Friday, January 27, 2012
Absolutely Overrated Places To Visit: Be Sure To Stop At Times Square When In New York City!
The Good: Well, it's Times Square!
The Bad: It's not so much an activity place, Can be expensive to shop/eat nearby.
The Basics: A necessary tourist stop just based on reputation, Times Square is actually a place in New York City where there's not much to do, but look at stores and advertisements.
I've written enough reviews to know in advance when I am likely to take crap for a review I write. People suggest I am being deliberately contrarian with many of my reviews where I pan things others love, but the truth is that I have high standards and I judge everything by the same standards. So, using objective standards for what makes ANY park worth visiting, I panned Central Park in New York City and I enthusiastically recommend Highland Park in Rochester, New York. But I'm part of a group of people who actually has standards, sticks to them and honestly reviews based on my own experiences and tastes.
I preface my review of Times Square with this whole "disclaimer" because while I recommend anyone visiting New York City take the time to go through this culturally-relevant United States landmark, it is easily one of the most overrated places on Earth. This is not a theme park, a museum or a historically significant monument, this is the convergence of some roads in one of the biggest cities in the United States which has since been exploded into one of the most expensive pieces of advertising space. If it weren't in New York City or another major metropolis, no one would care about it (to wit, visit any intersection in your town and consider what you would actually write about it and how you would try to sell it to visitors).
Times Square is a five-block (West 42nd to West 47th Streets) intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue in New York City. This is in Manhattan and Broadway and Seventh are two major avenues running up and down the island. It is, to be honest, a collection of buildings facing each other for several blocks. If one imagines two four-lane highways running next to one another for five blocks, this is actually what Times Square is. Times Square refers to his section where major retail outlets, restaurants and major studios face one another across the roads.
It is very recognizable because the tall buildings in these five blocks are covered in bright neon signs and massive billboards. In recent years, places like ABC Studios have put up news crawls and stock tickers across the facade of their building which encourage people to look at the building. The MTV Studios also looks out onto Time's Square and includes entertainment news.
Ease Of Transportation/Parking
New York City is a pain in the butt to get around and Times Square is no exception. Driving through Time's Square puts the visitor on one of two one-way streets or any of the one-way cross streets. So while Broadway and Seventh are one way - one going up the island, the other going down the island - they are crossed in Times Square by alternating perpendicular one-way streets. It is very easy to get into Times Square, but it is not exactly simple to get around it in a car.
In Times Square - like much of New York City - there is no on-street parking, so one has to find somewhere to park off it. Once one is on foot, they will likely find Times Square to be so heavily congested with foot traffic that they will wonder why they are even bothering. I recommend visiting at night. At night, the grays are washed out and Times Square becomes a magical neon place. When I took my partner on her first trip to New York City, we went into Times Square before and after seeing The Phantom Of The Opera (reviewed here!) and it was extraordinary to see her face light up. . .
. . . but at the end of all consideration, why was her face lighting up so? Well, she is from the backwoods in Michigan and the tall buildings and bright lights and sheer amount of traffic are visually overwhelming to anyone who grew up in a town where there were only about five traffic lights. Truly, though, Times Square is a magnificent tribute to capitalism and the sheer size and hustle bustle of the place is impressive. Objectively, though, it's a ring of buildings with massive signs for clothes stores, musical artists and the latest movies. By "massive signs," I mean images that are several stories tall. The Gap, Victoria's Secret, and every major film studio utilizes this space for advertising and regular establishments which face Times Square like Toys R Us and McDonalds have the permanent advertisements of their storefronts.
But basically, this is a giant hub of commercialism and advertising and after one has walked around under the lights for about five minutes, they've seen what Times Square offers visitors. There are no historical tours (though every major tour company operating in New York City will pass through and highlight Times Square). But there is nothing inherent to do in Times Square and there's no purpose to the place, save to encourage capitalism and illustrate that money is still being spent in the U.S. In the buildings adjacent to Times Square there are things to do, mostly shopping, eating and theater, but in Times Square, it's just a place to go and gawk.
Many of the places that open into Times Square are restaurants. In addition to the McDonald's which seems like it has been there forever, there is the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square (reviewed here!) which has dining options. The Europa Cafe and several other, smaller establishments have been creeping in in the last few years. Anyone with money need not go hungry in Times Square. During the day there are hot dog carts as well as other street food vendors.
In addition to having plenty of places to eat, there are plenty of places to shop, though for the life of me, the only places that come to mind are the gift shop in the Hard Rock Cafe and Toys R Us. There is also a Virgin Records store in Times Square as well as some clothing shops. All of them are pricey retailers and those looking for great deals are likely to be disappointed (always expect to pay more when shopping in New York City).
By all means, come to New York City and when there, come through Times Square and gawk, but the actual experience - unless one is there for the mortifyingly crowded New Year's Eve Countdown - is pretty much just that. You come, you look, you see lots of advertisements that are in magazines and on the internet anyway and that's pretty much it. The New York Times was once headquartered here, but it is not like this is where the Declaration Of Independence was signed or a battle was fought, or truly anything. It's basically a place to go and look at giant stores and advertisements.
For other places in New York City to visit, please check out my reviews of:
Museum Of Modern Art
Lincoln Center For The Performing Arts
For other travel reviews, please check out my Travel Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.