really think long and hard about the draw of Midtown, it’s not really that much.
Hear me out.
You have Times Square, you have MOMA, you have Rockefeller Center and you have the Empire State building (and maybe Broadway if you want to catch a show). Now once you’ve checked all of those spots out, you’re left with a soulless Midtown area that quite honestly isn’t that great. There’s no neighborhood feel. It’s just a huge business district that becomes dead at night. “The hottest spots in NYC are in Midtown” said no one ever.
To the West of Times Square and Midtown you have the Hells Kitchen neighborhood, which offers better neighborhood places to eat and drink than Midtown but again, there’s just not much there when compared to Downtown.
The best restaurants (the ones that local New Yorkers actually go to) are all in Downtown below 14th Street in the West Village, East Village and Lower East Side. Midtown is where people go on corporate accounts. There’s really no neighborhood vibe at all and no sense of community. The coolest bars/clubs and coolest kids are all Downtown. Period.
There a lots of hotels in Midtown, so from a logistics perspective, I understand that Midtown may be the draw, however, just because you’re staying in that area doesn’t mean you should spend the majority of your trip there.
Downtown offers an amazing local vibe with a much more laid back attitude. People actually live Downtown and hang out at the local establishments not because they work nearby, but because they live there. Downtown is such more relaxing and you get a better feel for how New Yorkers really are. Trust me, they’ll be a lot more friendly on the laid back streets of the East Village than if you’re getting in their way when they’re on the way to work in Midtown. Nothing beats kicking back and enjoying a coffee at a West Village cafe, having a gelato and people watching in the East Village, or enjoying a rooftop bar in the Lower East side while taking in the view of the entire city.
For the real New York, think Downtown, not Midtown / Times Square.
So when planning your trip to NYC, be sure to set aside enough time outside of Midtown to be able to go home and say your experienced the real NYC. You’ll thank me for it.