Do you know there are 23 subway lines and 472 subway stations in New York City? No wonder it can be confusing to ride the subway in NYC, this is where subway maps can be very useful. The MTA NYC (Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City) is the largest subway system in the world* and runs 24 hours a day.

Special note: during Covid-19 all subway trains and stations are closed from 1 am to 5 am for cleaning.

When you have a good map and a few tips getting around New York can be easy, but if you don’t know what you are doing it can be a Nightmare! There are a variety of subway maps that can help you plan the best way to get from one point to another. Tip: do not rely on Google maps, it is great a lot of the time but it can also cost you lots of time and frustration if it is your only source for directions.

11 Types of Subway Maps and Information Available from the MTA

  • Essential Service Subway Map – Covid-19 – Subway service available during Covid-19. This shows the lines that are running and are considered essential. One example you will notice is lines like C and B are not running at any time.
  • Subway MapTraditional map that shows all subway lines and all stations. Printed maps are available from stations that have manned booths.
  • Night Map – The subway runs 24 hours a day for most stations. There are exceptions and the night map shows, which lines are running. For example, the B-line does not run at night, so you will not find the B-line shown on the map.
  • Accessible Stations Highlights Map – Clearly highlights the stations that are wheelchair accessible. Again with planned work you should check to be sure the elevators are in operation.
  • Large Print Map – Traditional map, but can be enlarged for easier reading.
  • The WeekenderThe Weekender is your guide to understanding planned service changes in effect for system maintenance and construction. When you zoom in to an area or to a station, if a station is blinking, click to get details and travel alternatives. Always check Service Status for up-to-date service information
  • Regional Transit Diagram – Includes services between Manhattan and New Jersey – also maps of Newark Airport and JFK Airport.
  • Service Guide – This is a table that shows each subway line, and how that line may be affected by the time of day, weekday, and weekend days. For example, if you look at the C-line it does not run at night. The service guide will also show you an alternative. In this case, you are
Upclose look at one subway station on the map
  • Neighborhood Maps – This map is an amazing way to figure out where you are going and what your options are. One fun point to notice is it will show you what is within a 1- and 5-minute radius walk from the station. Also, notice the stations themselves and how some of them span several blocks. If you are thinking of moving or meeting someone at a specific place these maps can be very helpful.
  • Individual Lines – Great resource, it will show you if the line runs full-time, a list of all of that lines stations, and what stations are accessible – step-free access is available. Another important feature, it will show is which station the trains stop at that you can transfer to another line. If there is planned work to a station it will give the dates and times it will be closed.
  • Group Station Manager Map – And if you are curious to know who is in charge of a station there is a map for that too. The stations are separated into four districts, with a list of the managers for each district.

A Few Tips

Diamond shape means the subway is running express
  • What do the round circles and diamonds for the 6 and 7 Line mean? The round circle means that the train is local, which stops at all stations, and diamonds are express, only stopping at select stations. The diamonds are an additional service provided during rush hour on the 6 and 7 lines. So what time of day is important when riding these two lines.
    • The 6 Express runs to Manhattan from 6:20 am–12:30 pm and returns from Manhattan starting at 1 pm until 8:45 pm.
    • The 7 Express runs rush hours only. The 7 goes from Queens to Manhattan in the mornings and revise in the evening – from Manhattan to Queens in the afternoon/evening hours.
  • Square boxes – are the first and last stop for a line. For the Q-line it starts at 96th Street in Manhattan goes all the way to Coney Island/Stillwell in Brooklyn and vice versa.
  • As mentioned before not all trains run on weekends or at night. The night map will be helpful to look at if you are going to a show or planning to be out late.
When you see green subway lights the entrance is open 24 hours a day
  • Most subway stations have globe lights with the top half painted green by the subway entrance. When you see this you will know that station is open 24 hours a day. If the top half of the globe is painted red that means that station entrance closes at night. It does not mean the whole station is closed but usually just that entrance.
Look for planned work signs
  • Watch for signs about station closures. The signs will tell you the dates and times of the closure and if there is an alternative option. Sometimes buses are available to take you from one station to another for free when a station is closed. If you look at the maps for the “individual lines,” closures are noted there too. The subway tracks and stations are continuously being upgraded and repaired. If you are going to meet someone or need to be somewhere at a specific time it is important to know when stations are closed as this may add a lot of time to your getting there.

Something New – Contactless Payment

OMNY a new way to pay your subway or bus fare
Shinya Suzuki, CC BY-ND 2.0

You can now use your contactless credit cards and phones to pay the fare to ride the subway and the buses. It is so quick and easy. The new system is called OMNY – One Metro New York. The readers are in the same location as if you were using a regular MetroCard or pay the fare to get onto a bus.

If you are visiting you may still want to look at the day or week-long pass as an option and buy a MetroCard NYC. The only down side of paying via contactless is you no longer get a free transfer between the subway and bus. If you know you will be doing both and qualify for a transfer you may also want to get a MetroCard to take advantage of the free transfer. 

Know What Direction You Need to Go

Subway stations can be very large
Some subway stations are very large, it is good to know what direction you need to go.

When you are underground it is easy to get turned around. Also depending on where you are on the train can make a difference, as stations are very large spanning more than one block, sometimes several blocks. So knowing where you want to go when you come out of the station can save you lots of time. You should know what street you are looking for, and when you come up what direction you want to go – North, South, East, and West. This all sounds simple but knowing can cut down on your confusion, time, and a lot of unnecessary walking.

Subway Station Art

Artwork at 81st Street subway station

One interesting point about a subway station is that each has its own artwork; no two stations are identical. It varies from mosaic tiles, little statues, to stain glass windows. The artwork is often whimsical like the little statues at 14th St. The passageway under Bryant Park has tree roots cascading down all done in mosaic tiles. So stop and take a moment to enjoy the art.

NYC Public Transportation Apps

There are three apps on my phone that I use when I stay in NYC. They are available for both Android and iPhone.

  • NYC Subway Map – this is good to have to quickly lookup something on the map.
  • NYC MTA Bus Tracker – this is helpful to know where buses are on a specific route. That way you know if you just missed the bus or one is coming soon – no guessing.
  • MyTransit NYC – this has become my go-to app in the last year, it not only has subway information but the bus, Long Island Railroad, and road information too. It will tell you if trains are delayed or if a station is closed. This is my current favorite app.

Final Notes – Trivia

  • Did you know the length of the subway platforms determines how long the subway train can be, thus they cannot add more cars but they can add more trains.
  • Approximately 5.6 million subway rides are taken every weekday in New York City!
  • The subway first opened in lower Manhattan on October 27, 1904. The subway was quickly expanded to the Bronx in 1905, Brooklyn 1908, and Queens in 1915.

*The NYC subway system is the largest subway in the world based on the number of stations that are in operation.