Visitor's Guide to the Ins and Outs of New York City Subway

Times Square Subway Station

On your holiday in the Big Apple? You'll want to see as much as possible. Walking is a great option. It can be relatively quick (distances between streets are not enormous), you'll see a lot and it's Free! But sometimes you get sore feet from all that walking and just want to reach your destination quicker. Taxi cab is an option but sometimes much quicker, more adventurous and certainly cheaper is the New York City Subway.

Subway stations are everywhere where you see large signs with with letters or numbers in colored circles (blue, red, green, orange, yellow...), usually with stairs going down - in some places such as in Uptown and Queens, they are aboveground.

Subway cost

A single ride on the subway will cost $2.50. If you buy a metrocard with pre-paid credit on it, then the cost is $2.25 per ride. A ride in this case is one swipe of the ticket and through the gate and as long as you don't exit the gate you can continue to traveling by subway for the same price. If staying for a whole week for business or pleasure and plan to use the Subway as much as possible, then it is worth buying an Unlimited Ride Card ( good for 7 days ) for about $29 - a monthly version is also available.

How does a Subway ride work?

A metro card works with credit. Each ride on the subway cost $ 2.25. At the subway station, to go through a gate, you slide your metro card through the slot (doesn't always go well the first time), the gate beeps, deduct $ 2.25 from your card and you walk through, easy breezy and you can literally go anywhere you want within the subway system. You can even transfer to a bus for free as long as you swipe with the same card within 2 hours of your first swipe. This works Subway-to-Bus, Bus-to-Subway, Bus-to-Bus or select Subway stations.

You can always buy a new card anywhere or put extra credit on your existing card. Better to recharge, because you pay extra each time you buy a new card. If you are not sure how much to load your card in the beginning, I would start with $ 10. Everything from $ 10 automatically gives you 7% extra free credit, which will come in handy the more you ride!

Where to buy a metrocard?

At the subway station, for locations of metro station you can get a subway map, or find it here - Sometimes there are only machines, sometimes also ticket booth. The differences:

  • 1. Ticket Booth
    Don't be surprised if your first experience with the "sir" or "madam" behind the booth is unpleasant, it's nothing personal. They will often shout through the microphone and the quality of the speaker and the microphone is simply terrible. If you must use the ticket booth, just flash the cash and slide the bills under the window, clerk gives you the card back with credit on it and you can avoid getting deaf by the loud unintelligible speaker.
  • 2. Ticket vending machines
    Machines are at every station and even at some bus stops. The large machines with touchscreen are pretty much self-explanatory until you get to the zip code part when paying by credit card and don't have one if you're from overseas. 5 x 0 works best if you are in this situation, and you can not skip this step. The machine then dispenses the card at the bottom of the bin. Easy!

How reliable are the Subways?

If you are walking into the subway station, don't worry that you've missed the train and a long wait for the next. On average, a metro every 2 to 5 minutes during rush hour and during the day every 10 minutes. Evening rides may be longer of course, but perhaps it is also wiser to take a taxi during the night. It may be that you'll wait 20 minutes or longer at night. Personally, I'd rather not sit in an empty subway station late at night. But generally, it should be fine also.

What is it like?

Traveling by Subway in New York is an experience in it's own right and can be fun too. A lot of people may think I'm mad, but all the different people around me, always makes it fun experience in itself. The subways cars are almost all equipped with air conditioning, so traveling during the summer is manageable. The stations are called out so you know where you are. There are also guides and maps above the seats to give an overview of the line and stops of where you are. In rush hour, it is packed full and standing is almost a given. Hang on to the poles or handles, I have often seen tourists get thrown from the hard accelerations and short stops. Offering your seats to elderly and disabled is a common courtesy.

Where to ride Subway?

New York City subways has approx. 468 different stations and 24 different routes. Lines are identified by letters and numbers (A, B, C, 1,2,3, etc). Pay attention with downtown and uptown subways, often, they have separate entrances and going into the wrong one may mean you have to pay double unless the clerk behind the booth is nice enough to let you through. An overview of all the stops can be found here:

You can get a free subway map at each station. That is, if anyone is in the ticket booth. Often you get one at your hotel. But if you want to plan your trip in advance? Then download the free subway map of New York. Useful when planning your trip!