Navigating the New York City Subway: It's Not Hard!

New York Subway

I’m leaving New York today and I’m headed to Washington, D.C. to take advantage of an 11-hour layover. I’ve never been to D.C. before, so I’m going to check out the Smithsonian with my father before we board that plan to Reykjavik. Today I thought I would write about getting around on the New York subway system, though, since I had a lovely Canadian couple ask me for directions the other day. Here are some basic tips I found after living in New York for two years:

Know the difference between Uptown and Downtown.

Once you know the basic geography of Manhattan, it’s pretty easy to get around. You will kind of need to have an idea of which way is up and which is down, however. Don’t be afraid to study a map for a few minutes and circle some of the places you want to visit. That way you have a general overview about which trains would be the best to take. Don’t be afraid of looking like a tourist—you are one! It’s okay.

Put plenty of money on your MetroCard.

If you don’t plan on walking a lot, your MetroCard will be your key to cheap travel in the city. That being said, you’ll want to make sure that you have enough funds on it to get you to where you need to go. Nothing is more annoying than being stuck mid-turnstile with not enough funds to get through. Think about adding an extra ten dollars so you can get from one place to another really easily. Each ride costs $2.50, so if you’re running Uptown and Downtown several times a day, it can add up.

Know where the lines branch off.

When you look at a map, it’s easy to get the idea that several different trains are headed to where you need to go—which can be true to an extent. But eventually all roads must diverge, or all subway lines branch into various areas of the city. When looking at your trusty map, take some time to see where you might need to get off and transfer if necessary. The good thing about transferring is that it doesn’t cost anything, and all you have to do is walk to the next platform.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone.

Yes, New Yorkers are notoriously marked as rude and unwilling to help tourists, but that’s not always true. If you have questions, feel free to ask someone else standing on the platform if the train is heading in the direction that you want to go. Most will be happy to help you out or direct you to the right train and station if you are lost.

Have you ever had trouble with the New York City subway? Have any tips or tricks that could help?

Image courtesy of Dan Dilworth.

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