Pennsylvania Station (more commonly known as Penn Station) is the busiest rail hub in North America; half a million passengers journey through it each day. It serves three passenger railroad lines: Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and the Long Island Railroad. The station also connects to the New York City subway system, Penn Plaza, and Madison Square Garden, and is just a short walk from Herald Square in midtown Manhattan. There are a variety of food options in the station, most of which are grab and go style.
History and Future of Penn Station
The original Penn Station — heralded as a "pink marble architectural masterpiece" — was built in 1905, opened to the public in 1910 and designed by the legendary McKim, Meade, and White in the Beaux Arts style. For more than 50 years, New York's Penn Station was one of the country's busiest passenger train hubs, but train travel declined dramatically with the advent of the jet engine.
As a result, the under-utilized Penn Station was demolished in the 1960s to make way for Madison Square Garden and the new, smaller Penn Station. The destruction of this New York architectural landmark caused outrage and is said to be the main catalyst for many of New York's current landmark preservation statutes.
In 2018, construction began on a brand-new train station in the magnificent Farley Post Office Building (a landmark also designed by McKim, Meade, and White). According to current plans, the state-of-the-art train station — to be christened Moynihan Station after long-time New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan — will move into the post office's enormous old mail-sorting room once restoration is complete in 2021.
The main entrance to Penn Station is located on 7th Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets, but there are also entrances via subway stations on 34th Street and 7th Avenue and on 34th Street and 8th Avenue. Penn Station is always open.
Penn Station is easily accessible by subway. The 1, 2 and 3 trains will take you directly to the station on the 34th Street stop. The N, Q, R, B, D, F and M trains drop passengers off one avenue east on 34th Street and 6th Avenue, right next to the Macy's. The A, C, and E trains will drop you off one avenue west on 34th street and 8th avenue, with underground access to Penn Station. The 7 train stops at 34th Street in Hudson Yards, which requires a bit of a walk to get to Penn Station. The M34 Bus Service is the only MTA city bus that connects directly to Penn Station.
All taxis and car ride services know how to get to Penn Station. Make sure to tell your driver exactly which service you are using (ex. Amtrak) so he or she can drop you off at the closest entrance. The station is big, and this will save you a lot of walking time.
On the upper concourse level, travelers can find the New Jersey Transit and Amtrak tracks, ticket booths, and a few shops.
The lower concourse level houses the Long Island Rail Road tracks and ticket stations as well as the 1, 2, 3, A, C, and E subway lines.
Fast food restaurants, delis, and concession stands line the central corridor of the lower level if you’re looking to snag your morning bagel or cup of coffee. See more detailed information on each concourse below.
Of all the stations Amtrak uses, New York's Penn Station is the busiest. Over 10 million customers board an Amtrak station from this location every year. Popular destinations include Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Boston but you can get as far as Chicago.
To get to the Amtrak station inside Penn Station enter at 8th Avenue between West 31st and West 33rd streets. Easily readable signs will lead you to the Amtrak Hall. There is a 24-hour waiting room where those with a ticket can relax while waiting for their train. There is free Wi-Fi in the room but no food or drink. Amtrak recommends getting to the station at least 45 minutes before your train departs.
There is also a ticket counter and numerous self-service kiosks where you can buy a ticket, retrieve a ticket you bought online, and more. They are all located in a central location, so you can't miss them. An easy way to navigate the space is to download Amtrak's free FindYourWay app available in the Apple app store and Google Play Store.
Amtrak is currently building a new hall to better serve its passengers. There will be a sunlit atrium (a big improvement from the dark, musky space); a new ticketing and bagging area; a lounge; a reserved customer waiting room; and more retail and food shops. It is expected to be completed by late 2020.
Long Island Railroad
The Long Island Railroad (called LIRR by locals) is a commuter rail system that goes through the southwestern part of New York State. It goes from Manhattan to the eastern tip of Suffolk County on Long Island. Many people use it to get to the Hamptons as well as Jamaica Station where you can access John F. Kennedy Airport via the AirTrain.
There is no specific LIRR waiting room, but the LIRR ticket counter, kiosks, and platforms are located close to the Seventh Avenue entrance of the station in between 32nd and 34th Streets. There are multiple ticket counters and self-service stations where you can buy your ticket, but they can get very crowded, especially on Fridays and during the summer months or holidays. It's advisable to buy your ticket in advance on the LIRR website.
LIRR doesn't announce their platforms in advance, so sometimes there can be a rush to get on a train once the platform is announced. Stay calm and know that there are ample seats for everyone.
New Jersey Transit
New Jersey Transit (known as NJ Transit) is a public transportation line that serves the state of New Jersey as well as parts of New York State and Pennsylvania. It makes local stops, and many New Yorkers use it to travel to Newark Airport or Philadelphia.
To access NJTransit trains enter Penn Station at Seventh Avenue and 31st Street or Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street. Signs will direct you to NJTransit ticketing office as well as platforms. There is no waiting room for these trains, and the waiting area can get quite crowded and hectic. Its advisable to buy your ticket ahead of time on the website and then find a nice spot in a cafe to wait. Alternatively there are ticket offices and vending machines located throughout the concourse.
Madison Square Garden Access
Madison Square Garden is one of New York City's premier concerts and events venue. You can see everything from famous musicians to live hockey there. It's located right above Penn Station, and you can get to the garden without even going outside.
Take the 1, 2, 3, A, C or E trains to 34th Street Penn Station and follow the signs to get the Madison Square Garden underground. If you are in Penn Station simply follow the signs to these subway stations and then follow the signs to Madison Square Garden.
Where to Eat and Drink
Hungry while you're waiting for your train? Penn Station hasn't always been known for its food options, but now there are some fun choices.
- One of Penn Station's newest and best additions is The Pennsy NYC, a high-class food hall located on top of the station. Vendors serve craft tacos, pizzas, salads, sliders, even sushi. There is a delicious cocktail and wine bar to make your travel day even more enjoyable.
- For one of the best burgers in the city look no further than Shake Shack. It's located in the lower concourse at Penn Station. If you're in a hurry you can even download the Shake Shack app and order ahead of time. Don't leave without getting a milkshake and fries to go.
- If you're in the mood for sushi Wasabi Sushi & Bento prepares high quality snacks to go. It's located in the plaza concourse level and is open from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Monday to Friday, open from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 a.m. on Saturday and open from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. on Sunday. Sushi for breakfast anyone?
- For a fresh sandwich, head to Pret A Manger. It's located next to the LIRR concourse. It has salads and snack bowls along with sandwiches.
Penn Station Tips & Facts
- The most important tip we can give is: buy your ticket ahead of time online. It will save you a lot of time and hassle. Lines can get very long at this station, so avoid them where you can.
- Make sure to use the right entrance to get to your train. It will save you a lot time and keep you from walking in circles around the station.
- Find a seat in a cafés or restaurants. They are much more comfortable than waiting in the hallway or concourses (there is limited public seating and the only other option is the floor.)
- Interesting Fact: Architect Louis Kahn passed away in one of the men's rooms at Penn Station in 1974.
- Fun Fact: More people pass through Penn Station a day than all three New York City airports combined.
- History lovers will be glad to know that parts of the original Penn Station still remain from statues to small tiles to a cast-iron waiting room partition. There are guided tours available to show you all the original pieces.