If seeing live stage performances in some of the most storied theaters in the world isn’t enough for you to get your Broadway fix, why not take a walking tour of the Great White Way? With themes ranging from “Broadway’s Beginnings” to the “Hamiltour” (for fans of the hit musical “Hamilton”), groups of no more than 15 people are given a behind-the-scenes look at all things Broadway in a nearly two-hour outing by Broadway Up Close Walking Tours.
“What is unique about us is that we [the tour guides] are all passionate actors,” said founder Tim Dolan. “When we’re not on stage doing eight shows a week, we’re on the sidewalks telling secrets that you can’t read in books or get on the Internet.” Tickets cost $37 for adults and $32 for kids 12 and under.
After an enlightening tour, head to nearby Bryant Park — a great place to kick back, relax on the lawn, and have a picnic. The nearly 10-acre site, located between Fifth and Sixth avenues between 40th and 42nd streets, boasts daily events ranging from live music to juggling acts to fitness classes. Later in the year, the park turns into a winter wonderland, with holiday decorations, pop-up shops, and an ice skating rink (admission is free, but there is a fee for skate rentals).
Back in Times Square, which stretches from 42nd to 47th streets at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, visitors can set up shop on the bleachers in the pedestrian plaza or on the wrought iron chairs in Duffy Plaza, and people watch — a favorite pastime of mine, especially with the backdrop of the ubiquitous flashing neon billboards. Tons of attractions are within a short walking distance, from the very cool “National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey” to Gulliver’s Gate, a museum with miniature replicas of major world sites — including NYC’s Grand Central Terminal complete with trains and the site’s historic Beaux-Arts architecture.
If you’re a fan of “Good Morning America,” the show tapes live between 7 and 9 a.m. weekday mornings at its Times Square studio at the corner of West 44th Street and Broadway. You may get free tickets ahead of time to be in the studio audience, or queue up in the standby line on the day of the taping.
Chocolate lovers will find a pair of three-story-high delectable options right across the street from each other on Broadway and 48th Street: Hershey’s Chocolate World and the M&M Store. For doughnut enthusiasts, a 24-hour, 4,500-square-foot Krispy Kreme shop — complete with a glaze “waterfall” — is slated to open early next year (also on Broadway and 48th Street).
For those seeking sustenance over sweets, there are dining options galore in and around what is referred to as the “crossroads of the world,” from fast-food takeout to white linen fine dining — and just about everything in between, including myriad ethnic restaurants.
Some of my favorites include iconic landmarks like the nearly century-old Sardi’s, with its framed caricatures of famous actors and actresses lining the deep red walls; Carmine’s, serving generous portions of Italian family-style fare; and Joe Allen’s, which has posters of Broadway shows that were flops hanging on its exposed brick walls. Just remember to make reservations — especially if you’re going to a show and are on a tight schedule. Next door to Joe Allen’s is Bar Centrale, a bar/lounge with a speakeasy vibe that has no sign and is located in a converted apartment. It serves small plates and cocktails and is popular with the locals — especially theater industry insiders.
You can’t go wrong with Restaurant Row on 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth avenues, where options range from tapas to vegan to French cuisine. However, my go-to before and after shows is Ninth Avenue in a section of the city called Hell’s Kitchen (which stretches from 34th to 59th streets). Prices are generally cheaper, and while there are too many restaurants to name them all, my favorites include the Mediterranean-inspired Kashkaval Garden (try the marinated veggie kabobs), Blossom Du Jour (love the vegan Buffalo wrap), Tavola (any of the wood oven pizzas will do), Noodles (best drunken noodles ever), and Obao Noodles & BBQ (try the pho noodles and veg dumplings).
In addition to satiating your palate, you can do some serious celeb-spotting there. The best time to see your favorite Broadway stars is around 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, since those are traditionally matinee days, and actors will often head to Ninth Avenue for dinner between the day and evening performances (they’re pretty easy to spot, since they often leave on their heavy stage makeup and wear baseball hats to cover the caps they wear under their wigs on stage).
As with dining options, lodging in Times Square runs the gamut.
One of the hotels in which I’ve stayed — and seen online recently for as low as $98 a night — is Row NYC. While it may not be a five-star luxury hotel, Row NYC has clean, contemporary rooms (with cool, framed black-and-white Ron Gallela celebrity photographs adorning the walls) and is a great value for guests. The check-in lines in this 27-story, 1,331-room hotel can be long, as can the wait for the elevators, but for budget-conscious travelers, it can’t be beat. Not only is the location (Eighth Avenue between 44th and 45th streets) stellar, but its lobby connects to City Kitchen, an indoor food market with seven of the city’s top eateries, including Dough and Gabriela’s Taqueria.
Yotel New York, located close to Times Square on 10th Avenue at West 42nd Street, is another appealing option, as rates are low ($99 on a recent search) and the location is good (just two blocks from Port Authority bus terminal and a 20-minute walk from Grand Central and Penn train stations).
The minimalist rooms are called “cabins” and while the accommodations are tight, they are sleek, modern (want mood-adjusting lights? Check), and do the trick. After all, when you’re in NYC, how much time do you spend in your room? There are several open work/gathering spaces in the lobby and elsewhere — including a rooftop terrace, where on summer nights you can sip champagne, munch on popcorn, and relax on lawn chairs while watching a classic movie on a large screen.
Remember taxes and fees at all Manhattan hotels are pricey — as is parking (especially if you opt for valet parking . . . I usually find a nearby garage and save at least $20) — and need to be factored into total costs.