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NYC Subway 34th Street | © Aude/WikiCommons
NYC Subway 34th Street | © Aude/WikiCommons
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A Practical Guide To The NYC Subway System

Picture of Dana deLaski
Updated: 17 November 2016
For some reason, visitors are often intimidated by the New York City Subway System. It’s been known to be confusing, difficult, dirty, and unreliable, and it’s not something many visitors want to take. But despite the fact that trains are often late, and it’s not the cleanest underground transport system in the world, the subway is often the best way to get to where you’re going. Sure, it depends on where you need to be, but when traffic is as bad as it is in New York City, it’s usually much faster just to hop on the train. So if you’re unsure about riding the subway, here are some tips to make it easier.

One of the things that confuses people when riding the subway is simply entering the station. Unlike other transportation systems, you can’t always get inside and then find your proper train. Sometimes you can do this, but not always. Certain stations have different entrances whether you’re headed uptown or downtown, to Brooklyn or Manhattan, etc., and you can’t always switch once in the station. So, BE SURE you know you’re headed in the right direction. If you’re just visiting and aren’t sure, check out a map and make sure you enter in the right spot. This may be one of the biggest mistakes people make on the subway, but if you’re aware of it, it’s no problem.

Once inside the station, buy a ticket. The subway costs $2.75 per ride at the time of this publication. If you don’t plan to ride the subway much, then yes, purchase one ticket. But if you’re in town for a week or more and want to see a lot of the city (particularly if you want to get outside Manhattan), consider an unlimited card. If you take the trains twice a day or more, you’ll save money this way.

There are times to take the train, and times when you don’t need to. It’s always accessible, but if you’re in the East Village, West Village, Greenwich Village, SoHo, The Lower East Side, Tribeca, or Chinatown, and you want to explore downtown, it’s best just to walk! You can walk almost anywhere in Lower Manhattan in 30 minutes or less, and there are tons of pleasant streets, boutiques, bars, and cafés that you’ll want to see.

But if you’re looking to hit one of the major tourist attractions – say The Empire State Building, Central Park, or any of the major art museums – DO take the subway. Many of these monuments are in Midtown, Manhattan, which isn’t the best walking area. Traffic can also be mad – particularly if you’re trying to go across town, from East to West or vice versa. It can take 30 minutes to travel just a few blocks by car in this part of town, so the subway is the best option. Plus, there are many express trains that will take you to Midtown in just a few minutes.

For visiting outer boroughs, the subway is essential. While there are sidewalks everywhere, boroughs outside Manhattan are much more spread out, and it can take far too long to walk. Plus, taking a taxi or an Uber to cross a bridge will end up costing you, while the subway will remain the same price!

It’s a true, unavoidable fact that the subway is often delayed. To be quite honest, it can be hard to predict travel times if you’re waiting for a train that only comes every 20 minutes. The best way to deal is simply to be patient – everyone is in the same boat, and ‘train was delayed’ is usually an acceptable excuse to be a few minutes late.