John F. Kennedy Airport is New York City's largest airport and one of the busiest in the country by passenger traffic. And of New York City's three major airports, it's also the farthest from Manhattan—even farther than Newark's airport in New Jersey. Traveling from the airport into the city is overwhelming, and trying to balance the cost with time and hassle can be stressful before you even touch down in New York. The subway looks intimidating, but if you're comfortable with public transportation, it's the most affordable way into the city and doesn't take too long. Taxis are the most convenient, but they're expensive and traffic can prolong what would otherwise be a quick ride. Some happy medium choices include the New York commuter train or an airport shuttle, which are easier than the subway but less expensive than a cab.
Before deciding, make sure to think about what your budget is and how much commuting you can handle. If you're getting off a long international flight, you might not have the energy to trudge around on the subway.
How to Get from JFK to Manhattan
|Subway||60–90 minutes||from $10.50||Traveling on a budget|
|Commuter Train||35 minutes||from $15.50||Arriving in a rush|
|Taxi||45 minutes||from $52 (plus tolls and tip)||Stress-free commuting|
|Airport Shuttle||90 minutes||from $19||Balancing cost and convenience|
New Yorkers both love their subway and love to complain about their subway, and while it may not be the cleanest or most punctual metro system in the world, it's surprisingly easy to use for getting from JFK Airport into Manhattan and undoubtedly your cheapest option. The total travel time depends heavily on where in Manhattan you want to get to, but before you get on the subway, you need to use the AirTrain to get out of the airport.
The AirTrain is a tram that circles all of the terminals at JFK and connects to two different transit stations outside of the airport with service to the city: Jamaica Station and Howard Beach. If your final destination is in Manhattan, it's most likely that you need to transfer at Jamaica Station. While the AirTrain is free if you're using it to travel between terminals, you'll need to pay a fee of $7.75 if your starting or ending point is outside of the airport. Once you're off the AirTrain at Jamaica Station, follow signs for the Sutphin Boulevard–Archer Avenue subway station. In addition to the AirTrain ticket, you'll also need a subway ticket, which costs an additional $2.75. The available train options are the E, J, and Z lines, and which one you take depends on where you're going in the city.
E Train to Midtown, Times Square, Penn Station, West Village, and World Trade Center
- After making your way to the subway, get on the E train toward Manhattan/World Trade Center. The train goes through all of Queens and the first Manhattan stop is Lexington Avenue/53rd Street. The train continues downtown at 8th Avenue until its final stop at World Trade Center. If you were to take the subway all the way to the end, the trip would be about 50 minutes.
J or Z Train to Lower East Side, Little Italy, Chinatown, and Financial District
- Make your way to the subway and take a J or Z train toward Manhattan/Broad Street (the Z train is express and only runs during weekday rush hour). The first Manhattan stop is at Delancey Street/Essex Street in the hip Lower East Side neighborhood, and the train continues on through Chinatown until Broad Street, right next to Wall Street. Taking the subway from Jamaica all the way to Broad Street would take about 50 minutes on the J train (or faster on the Z train).
To Other Areas of Manhattan
- If you're going somewhere else in Manhattan, you'll need to transfer trains at least once somewhere along the route. Use Google Maps or Apple Maps to type in the address of your destination. Either one should give you the best route to take that involves the least amount of transfers.
The New York City subway and AirTrain both run at all hours of the day, seven days a week. However, subways run less frequently late at night and you could be waiting for a while if your plane lands at 3 a.m. The trip might seem long, but it can actually be faster than a taxi if you're commuting during rush hour. If you're traveling with luggage, it might not be the most comfortable ride, so take that into account if you have more than one suitcase with you.
Using the subway may seem overwhelming, especially to someone who's new to the city and doesn't understand where to transfer, what express lines are, or which way is downtown and which way is uptown. However, every station is staffed with MTA employees who are there to help you. If you get to the station and feel utterly lost, just ask for help. New Yorkers aren't as mean as people make them out to be.
By Commuter Train
The Long Island Railroad, or LIRR, is the commuter train that connects all of Long Island—where JFK is located—to Manhattan, and it's the fastest way to get into the city from the airport. Just as with the subway, you'll first need to take the AirTrain from the airport to Jamaica Station. Jamaica is one of the busiest train hubs in all of North America, so if you're flying in during weekday rush hour, be prepared for a lot of foot traffic in the station. You can buy tickets from the ticket office, at one of the machines, or on your phone using the MTA eTix application. You can also buy tickets on the train, but they'll be more expensive.
All Manhattan-bound trains go to Penn Station and only take about 25 minutes to get there. From there, you can connect to the A, C, or E subway line to continue on to another part of the city, or take a taxi to your final destination. If you're traveling alone, you'll save money by taking the train to Penn Station and hailing a cab from there instead of taking one all the way from the airport. If you're with a group of three or four, it's cheaper to split a cab from the airport instead of each person buying individual LIRR tickets.
Taking a taxi is the least stressful way of getting from the airport to Manhattan, especially for those who have never been to the city before and are worried about navigating the subway. However, it's also going to be the most expensive and it may be the slowest, depending on traffic conditions. But if you've just gotten off a long flight or you have lots of bags, you may just want to sit back and relax while someone else brings you right to the door of your accommodations. If you're traveling with a group of friends or your family, splitting a taxi ends up being not much more than each person buying individual train tickets.
Fortunately, you don't have to worry about the unknown factor of taxi meters when taking a cab from the airport, since all taxis from JFK to any part of Manhattan have a fixed fare of $52. However, that's not likely all you'll need to pay. If you're traveling during "peak hours," which are from 4–8 p.m. on weekdays, there's an additional surcharge of $4.50. If there are any tolls along the way, those will also be added to your fare. And finally, tipping your driver about 15% is customary if it was good service, so factor in another $8 or so for that.
When you're leaving the airport, make sure to hail one of the official NYC yellow cabs from the taxi stand outside each terminal. Ignore anyone else who is soliciting taxi rides; it's illegal for them to do so and they are not official cabs.
By Airport Shuttle
If you don't want to shell out $60 for a cab but also don't like the idea of lugging your bags around on the train, several private companies offer shuttles throughout the day that take you directly to major transit hubs in Manhattan such as Grand Central, Times Square, Penn Station, or even directly to your hotel.
NYC Express Bus offers rides every half-hour from JFK to Grand Central, Times Square, and Penn Station. It takes about 90 minutes depending on your final destination and traffic, but you can just sit back and relax on the bus without dealing with the hassle of subway transfers.
If you want more flexibility with your drop-off location, including the possibility of being dropped off right at your hotel door, you can reserve a seat with GO Airlink. It's a little more expensive than NYC Express Bus, but you can choose your own drop-off location just as if you were in a taxi. However, it's a shared shuttle, so the travel time can really vary depending on if you're the first person dropped off or the last one.
What to See in Manhattan
Even if you've never been to New York City, everyone knows it from movies, literature, music, and pop culture. You could spend a year living in New York and you still wouldn't be able to see all that it has to offer. If it's your first time visiting, then there are a few must-see sites that everyone has to experience, and most of New York's iconic sites are located in Manhattan. Around Midtown, you have Times Square, Rockefeller Center, and Grand Central Terminus. Just a few blocks uptown is the enormous Central Park, and a few blocks downtown the legendary Empire State Building dominates. Many of Manhattan's most charming neighborhoods are below 14th Street, such as Greenwich Village, Soho, and Washington Square Park. Walk around and get lost in the endless display of designer boutiques, hip cafes, and amazing restaurants.