Breaking down NYC - Things to do in Midtown Manhattan
Midtown has managed to get itself somewhat of a bad rep amongst New York locals - it's not as 'cool' as areas like the West or East Village and not as fancy as the Upper East or West Side. It hasn't got a particular ethnicity attached to it offering a particular richness of history and a hotspot of great food like Little Italy or Chinatown and it isn't known for being the epicentre of the best food venues around town. Obviously, much of this stems from the fact that that only a few decades ago it was truly a dangerous part of town but now...now all of that has changed and midtown has so much on offer!
So, here is my guide to what to do in Midtown Manhattan to try and reshape its image and show you my personal favourite part of the whole world..the area between the upper 30s and the 60s (streets) and between 5th and 9th avenues. Why is it my favourite part of the world? One word - BROADWAY.
So, whilst I will start off talking about the magic of the theatre district, below it you will find other suggestions so if you're not interested in the theatre, I won't be offended if you skip ahead. If you are interested in theatre, I promise, this is an area where I really know my stuff =).
The Theatre District
In Australia, I am a theatre director, producer and critique and go to New York twice a year to take in all the shows that I can possibly fit into my trips (usually 8-9 shows a week) and attend annual conventions like Broadwaycon (in Midtown no less) as part of the media. I SERIOUSLY love Broadway! My opinion is that no trip to New York is complete without seeing one show, whether you are a theatre fan or not, because theatre is just so ingrained in the culture of the city. If you're planning a trip and need show recommendations, you're welcome to contact me at ANY time about this - I'm always happy to make some suggestions that are current to the time! One thing that you should know about though is the TKTS line - one because it is a great way to get cheaper tickets to see the hottest shows and two, because it has one of the best vantage points of Times Square. TKTS is a discount ticket service that offers heavily reduced tickets to Broadway and off Broadway shows for day of tickets. They now have an app so that you can see that morning what is available and an approximate percentage of the discount so that you know if there is something that you actually want without having to go to the booth. The lines can be long but they do move quickly and going at strange times (eg. 11am or 5pm) can often really work to your advantage. TKTS has booths around the city but the Times Square booth is the flagship one and is located at Broadway and W 47th St or opposite the Palace Theatre (known to most people as the theatre hidden behind Times Square McDonalds). You'll see the large red staircase, that is it! Once you have your tickets for that night sorted, climb to the top step and take the best photo of Times Square!
Other ways to get discounted tickets:
TodayTix - an app
Rushing Tickets - ie. going to the theatre early that morning to stand in line for the rush ticket availability when the box office opens. These are often front row, box seats or restricted view seats that they sell for $30-$50 the day of. Google the show that you are interested in seeing and 'rush policy' to find out if they have rush tickets available or if it is a student rush before going early to the theatre. It is also a good idea to check what time the box office opens as you will need to be there at least 1 hour beforehand, more for popular shows.
Online lotteries - play the lottery to see if you win the opportunity to buy a ticket for $30-$50. It's the same idea as rush but you don't have to wait in line! You just submit your name and email and are told if you won. Google 'Broadway show lottery' to see which shows have lotteries. At the time of writing this shows that were participating in this included (as examples) Hamilton, Wicked, Aladdin, The Lion King, Mean Girls, and many more.
Programs with particular theatre companies for people until 40, 35 or 30 (theatre dependent) - have a look at Linctix at the Lincoln Centre, Hiptix at Roundabout, 30U35 at MTC, 2nd St Theater's U30 program and more.
There will be more blogs on this in the future but hopefully these tips help you find some good deals to help you love Midtown like I do!
Ways to Spend Your Nights
Before I get to how to spend your days, I'm going to point out that Midtown is best in the evening when the theatres are buzzing and, especially after a show, restaurants in the area are filled with people who have playbills on their tables and are discussing their shows (eg. Juniors!).
But how else can you spend your Midtown evenings?
This is one of my favourite places in New York. A supper club, this great little venue usually hosts 2-3 shows a night and mostly they have something to do with Broadway or are centred around pop artists (but might feature Broadway singers). There are also cabarets here, trivia nights and concerts and I LOVE it! The programming is just so good! They have a full bar and a full menu and unlike most places of this variety where the food is usually terrible, the food here is actually great so it's an awesome place to come for dinner and an amazing night of entertainment. I always make sure to see at least 1 show at 54 Below per trip - sometimes I make a night of it and see the whole night's program - it's just so much fun!
It's old school glamour (go to the bathroom for a full understanding of what I mean here!) at it's Broadway best and I highly recommend.
This rum bar in the middle of midtown is always packed and usually has a line out the door because the cocktails are amazing and there are superb musicians playing live giving it a really cool, swanky, almost Havana-esque feel. Such a great place to get a drink before or after heading to a nice restaurant or a show, or just to cheers the end of a great day in the greatest city in the world.
DTM is a piano bar on Restaurant Row where your waiter is serving you a drink one minute, and singing atop the piano the next...or sometimes singing with a microphone in hand whilst serving you drinks. It's loud, it's boisterous but it's definitely fun and if you're looking for somewhere to keep the night going, Don't Tell Mama is always going to be that place for you!
Though most of the museums are either uptown near the park or far downtown, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is squarely in Midtown at 11 W 53rd St. The MOMA is often credited as being one of the most influential museums of the Modern Art world globally so you can imagine that their collection is both extensive and expansive. The collection is updated often which means that every time you go you can see something completely different. There are some amazing areas like the giant eye foyer that are both artistically and architecturally so impressive they have to be seen to be believed.
Definitely worth leaving yourself a bit of time here!
Once you leave the museum, go just a couple doors down to the MOMA Design Store at 44 W 53rd St. Whilst in the museum there is a shop that no doubt sells souvenirs, the Design Store sells some absolutely amazing pieces from souvenir trinkets to stunning homewares or electrical goods, etc. It's an awesome shop!
By the way, you don't need a museum ticket to go into the store - it's a street front shop and open to the public so if you want to skip the museum and head to the store, you absolutely can.
Grand Central Station
Just on the cusp of Midtown, Grand Central Station is one of my favourite attractions in New York. Yes, it is just a train station, but it is so much more than that! The architecture of this station is spectacular - it really lives up to its name 'grand' and is more reminiscent of the stations of Europe (where train travel was highly romanticised for an extended period) than America.
The Station is a hub of activity with multiple food markets, restaurants, shops and even some very unique attractions, including the Whispering Gallery. Next to the Oyster Bar & Restaurant (which I would highly recommend as a really great place for an iconic NYC lunch), low lying ceramic arches adorn the roof and feature Guastavino tiles which create a unique acoustic sensation that projects whispers from corner to corner. You need to try it out for yourself! It's very cool! The ceiling of the main concourse features a very elaborate painting of the zodiac signs that is definitely worth seeing.
And of course, if you're a Gossip Girl fan, these are the steps where Serena van der Woodsen returned to New York!
Go to Grand Central Station hungry - there are so many amazing places to eat here!
New York Public Library
Located at 5th and 42nd, the Stephen A. Schwarzman building of the New York Public Library (the flagship branch) is a truly gorgeous building! You'll definitely want to check out both the inside, but especially the outside of this lovely building, whilst around Bryant Park. If you're interested in books, this particular branch is known for;
" An outstanding research collections in the humanities and social sciences as well as a circulating children’s collection. The non-circulating graduate-level collections were initially formed from the consolidation of the Astor and Lenox Libraries, and have evolved into one of the world's preeminent public resources for the study of human thought, action, and experience—from anthropology and archaeology, to religion, sports, world history, and literature." - NYPL
I'll talk more about this in a future blog but just because this is where I mentioned the theatre district, the NYPL has a great Performing Arts Library as well at the Lincoln Centre (Columbus and 62nd St) which, as well as an amazing collection of books and recordings on the performing arts has a museum downstairs that always has a small exhibit (free) to a particular theme that is well curated and in celebration of a particular person or theme. Definitely check out what they are showing as I have been to some fabulous exhibits!
A lovely public park in the middle of Midtown, personally I think Bryant Park is best in Winter although it is open year round. However, when the Winter Village is set up and the ice rink and igloos, as well as the Christmas market are all up and running - it makes the park really gorgeous, really interactive and a really wonderful place to be. Bryant Park hosts a number of events throughout the year so it is worth checking before your trip to see if there will be any concerts or other events (like the winter village) set up during your stay in the City.
I'll admit, Times Square can be tacky as all hell and for me, now that the billboards advertise clothing brands more than Broadway musicals, the heart of the theatre district doesn't have the same charm anymore, BUT, it is still one of the most exciting places in the world to stand.
So, if you're going to New York for your first time, your fifth time, or your fifteenth time, you should at least walk through! Why not?!
But if it is your first time to the city - here is what you need to know about Times Square. It is super exciting and you should leave yourself some time to get a great photo there - after all, you'll be in one of the most famous areas in the world and it is really cool! Don't take photos with the people dressed as freaky characters, or if you do, they will expect to be paid for it so just have some money ready for them. There are areas that you can sit in Times Square and enjoy so grab a cup of coffee and take it all in! I certainly do!!
Some info for you: Times Square got its name when In 1904 when the New York Times moved its head office into a new skyscraper in the area (then called Longacre Square) into a building that is now called One Times Square.
Where the TKTS Booth is and the large red steps, that square is called 'Duffy Square' after Father Francis Patrick Duffy who was a military chaplain and a priest in the Times Square area. In this square is a large statue of George M. Cohen (composer, playwright, and actor) best known for his song "Give my regards to Broadway / Remember me in Herald Square / Tell all the gang at 42nd Street that I will soon be there.”
In Duffy Square, on the pavement is a map of all the Broadway theatres - it's really cool - check it out.
See that Walgreens at the end of Times Square there?! Look up - that's THE ball, yep, the big famous New Years Eve ball! It is there year round for your viewing pleasure =).
Subways are always subject to change but as of writing this, to get to Times Square:
A/C/E to 42 Street Station
F/M/B/D to 47-50 Sts – Rockefeller Ctr Station
N/WR to 49 Street Station
1 to 50 Street Station
C/E to 50 Street Station
1/2/3/7/S to Times Sq – 42 Street Station
Times Square has some good shopping too - personally I would recommend the M&M Store and Sunglass Hut (no surprise there) are my favs but they have everything that is big (and loud) - think H&M, Forever 21, Disney, Sephora, MAC, Urban Outfitters, Line Friends, LOFT, etc.
There are a million things to do in midtown but if you're visiting for one of your first times to the city, start here! You'll have a blast!