Guides New York Navigating New York City Subway: the Ultimate Tourist Guide

Navigating New York City Subway: the Ultimate Tourist Guide

City Guide July 20, 2023


Let’s face it. Public transportation is the way to go. It’s more cost-efficient, faster than walking, a rush hour solution, and more sustainable than cars. Navigating a new city can have a learning curve, especially navigating New York City Subway.

This is why we’re making a comprehensive guide to the NYC Subway to help you learn how to use New York City Subway. So welcome to our New York City Subway guide!

Before we start with tourist advice for the NYC Subway, we will give you general tourist advice. Tourists in big cities are a target, and how can you spot a tourist? Well, they’re usually traveling around with luggage and suitcases.

Sometimes it’s inevitable if you need to get from point A to B. Other times it can be avoidable, and storing your luggage is a solution. If you’re looking for 24/7 luggage storage services in New York, use Nannybag.

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First things first, the MetroCard is the essential ticket for the subway. You can buy them at subway station booths, vending machines, or online. There are two types:


Pay-Per-Ride offers a bonus when you put more money into it. The fee to buy the card is $1 and is not refundable. This $1 cannot be used to pay for rides (and is therefore not reflected in the balance).

In this card mode, the cost of riding the subway is $2.75 per ride, no matter the distance. Pay-Per-Ride cards can be shared by up to four people. To share a card, you can swipe the card multiple times to let multiple people through the turnstiles.

Unlimited Ride:

An Unlimited Ride card might be more convenient if you plan to use the subway extensively. Unlimited Ride cards allow you to ride the subway as often as you want, as long as the time window you bought for the card has yet to pass.

There are two-time options to choose from— 7 or 30-day unlimited. Remember that these cards expire at midnight on their 7th or 30th day. You also cannot share this card. There is about an 18-minute delay between each swipe to prevent the card from being used by more than one person at the subway station.

There is no need to swipe out of stations. Once you’re in, you can put away your metro card.



Understanding the Subway:

Get familiar with the NYC Subway map and subway lines, which you can find online, at stations, or through various apps. The subway system consists of numbered and lettered lines. Each station shows local and express train services— express trains skip certain stations for faster service, while local trains stop at every station along their path. So make sure to check the signs before boarding.

Tip: Don’t worry about learning the line colors too much. When locals talk about the metro lines, they refer to the number instead. Often, people refer to the service (express or local) and not the line itself.

We won’t be getting into too much detail since understanding every crevice of the subway system can take a long time, and this is just an NYC Subway tourist guide, aka what you need to know. As long as you understand the general idea, you’re good!


Service Changes and Delays

Subway maintenance and service changes are common. Check the MTA website or apps for real-time service updates and alternative routes when there are delays. It’s unfortunate, but it happens, better to be informed.



Only a portion of the subway stations are accessible in accordance with the ADA. To see the exact list of stations, you can click here. When you’re on the metro or looking at a map, you’ll spot these stations because they’ll have a wheelchair icon next to them.


Apps to Download

You can use Google Maps, but sometimes it’s not the most reliable in a big city. Use other smartphone apps like "MTA Subway Time" or "Citymapper" to navigate the subway, find service status, and get real-time updates on train arrivals.

There is a website to help you plan your trips here. This website is very helpful and tells you where to go if you don’t want to download any apps.



Keeping safe is the biggest priority when traveling, and here are some tips to ensure a worry-free metro ride.

  • Don't board a train car that is empty compared to others. There's a very good reason for this. Stay alert of your surroundings.
  • If you drop an item on the tracks, notify someone at the station, and they’ll retrieve it for you. The tracks are electrified, and risks include death.
  • The tunnels and platforms are not air-conditioned, in the summer months, this could be unbearable, so hydrate properly and plan accordingly.
  • Don’t walk between the cars. It’s illegal and dangerous. If you want to play Subway Surfers, download the app and play it on your device, not in real life.



Subway Etiquette

New Yorkers value subway etiquette, some tourist advice for the New York Subway is to follow them when you visit.

  • Let passengers exit before getting into the subway car.
  • Don’t stop in the middle of the staircase or the middle of the passageway, if you need to reply to a text or see a map, step to the side.
  • Offer your seat to pregnant women, the elderly, and those with disabilities.
  • On crowded trains, take your bookbag off and put it in front of you— you’ll avoid accidentally hitting someone and getting anything stolen.
  • On the escalator, stand on the right and walk on the left.

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