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How To Explore Times Square Like A Local

How to Explore Times Square (NYC) Like a Local

“What do you do in Times Square as a local?”

It’s a question I get asked a lot, especially from guests on my NYC walking tours. The truth: locals typically avoid Times Square like the plague. Sure, I take my tour guests there for fun photos; but, it’s not somewhere you’ll find me in my spare time.

Until recently.

This month, Speedify asked me to use their VPN service while exploring NYC. And since I’ve never really simply explored Times Square like I have, say, the West Village and SoHo, I decided it was the perfect opportunity.

My findings? There actually are some pretty awesome things to do in Times Square, as well as near this tourist hub. And Speedify made a great companion for keeping me connected and secure.

What do locals do in #TimesSquare? Here's 11 things - some may surprise you! #NYC Click To Tweet

GIVEAWAY ALERT: Make sure to scroll down to the bottom of this post, as I’m giving away *10* Speedify VPNs for free! It’s quick to enter, and they make great holidays gifts! The giveaway ends December 8, 2017 at 11:59 PM EST! 

speedify vpn

Why Speedify?

So you know when you’re wandering around trying to connect to free public WiFi but the service is shoddy? Or when your phone automatically connects you to weak public WiFi, making your connection super slow?

Speedify solves that by binding all available connections for the fastest possible speeds. Moreover, you can choose how much of your data you’d like Speedify to make use of:

speedify vpn

And because it’s a VPN, your data stays secure — even when using unsecure hot spots. Unlike other VPNs — where they vanish as soon as your WiFi signal does — Speedify bonds to your 3G network until it can automatically link to another WiFi source.

Do you use a #VPN? This one works with public Wifi + your cellular data...perfect for travelers on the go! #travel Click To Tweet

My Mission

During my day exploring NYC, my mission was to find fun things to do in Times Square and its surrounding neighborhoods using my phone as my guide. Well, not just my phone; but also Speedify, which I’d pair with available LinkNYC hotspots, which are typically pretty wonky.

Note that if you have cable, you can also sign into one of the generally shoddy hotspots offered by your provider. When paired with the Speedify app, they’ll become fast and secure.

things to do in times square

Hello from the Crossroads of the World!

Awesome Times Square Experiences

Getting set up with Speedify and LinkNYC was super easy: download the free app, set it up on my device and choose my package. You can try their limited free version or sign up for unlimited usage ($8.99/month or $49.99/year). Then, turn on Speedify with the touch of one button.

From there, I connected to a weak LinkNYC hotspot, which bonded with Speedify to become faster. Within the Speedify app, I was actually able to see it working. In fact, the app tells you how much of each connection it’s using.

speedify vpn

It also tells you how happy— or unhappy — it is with the available WiFi in a very funny way.

speedify VPN

Two different screenshots showing Speedify vs the WiFi at different points in/around Times Square

You’ll also be able to choose a limit for your mobile carrier data so you never go over on your bill.

speedify vpn

1. 3D Printing Come To Life

Truth be told, when I logged onto FourSquare while standing at 42nd and Broadway I wasn’t expecting to find much right nearby; however, it suggested an intriguing attraction I’d never heard of before called Gulliver’s Gate, an “exhibit.”

While I was expecting a small exhibit on the history of theater, what I found was actually “the world’s largest miniature world on the planet”.

Gulliver's Gate things to do in times square

One of the entrance exhibits at Gulliver’s Gate

Multiple floors showcase detailed miniature scenes from around the world, connected by 1000 tiny trains, all made with 3D printers. You can even have yourself made into a 3D-printed figurine for $120. The highlight is the amazingly realistic NYC cityscape.

Entrance to get in is $36 — pricey, but it’s such a unique museum. Even if you don’t want to pay, the entrance features a few teaser scenes like Brooklyn’s Coney Island, and the White House with former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama waving from the balcony.

Cookies for $1 in #TimesSquare? Yes, they exist! Check out #2 on this list! #NYC Click To Tweet

2. Cookies Galore (Some For $1!)

Schmackary’s is heaven for cookie lovers, going way beyond chocolate chip. Self-proclaimed “cookie monster” Zachary “Schmackary” Schmahl lets his imagination run completely wild when coming up with his cookie recipes. Today, his shop sells flavors like candied yam, maple bacon, funfetti and a pumpkin-laced “Pick of the Patch”.

Schmackary's cookies things to do in times square

Schmackary’s day-old cookies. Still yummy (and cheap!).

Additionally, there are “Schmackaroons,” krispie treats, shakes, bars and brownies — all made in innovative flavors using fresh Hudson Valley milk.

You can also snag a deal: just $1 for the still-delicious day-old cookies.

3. The Rum House

When using speedy WiFi to search for a fun cocktail bar, I had no problem finding recommendations: Tanner Smith’s, Dutch Freds, Lantern’s Keep.

The problem: it was early afternoon, and most cocktail dens don’t open until the evening.

Luckily, The Rum House — a cozy rum bar offering a boozy retreat from bustling Times Square — was.

rum house things to do in times square

Part of Hotel Edison, I found out this watering hole came in at #12 on Conde Nast Traveler’s 2016 list of NYC’s Best Bars. Inside, tucked away in an intimate space accented by wood and copper, I read the enticing menu.

Typically I can’t say no to a “Moscow Mule” made with homemade ginger beer; however, this time I opted for the “Tortuga” showcasing El Dorado 8-Year Rum, citrus, fresh ginger and cinnamon for something bright yet warming (hey, it’s getting cold in NYC!).

Another drink that caught my eye was the “Rum Old Fashioned”, swapping in Brugal Anejo Rum for the typical bourbon.

Come in the evening, and you’ll enjoy live jazz and piano music, too! Happy hour is 12-6pm and offers $5 Narragansett Lager, $6 wine, and $10 daiquiri and rum punch.

4. Latte Art At Its Finest

Frisson Espresso is a cozy coffee shop just outside the bustle of 7th and 8th avenues. Drinks feature gorgeous latte art, with a few paintings by Adrian Hashimi adding an artsy twist.

Tip: If you’ve never had a canele, make sure to try one here. It’s a French custard pastry laced with rum and vanilla, almost like creme brulee with a flan texture.

Frisson Espresso things to do in times square

Latte and canele at Frisson Espresso

Craving something healthy? Attached is Fresh From Hell, a smoothie and salad cafe with a name that plays on the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood (which Times Square connects with).

5. A Cultural “Melting” Stove Pot

I had no idea Times Square had hip cafeterias featuring top local New York purveyors. At City Kitchen, aromatic steam wafted over counters serving Dough Doughnuts, Luke’s Lobster, Azuki, Kuro Obi and other New York faves.

city kitchen things to do in times square

Getting lunch at the eclectic City Kitchen

Sit under exposed bulbs while looking out over 8th Avenue, or head into the spacious attached seating room.

Did you know you can find some of #NYC's cutest pastries in #TimesSquare?! Check out #6 on the list! Click To Tweet

6. NYC’s Cutest Pastries

Seriously, do you see my strawberry shortcake? It was damn tasty, too.

things to do in times square bibble & sip

Strawberry shortcake from Bibble & Sip

The alpaca-themed Bibble & Sip serves up quality coffees with creative pastries like matcha cream puffs, everything bagel croissants and chocolate chip cookie brownies, all made fresh daily.

Why alpacas? Simply because the founder thinks they’re awesome!

7. Shop (For A Cause)

Almost all of my clothing is bought from thrift stores, typically Vintage Monk and Buffalo Exchange in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Near Times Square, I fell in love with Housing Works Thrift.

housing works things to do in times square

Shopping at Housing Works

While I needed to sift a bit more to find my style, I couldn’t help but adore their philosophy. Housing Works’ mission is to “end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain [their] efforts.” Profits from the thrift store help sustain their parent company nonprofit.

Bonus: they sell books and unique housewares, too! For any fellow-thrift shopper, this will quickly become one of your favorite things to do in Times Square.

8. Shop (For Affordable Art)

Sure, nearby Chelsea is home to over 300 — mainly high end — galleries; but my quest directed me to Fountain House Gallery, just one avenue from Times Square. Here, walls were covered in colorful modern works for less than $100 as part of their annual “Small Works: $100 & Under” program.

fountain house things to do in times square

Photo via Fountain House Gallery

What’s really awesome about this gallery is they’re also a nonprofit dedicated to making mental health a priority. In fact, the art is created by artists living with mental illness, confronting stereotypes and stigma surrounding it.

Two blocks away sits Jadite Galleriesshowcasing contemporary works since 1985.

There are so many things to do in #TimesSquare beyond the tourist attractions! #7 and #11 are my favorites! #NYC Click To Tweet

9. Get Inspired By Unique Gifts

Delphinium Home may be just a six-minute walk from the heart of Times Square, but it feels like a country cottage with a creative keeper.

Delphinium Home things to do in times square

How cute is Delphinium Home?

One window displayed pastel Post-It’s showcasing Love Always Wins thoughts, while inside were quirky presents like a cat-shaped omelet mold, journals with prompt pages, funny cards and Golden Girls devotional candles.

10. Get Caffeinated On The Cheap

Here’s one my fellow budget hunters will love. At Corvo Coffee, everything from the lattes to the muffins are $2.

things to do in times square corvo coffee

Corvo Coffee

I think the picture pretty much says it all.

11. Learn About Mental Health Through Street Art

Okay, so this was a bit of a walk; but, when Speedify helped me quickly quench my thirst for street art by pulling up info on a new mural project on 34th and 9th, I made the 15-minute trek.

Part of the Mural Arts Project — an initiative of the New York City Health Department and the Fund for Public Health — the installation seeks to de-stigmatize mental health issues. Interestingly, the above-mentioned Fountain House Gallery and artist Andrew Frank Baer are the ones who created these first Manhattan installations.

The message: “Some days I have to push myself to go outside and walk to the park. Say hello! We can embrace ourselves and open doors together.”

things to do in times square street art

This mural healths raise awareness about mental health issues

According to Street Art NYC, the Fountain House Gallery hosted workshops where community members were able to sketch out the murals, allowing them to be a part of their neighborhood.

This #streetart located just minutes from #TimesSquare works to de-stigmatize mental illness. So #inspiring! #nyc Click To Tweet

After my day exploring with Speedify, I head back home to the Upper East Side feeling satisfied. Not only because I had fun, but also because I found a tool that makes connecting to the internet so much faster, safer and more reliable. Whether at home or on the go, it’s nice knowing I can turn weak WiFi into a speedy, secure connection.

Funny enough, shortly after I was doing a Facebook Live in my apartment, but my WiFi kept dropping me. Once I connected Speedify, I was able to go live for 45 minutes without a problem.

Want your own Speedify VPN? I’m giving away 10! Scroll down for details. 

Do you have other suggestions for unique and local things to do in Times Square or its surrounding neighborhoods? Please share in the comments below! 

How to Explore Times Square (NYC) Like a Local


Speedify Giveaway

Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

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  1. Tamara on December 5, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    You do know that most New Yorkers avoid Times Square like the plague, right? 🙂

    • Jessie Festa on January 3, 2018 at 3:34 pm

      @Tamara: Of course! I’m a native New Yorker (and always avoid Times Square). But like I said in the intro, that’s why it was my mission to find the gems 🙂

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