The NYC subway can be the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B in New York. Since the city is notorious for traffic, it’s also the most convenient.
Yet, many visitors (especially ones not used to relying on public transportation) get a little overly intimidated with the subway. It’s the subway yips. Everyone gets it–even New Yorkers. Find out how to hack the subway in under a day and discover which routes you’re more likely to stick to as a beginner.
Want to order your MetroCard before you head to New York City, get even more helpful tips on riding the subway, AND a subway map? Check out my New York City Survival Kit!
Can’t I Just Use Google Maps for the NYC Subway?
Yes! If you are unsure of which subway to take, you can always use Google Maps and choose “Transit” as your preferred method. It’s not a bad idea to see how far the walk would be to get to your destination, as many attractions are within walking distance to each other. Try adding at least 10 to 15 minutes to the approximate travel time because Google usually estimates times based on “perfect” conditions (i.e. the subway arriving the moment your feet hit the platform).
Can’t You Just Tell Me Which Subway to Take?
Yes! Check out our list of attractions to see which subway lines service each one!
How Much Does the NYC Subway Cost?
It costs only $2.75 per ride. The NYC subway doesn’t have zones, so you can ride as far as you want for as long as you want (as long as you don’t exit the subway station). Check out our guide on how to buy a MetroCard for more information about purchasing tickets.
How Long Will It Take Me to Walk to the Subway?
No matter where you are in Manhattan, a NYC subway is not usually further than a 10 minute walk away. The major exception to this rule is the East Village. It can take up to 15 minutes to walk to the subway there. If it’s your first time in New York, you might want to add 5-10 minutes to your walk time to find the subway.
How Long Does it Take to Ride the Subway?
During the day, subways run every 5-10 minutes. Plan on waiting at least for 10 minutes for any given train. By 2018, the MTA plans to have subway time estimators in every station. You can also download a free app on your phone to determine when the subway will arrive.
For walking, good rule of thumb is to estimate one minute of travel time for every 10 blocks traveled on the subway and round up to the nearest five minute mark. Therefore, if you’re going from 23rd Street to 42nd Street, estimate 2 minutes before rounding up to five minutes.
You can (and should) always check how long your ride will take on Google Maps.
Hot Tip!: Subways are often late, so give yourself a five-minute buffer for unexpected delays.
What are the Different Subway Lines in NYC?
If you’ve never used the NYC subway before, chances are that you’ll only need to use four lines at first. For newbies, colors are easier than letters or numbers, so let’s start with those. First, take a look at the map to note the colors:
You’ll probably spend the most time on lines that are associated with only four colors:
Note that the lines are associated with certain parts of Manhattan:
BLUE: West Side of Manhattan
RED: West Side of Manhattan
YELLOW: Center of Manhattan
GREEN: East Side of Manhattan
This means that if your destination is on the east side of Manhattan, you’ll probably need to take the green line to get there. If your destination is on the west side of Manhattan, you’ll probably need to take the red or blue lines to get there.
All of these lines mostly run north and south.
Exception!: If you are traveling north of 50th Street or south of Canal Street, use Google Maps to find out which train to take.
North of 50th Street: The E train on the BLUE line and the 1 train on the RED line are exceptions to the rule.
South of Canal Street: The N and Q trains are exceptions to the rule.
What Subway Should I Take to Get From East to West?
The NYC subway system offers a few crosstown trains; you might not need to use these if this is your first time in Manhattan. Most New Yorkers find it easier to simply walk 3-4 blocks to get crosstown. The crosstown subway that is most convenient for first timers is the Shuttle (S) Train that goes from Times Square to Grand Central Terminal. This is on the GRAY line. The L train also runs crosstown along 14th Street. It is also a GRAY line train.
What Does Uptown/Downtown Mean?
An uptown train generally travels north while a downtown train generally travels south. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but you won’t need to know them if you are just traveling through Manhattan (and not into the other boroughs).
Check the train direction before entering a station! Some stations have designated entrances for uptown and downtown trains. These stations are always labeled at the entrance. If you accidentally enter an uptown platform when you want to go downtown, you’ll need to pay again at the correct entrance.
Not all stations have separate entrances. Major stations rarely do, so if you’re sticking to the main tourist attractions, you might not see these signs.
What Does Local/Express Mean?
Local Trains: Make stops approximately every 10 blocks.
Express Trains: Make stops only at major subway stations (Times Square, Herald Square, etc.).
Express trains are great when you want to get uptown or downtown in a hurry; local trains are necessary to get to points in between but can move slow.
To Find Out if You Need a Local or Express Train:
Find your desired stop on the subway map. Is the dot black or white? White dots denote that all trains make stops at that station. Black dots denote that you’ll need to take a LOCAL TRAIN to reach that station.
How Do I Know If I’m on a Local Train or Express Train?
You’ll need to note the number or letter of the train. In Manhattan, Local Trains are:
BLUE: C, E
ORANGE: F, M
YELLOW: R, W
GRAY: L, S
What is the Difference Between Letters and Numbers?
Don’t worry about this! It’s not really important. But if you must know, here is an article that explains everything. Except global warming and the ending to LOST.
Why Are Some Stations Named?
Sometimes businesses pay money to get subway stops named after them. If a station is named, you’ll also hear/see the street associated with the stop. For example, the Times Square station is named, “42nd Street, Times Square”.
Need more inspiration on how to focus only on what you love in NYC? Check out a full list of attractions.
Don’t forget to read a few articles on how to hack New York City, so you can see more, do more, and stress less!