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To theatre lovers the world over, the name “Broadway” is synonymous with the best. Over the years, shows as diverse as Cats and The Book of Mormon and as storied as A Chorus Line and South Pacifichave all called the theatres of New York’s Broadway district home. However, a trip to The Great White Way is about far more than drama and musicals. In fact, Broadway is one of the oldest thoroughfares on the island of Manhattan and comes with its own brand of history and wonder.


The name Broadway is actually an English adaptation of the street’s original Dutch name, Breede weg. However, the existence of this diagonal path that runs a true north-south route though the gridded metropolis of New York goes back even farther. Broadway was originally called the Wickquasgeck Trail by the Native Americans who created it. Once the island was sold to the Dutch, it became an epicenter of trade and culture. Most travelers know Broadway only as the area between 42nd and 53rd streets which includes Times Square and make up its theatre district. However, Broadway actually stretches from Bowling Green to Inwood on the island of Manhattan and continues to travel north all the way to Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County.

It’s well-known nickname “The Great White Way” comes from the 1800s when Broadway was among the first streets of New York to utilize electric lighting. As theatre districts expanded in the ensuing decades, their large marquee-style signs lit up the sky in a fashion similar to the Broadway of today and created that trademark glow.

The theatrical history of what is now the true hub of stage performance around the world began shortly after the American Revolution. Prior to that point, the only theatre in the area held a scant 300 people and generally only performed Shakespearean plays. The first true New York City theatres weren’t built until the middle of the 19th century and were largely centered in the Union Square area, not the Times Square area of Broadway, as they are today. That change did not take place until the early-1900s. At the time, real estate prices were cheaper in midtown, which forced many theatre owners north from the more popular downtown area now known as Lower Manhattan.

Still throughout the years, Broadway as a main thoroughfare through the city was always popular for various reasons. Despite the famous Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 which designed the grid system that Manhattan still uses, the diagonal design of Broadway remained. As a result, there are a number of “squares” up and down its length which have, over time, become popular hubs for theatre, dining, and shopping. As a result of this popularity, a pilot program was begun in 2009 which closed several of these squares, including Times Square and Herald Square, to vehicular traffic. This move to support pedestrians in these areas was made permanent in 2010.

Main Attraction

Going to Broadway is a special treat for many reasons. Despite the sometimes restrictively high ticket prices, getting to see a show is even more of a memory. However, even those who cannot afford the luxury of an orchestra-level seat at the latest Tony Award-winner can reap the benefits of one of the most active areas of New York City.

For starters, there are several ways to acquire discounted tickets through Standing Room Only purchases as well as the Times Square TKTS booth on W 47th Street, which only offers same-day show sales. Foregoing an actual show does not mean that visitors cannot tour the theatres themselves, either. Several tourist companies offer insiders’ peeks at famous venues such as Uncle Sam’s Theatre District Tour which is part of the New York Pass.

Why It’s a Must-See

A visit to New York without at least taking the time to marvel at the marquees of Broadway is truly incomplete. There is so much history found up and down this main avenue of New York as well as numerous shops and restaurants that are famous around the world. In addition, taking the time for a theatre district tour or getting tickets to a Broadway show is sure to make memories that last a lifetime.