1. Travel
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

New York City Subways 101

Your Guide to Traveling Underground in New York City


Newcomers to New York often feel a bit intimidated by our famous subway system. But don’t worry. The New York City subway looks nothing like what you’ve seen in movies from the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the subway is clean (mostly), safe (usually), and the fastest way to get around Manhattan (almost always).

There are only a few things that you need to know to successfully navigate the New York City subway system.
  • Planning Your Trip – Take a few minutes to plan your trip before you leave by visiting HopStop or Trips123. Simply enter your current location and your destination details (you don’t even need the exact address) and find the easiest route via public transportation. You can select which modes of transit (subway, bus, walking) and whether you want the fastest route or the one with the fewest transfers or least walking. For easier trips, just take a look at the latest MTA subway map online before you leave.

    If you don’t have a chance to plan and have to improvise, have no fear. There are subway maps in every subway station. You’ll find maps near the ticket booth and often on the platform as well. If there’s an actual human in the ticket booth (not always the case now that automated MetroCard machines have replaced people in many stations), he or she can also provide directions.

    During severe weather or other emergencies, check the latest MTA Service Advisories for any changes in service. You can also sign up to get email alerts whenever there is a service change on your regular subway line.

  • Paying Your Fare – The days of subway tokens are long gone. It’s all about the MetroCard now. You can buy MetroCards at convenient machines in every subway station, at station attendant booths, and at many neighborhood merchant locations.

    Subway fare will generally cost you $2 per ride, though there are discounted fare options available. If you put $10 or more on your MetroCard, you’ll receive a 20% bonus. For example, if you purchase a $20 card, you’ll get two free trips ($4 value). You can also buy Unlimited Ride MetroCards if you’ll be traveling frequently by train and/or local bus – one day Fun Passes (primarily for visiting tourists) are $7, 7-day cards are $24, and 30-day cards are $76. Find out what to do if your MetroCard doesn’t work or is lost or stolen.

    Up to three children under 44 inches tall ride for free when accompanied by a fare paying adult. Seniors and people with disabilities may be eligible to travel for a reduced fare of $1 per ride.

  • Subway Safety – The New York City subway system is pretty safe as long as you take logical precautions. Take special care when traveling late at night (especially since you may be waiting for trains for long periods on deserted platforms). Travel with a companion if it’s late and ride in a populated car or in the first car (where the train operator sits) or in the middle car (where the conductor sits). Use common sense -- don’t run on the stairs or escalators, keep your bag closed and your valuables tucked away, and avoid riding between cars.

  • Subway Etiquette – Etiquette is very important when so many people are crammed into such small spaces. First of all, when preparing to board the subway, let people off of the train before shoving your way inside. Take only one seat when it’s crowded -- don’t put your feet up, put your bag on a seat, or sprawl all over the car. Be gallant and give up your seat if you see a pregnant, elderly, or handicapped person standing. Most importantly, keep your hands (and the rest of your body parts) to yourself.

  • Essential New York City Subway Links

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.