Getting Around New York City: Guide to Public Transportation

Everything you need to know to get around New York City

Empty Subway car in NYC

Wikipedia Commons

The easiest, most affordable way to get around New York City is by public transportation. New York City mass transit generally falls into two categories: buses and subways. The city has 27 subway lines (that go to 472 stations) and 5,725 buses that can take you anywhere you want to go. Once you know how to use them, you'll find them efficient, reliable, and easy. The only problem is you must learn the system.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about navigating your way around New York City's public transportation. You'll feel like a local in no time, maybe even venturing to far away places you never thought you would.

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Watch Now: Riding the Subway in New York City

How to Ride the New York City Subway

Most visitors will find themselves wanting to get around the city by subways. Subways serve most of Manhattan and the outer boroughs very well, and they take you directly to many popular tourist destinations.

  • Before you ride the New York City subway you need to buy a MetroCard. You will swipe this card every time you enter a subway station at the turnstiles. MetroCards cost $1 to purchase. Once you buy your MetroCard you can add money to it.
  • MetroCards may be purchased and refilled at subway station booths, MetroCard vending machines, and at other vendors. You can use cash, credit, or debit cards to make your purchase.
  • New York City subway fares are $2.75 per trip. For visitors staying more than a couple of days you can buy a one week unlimited MetroCard for $33 or an unlimited monthly MetroCard for $127.00. People who are 65 or older or who have qualifying disabilities can get a reduced fare, which is half price. You must see an attendant at a station to purchase one.
  • Because New York City has so many subway lines, it's impossible to memorize them all. Even locals have to look up directions on occasion. The best way to plan your trip is to consult Google Maps or the MTA website. There are also a variety of apps that you can download before your trip to easily look up subway directions. You simply type in your point of your origin and your destination, and the app will tell you the route.
  • New York City has some subways that run express. Your trip planning app will tell you exactly which line to take. If it tells you to take the 1, for example, don't get on the 2 or 3 even though it looks like it's going in the same direction. Those trains are express and won't stop at the station you need.
  • The New York City subway operates 24 hours a day, but service is more sporadic between midnight and 6 am and on weekends. If you're traveling on the weekends or late at night, you should be aware of service interruptions that might impact your trip. Taking a few minutes to review the planned service changes can save you a ton of hassle. Trip Planning apps like Google Maps are aware of these disruptions and can help you plan your route.
  • In every station there is an information booth where you can press the green button and talk to an attendant. If you are confused or need help it's a great tool to use.
  • MTA has a list of accessible subway stations on its website.

Other Transit Options

Subways serve most of Manhattan and the outer boroughs very well, but in those areas where the subway service is not ideal there are buses, trains, bikes, and boats that can take you where you need to go.

New York City Buses

The city has 5,725 buses, and you'll find they are particularly helpful when you need to travel to the far east or west portions of Manhattan.

New York City bus fare is $2.75 per trip. Be aware that buses only accept MetroCards or exact fare in coins -- drivers cannot make change. There are also some buses along major routes in Manhattan & the Bronx that have you pay your fare before you board to speed the process of boarding. It's called "Select Bus Service" and the kiosk for pre-paying your fare is usually very obvious and easy to use.

Google Maps and MTA Trip Planner can tell you the best buses to take (and whether you should take one instead of the subway.) You can also look up New York City Bus schedules.

The NYC Ferry Service

In the past few years New York City has launched new ferry services taking commuters and visitors to Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, & Bronx. Ferries are particularly advisable if you are traveling to places along the water (perhaps you are going from the South Street Seaport to Brooklyn Bridge park.)

The ferries are fun to ride because they offer incredible views and refreshments on board (even local wine and beer!) During warmer seasons you can sit on the outer decks and enjoy the sunshine. They are also relatively inexpensive at $2.75 a ticket. You can look up routes and ticket information on the website.

Railroad Services

If you need to get to the suburbs or areas around New York City you might need to take railroads. Metro North trains take you to Connecticut and Westchester. They leave from Grand Central Station.

Long Island Railroad takes you into Manhattan, and New Jersey Transit takes you to New Jersey. Both train services leave from Penn Station. Google Maps will tell you which service to take.

All train services are reliable and run frequently, but they can get crowded at rush hour. Sometimes it's standing room only during morning and evening commutes. Avoid those times (8 am to 10 am and 5 pm to 7 pm) if possible.

Taxis and Ride Shares

Many New Yorkers prefer to take taxis or private cars, especially late in the evening when subway service is more sporadic. Yellow taxis are the iconic New York City cars. You can flag them down when you need them. If you are in Brooklyn or another outer borough the taxis are green.

New York City has a variety of ride sharing apps. Uber and Lyft allow you to book a private car or share a car with passengers traveling in a similar direction. Via is a service that allows you to hop in a shared van that is going along a set route. All are reliable services and usually arrive very quickly.

Citi Bike

One of the best ways to get around New York City is by Citi Bike, New York's bike share system. There are stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens & Jersey City where you can unlock a bike with your credit card and return it when you get to your destination. Download the Citi Bike app to find the docking stations closest to your location.

While many parts of the city have bike paths, be careful when riding bikes in the city. Lanes can get congested, and sometimes bike paths are close to speeding cars. Accidents happen regularly so vigilance is key.

Rental Cars

While New York City has ample car rental places, it's not advisable. It's difficult to drive in New York City. There is usually heavy traffic, and taxis are used to swirling in and out of lanes. Parking a car can also be difficult especially in Manhattan.

Tips for Getting Around New York City

    • If you are traveling around Manhattan during the day, a subway is your best option.
    • Between midnight and 6 am and on weekends check trip planning apps to determine how to travel to your destination. Routes and lines get changed during those times.
    • Buses are your best option if you are traveling from East to West across the city.
    • If it's a pleasant day try to rent a bike or ride a NYC ferry. You will see more of the city and have fun.
    • NYC has many ride sharing options. If you are in a hurry choose a private car. If you have time and want to meet new people order a shared car. You never know who you will meet!
    • Driving is tough in the city. It's also hard to park. Avoid a rental car if possible.
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