The Ultimate Guide to Spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square

Is spending New Year’s Eve in New York City’s Times Square on your “Bucket List?” If so, here are a few things you should really know before you go.

What are my credentials for offering this advice? Well, spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square was always on my bucket list too and I crossed it off on December 31, 2007.  Would I do it again? Absolutely not. Once was more than enough and in retrospect, it wasn’t a fantastic experience. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fulfill your dream! Here are things I learned from my experience:

NYE 2010 Ball in Times Square

Get There REALLY Early

I know, I know, people always say this. I heard it myself! Get there early…blah, blah, blah. But let me put it to you this way: I arrived at 7:00pm, a full 5 hours before the ball drop and I ended up at 53rd Street, a full 10 blocks (1/2 mile or .8 km) away from the ball!

Way up there we got no swag, no entertainment and only a pitiful amount of confetti at midnight. Sure, there was a mini celebration every hour, but there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement until the last 15 minutes.

The people that you see on TV who are actually in Times Square have been standing there since mid-afternoon. Think I’m kidding? The police start to close off the streets around 2:00pm and by then there are many people waiting to take their spots. I’ve walked by at 3:00pm before only to see the area up to 45th Street (2 blocks north of the ball) filled up already!

Now, with getting there that early, there’s something important you need to bear in mind…

If You Leave, You Lose Your Spot

Sounds simple enough, right? But let’s think about the consequences of this here. You can’t leave to get food or drinks. You can’t leave to get warm. And you cannot go to the bathroom!

Sorry, but there are no port-o-potties to be found anywhere. And if you can’t hold it in and try to go on the street, you risk an unpleasant encounter with the police who keep a watchful eye over the crowd.

Before entering Times Square, the NYPD will conduct a security check. You are not allowed to bring in any glass bottles or bags. So anything you bring in must be on your person. That means any and all food and drink. Be aware that since the entire area is “secured,” there are no vendors selling food or drink.  And remember, don’t drink too much, cuz, you know…

You’ll Feel Like Cattle

It’s at times hard to tell on TV, but the NYPD has a system down where they basically establish a series of pens. There are walkways around the pens, which you will share in tight quarters with hundreds or so of your closest friends. At times, the NYPD may even herd you from one pen to the next (literally like cattle). Enjoy it while you can, because it’s probably going to be the most exercise you’ll get the whole time you’re there.

Times Square

Ever notice on TV how quickly it empties out? The police open up these pens and almost everyone makes a beeline for the bathroom! I mean, if you hadn’t gone in 9 hours…

Dealing With the Cold

I’m sure this one is a given, but it’s all about layers, layers and more layers! Remember, you can’t really move, which will, of course, make it feel colder! Besides, the more layers you wear, the more pockets you have in which to stuff snacks!

Enter Uptown

As Times Square starts to fill up, the NYPD begins closing off streets heading uptown. So when I arrived at 7:00pm, I had to walk all the way up to 58th Street to enter the “secured area.” Entry points start at 45th Street and as far east as 5th Avenue.

Enter on the EAST Side

Though it may be out of your way, I would highly encourage you to enter on the East Side (5th Avenue). Here’s why: Entering east means you will end up on 7th Avenue rather than Broadway. Why should you care?

Well, 7th Avenue runs directly north-south offering an unobstructed view of the ball as you head out of Times Square. Broadway runs at an angle, making your ability to spot the ball at times difficult!

Being on 7th Avenue has another advantage too…

After Midnight, Turn UPTOWN!

The ball drops, there’s confetti and the tiny fireworks display that happens in Times Square and that’s it. Or is it? If you’re on 7th Avenue, turn uptown (behind you if you’re facing the ball) right after the ball drops. You can spot the fireworks display happening in Central Park (which is also host to a lovely midnight run, complete with free hot cocoa). It’s nothing incredible, but it’s still pretty cool!

Central Park NYE Fireworks

Alternatives

If standing around outside for 7-9 hours doesn’t sound like your cup of tea and you have some money to burn, then it might be in your best interest to make a reservation at a restaurant in Times Square or along 7th Avenue or Broadway north of Times Square. Then you can chill inside and then just step outside to watch the ball drop from the sidewalk! Of course, this experience will cost you. Try upwards of $600 per person at some national chains!

Have you spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square? What was your experience and do you have anything to add?

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46 Responses to The Ultimate Guide to Spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square

  1. Katie January 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    I just saw this a few days after doing Times Square for New Year’s Eve 2011. I got there around 3:45 and the first pen I was in got emptied out by police and there was nowhere else to go. I wandered along the barricades to 46th & Broadway, where you could just barely see the ball, and got lucky when police allowed a few more people into the pen on that corner. I went as far in as I could, next to the performance stage, and luckily got an unobstructed view of the ball. 7th Ave might have been better, but with the crowds, I was thankful to have a viewing spot at all.

    Also, it was nearly 50 degrees the other night on NYE, but I still layered up as if it were 20, because I knew I’d need the extra pockets. haha.

    • Aaron January 4, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      You got emptied out of the first pen! Oh no! Had you not gone through their security checkpoint or something?

      When I did it, my first pen was up by 56th Street but they condensed us down to 53rd St.

      Thanks for sharing your experiene!

  2. Aloys Jacobs February 9, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    I was in NYC on Millennium night (was living on 49th street and 8th at the time) and started at about 7pm and made it down Broadway to about 45th, just enough to see the ball. Huge ‘herd’ that night, as doomsday was approaching 🙂 Then headed uptown to the Central Park fireworks and a bite to eat.
    Next year we avoided Times Square altogether.

    • Aaron February 9, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

      It’s definitely one of those things that you have to do once. But once is MORE than enough, as it was for me! Never again… Glad you had an enjoyable experience!

  3. Joe January 5, 2012 at 2:18 am #

    Sounds like you guys where all lucky. This year was the first year I went and we got to the area to be let in at 2:30 and we were stuck at 48th.

    • Aaron January 7, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

      WOW. Yikes! Did you think the experience was worth it?

  4. Rich October 22, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    My girlfriend and I got to times square at 11am 2012-13. It was our first time so we didn’t know what to do when we got there so we just followed the crowd. We stood in an area we thought would be a good spot and after about 30 min we figured out it wasn’t even a viewing area. We started walking in the direction the police were guiding everyone. It looked like we were going to be pushed way down to pens down by 52nd st. We noticed a pen letting people in so we walked over to it and got screened in about 5 min and secured our spot right next to the Nivea stage! It was now noon and we could see the ball clearly. We just got lucky like most of the stories go (Either you get lucky or you don’t). We planned our day out with wearing layers and eating granola bars. We had 1 bottle of water that we just sipped periodically just to wet our lips and throat. We never had to go to the bathroom, not even after the ball drop. Most of the people that left we done by 3pm. Anyone that made it to 6pm lasted until midnight. The worst part was the pain in our feet and lower back from standing so long without moving (wear comfortable shoes). We had about a 2 foot area to shift ourselves around. We brought a battery pack to keep our phones charged so we could listen to music and take pictures and videos all day. It was a really long day and night and we started to question our stupid decision around 8pm when the pain really hit. The last fifteen minutes the place started to come alive again and we forgot about how much our bodies were aching. When the ball dropped and the fireworks went off and the confetti flew and the music played…..it was all worth it! We danced and enjoyed everything for another 15 minutes before we left. All the pizza joints had lines out the door so we ended up eating Thai food a few blocks away. Bottom line is that it was worth it for us to go through all the pain and waiting but most likely won’t do it again. We checked our block!!! If you’re going to try it….we wish you good luck.

    • Aaron October 22, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your experience! In my case, it was not worth the wait so I don’t think I’ll be doing it again. Where I was at 53rd Street, there was no confetti or fireworks. No music. Nothing. Could you at least hear the bands playing on the stage?

      • Rich October 22, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

        Oh Yeah! We were right up against the stage. That made the day pass a little quicker, watching all the acts rehearse.

        • Aaron October 23, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

          Haha I imagine that would have made the time passing a bit more enjoyable! 🙂

    • Lizz July 19, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

      If I got there early. Do the police make you move when setting up barricades or let you in regardless if you have a pass or not?

      • Aaron July 22, 2015 at 11:55 pm #

        You know, I don’t know the answer to that. People go early all the time, so I can’t imagine they kick you out. I believe the whole point of getting there early is to get a good spot when the barricades are set up. Besides the barricades are for crowd control. They also set up a security check which you will no doubt be subject to (mostly just checking to make sure you don’t have a bag and such).

  5. Lidia December 4, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    I went on times square new years eve 2 years ago i got too late and as Aaron says i was there without even some music, firework or anything i was so far away i couldnt see anything but this 2013 ill go again and go pretty early maybe i get lucky enough who knows! Im traveling all the way from central america again because i really wanna have the experience again hope this time a better one!

    • Aaron December 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

      If you want to be in Times Square, arrive no later than 2:00pm to be safe. People stand around all day just waiting for the police to close off Times Square to traffic to claim their spots. Hope you have a better experience this time! Let us know how it goes!

      • Gina October 14, 2015 at 9:29 pm #

        We are headed to New Paltz to Mohonk Mountain House for Jan 1-3. We are flying into Newark on NYE. My kids have always wanted to see the ball drop in person–“always wanted”–kind of, they are only 10, but, it does seem like something we should do while I’m still alive and can walk-ha! Anyway, I have traveled an insane amount this year and actually have reserved a room at the DoubleTree on Broadway in Times Square. My question is, we don’t land until 310 pm in Newark and were going to rent a car. I’m thinking we should take a cab but not sure how close we can get at 430-5ish? We can take an earlier flight that lands at 1pm-still wondering about how close the cab will get us? My husband is going to hate every second of it so I have saved my drink tickets up for him to use on the plane, but, our children, triplet 10 year olds are going to love it. Can we walk outside and see the ball drop? Any advice is appreciated!! Thanks!!

        • Aaron October 22, 2015 at 1:04 am #

          You won’t be able to get all that close, regardless of whether or not you rent a car or take a cab, as by 5pm, the police will have shut down all the streets in the area. Generally, the police close the Times Square area between 6th Ave and 8th Ave. Getting to your hotel will certainly be an adventure, as you will need to show the police your hotel reservation just to get through the checkpoints they set up at those points. My suggestion is to ask your hotel what to expect and also ask them about seeing the ball drop. Maybe you’ll even snag a room with a view!

        • Kelian December 31, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

          Not to put dampers on anything for you but we are at the double tree hotel and ck in on thurs they have the roads all blocked off already and no access to hotel by any type of vehicle at this point getting to point now where roads are blocked off walking wise up to 49th street and it’s 2 30 as time goes on they will be blocking off further back road wise good luck to you we went outside of hotel around noon w access keys given and was hard then w access to get back to hotel

          • Aaron December 31, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

            This is an older comment you’re replying to, as Gina went last year. But yes, they close stuff off early.

  6. Alex December 21, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    So, one thing I notice in these types of articles is that no one ever talks about the experience getting home. Are the subways packed? (with 1 million people packed in there, i’d imagine they would be). can you catch a cab?

    • Aaron December 26, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

      Interesting question! I lived on the East Side when I did NYE in Times Square, so I walked over to Grand Central in a desperate move to find a bathroom to use (not to mention that I needed the 4/5/6 subway, that could be found there). By the time I got on the train it wasn’t so awful. You also have to figure that many of the tourists who do NYE in Times Square are probably staying near Times Square and probably don’t take a subway. As with any major event anywhere, killing a little time before heading home could be a wise decision.

  7. Luke December 30, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    NYE in Times Square has always been a dream of mine. Maybe next year….

    • Aaron December 30, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

      Haha well it was on my bucket list too, and I can’t say I enjoyed the experience all that much. But, with a good group of friends to keep you company and some proper planning regarding food and beverage consumption (and being able to hold your bathroom needs for hours on end), I suppose it could be fun, provided it wasn’t too cold!

  8. Adelina @ PackMeTo December 31, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Sounds like my idea of a nightmare. After reading this, it doesn’t sound like it was worth it. I like the idea of going, but I don’t think I ever would.

    • Aaron December 31, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

      It wasn’t a particularly enjoyable experience while it was happening, but I’m glad to say that I tried it. Now will I do it again? Absolutely not! But, hey, to each their own, right?

  9. Debbie August 27, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    Hi all, me and my partner are hoping to go to new York this year to celebrate new years eve, after reading this times square doesn’t sound very appealing. Has anyone have any experiences going to one of the restaurants and watching the ball drop from outside the restaurant? If so which restaurants have the best view? Also when would be a good time to book, before we leave or is it best to reserve last minute for a better deal? Many thanks

    • Aaron August 27, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

      I can’t say that I have. Be prepared to spend several hundred dollars each for dinner at one of the restaurants in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Most of the ones just take you out onto the sidewalk at midnight, but you could opt for a hotel in Times Square. A couple have restaurants with spectacular views (the Renaissance and the Novotel come to mind), though I would imagine those would be even more expensive. Good luck!

  10. Gary September 13, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    I am looking at Times Square for NYE but my options are staying at the Novotel Times Square where you get access to the East side terrace (not lower floors) or Millennium Broadway ball drop room in the premier tower of that hotel.

    Do any of you New Yorkers know if they would be any good? It is a little hard to tell from England!

    Thanks

    • Aaron September 17, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

      Well I can’t speak for the Millennium Broadway, but I’ve been to that terrace at the Novotel and the views are superb.

      • corza000 October 23, 2017 at 5:54 am #

        Do you need a ticket for Novotel terrace or do you just have to be a guest? Thanks

        • Aaron November 15, 2017 at 9:17 pm #

          I think the terrace is attached to the restaurant, which will surely be charging an arm and a leg for the experience.

  11. Chip November 19, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

    My wife and I were thinking of going around 2-3pm and hanging out in Times Square for the experience and then escaping about 7pm and going to prix fixe dinner & party around Columbus Circle. We would likely try to leave the party at 11 and try to get back into the party at 7th Ave and Central Park South. Do you think this is a good plan to experience time square without standing around for 10 hours. Any hints to getting back onto 7th avenue near the top of the party? Can you enter directly from C. Park South or do you have to enter from 5th Ave?

    • Aaron December 10, 2014 at 1:18 am #

      Hi Chip,

      All you’re really going to experience from 3pm to 7pm is standing around in a pen with a bunch of other people. None of the entertainment actually starts till the TV cameras start rolling a bit later. So I’m not sure what you stand to gain by doing this other than a story to tell people.

      I’m not sure if you can enter 7th Ave straight from the Park. It’s all controlled access that involves security checkpoints so I would be inclined to say no. you would likely have to enter from 5th Ave or the West Side (8th Ave or maybe even further west because Broadway intersects 8th Ave at 59th St).

      Central Park actually has a midnight run and its own fireworks at midnight so that might be a fun experience.

  12. Lowanda January 12, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    Hi Aaron–Thank you for the advice. We had a great time, but you MUST be committed to make it to midnight. It was a grueling experience, but I am glad I did it. We followed your advice and had a GREAT NYE in Times Square a few weeks ago. We took the train in and out to Grand Central Station. Easy-breezy. We got there at 2PM and we were able to get into the pen on 49th street and 7th avenue. Good view of the ball. I could see it clearly with the naked eye. We were up against the railing on the right side and it was great. We were able to hold off the bathroom by eating our last meal around noon, last bathroom run at Grand Central Station at 1:30, drinking 1-8oz bottle of water and eating 1 granola bar for the rest of the evening. It was very cold, in the 20s, so hand warmers came in handy. NO backpacks allowed at all. I would suggest ‘pocket chairs’ (as they are small enough to fit under your coat and I saw quite a few), a towel, or seat cushion will come in handy as the night goes on and the legs are exhausted. We sat on the ground when we got tired. Many were sitting. We did remember to turn around to watch the fireworks after the ball drop. It was great! Thank you for your advice. BTW…I never need to go again. LOL Bucket list -CHECK!

    • Aaron January 20, 2015 at 10:42 pm #

      Haha once in a lifetime sort of experience, right? 😛

      Glad you found my advice to be useful! Were you able to hear the concerts from where you were? And those chairs sound truly brilliant!

  13. Shannon May 6, 2015 at 10:12 pm #

    Hi! I am surprising my girlfriend for her birthday this year with taking her to NYC to watch the ball drop this year! After reading all of these i am starting to think maybe having dinner at a restaurant WOULD be the smart thing to do. haha. Are there any restaurants with a good view/food you could recommend? Im from down south in Texas. I don’t know much about New York! 🙂

    • Aaron May 16, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

      Unfortunately, like most New Yorkers, I hardly ever spend any time in the Times Square area. There are loads of restaurants around and they will all jack up their prices on New Year’s Eve. I’ve been to the Supernova Grill at the Novotel on 52nd and Broadway. It’s got a pretty nice view as it’s on the 7th floor. Food wasn’t great for the price though.

  14. Carlos April 4, 2016 at 9:11 pm #

    Hi Aaron! My friends and I are traveling from Costa Rica to NYC this winter and we were planning to spend NYE in TSq, but the different reviews, guides and blogs we have read are a little scary! hehehe… I dont think my gf and friends would be up to that kind of torture. Is there any other option to spend NYE in Manhattan besides going to a bar or spending thousands in a hotel or restaurant in TSq?

    • Aaron April 12, 2016 at 1:11 am #

      Eh most local people just go to bars. But there is a midnight run and a small fireworks show that happens in Central Park. Or a plethora of concerts and parties that people go to.

  15. Padrotti December 10, 2016 at 2:25 am #

    Hey Aaron! Not sure how alive this thread is but my wife and I are going to New York for NYE this year and are staying at the west house hotel on 55th street. Any tips from accessing Times Square from here. It seems to only be a 10 minute walk from the hotel and any other tips! I want to see the ball drop but we also have never been to NYC and other landmarks have my interest as well for a short 3 day trip.

    • Aaron December 11, 2016 at 10:41 pm #

      You can’t exactly just walk right into Times Square on New Year’s Eve and watch the ball drop. You’ll go through security and end up in some pen. That said, you may actually be able to see it from your hotel. I’m sure they can give you some tips. If you want to actually be in the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve, that will basically take up your entire day on the 31st.

      • Padrotti December 12, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

        Good point and I will definitely talk to the hotel and see!

  16. Jennifer Campbell December 27, 2016 at 9:54 pm #

    Hi! My mom and I will be heading to the ball drop! We’re from Michigan and we have no idea how to do this. We’re planning on being there in the morning. Do you have tips to get to be in the very front, by the TV screens, or as close as we can? We’ll figure out lack of bathrooms, cold, food and drink as needed. Go big or go home, right? Please send all tips this way! We’re staying in New Jersey, so we’ll be taking the bus there.

  17. Carlin in NYC December 31, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned wearing adult diapers for the event. I’ve heard many people use them since leaving to relieve yourself is not an option. Personally, I could never take standing for that long or being treated like cattle by the police! I’ve attended large events in European cities and in Brazil with alcohol and food and little police involvement and it was amazing and fun! Not at all like the gestapo brutalization of the NYPD at parades or events! Stand here, not there! Walk this way, not that way! No you can’t go there because I said so! No thank you!

    • Aaron December 31, 2016 at 2:05 pm #

      Haha my thoughts exactly. Once was more than enough for me. But hey, to each their own, right?

  18. Shelley November 9, 2017 at 5:17 pm #

    My family is coming for NYE, our plan is to pay to eat at on of the restaurants however will we be able to leave the restaurant on 44th and get on 7th to see the ball drop?

    • Aaron November 15, 2017 at 9:15 pm #

      I don’t believe so. Probably best to ask your restaurant though.

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