This post is about the free New Year's Eve celebration at Times Square on December 31, 2023, particularly how and where to watch the ball drop.
We provide information on the best views, when to arrive, "survival" tips and other essentials, as well as things to do nearby.
Let's get the party started!
- Best Views
- "Survival" Tips
- Other New Year's Eve Activities
- History of the Ball Drop
- Christmas in NYC
- Things to Do in NYC
WHERE TO WATCH THE BALL DROP
The ball is dropped from the top of 1 Times Square at 42nd Street just south of the intersection of Broadway and 7th Ave.
The area from which you can view the ball is fairly large.
The ball can be viewed along Broadway from 43rd to 50th Streets.
You can also see the ball along 7th Avenue from 43rd to 59th Streets. The lower the street number you are on, the closer you are to the ball.
You can also get a view of the ball from the northwest corner of Bryant Park, at 42nd Street and 6th Avenue.
The area will have barricades and you can only enter at designated entry points.
They are located along 8th Ave, 7th Ave, Broadway, and 6th Ave. (See map above)
Designated entry locations:
- 6th Avenue - 38th, 49th, 52nd, 54th, 58th, 59th streets
- 7th Avenue - 37th, 57th streets
- 8th Avenue - 38th, 49th, 52nd, 55th, 58th, 59th streets
- Broadway - 37th, 57th streets
TIP 1 - Get there early
The ball drops at midnight as we know, but there will also be live performances and entertainment starting at 6 pm.
There is no set time to arrive, but if you want to get a prime viewing spot (see below), try to arrive by 3 pm or so.
If you'd like to do some exploring of the area before staking out a good spot, use our guide to the Times Square area.
For those arriving later in the afternoon/early evening, we suggest you use one of the entry points on 6th Avenue rather than 8th Avenue or Broadway.
Entry points on 6th Avenue take you onto 7th Avenue which is straight and has a direct view of the ball.
If you enter the area from 8th Avenue or Broadway, your view will not be as good as Broadway is diagonal.
Also, if you are on 7th Avenue looking south (facing the ball), you may be able to see fireworks in Central Park if you face away from the ball.
TIP 2 - The best view is in the "Bowtie"
The best view is inside the area known as the Bowtie" (where Broadway and 7th Avenue intersect.) This area will fill up first.
The "prime" viewing area is between 42nd and 48th St where you can see the ball drop and also the huge video screens at 1 Times Square are easily visible.
Television screens are set up on the streets farther north (where you may not be able to see the ball directly).
*For disabled individuals, there is a designated viewing area at 44th Street and Broadway.
You can gain access at 44th and 6th Ave. Note that this area fills up by early afternoon, so come early.
TIP 3 - Don't use Times Square Station
At some point in the afternoon, the area will be blocked off from 6th Ave. to 8th Ave.
Check the official Times Square website or follow the Times Square Twitter feed for information on street closures.
With street closures, you will not be able to get out of the subway at 42nd Street and Times Square. Check which stations will be closed.
Instead, go to a subway station that is north or south of Times Square. Alternative stations include:
- Rockefeller Center Station (B, D, F and M trains)
- Grand Central Station (4, 5 and 6 trains)
- Penn Station Station (A, C, and E)
Take a look at our posts on the subway for helpful tips:
TIP 4 - Don't panic if you can't get into the viewing area
If you get there so late that you can't get into the viewing area, don't panic. There are plenty of things to do in Times Square.
There are restaurants and bars in the area that will surely be watching the countdown on TV.
Also, see our information below on other things to do on New Year's Eve in NYC.
NYC is known as "the city that never sleeps" for a reason!
Whether you are looking for something to do on New Year's Eve or any other night, we have lots of suggestions in our post on what to do at night in New York City.
Look into a Tourist Discount Pass
Before we get on to the final 6 tips, are you looking to save money in NYC?
A tourist discount pass affords you discounted entry into most of NYC’s most popular attractions.
While the passes themselves certainly aren’t free, if you plan your itineraries well, you will end up getting one or two attractions for free each day.
There are several different types of passes, so be sure to read our comparison post to learn about how you can save the most money on your trip.
6 ESSENTIAL "SURVIVAL" TIPS
*Note that this year, those heading to Times Square for the ball drop will be required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks. Read more about this requirement here.
- Dress warmly. You'll be outside for several hours and temperatures can sometimes dip below freezing. See our post on Weather in NYC in December.
- Eat a hearty meal before you go and bring snacks. Once you find your perfect spot for the ball drop you won't want to leave or you may not be able to get back into the area. For suggestions on where to eat nearby, check our post on Midtown Manhattan.
- Public drinking is not permitted in Times Square. Any alcohol will be confiscated by the NYPD.
- There are NO PUBLIC OR PORTABLE RESTROOMS IN TIMES SQUARE! Restaurants will not let you in just to use their restroom.
- Once you are in the official viewing area, you are in until midnight. The area will be closed off at some point in the evening and you will not be able to leave until after midnight.
- No large bags or backpacks will be permitted. All bags will be searched if you get there after the barricades are in place. If you need to store your bags, see our post on where to store luggage in NYC.
WHY A BALL DROP?
The idea for dropping a huge ball at midnight to ring in the New Year grew out of the maritime practice of dropping a "time-ball" from a high location at a set time so that captains of nearby ships could precisely set their chronometers.
Also, those on land who could see the time-ball drop could synchronize their watches. Time balls became popular all over the modern world.
In New York City, the Western Union installed a time ball in 1877 on its Manhattan headquarters in Lower Manhattan.
Every day at 12 noon they would drop a ball from their roof and it could be seen all over Lower Manhattan and out in the harbor.
This allowed everyone to synchronize their watches and ship chronometers, thus allowing a standardized time for the city.
Dropping a ball to announce the time of a set hour was a common method used in cities around the world.
This is where the notion of dropping a ball to announce the arrival of the New Year originated from.
But why in Times Square?
When the New York Times made their move from the Financial District up to 42nd St (and got the area renamed Times Square in their honor), they wanted to have a big celebration on New Year’s Eve to commemorate their move uptown.
This celebration took place in 1904. Over 200,000 people gathered for the new celebration, which included a fireworks display, but no ball drop.
A few years later the Times could not get a permit for fireworks so the Times decided to use a time ball in the celebration, which would drop down a pole to count down the last minute to the New Year.
Ochs had a ball constructed of wood and iron, which was lit with 100 incandescent light bulbs.
Measuring 5 feet in diameter and weighing 700 pounds, the ball had to be hoisted onto the pole by a team of six men and rope.
The ball was set to complete an electric circuit when it touched the roof, which then lit a sign indicating the New Year and began the fireworks display.
The first ball drop was on December 31, 1907, to welcome the year 1908. There have been multiple balls used over the decades.
The different balls used over the years
This was a ball constructed of wood and iron, which was lit with 100 incandescent light bulbs.
It was 5 feet in diameter and weighed 700 pounds. The original ball was retired in 1920 and was replaced with Ball #2.
This was made out of iron and weighed less than the original - about 400 pounds.
Otherwise, it was essentially the same design as the original and was also 5 feet in diameter.
Ball #3 was introduced in 1955. It also used the original design, but this one was made of aluminum.
It was the lightest yet, at 150 pounds. This ball stayed in use for many years but had some revisions added.
In 1981, in honor of the “I Love NY” campaign, red light bulbs and a stem on top were added so that the ball had the appearance of an apple.
In 1991 the bulbs were red, white and blue in honor of the troops in Operation Desert Shield.
In 1996, 180 halogen bulbs and 144 strobe lights were added, along with over 12,000 rhinestones, this glitzier drop was also the first to be entirely computerized.
The ball was retired after its 44th use in the 1999 celebration.
Ball #4 aka “The Millennium Ball”
The fourth ball was constructed in conjunction with Waterford crystal.
It is 6 feet wide and weighs 1070 pounds. It used over 600 halogen bulbs, 96 strobe lights, spinning mirrors and had 504 crystal panels.
The panel was inscribed with hopeful messages, such as “Hope for Unity” and “Hope for Courage.”
For the 2002 celebration, they were inscribed with names and countries affected by the 9/11 attacks.
In honor of the Centennial Ball Drop, a new ball was constructed for the 2008 celebration.
This ball was also made by Waterford Times Square Ball and was also 6 feet wide, but weighed in at 1,212 pounds.
The new ball included 9,576 LED lights that only consumed as much energy as 10 toasters.
First used in the 2009 celebration, the current ball is a larger version of its predecessor. It is 12 feet wide, weighs 11,875 pounds and has 2,688 Waterford panels.
It is lit by 32,256 LED lights. The other major change, aside from the size, is that this ball is weatherproof.
It can be seen atop One Times Square year-round.
To find out the latest changes, get the details of the New Year's Eve Ball here.