If you want to get around NYC quickly and efficiently, the subway is the best method!  This NYC Subway Guide will take you step-by-step through the whole process.  And in no time, you will understand how to ride the NYC Subway thanks me, your personal New York Subway Trip Planner.  Start communing like a pro!

First Published: January 14, 2018 Last Updated: January 13, 2020

NYC Subway Guide


By now, I think you know how much I love NYC!  Whether strolling down Madison Avenue, or spending the afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, getting from Point A to Point B is so much easier by riding the subway.

A frequent question I get from readers is, “How long is the cab ride from Point A to Point B.”  Great question!!!  Riding in taxis is a common way to get around, that’s for sure.  But the traffic…Lordy.  A good traffic jam can really mess up your plans and rob you of precious time better spent soaking up NYC.  Plus taxis can cost a lot of money as the meter clicks away!

So why not ride the Subway?  This NYC Subway Guide will help even the most timid visitor to New York, learn how to ride the NYC Subway like a pro!


Green metal railing of the NYC Subway Entrance



a NYC underground subway platform



How to Ride the NYC Subway


  • NYC is organized in a very North-South and East-West grid at the street level, and the Subway is no different.  Just imagine that as street traffic is (slowly) moving people around on the surface, the same thing is happening underground.  Typically, you are never more than two or three blocks away from a Subway stop.


  • The first thing you want to know is:  where am I, where do I want to go, and which line is closest to me:  the green line, the orange line, the yellow line, the red line, etc.  Find a street level entrance, gather ye courage (kidding….it’s not scary), and head on down.


  • Be sure to note if you are going Downtown or Uptown.  The entrances are typically on the opposite sides of the street, and are clearly marked.



NYC Subway Map


The Metro Card Vending Machine


  • You need to purchase a Metro Card.  Sometimes, depending on the size of the station, there’s a MTA employee in a booth who can not only sell you a card, but can also give you a free paper map.  If the booth is unattended, not to worry, there’s always automated machines.


  • Simply follow the easy to understand steps on the screen to purchase your Metro Card.  If you are there for a weekend, I’d suggest a $20 card.  Each ride within Manhattan is $2.75, so you can get approximately eight rides out of one Metro Card.  It’s easy to add money to it later on if needed.  If you are venturing to Brooklyn or Queens, the rides cost a little more.


  • Metro Card firmly in hand, proceed to the platform entrance, swipe your card, and go through the turnstile.  There’s a magnetic strip on the bottom of the Metro Card and arrows telling which way to swipe.  Don’t freak out if your swipe is not successful the first time.  There’s true skill and finesse involved, and after your first few times, you’ll be swiping like a real New Yorker.


Man in leather jacket wearing a hat at the metrocard vending machine

The Metro Card Vending Machine



a NYC Metrocard Vending Machine

The MTA Metro Card Vending Machine


How to Ride the NYC Subway


  • Now you are on the platform, waiting for your train.  There’s illuminated signs hanging above your head telling you how long you have to wait…2 minutes, 3 minutes.  No biggie.  I enjoy looking at the unique tile work in each station!


  • The train pulls up, and you get on!  Voila!  Find a seat, or find a place to stand depending on how crowded the train is.  Do some people watching!  Don’t stare.  It’s rude. Do hold on if you are standing up.  The trains go fast, and might stop abruptly, and you do not want to go flying into someone!!!


  • Inside the train, sometimes there’s a working illuminated sign above your head showing which stop is coming next.  No sign, no worries! The conductor always tells which stop is coming next.  However, 9 times out of 10 the voice sounds like the Teacher in the Peanuts cartoons, so don’t panic.  Have a rough idea of how many stops until you get off.  You can also look out the windows as you pull into a station to see where you are.


  • Train arrives at your destination, you follow the crowd to the exit.  You ascend from the depths, and have saved yourself a TON of time stuck in traffic!



Maps hanging on the walls in the subway

Handy wall-mounted maps make it easy to study the lines while you wait for your train.



NYC Subway Map App


  • There is a GREAT app to have on your phone that very clearly shows all the Subway lines.  I use it ALL the time.  It’s called NYC Subway and the icon is a white train on a red circle. It’s like a NYC Subway Guide in miniature.


a screen shot of the NYC Subway Map app



Additional NYC Subway Guide Tips:

  • For some reason, tourists are always so worried about acting like a tourist.  News Flash:  we are.  We are never going to be Native New Yorkers.  No matter how many times you have been to the Big Apple, you are always going to be a tourist.  So get over yourself, and don’t worry about making a mistake.  If you miss your stop…get off on the next one.  You can take the Subway back, or jump a cab…all easily correctable.


  • Situational awareness is very important.  I have never felt unsafe riding the Subway, but I use common sense.  I don’t stand on the edge of the platform.  If someone near me feels creepy, I move away.  I carry small purses, and keep them in front of me while on the subway.  I don’t make myself a target.  Late at night, we always take a cab.  Just be smart.


  • There are trains that are EXPRESS…meaning they don’t stop at every single stop.  I have only made that mistake once….and it was not big deal.  I rode the train right back, and started over.  If you are unsure, the illuminated signs on the platform tell you if a train is E (express) or L (local).  You can always ask a fellow passenger.


  • A great way to get tweens or teenagers involved and actually talking to you is to let them help map out your Subway rides!  They love the challenge, and it gives them an opportunity to lead, when usually the adults do all the leading!


  • There can be lots of steps going into and out of Subway stations.  Upside:  you are working off that delicious bagel and cream cheese, so carry on soldier!


Now that you know how to ride the NYC Subway, Enjoy those hours ( and money) you save by riding the Subway!!!!



a man in a leather jacket buying a subway card with text overlay


Bio about Mary Meier Evans The Curious Cowgirl




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