At first, the subway in New York City can seem quite intimidating. There are 27 subway lines and 472 stations! Learn a few tricks, take the time to understand where you are going and riding the subway will be a great way to get around this enormous city.

There are many bus and subway routes throughout the five boroughs (Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island) of New York City The MTA, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, manages the public transportation system.

Subway entrance with green light
A marker for a Subway Entrance

Metro Cards

Start with getting a Metro Card. They cost $1. There are vending machines at the entrance of most subway stations.

There are two types of ways to pay subway/bus fares. One fare is based on “value,” and one is based on “time.” Value means you select the amount of money put on a card, and the fare is deducted each time the card is used. Time gives unlimited use of the subways for a specific period of time such as a day, a week or a month. (See fares at the end of this blog.)

When visiting NYC for a week and the plan is to take multiple trips a day, then an unlimited week pass would be the best option, even if not staying a full week. An advantage of unlimited is you will have no worries about if there is enough money on the card to get to and from each destination. A week pass is the top choice for most visitors.

Stations that have information booths have printed maps available for free. If you prefer not to carry a map, a good app to have is the “Map of NYC Subway: offline MTA.” There is also a pdf you can download.

Cute subway statues
Every station has artwork. This is one of the oldest and I love these little statues.

Side note: as you go station-to-station take a look at the artwork. Every station has a different theme (remember there are 472 stations!) from whimsical, to beautiful and fun, so take the time to enjoy the station.

Which Train Do I Want?

In Manhattan, one of the primary ways to identify which train to take is to know whether the destination is uptown (North) or downtown (South).

Another identifier on the trains is the name of the route, which is usually where that train line ends. For example, the Q train ends at Coney Island in Brooklyn to the south, and 96th street in Manhattan to the north. A Coney Island bound train means it is heading south.

Some subways are below ground, and some are above. In Manhattan, subways are below ground, but in many of the suburbs, they are overhead. Overhead or below they are all part of the same subway system. To get to the train platform, there will almost always be stairs. If stairs are a problem look on the map to see if there is an elevator available for that station.

Other things to watch out for are whether trains run on weekends/late nights or not. For example, the B doesn’t run on the weekend, only Monday through Friday.

Subway Line 7 has Local and Express
The 7 line has both Express and Local trains.

Throughout the day, some train lines have the same number, but one train may be express another a local – like the express 7 and a local 7. Express, for any line, means that it skips some stations, where the local stops at all stations. The local train will have a circle around the subway line number. An express train will have a diamond shape around the number.

Red Light Subway notiification
This entrance has a red light at the top. This means it is open only during specific hours.

Finding a Subway Entrance

Subway entrances can have many different looks. One thing to look for is the green post with a round light on top. The top of the light will be green if that entrance is always open and red if it is open specific hours.

Station map of Columbus Circle
This is the station map for Columbus Circle/59th St. Look at how many entrances and exits there are. Are you going to 57th St. or 60th?

Leaving a Subway Station

Subway stations can be huge, with multiple entrances and exits. The subway stop may say 42nd Street, but depending on the subway line the exits can be anywhere from 40th Street to 44th Street and Lexington Avenue to 8th Avenue. That covers a vast area. It is also easy to get turned around when riding underground.

Helpful subway sign
Look for arrows or other signs to help you know which way you need to go.

So, be sure to look at a map to know if the destination is North, South, East or West from the station. Knowing that makes walking in the right direction easier, and helps save a lot of extra time and walking. In the station, look for signs like arrows pointing the direction of the streets it services. Do you want the NW corner or the SW corner? It can make a difference.

Beware of the Empty Subway Car

You will rarely see an empty car on the subway, but if you do it is usually something you want to stay away from. Sometimes someone may have become ill, or there may be a passenger that is showing unwanted behavior, I highly recommend not getting on an empty car, especially when other cars are full.

Use Free Transfers

When you swipe your card to get on a bus or subway, included is a free transfer (within two hours) between bus to subway, subway to bus, bus to bus, or between select subway stations. (Free subway-to-subway transfers only apply when you are required to exit the station to make your connection.) 

Subways are generally faster, but buses can often get closer to a specific destination. Using a combination of buses and subway is another good way to save a lot of walking.

You may be interested in Tips on Walking in NYC


You will save a lot of confusion and get to your destination quicker by consulting a map before heading out to the subway.

I lived in Manhattan, one block from Times Square, for almost two years. I loved living there and rode the buses and subway trains nearly every day; that is if I wasn’t walking!

Enjoy the ride.

Trivia Question

Question – What determines the length of the subway train/how many cars a subway train can have?

Answer – the length of the platform. They can add more trains, but they can’t add more cars. All cars need to stop where there is a platform.

What phrase on a subway train will be heard over and over again?

“Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” This phrase is known around the world, but there has been talk about changing it. The MTA is looking at shorting it to “please stand clear.”  Experience this iconic phrase by watching a short video on Youtube.

You may also be interested in reading about tips on walking in New York City.


Must purchase MetroCard for $1

Fares starting April 21, 2019

•  Base Fare – $2.75 Subway and Local Bus

•  Express Bus – $6.75

•  7-Day Unlimited – $33

•  7-Day Express Bus Plus – $62.00

•  30-Day Unlimited – $127.00

•  Single Ride ticket – $3.00 (No Reduced-Fare) Sold at vending machines only. Must be used within 2 hours; no transfers included.

Express Busses can no longer accept coins