I visited New York City in March and found a ghost town. Eight months later, I retraced my steps and saw the landmarks are coming alive again.

times square before and after lockdown

  • In March, I explored Manhattan at the start of the coronavirus lockdown, and eight months later, I retraced my steps to see how the city has changed.
  • Grand Central Terminal and Times Square are busier than they were in March, but they're not as busy as they were before the pandemic. 
  • In Bryant Park, I saw elements of the old New York — an ice skating rink and tables have been set up for New Yorkers to enjoy the outdoors. 
  • I found that New York City is very slowly adjusting to a new normal.
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The coronavirus pandemic is completely changing the world. That was clear to me back in March, as I watched New York City — a place I've called home for five years — go into lockdown. Stores closed, restaurants boarded up, and people stayed inside their cramped apartments to wait out the pandemic. 

A couple of weeks after the lockdown went into effect in March, I took an Uber from my Brooklyn apartment into Manhattan to explore. I found a completely abandoned city — a city I did not recognize. 

Eight months later, the lockdown restrictions have eased in the city. I decided to venture back into Manhattan and retrace my steps to see if, and how, the city has changed again.

Back in March, the first stop on my journey was Grand Central Terminal, which was completely empty.

Before the pandemic, Grand Central welcomed 750,000 people every day. There are usually people running through the terminal to catch a train or tourists gawking at the architecture. But in March, the terminal was completely devoid of life. 

Eight months later, the terminal is now reminiscent of the landmark we all know and love.

As people become more and more comfortable with traveling and commuters head back into the city for work, Grand Central is slowly becoming busier. When I visited, most people wore face masks and were able to keep a safe distance.

However, while people were milling about, it was nowhere near as crowded as the station was before the pandemic.

In March, the streets near Grand Central were completely empty.

While walking down Fifth Avenue back in March, the city felt like a ghost town. Manhattan is known for its gridlock traffic and pedestrian-filled walkways, but for the first time, I saw the city streets completely empty.

The same street eight months later is filled with traffic, bikers, and pedestrians.

While most people are comfortable roaming the streets these days, most are wearing masks and are attempting to social distance. 

I also stopped at Bryant Park in March and found a desolate landscape.

Before the pandemic, most people flocked to Bryant Park during their lunch break just to enjoy the greenery. In March, however, most of the park was dirt, and there was no one around. 

Today, there is an ice skating rink as the city begins decorating for the holidays.

I was surprised to find the ice skating rink when I came to Bryant Park the second time. I didn't expect the city to go through with its usual holiday plans, which typically include ice skating and outdoor Christmas shops. For a moment, I forgot we were in a pandemic. The city felt normal again.

In March, the tables were almost completely empty in Bryant Park as well.

At the time, other tables and chairs in the park were tied up, presumably to dissuade people from hanging out together in public spaces. 

Now, the tables appear to be a popular place to hang out as New Yorkers spend time outside.

Since hanging out with friends is generally safer outside, many New Yorkers have turned to parks and other outdoor spaces to have socially distanced meetups. 

For me, the biggest shock in March was the completely empty Times Square.

I've lived in New York City for five years, so I know how crowded and unbearable Times Square can get. In fact, it used to welcome 380,000 tourists on any given day. On this day, however, I saw maybe 20 people in all. 

These days, Times Square is slowly attracting more people.

Although Times Square is still considered empty when compared to a normal year, there are many more people roaming the intersection than there were eight months ago. 

In March, some of the best parts of Times Square were closed off, like the famous red staircase.

Before the pandemic, there were 5,000 Instagram posts per day that featured the stairs, and 13,000 people walked the steps every day. But in March, the bleachers were completely abandoned. 

Eight months later, the steps have reopened and some people are using them again.

Typically, it's difficult to find a place to sit on the staircase because it's filled with tourists, but now that's not a problem. Although there are only a few people enjoying the landmark, it's a lot more than back in March.

At the start of the lockdown, the roads leading into Times Square were empty and the stores were dark.

When I explored eight months ago, only McDonald's was open. 

Now, all the stores are open, while cars and people trickle back through the landmark.

I noticed some stores in Times Square, like T-Mobile, required customers to wait outside in a line before entering to reduce capacity and enforce social distancing. 

While the sidewalks in Times Square were empty in March …

Before the pandemic, it was difficult to walk down the sidewalk in Times Square because of the massive crowds. In March, that changed and Times Square resembled a ghost town. 

… they're a bit busier now.

While the crowds of today's Times Square don't even come close to the usual crowds, it's nice to see people enjoying the landmark again. 

The New York City I witnessed back in March was one I did not recognize.

I missed the culture, the people, and the pace of New York City that made it one of the best in the world. Although I didn't know how long the lockdown would last and what the effects would be, I dreamed of New York coming alive again. 

I can now see the city slowly coming back to its former self.

As New Yorkers acclimate to the new restrictions, they're returning to the city streets, eating out at restaurants, shopping at famous stores, and visiting old landmarks. While the city may not look anything like it did a year ago, it's slowly finding a new culture in this new normal. 

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