The New York City Subway System is the largest subway system in the world, with 468 train stations and 26 subway lines. Ridership reached 2.5 million per average weekday, 793 million annual in 2014. That's one massive subway system used very frequently!
One of the first questions that any one visiting NYC usually asks is, "should I use the subway system to get around town?" The answer to that question is a definite yes. Most natives will tell you that there is no better way to get around New York City then riding the subway. Its faster then driving (particularly in Manhattan), its relatively clean, and safe if you follow some easy suggestions. Take a look at our New York City Subway Guide which will give you great tips on getting around New York City quickly, safely and for the least amount of money.
Riding the New York City Subway System is easier than it has even been before thanks to the MTA TripPlanner. Now, all you have to do is turn on your smart phone, go to the TripPlanner website, plug in your current location and your destination, and the TripPlanner will give you three different routes to get you where you're going by subway, bus or a combination of the two. You will also be able to print a customized map.
Even with the TripPlanner and your smartphone, you'll still need a Subway Map. You won't be able to get an internet connection at most of the underground train stations or in the tunnels, so the old paper map is still a great tool to have. You should get a copy of a train map even if you've never been able to read a map in your entire life. They're easy to use and extremely easy to get both before
you arrive in the city and after.
Download the Official NYC Subway Map - click here
Ask for a free map at any Subway Station
Once you have your map in hand, look for the map key, which any decent map should have. The key on a subway map will indicate how you can tell the difference between a local and express stop and what other train lines you can transfer to at that station.
Being able to tell the difference between a local and express train and the difference between a local and express train stop is one of the most important things to learn, and will save you a lot of time and frustration.
On the official New York City map, the express stops are indicated by a white circle or bar. All trains on that line stop at express stops (yes even the local trains). Local stops are indicated by a black circle or bar. If the stop you want has a black circle next to it, don't get on an express train unless you hear an announcement that says the train is making "all local stops".
The ability to transfer between lines is one of the things that makes using the subway so quick and easy. If you again refer to the map key, you'll see that the black or white "bars" indicate that you can catch trains from multiple lines at that station.
Another way the map indicates that more than one train line runs on a particular route is that several letters or numbers are listed along the route. For an example, find Central Park on your map. If you look immediately to the left you'll see that the A, C, B and D trains all run along Central Park on the west side and you can transfer between those 4 train lines at any of those stations along the way.
If you are riding the subway in Manhattan, navigating the subway system is very easy. Manhattan is set up so that the streets run across town from east to west, and the avenues run north and south. The southernmost part of Manhattan, or Downtown, has named streets, but as you travel uptown and reach 1st street, navigation is simple from there.
So, as logic would tell you, if you're entering the subway system at 14th street and you're trying to get to 59th street you need an uptown train.
Here are a few more subway map reading tips.
Now that you can read the subway map, go on to Part 2 of these instructions and find out how much the subway costs, where to ride on the train and other great tidbits.
Subway Instructions Part 2 - How much, where to stand, more...