While the NYC subway system proposes a vast network of traffic-free trains to get you from point A to B in a (theoretical) snap, there are some justified gripes about why one might want to skip out on a subway ride altogether. There are, of course, the steady stream of delays and service disruptions (don’t get us started on weekend service!) that seem to be ever-increasing with this decaying century-old transport system, not to mention the recent reports of scary full-out derailments.
In fact, New York State Governor Cuomo went so far as to issue an NYC subway "state of emergency" in June 2017 to help make it easier for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or MTA — which runs the crumbling metro system — to make much-needed improvements on its infrastructure. And that's all on top of the subway's everyday unpleasantries, like the rampant rat colony residents, unapologetic "manspreaders," or the horrid soupy smell that only a steamy-August-day-in-a-NYC-subway-station could possibly conjure up.
Happily, in a mega-city like New York, there are always choices, and that comes in place for transit, too. Here, we outline your five best options for getting around NYC, without ever having to step foot on the subway.
There's no better way to see the city, immersing yourself in its inimitable on-the-ground sensory overload, than by putting your feet to NYC's streets. Indeed, whenever logistically possible, hoofing it is one of New Yorkers' main modes of getting about town, as evidenced by the astounding pedestrian traffic flow that overtakes sidewalks in any given neighborhood. And, surprisingly, it can actually be one of the fastest ways to get around, to boot, especially when factoring in the rush hour traffic and jam-packed subway alternatives.
Yes, NYC is one of the world's great walking cities (and especially so in Manhattan's easily navigable, flat, "grid" system of streets), so plot your route and get ready to pound some pavement, sopping up all of the great people-watching, architectural details, shopping, and foodie opportunities en route. Lost your way? No problem: New Yorkers are pretty great at giving directions, too.
While the MTA might come up short with its subway service, its counterpart public bus branch is, happily, less prone to complaints — so long as you're not especially pressed for time. A vast web of NYC bus routes and designated stops traverse the city — you can check a route map at many bus stops, grab a printed map at select subway station booths, or visit MTA.info for detailed routing info.
If you grab a seat by the window, a bus ride can actually be a pleasant way to do some sightseeing, too. Just take heed: traffic jams can make this above-ground mode of transport a painstakingly slow commute during rush hour, and while many routes offer 24-hour service, late-night schedules can be infrequent. Bus fare is the same as subway fare: $2.75 a pop, which is payable by MetroCard (that you need to purchase before you board), or, if you're old school, exact change in coins.
Another option is one of the city's hop-on, hop-off double-decker sightseeing buses, like those run by Big Bus or Open Loop, which are a good bet for first-time visitors short on time. You'll pay a premium for a ticket but will get some narration for a bona fide sightseeing tour along with your transport between some select NYC tourism hot spots.
By Taxi or Car Service
When distances are great, the weather is lousy, you've got bags to bog you down, or you're just too plain exhausted to otherwise schlep, hopping in a taxi or calling a car service is the most convenient and direct way to get around town (though note that this route can be pricey — yellow taxi fares begin at $2.50 and increase 50¢ every one-fifth of a mile). That is, when the city's maddening traffic conditions allow for it — dare to hop in a cab during the height of rush hour, and you'll risk covering ground at little more than a snail's pace.
The city's fleet of yellow taxis (or green Boro Taxis, which are dedicated to servicing the four NYC boroughs beyond Manhattan — as well as upper Manhattan above E. 96th St.) are licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and can be hailed curbside on demand with a wave of the arm, 24 hours a day. Just take note of the roof medallion light on top of the cab — if the light is out, it's already occupied and will breeze right by you, despite how you might flail. And be forewarned: Hailing cabs during peak-demand times, like rush hour or when it's raining, can be a seemingly impossible feat. Note that a taxi can hold a maximum of four passengers (though one additional kid under the age of 7 is allowed if seated on an adult passenger's lap), so plan accordingly.
There are also plenty of call-up car services, too, like Dial 7 (212/777–7777) or Carmel (212/666–6666), that you can reserve for door-to-door service in advance (but note they're typically priced at a premium to yellow cabs), while ride-sharing car services like Uber and Lyft are another handy option, with both touting abundant cars on call throughout the city.
While it's easy to forget, New York City is an island destination, with the boroughs spread out over Manhattan Island, Staten Island, and Brooklyn and Queens sharing space on Long Island; in fact, only the Bronx is connected to the mainland U.S. It's fitting then that navigating the city by its waterways is not only entirely feasible, but downright enjoyable, especially during warmer days. The NYC Ferry system has seen a huge expansion in 2017, with loads of new routes cropping up between Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens along the East River waterway and beyond — and all offered for the same price as a subway fare ($2.75), to boot. Hop on board for a ride on over to recently debuted locations like Astoria, Queens, for its great Greek food or museums, or the Rockaways, for surfing and beaches.
Of course, there's the Staten Island Ferry, too, which will zip you over to Staten Island for free — not only does it offer some of the best views of New York Harbor and Lady Liberty, but 2018 will welcome the debut of the world's largest Ferris wheel along with the Empire Outlets, NYC's first outlet mall, both set to open their doors just steps from the Staten Island ferry station.
Also worth looking into is the New York Water Taxi, which runs between the west and east sides of Manhattan, with stops at popular tourist spots like the World Trade Center, the South Street Seaport, and the Brooklyn waterfront at DUMBO — you can get an all-day pass for $35.
Navigating the city by two wheels is not only good for the environment and for your health but can actually be quite fun, too. Happily, the city has taken great strides over the last decade to improve city infrastructure for cyclists, with a slate of designated bike lanes now implemented throughout town. (You can find a good downloadable bike map published by the NYC Department of Transportation for an idea of available routes.)
If you don't own your own bicycle, you can rent one for a half or full day (or longer) from numerous city bike shops (like Bike and Roll or Blazing Saddles), or you can look into New York City's bike-sharing system, Citi Bike, which launched in 2013, bringing 10,000 bikes to some 600 bike stations across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Citi Bike rentals are available around the clock, with daily, three-day, and annual passes available.