The red steps in Times Square
The red steps in Times Square

7 Ways to Enhance Your NYC Trip

Be it a weeklong vacation, a long weekend, or simply a day trip, New York City is a great place to visit. From Broadway to the Coney Island boardwalk, from culture to couture, there’s something for everyone. Take a juicy bite of the Big Apple with our fun and affordable travel suggestions.

1) Reward Yourself

aerial photo of New York City
You know how to use your frequent flier points to travel to New York City. And you also likely know how to use your loyalty program points to book a free hotel stay in New York City. But did you know you might be able to use those points to buy tickets to Broadway shows?

You can if you join Audience Rewards, the only rewards program that thanks audiences for their loyalty to Broadway. Members earn ShowPoints (the official currency of the program) by buying theater tickets through Telecharge, Ticketmaster, and other authorized ticketing agencies. They can also choose to earn airline miles or other travel points through some of the country’s top loyalty programs, including Starwood Preferred Guests and Amtrak Guest Rewards.

The newest points partner to join Audience Rewards is American Airlines, giving members the ability to earn 100 AAdvantage miles per ticket (plus bonus miles based on the performance) as a reward when they purchase tickets.

Joann Camuti, American Airlines Regional Manager for Sales, Promotion and Community Relations in the Eastern Division, applauds her company’s new partnership with Audience Rewards. “American Airlines has served the New York metropolitan region for more than 80 years and is an important member of the community. In fact, American is the official airline of more than 30 Broadway theatres in New York City.”

Once you’re an Audience Rewards member, you can also rack up additional Audience Rewards points or partner points for every dollar you spend at participating shows. The points can be used for free tickets, upgrades, extra discounts, experiences, and Broadway merchandise.

That isn’t the only way to see Broadway shows at great prices. Very often you can get great seats and find tickets for less than $60. We will always direct you to the official ticketing source. See what’s playing on Broadway.

If you’re looking for tickets on the same day as the performance, visit the show box office, where you can purchase available tickets throughout the day. If the show is sold out, you may be lucky enough to secure a limited number of standing room only tickets. A few hours before curtain time, you can ask for rush tickets, which usually run from $25 to $35 each. If you have time to wait, get in line at the TKTS booth, where you can save up to 50 percent off the price of a ticket. Lines can be long, so be prepared for an hour or more of people-watching while you soak in the atmosphere.

2) Explore Times Square

Times Square during the day crowded with people

You can’t spend all of your vacation attending Broadway shows, so save some time to explore the neighborhood. Take a walk over to Duffy Square, between 45th and 47th Streets and Broadway, to see the statue of George M. Cohan. The best view of the Great White Way is from the wedge-shaped, bleacher-like ruby-red stairs located atop the TKTS ticket booth. It’s the perfect place for your own Broadway photo op.

Formerly named Longacre Square, the district was renamed Times Square in April 1904, after The New York Times moved its headquarters to the Times Building, now called One Times Square. Once a year, this becomes the most famous building in the world: It is from the top of this structure that the glittering ball slowly descends on New Year’s Eve. The New York Times is located at 229 West 43rd Street. The building lobby is open to the public and features a dynamic media installation called “Moveable Type.”

Times Square entertainment options range from the nearly free to the well-worth-the-cost. Rub elbows with the stars when you visit Madame Tussauds. The life-size wax replicas of celebrities are uncanny, and new ones are added all the time. It’s the perfect place to capture a selfie with the stars. Discovery Times Square is a world-class exhibition center located in the heart of the Theatre District. More than a museum, this exhibition space features rare artifacts and unique educational experiences. Exhibits change frequently, so if you’ve been there before, a second trip may be in order. Kids of every age will love “The Hunger Games: The Exhibition,” an immersive themed environment featuring hundreds of authentic costumes and props, and highly interactive digital and hands-on experiences that invite visitors to explore the world of Panem as created by the films. Guests will follow Katniss Everdeen’s inspirational journey, from her humble beginnings in District 12 to her emergence as the Mockingjay, sparking curiosity and excitement as the real-world themes underpinning the stories and the technological wizardry and amazing artistry that carried them to the screen are revealed.

While there are many reputable bus tours that run from Times Square, The Ride NYC takes it to a whole new level. The 45-foot-long tour buses feature unique sideways-facing stadium seating, so you don’t miss a glimpse of the cityscape. The experience is enhanced with multimedia, live performances out on the sidewalk, and seats that rumble to simulate a subway ride.

To find the latest information on everything to do in Times Square, visit timessquarenyc.org, the official Times Square NY website sponsored by the Times Square Alliance.

3) Get a Bite to Eat

two chocolate chip cookies sitting on a napkin

From the singing staff at Ellen’s Stardust Diner to the iconic showbiz eatery Sardi’s, there’s a restaurant for every taste and budget in and around the Broadway Theatre District. Times Square features one of New York City’s most diverse selections of cuisine, with more than 250 restaurants dotting the blocks around Duffy Square and the bright lights of 42nd Street. For a complete list, visit timessquarenyc.org/dining.

After your meal, take a short walk over to 9th Avenue (362 West 45th Street) and drop in to Schmackary’s, a fast favorite treat among theater pros for its enormous chewy cookies. The cookie shop offers 40 rotating flavors, ranging from classics such as chocolate chip to gourmet options such as peanut butter banana crunch and gluten-free green tea. The shop is open late, making Schmackary’s a great postshow treat.

4) Must-See Exhibition

Photo of a door with the sign The Hirschfeld Century
Photo by: Rob Young

Al Hirschfeld (1903–2003) brought a distinct style to celebrity drawings, making his work instantly recognizable. To be “Hirschfelded” was a sign that a performer had arrived. Now, for the first time, nine decades of Hirschfeld’s work will be on display at the New-York Historical Society in “The Hirschfeld Century: The Art of Al Hirschfeld,” a multimedia exhibition organized in partnership with the Al Hirschfeld Foundation and in conjunction with Alfred A. Knopf’s publication of curator David Leopold’s groundbreaking book on the artist. The exhibition of more than 100 original works includes many highlights from Hirschfeld’s prolific career, with a special emphasis on The New York Times — where he was a contributor for more than seven decades. Don’t miss the art that defined New York popular culture and made the 1900s the Hirschfeld Century.

Click here to get your copy of The Hirschfeld Century, now on sale exclusively at the Museum Store.

Click here to read an interview with the exhibition’s curator, David Leopold.

5) Shopping

Exterior Photo of Macy's in Herald Square
Photo by: JJ Bers

What’s a trip to the city without a little shopping? Before you head out looking for a great buy, visit visitmacysnewyork.com to learn about the wide array of special services and discounts that Macy’s Herald Square offers to visitors and groups. Known as the longest running hit on Broadway, the world’s largest department is located at 151 West 34th Street, a short walk from Times Square. When you arrive at the store, look for the “My Heart Will Go On” plaque commemorating Isador and Ida Straus, Macy’s original co-owners who perished on the Titanic. In addition to carrying every major brand imaginable, the store features several great restaurants, including Stella 34 Trattoria, serving elegant Italian fare and creative wood-fired pizzas in an airy setting on the sixth floor.

6) See NYC for Free

Young girl looking at red circle as a museum
Photo by: Studio Sarah Lu

Summer offers a bounty of free performances around the city, from Shakespeare in (Central) Park to music and dance at Celebrate Brooklyn! in Prospect Park. You can hear the New York Philharmonic free in all five boroughs, plus smaller orchestras at smaller parks.

Some museums in NYC, such as The Forbes Galleries and the National Museum of the American Indian, are always free. Others offer free admission on certain days at certain times: The Children’s Museum of Manhattan Target Free First Fridays offers free admission from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the first Friday of every month; the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has Target Free Friday Nights every Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.; and The Jewish Museum waives admission fees on Saturdays, but the children’s galleries and café are closed.

The High Line, an elevated park on the far west side, offers free interactive arts programs and story times for young children, along with nature tours, dance programs, and stargazing for the whole family.

If you belong to your local children’s museum, science or art museum, or botanic garden, check to see whether your membership includes a reciprocal arrangement that entitles you to free admission at its NYC counterpart.

You can travel for free, too, so long as you take a ferry. The free Staten Island Ferry operates 24/7 between Whitehall Terminal near Battery Park at the south end of Manhattan and St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island. The ferry is a great way to get up and close to the Statue of Liberty.

In summer months, you also can take free ferry rides from lower Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge Park to Governors Island, where you’ll find lots of free family-friendly activities, from art stations to free concerts.

7) Explore Beyond Times Square

Bikes at a bike rack

This is New York City, after all, so there’s plenty to do. Here are just a few other suggestions.

Check out one of Central Park’s 21 playgrounds when the weather is nice. The Heckscher Playground is the oldest and the closest to the Theatre District. Others parks offer Wild West– and ancient Egypt–themed play spaces. Many have water elements for hot days.

Biking is becoming an increasingly popular option for travel within NYC. The recently unveiled Citibike stations are great for short trips. For longer journeys and tours, check out one of the several Bike and Roll locations in NYC. The route that cuts through Times Square can get crowded, but the west side has a bike path along the river that is safe and dedicated to nonmotorized vehicles. Or bike the designated lane on the Brooklyn Bridge. Biking in NYC is great for sightseeing — and for working off that cookie from Schmackary’s.

For more information on these and other vacation ideas, visit NYC’s official visitors’ guide, nycgo.com. To save money and time, buy a New York CityPASS. The card provides admission to the Empire State Building Observatory, American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Top of the Rock or Guggenheim Museum, and Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or Circle Line Cruises. Even better than saving money, the CityPASS allows you to skip the long lines at museums and the Statue of Liberty.

By TravelingMom.com’s Cindy Richards, editor-in-chief, and Mary Lebeau, contributor