New York City Subway Travel Guide From a Local

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate and an Affiliate of other programmes, I earn from qualifying purchases. This page may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I have recommended. There is never an additional cost to you.

I’m Jen with The Travel Woman and today I will be your guide sharing my 25 crucial things you need to know about the New York City subway and the number one mistake both visitors and locals alike make and how to save money avoiding it. Before you watch this awesome helpful video don’t forget to click the subscribe and bell button so you don’t miss a video.

First of all I want to say the subway is not called the train, the metro, the underground; it’s just the subway even when it’s above ground it’s called the subway. The subway is one of the fastest ways to get around New York City, but it can be very confusing. Both visitors and locals get lost or accidentally get on the wrong train at some point in time.

As a local who grew up just outside the city and has now lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for the past five years I still get on the wrong train sometimes so just know you are not alone. I will also go over taking a subway with luggage which can be tricky since many subway stations do not have elevators or escalators you might have to carry luggage up or down stairs and use my trick to get luggage properly through the turnstile.

Okay getting back on track here are the 25 things you need to know about the NYC subway.

#1 Subways go by letters and numbers but not colors, colors just show related trains that run along some of the same tracks. In Boston for example they say the Green Line but if you said where’s the Green Line to a New Yorker you would get a funny look before you clarified the four, five or six train.

#2 There are no zones just one swipe and you can hop on the subway anywhere it doesn’t matter how far or how long you ride the subway the fare is the same. A one-minute ride just one stop costs the same as a two-hour ride.

#3 there are 472 subway stations so there are some repeat subway station names for example there are 4 stations named 96 Street so be specific if you ask how to get to 96 Street Station clarify which one: is it off the 1 2 3 or B C or 6 or Q lines

#4 The original New York City subway was a system of elevated trains until the Great Blizzard of 1888 showed the need for an underground system today 60% of the subway system is underground with many trains outside of Manhattan going above ground but no matter where it is still called the subway.

#5 Cabs are not always faster look up directions in apps like Google Maps because often times during rush hour taking the subway is faster than driving

#6 Most subway trains go uptown or downtown in Manhattan but many do not go across to go cross-town in Manhattan there are limited options including the L train along 14th Street to Williamsburg or the 7 or S which stands for shuttle along 42nd Street.

There is no way to get across Central Park from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side so you will need to take a bus, cab or car

#7 one of the biggest mistakes that visitors and locals alike make is getting on the wrong train or going through the wrong entrance going downtown instead of uptown for example so make sure you pay attention to the signs, when you see this that says downtown only you cannot go down here and change to the Uptown direction.

You have to walk across the street to find the Uptown entrance so please please please don’t make that mistake even locals make the mistake because we get to confidence we’re like okay this is the subway entrance we walk in we swipe but if you swipe into the wrong entrance you’re gonna have to go back up again and reswipe and repay and no one wants to repay so make sure you pay attention ahead of time make sure you’re going in the right direction and another really helpful tip is that some platforms have both Local and Express trains on the same track so make sure that you’re paying attention if a 2 train comes by and you’re waiting for a 1 train check which train that you’re getting on to make sure it’s the right train

#8 Maps: since you might not have service below ground my best advice to visitors and locals is to know where you are going before you get into the subway stop screenshot the directions in your phone so you can show someone if you get lost and download a subway map PDF or image on your phone that you can zoom into.

There are also maps in the entrance of each subway station and posted in subway trains for reference

#9 Check signs if a station is unusually empty and there are signs for construction you might have to take a cab or bus depending on the situation so pay attention to signs before swiping this is usually an issue on the weekends

#10 Escalators: stand on the right pass on left the right is right, left is wrong that’s how I remember it if you have luggage hold it on the step in front of you or on the step behind you but leave space on the left for New Yorkers who are known for being in a rush so they can keep moving and when you get off the escalator keep walking if you need to stop and look at a map avoid standing in the way of foot traffic stand to the side

#11 Children under 44 inches or 112 centimetres no matter what age do not need a MetroCard and can walk under the turnstile to ride the train for free if they are with a fare paying adult

#12 Now let’s talk about which MetroCard you should buy.

Do not get a single-use MetroCard it is not cost effective there are two main types of Metro cards: Unlimited ride cards where you add time and the Regular MetroCards also known as pay-per-ride cards where you add value. First try to count how many times you will need to take the subway to and from different places.

if you plan on swiping your card 12 times or to and from six different locations then get a 7-day unlimited ride MetroCard to save money. If you are visiting for a full month there is also an unlimited monthly pass. If you are only visiting for a few days or a weekend and you will not need as many as 12 swipes you can add value to a pay-per ride card based on how many swipes you think you might need, the more you add the more you save you can also always add more value or money to the card if you need more swipes later if you want to share a metro card with family or friends a pay per ride Metro card can be shared with up to four people but an unlimited pass cannot be shared since you must wait 18 minutes between swipes for exact costs I will rate the current prices in the description box below.

#13 Subway cards cost one dollar this is new. They used to be free but now you pay for them in addition to each swipe so do not lose it.

#14 you can pay for your MetroCard with credit card, ATM card or cash unless it says something like no bills accepted.

#15 there are two types of turnstiles if you have luggage and you have the choice find the full height larger turnstiles or try putting your luggage near the exit door swiping in and then opening the door or if you only see waist-high turnstiles lower your luggage handle roll it in front of you with your hands still on it just a few steps away from the metal so the metal turnstile doesn’t hit your luggage thus preventing your luggage from getting stuck in the turnstile like this guy.

#16 Swipe slowly you can tell who is a visitor by how many times they swipe their card. This is how not to swipe your card. This is how to swipe your card you swipe with the yellow front facing you, black stripe down and swipe slowly it might take a few tries to get used to it but keep trying.

#17 While waiting to board a train please do not block subway doors by standing right in front of the doors with nowhere for others to exit the train stand on the side of the door to let people off the train before getting on.

#18 Do not get on an empty train car if the cars next to it are full there is usually a reason it is empty like a bad smell or broken air-conditioning.

#19 Be careful not to hit others with your backpack take it off on the crowded train

#20 Don’t play music loudly on the train always remember to bring your headphones

#21 if you’re sitting down stand up for the elderly or pregnant or if someone looks like they need a seat.

#22 Do not lean on the pole it’s rude and prevents others from holding onto the pole.

#23 Don’t put your feet on the seat it’s technically a crime for which you can be arrested and please don’t man spread you know when one person manages to take up two to three seats

#24 you have a free transfer within two hours of a swipe which is helpful in case you need to go above ground to transfer to another subway or bus

#25 Subway exits: There are often multiple subway exits to save time pay attention to which exit is closest to your destination if you’re going to 20th Street and you get off at the 23rd Street Station exit toward 22nd instead of 23rd Street save time walking a block.