A photo of the New York City skyline at night
A photo of the New York City skyline at night

How to Spice Up Your NYC Theater Trip

If you’re seeing a Broadway show, here’s a rundown of tours, shops, restaurants, and sites to add to the fun.

Coming to New York City to see a Broadway or Off-Broadway show is one of the most exciting travel adventures you can have. But your fun doesn’t have to stop at the stage door. Why not make an entire day (or several days) of your trip by taking in some of the attractions and sites in the Theatre District. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Put on Your Walking Shoes

Times square  mid day with a small crowd

A great way to augment your NYC theatergoing experience is to take a walking tour of the Broadway District. These include insights to the history of the area, which was called Longacre Square in the 19th century and was principally known for carriage factories. Then, in 1904, the New York Times built its headquarters there and took on the new moniker Times Square. The opening was celebrated on New Year’s Eve when a wooden ball decorated with electric lights descended on the new building and the tradition has been repeated every year since.

As a working theater critic and Tony Award voter, I conduct a tour of the area from a reviewer’s point of view. Check out my website at CriticsChoiceTours.com. Similar tours, conducted by working actors and other theater professionals, are offered by Broadway Up Close, Inside Broadway, and New York Broadway Tours. Additional theater tours are given by Uncle Sam’s New York and Walkin’ Broadway.

If you want to get close up to individual theatres and famous sites, there are in-depth tours of Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, and the New Amsterdam Theatre — where Disney’s Aladdin is currently playing and is said to be haunted by the ghost of a Ziegfeld Follies girl.

Grab a Bite

Exterior photo of Ellen's Stardust Diner
Photo by: Ken Sturm

You’ll probably be hungry after all that walking, and there are dozens of fine restaurants in the district. The most famous is Sardi’s, the legendary eatery that serves as a dining room for the theatrical community. Open at its current location in 1927, the restaurant has been the scene of hundreds of opening-night parties and the walls are lined with caricatures of Broadway stars. (Who could forget the scene in The Muppets Take Manhattan when Kermit the Frog puts up his own caricature in the hopes of getting himself recognized?) You can enjoy a meal in the main dining room or drinks and snacks at bars on the first or second floor. Who knows, you might spot a real star among the drawn ones.

Another popular theater-oriented dining spot is Ellen’s Stardust Diner. Outfitted like an NYC subway car, this delightful destination is full of memorabilia and features a singing waitstaff — and many who used to work there have gone on to Broadway careers. The owner was a former Miss Subways, a monthly contest sponsored by the transit system during the 1940s and ’50s, which is satirized in On the Town, currently revived at the Lyric Theatre. For juicy burgers, try Schnipper’s or Shake Shack. For dessert, the city’s best cheesecake can be sampled at Junior’s.

And there’s Restaurant Row, a whole block full of top-rate bistros, pubs, bars, and eateries including Joe Allen’s (which features posters of famous Broadway flops), Don’t Tell Mama (cabaret shows are regularly performed here), Orso, and many others.

You Better Shop Around

Exterior photo of the Hershey's store in Times Square
Photo by: Mohammed Bably

Once you’ve eaten your fill, browse in some of the unique Theatre District stores. You can find show souvenirs at Theatre Circle next to the St. James or at One Shubert Alley, and the Drama Book Store has the city’s largest selection of scripts and theater-related books. If you’re still hungry and you’ve got a sweet tooth, look no further than the corner of 48th and Broadway where dueling candy establishments Hershey’s Times Square and M&M’s World are across the street from each other.

For the little ones, there’s Toy R Us, where you can ride in a giant Ferris wheel with each car festooned with cartoon characters, and the Disney Store with every imaginable type of Mouse-related merchandise, from pajamas to waffle irons. Kids and grown-ups into superheroes should drop in at Midtown Comics, the city’s largest comic store.

Beauty and makeup products are available at H&M Perfumes and Gifts, MAC, and Sephora. Hip clothing outlets include American Eagle Outfitters and Aeropostale.

If there’s time, why not visit some of the district’s many nontheatrical attractions, including Madame Tussaud’s famous wax museum, where you can get your picture taken with facsimiles of everyone from Lady Gaga to Morgan Freeman and the Incredible Hulk; Ripley’s Believe It or Not; and Discovery Times Square, which now features Avengers Station in connection with the upcoming Marvel Studios movie. Speaking of hot movie franchises, Discovery will be featuring a special exhibit on The Hunger Games starting in July.

And in the Center of It All . . .

Just before your show starts, spend some time just walking around the TKTS ticket booth. The booth opened in 1973 to offer half-price Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets for the day of the performance and was lavishly remodeled in 2008 featuring the now famous enormous set of red steps. At the top you’ll get a grand view of costumed characters, tourists, theatergoers, and the intense madness that is Times Square.

Photo credit: Tom Perry.