mastering the new york subway

When it comes to navigating the New York City Subway, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. I’ve ended up on an Express train by accident, been caught up in weekend line closures, gone in the wrong entrance countless times over and headed Uptown when I wanted to go Downtown. I’ve done it all! But there’s something about the dirty, gritty New York Subway that I love (think Kojak) so I’ve managed to push on through all these tourist errors, to feeling confident I’ve nailed it. I’m no longer scared of it, and can safely walk through a station looking and acting like I know where I’m going. However, I know riding the Subway can be an issue for most visitors and it’s guaranteed on each trip I’ll overhear someone saying how confusing they find it. It might not be the best underground rail system in the world – you never really know when the next train is going to turn up – but there are certain things you can do to make using the New York Subway a little easier:

1) Get an unlimited ride Metrocard
The last time I visited NY I was in town for almost a week, so decided to get a 7-day unlimited ride Metrocard for $31. I’ve never done this before, mainly because I walk a lot around the city, and was never sure whether I’d get value for money so would tend to stick to buying single or multiple-ride tickets. But it makes life so much easier – you don’t have to go to the machine every time or face the frosty counter staff – and it’s actually easy to get your money’s worth even if you’re only in town for less than seven days. Each Subway ride costs $2.75; so after 11 rides you’ve spent $31. It’s easy to take 10 rides, especially as you can use it on the bus and on part of the journey from the airport, too.

2) Arm yourself with a really good map
This might sound obvious, but a couple of times I’ve made do with the teeny tiny Subway map on the back of my Popout map, which I love A LOT by the way, but it’s only good if you already feel familiar with the Subway and what stops where. We used Ulmon Pro CityMaps2Go.

new york city subway map

3) Plan your trip ahead of time
Take a bit of time before you set out to plan where you actually need to go and where you have to change. Again, might sound obvious. But it’s easy to assume you’ll easily work it out when you get there, which is tricky when there are tons of people walking really fast around you, crowding around the only map. Even think about which platform – Uptown or Downtown – you’ll need to head for. All this makes for a nicer experience and leaves you feeling less of a dithering tourist. The MTA’s trip planner is useful, and I’ve heard Hopstop is good too.

new york city subway 14th street

4) Check any diversions
OK so sometimes, trains just change their destination and don’t end up going to where you thought they were going in the first place. There’s nothing you can do about this. Also, some trains stop operating at certain times of day and on certain days of the week. We got caught out the last time we were in town. It was a Saturday, and we were really early for our late lunch date at Clinton Street Bakery. But a 15-minute journey from West 14th Street ended up taking over an hour because we didn’t know the J train didn’t run at weekends, so we ended up waiting on another platform for another train that didn’t stop on that platform at the weekend. We ended up at Chambers Street station… those of you who’ve been there will know what I mean. It was like a scene out of I Am Legend. I won’t go on – it was just complicated and would have been far better had we known.

Chambers Street New York City

5) Take your time and don’t panic
The more you use the Subway, the more it will all start to make sense. You’ll start knowing beforehand which entrance to go into, and which exit to come out of depending on whether you’re going Uptown or Downtown. The Subway is an anomaly at first, but after a few rides, you will find it hard to believe you didn’t get it.

Also… tips on Subway etiquette and can you relax enough to read on the Subway?.

(Photos via Underground New York Public Library blog and Tumblr)

1 Comment

  1. The Subway is also brilliant for people watching.
    Great tips, keep ’em coming.

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