Ride the NYC Subway like a local with these 10 tips

lauraevemcleod / May 31, 2017

I didn’t actually do a great deal to prepare for my trip to New York this spring. Also I have lots of great friends who provided personalised Google Maps of the city and I know some locals too. My plan was just to relax and go with the flow. To do that though, it’s good to have some insider knowledge so you can relax…

First of all, the most vital piece of prep you can do is make sure you’re able to procure a US SIM card for your phone on arrival. I was lucky enough to have a friend who’d recently travelled back from Miami so he passed on his T Mobile tourist plan SIM to me whilst I was still in Berlin as there was some data remaining. You can pick them up easily at any T Mobile store though – just don’t do it at the airport you’ll get ripped off.

The one thing I did do my research on, however, was research the basics on how to navigate the Subway. This was a good plan because it differs greatly from BVG’s admirably clear and reliable Berlin transportation system along with many others. Besides, getting on the wrong line in the wrong direction sucks when you’ve got stuff you need and want to do. It’s also important if you’re travelling along to be empowered with this kind of knowledge. It’s safer and smarter. It also stops you looking like an idiot tourist, for some of the time at least.

So, here’s the lowdown…

Numbers and letters

Lines use a number or a letter; M, J, Z or 7, 8,9. Don’t think in terms of colour.

Direction not destination

Think in terms of the direction instead the end of the line destination. So you need to look for Uptown or Downtown, which generally speaking means (respectively) North or South.

Check the exits / entrances for the lines you need

For example, I jumped out at 86th St on the Q line, going Uptown. I knew I needed to take the Q back on my return route, but there’s another exit / entrance at 86th St. but it serves the 4,5,6 lines. You’ll see it if you walk along East 86th to get to the Guggenheim. I knew I needed Q so went back to the 86th St. exit/entrance where I came from, not the other.

Be ticket ready

Always have your ticket ready WAY before you head into the turnstiles. That’s how New Yorkers do. Keep it moving guys…

Get a good app

I downloaded the Transit app, which works in tonnes of cities, and it was awesome. So another reason to make sure you have a phone with data – means you’ll infrequently get stuck and you can plan ahead before your travel, as well as look up new routes if for some reason a line is closed.

Connect at the stations

The stations, not the trains, have WiFi. It’s really really good and means you can communicate where you are with your pals when you’re en route, running late or just want to fire off a few GIFs.

Check the exits

Like any big subway system, check the exit signs and aim for where you need to be. In general, I tend to get above ground, then find my destination on Google maps, then it’s easy from there. But again, you need a SIM with data to do this – super important.

Its always on

As far as I can tell it’s pretty much 24 hours. I think i took one Uber home in a week of being there, and when I jumped in the driver asked me if the Subway wasn’t working! But… it’s always good to check timetables before you make a decision to use it and also do whatever you feel is safest for you.

Chat to your subway neighbours

Feel free to ask the staff or fellow travellers what’s up. There are always transit staff manning the stations and they’re always so helpful. I found sometimes the signage pretty confusing, and sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was on an express train or not.  So when you’re transferring or you need a very specific stop, ask they NYC community. You can then get a sense if you can continue to another stop and walk from there for example.

So fresh, so clean

Bonus points to the NYC subway for being clean, really rather safe and air conditioned.

Props to FreetoursbyFoot because this is a really useful post with way more detail than I could provide. It’s a really practical intro before you get out there and work the Subway for yourself.

That’s it. Enjoy, pick up your MetroCard and enjoy the ride.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *