Standing in Times Square as the countdown clock reaches zero on New Year's Eve is a rush that can't be replicated. When you share that collective outburst with your fellow revelers in New York and the billions of viewers who are watching live on television worldwide, the burst of energy and excitement makes the whole ordeal very much worth it. It's a tradition that has gone on for over a hundred years and a worthy experience to be a part of just once.
Yes, most New Yorkers scoff at the idea of spending New Year's Eve in Times Square, reciting the predictable list of gripes: It's too cold and too crowded; there aren't enough bathrooms; and, perhaps most worrisome—alcohol is not allowed! Granted, these dissuading factors are pretty much constants, year after year.
But just because your toes will be freezing in the frigid winter temperatures and you may feel downright deprived without a champagne flute in your hand, it's still a bucket-list experience that you should try at least once. So, if you're going to do it, do it right.
The History of New Year's Eve in Times Square
Times Square has been party central for New Year's Eve since 1904—an inaugural bash that also celebrated the opening of the new headquarters of The New York Times newspaper with more than 200,000 revelers. A tradition was born, and when fireworks were temporarily banned in the city, the tradition of the ball drop began for the 1908 celebrations; it's been continued every year since, except for a couple years during World War II.
The famous illuminated ball, dropped from a flagpole atop One Times Square, is crafted from Waterford Crystal, measures 12 feet in diameter, weighs a whopping 11,875 pounds, and can create a mind-boggling display of more than 16 million colors and billions of patterns.
What to Wear
Bundle up and dress in layers: This is one New York party where you can ditch glamour in favor of warmth and comfort! It can dip well below freezing—and often does at this time of year. Unless you catch a lucky break with a warm spell, approach the outing as if you were hitting the slopes: heavy jacket, scarf, hat, and mittens—the wind-and water-resistant works. Wear lots of layers that you can shed and add on as needed while you're standing around for hours. And don't forget about your toes! Wool socks and warm boots will help round it out, and by all means, choose something comfortable: You'll be on your feet for hours, after all. Hand and toe warmers would also not be out of place.
With event-related road closures disrupting traffic flow in the vicinity, cabs will be pretty much impossible to hail, so public transportation is your best bet. If you take the subway, avoid getting out at a stop in overly congested Times Square. Instead, consider getting off a stop or two earlier and walking the rest of the way.
When to Arrive
It's a free event that's first-come, first-served, so the earlier you show up on December 31, the better. The die-hards willing to stand around for nearly 12 hours until midnight will start pouring in as early as 1 p.m., with some of the best viewing spots already claimed before noon. At around 6 p.m., the New Year's Eve ball will be raised and lit, and as crowds become thicker throughout the late afternoon and early evening, police will begin closing streets at 43rd Street, moving northward, and the NYPD will have security checkpoints set up for entry to the event, so be prepared for lines.
Early birds will get the best views of the ball and the entertainment stages, but note that you won't be able to leave your spot and return. As the crowds assemble and police barricades go up, those who leave in search of food or bathrooms will not be permitted to return to their places. On the flip side, while latecomers can still revel in the general atmosphere, they're unlikely to have a decent view of the ball or stages.
Where to Go
The famous New Year's Eve Ball descends from a 77-foot flagpole set atop One Times Square (at 43rd Street and Broadway). Viewing spots for the ball are best found along Broadway, from 43rd Street to 50th Street, and also along Seventh Avenue, from 43rd Street to 59th Street. For entertainment, cluster around the performance stages assembled in Times Square. Streets begin closing via police barricades in the late afternoon/early evening, starting at 43rd Street and Broadway (and moving northward as revelers arrive). There are video screens set up on One Times Square, and there are additional screens set up throughout the event area; the main sound system is located at the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue. Note that access to the event is from 6th Avenue or 8th Avenue only (no one will be allowed to cross 7th Avenue once the streets have been closed). The Times Square Alliance’s website outlines the access points.
Waiting Until Midnight
Quite honestly, there's a whole lot of standing around and waiting with not much of anything at all happening before 6 p.m., when the ball is raised and lifted. Accompanied by pyrotechnic effects, this is the first exciting moment of the night. For those who show up early enough to get coveted spots up close enough to view, the buildup to the ball-drop is preceded with musical entertainment after 6 p.m., with the bigger acts going on closer to midnight. For those without a close-up view in the center of the action, several large video screens will be set up throughout the event area to stream live coverage of the entertainment.
You will be able to test your noisemakers and midnight cheering during the practice countdowns, which occur once per hour. The full schedule of entertainment will be posted to the Times Square website in the few weeks leading up to the big day.
The crowd really revs up for the countdown to midnight to bid farewell to the past year and usher in a memorable start to the new one. After a 60-second descent beginning at 11:59 p.m., the ball drops, the pyrotechnics explode, music plays, and literally one ton of confetti will rain down on the crowd as they go wild.
Some pieces of confetti are inscribed with wishes from people around the globe for the new year—you can submit your own wish to be included online, via the Times Square Alliance's Online Wishing Wall.
Bringing Food and Using Bathrooms
You can bring snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, though it's best if you come well hydrated and with a full belly. While there are restaurants in the area, there are no food vendors within the crowds and you can't reclaim your place if you leave your spot in search of food. Aim to have good company in tow for passing the time with conversation, and pack some diversions if you plan on showing up very early.
There are no portable or public bathrooms provided, and area establishments won't accommodate revelers who aren't customers, so keep your fluid intake to a minimum and go before you show.
Leave the alcohol behind—it's illegal to drink in public in NYC, and the police will confiscate it. For security reasons, no large bags or backpacks are allowed. Leave valuables at home, too—crowds this thick are a pickpocket's paradise. Also, reconsider bringing along small children. With a lack of kid-friendly diversions and bathrooms, this is a tough event for little ones—not to mention adults—to endure.