Getting Around,  New York,  North America,  NYC,  Transportation,  Travel Planning,  United States

How to Get Around New York City

Are you planning on visiting New York City? While the Big Apple is extremely large, it is also very well connected with many options for how to get around New York City and surrounding areas while you travel there. There are a range of choices varying from underground subway, bus, ferry, train, taxi, and tours.

How to Get Around New York City Subway

NYC Subway

With 36 rail lines, this underground metro system can take you most anywhere you want to go. It sometimes requires a bit of patience or transferring trains, but this system is relatively simple.

How to use the Subway to Get Around New York City

There is usually a color coded map in most stations so that you can locate your destination and then see the best train line(s) to reach it. Just find the station or area you want to reach and where you currently are. Look at the colored lines to see which arrives at your desired destination. Then see if that same color goes to where you are now. If not, find a colored line that intersects with the colored line that you want to reach. Then take the train nearest to you to the closest stop to the intersecting point. Then change trains (if necessary) to arrive at your destination. When you change trains, your ticket is still good so you do not need to pay again, unless you exit the station. An exception is any transfer point where you must exit in order to make the transfer. In this case, your ticket will still be valid.

NYC Subway Map: ©2022 Metropolitan Transportation Authority, NYC

Perhaps even easier, you can use google maps to enter your destination and click the “transit” icon. It will provide various options to arrive with times, based on the parameters you enter. You can change the “leave now” to whatever time you want to depart or arrive. Google maps will figure out your transfers (if any) for you.

Sample Google Map using Public Transportation

Tickets and Cost for the New York City Subway

In most subway stations, you can purchase a subway (Metro) card from either a machine or ticket counter. Once you have it, it is usually refillable. You can refill your card at a machine or ticket counter. Although, these tickets are becoming antiquated and many people now just use their mobile device to pass seamlessly through, using their mobile wallet (see below).

Rechargeable Tickets

The card is not by the day or week, but most commonly by the ride, one way. You can put money on your card by selecting a denomination on the kiosk’s screen, using a credit card or cash to pay. Essentially you select an amount, for example $20. Then you can use that metro card on the subway (and buses), until the money runs out. Then, you can continue to use the card, by recharging it with sufficient funds in most subway stations. 

Single Use Tickets

Alternatively, you can purchase a one way fare. Regardless, subways and local, limited, and select buses cost $2.75 one way at the time of writing. Express buses currently cost $6.75. The one time, one way fare ticket, is not refillable.

Tap to Pay with Credit Card or Smart Phone

Recently, OMNY has been added to most subway and buses. It is a machine that has a contactless reader. As long as your credit card has the contactless symbol, or you have a smart phone with payment capability, such as an Apple wallet, you can purchase a fare by “tapping.” If using your smart phone, make sure your Apple Wallet, or similar feature, has an updated credit card. You simply pass by the reader with your phone or tap your credit card. Either way, your credit card is automatically charged and the gate opens. The phone’s screen can even be locked during tapping.

If using the “tapping” payment method, you do not need to go to a kiosk in the station, you just pay at the subway turnstile, auto gate, or onboard buses. You will need to tap each time you start a new ride.

Transfers

“Transfers” means if you have to take more than one train or bus to reach your final destination on a one way consecutive trip. (Most trains and buses are included). Regardless of the payment method you choose, you receive free transfers as long as you use the exact same card (be it a metro card, smart phone, or credit card) during your entire one way trip. And as mentioned above, you do not exit from within the subway unless it is necessary to make the transfer.

Long Island Railroad

This above ground railroad serves clients primarily going to and from Penn Station in Manhattan to Cities along Long Island, Brooklyn, and Queens. You cannot use your subway ticket for a free transfer here.

The LIRR (Long Island Railroad) is generally based on point to point tickets and fare zones, meaning you choose your starting point and destination and based on how many zones you go through, will determine the ticket price. These tickets can be purchased at the station and depending on where you go, can be fairly expensive compared to the subway.

Metro North Railroad

Metro-North serves people in New York and nearby Connecticut on Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines, including Port Jervis and Pascack Valley. This category operates almost identically to the Long Island Railroad in terms of train and ticket types.

Trains to Other Cities and States

For trains to other states and further cities in New York, Amtrak operates from Penn Station, as does the less expensive NJ (New Jersey) Transit (only to New Jersey and connecting service to Pennsylvania).

How to Get Around New York City by Amtrak

These train tickets can be purchased online or at the station. Long distance Amtrak trains connect to destinations all over the country although the connections are not always convenient and travel can be slow. The best connections are offered up and down the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida. These trains often have dining cars, the option to upgrade to business class, and some even have sleeper cars.

Amtrak Sleeper Car

PRO TIP: Amtrak sleeper cars usually offer 2 room categories, a bedroom that is fairly spacious and includes a private bathroom, or a roomette which has beds, is not as large, and possibly has a sink/toilet within the room, but not a private bathroom.

Buses

There is a large network of buses that cover New York City, and even connect the surrounding areas. They are part of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, along with the subway, and share a ticket type. Most Bus routes now allow you to scan your IPhone wallet upon boarding (like on the subway), offering a contactless payment. Other options are using a Metro ticket (same as the subway one), or by using exact change.

How to Get Around New York City by Bus

There are 4 main types of busses on this system:

  • Local Buses
  • Select Bus Service (SBS), which make fewer stops, have priority routes, and board through all doors.
  • Limited (LTD) Buses, which are essentially local buses that make fewer stops. “LTD” is on the front of these busses, and purple signs are at their bus stops.
  • Express buses, which look like coach buses and run between boroughs.

*It should be noted that Express Buses do not accept cash and cost $6.75 versus $2.75 on all others, at the time of writing.

Most buses in New York City have a letter and a number. The letter corresponds to the borough where the bus goes (Manhattan (M), Brooklyn (B), Queens (Q), Bronx (BX) and Staten Island (S)) and the number is a way to identify the bus and look up its specific route and stops. See the MTA Official Bus Map.

Another fantastic option is the hop on and off bus that stops at major attractions and neighborhood, gives interesting commentary, has an open top for photos (weather permitting) and avoids most transfers.

New York City Ferry

The New York City Ferry operates up and down the East River and is a relatively new, really amazing way to travel around New York City. Many of the routes offer beautiful views looking at New York City and Brooklyn from the water. Sometimes I like to ride this ferry just to enjoy it with no particular destination. The ferry even has a bar offering water, snacks, soft drinks, beer, and wine. In warm months, it is nice to enjoy the top which is all open air. When the weather is inclement, there is also a closed inside downstairs with windows.

How to Get Around New York City by Ferry

The NYC Ferry requires that you purchase your ticket at the station, online or on their app, NYC ferry. It is currently a different ticket than the metro (which is used on buses or subway), and cannot be used for transfers to other modes of transport. However, you can transfer to another ferry.

In 2023, tickets are $4 each way or you can purchase a 10-trip pass for $27.50.

Additional Ferries

In addition to the ferries that run regularly and to many stops, similar to the subway, there are also some ferries that have more specific routes, for example from New York across the river to New Jersey, and to the Statue of Liberty or Staten Island.

Taxis, Ride Shares, and Cars

Taxis

The yellow taxi is the official New York City taxi. You can hail a cab by standing on any curb and waving for them to stop. If the taxi is available, it has a light on on the top. If the light is off, the cab is full. Available taxis will stop and once you are inside, you must give them the location you want to go to.

The driver will start a meter that is visible to you. The taxi fare is the same price in all taxis and it is not possible to barter. The price on the meter is the price you pay. The only exception is that if you take a taxi from the JFK airport to the city, there is a fixed rate. It also cannot be negotiated. When you pay, it is customary to give the driver a tip, unless it was exceptionally bad service, in which case you can report it by calling the provided phone number posted in the taxi and giving the taxi number (also posted). A tip is usually 15% on the low end, to 20%.

Taxis accept credit cards and cash. Additionally, you can load an app called “Curb” on your smartphone that specifically links to the taxi. Then, the monitor gives you a code. You enter the code to your phone and it will be linked. In order to pay this way, you must have an active credit card in your smartphone wallet. You must enter a new code each time you ride in a taxi. Also, occasionally the taxi cannot support this service so always have a secondary method of payment just in case.

Ride Shares

Like many cities, New York City has ride share availability such as Uber and Lyft. In New York City, unlike many other cities, there is a law that the driver must have a special license like a taxi driver or chauffeur, in order to operate a ride share vehicle.

Because the taxis are plentiful and competitive, ride shares are fairly equivalent to the taxi experience in price and service here. For me, the main reason to use the ride share service is during busy times when many taxis are occupied, or when I must be somewhere at a specific time and I want to be certain I have a ride. This is because sometimes you can wait for a taxi for a while if they are all in use. Another good time to consider a ride share is if you are alone late at night or in a questionable area. Then you can wait inside until your ride comes. With a taxi, you need to wait by the street to signal it.

It is common to give tips when the service is good.

Try this service for a guaranteed pre-booked ride with no waiting.

Be sure to check out Jenny In Wanderland article on how to safely utilize ride shares.

How to get around NYC ride share

Chauffeur Driven Cars

Chauffeur driven cars are common in New York City. The vehicles can range from town cars and limousines to black SUVs, upscale cars, or more basic cars. They are usually kept extremely clean and they offer a range of service from luxury to Uber-like. The service you receive often depends on the type of vehicle you select, the company, and the price. This type of service is especially useful going to and from the airport. The more elite services will greet you inside the baggage claim and hold a sign with your name. Many of the services just meet you once you have collected your bags, outside by the curb. In this case you need to look for the “pick up” signs outside the airport. Often you may need to cross the street to the median. Usually you will be given a car number and you look for the corresponding number on the sign in the car’s window.

Book a luxury private airport transfer now.

Rental Cars

There are a few car rental agencies within New York City. Renting a car is great if you wish to visit other beautiful areas outside New York City, or other states. Otherwise I do not recommend driving within New York City because it is chaotic and parking is limited and very expensive.

If renting a car is the best option for you, you can compare rental car rates and find available cars for New York.

How to get around New York City from the Airport

Airports

There are 3 main airports serving the New York City area plus a heliport. All 3 airports, La Guardia (LGA), Newark (EWR), and JFK (John F Kennedy), offer commercial flights with major airlines. However, mostly all international flights depart and arrive to either JFK or Newark.

La Guardia is closest to New York City and in low traffic, it can take as little as 25 minutes to reach midtown. JFK is located on Long Island, outside of the city. It is approximately 45 minutes from the city in low traffic. And Newark is actually located in the state of New Jersey, but really is about the same distance from NYC as JFK.

All of these airports are connected to New York City by various forms of transportation (airport dependent), as well as taxis and driven cars.

Compare rates and book your flight to NYC now!

PRO TIP: New York City can have extremely heavy traffic. Allow plenty of extra time if you are going by car to the airport for a flight!

Walking in NYC

In my opinion, some of the best transportation to get around New York City, is your own two feet. It is an interesting city with so much beautiful architecture, statues, public art, shops, cafes, and green spaces. Often I discover some of my favorite places while just wandering around. Parks have frequent street musicians and artists that are spontaneous and unannounced. Discovery is such a fun part of being in this city and by walking, you never know what you might find.

One of the great parts of NYC is that you are almost never far from a subway, taxi, or other form of public transport, so if you do become tired, you can always find an alternate transport nearby.

Another great option is to take this walking tour with a local that will help to orient you with the city and hit many highlights in one day. Most tours provide stories, history, and interesting facts. Some even focus on special interests like this awesome Lower East Side food and culture tour or this Greenwich Village secret food and tasting tour.

How to get around New York City by foot

Cycling

While it is possible to rent a bike hourly on many street corners, and there are bike lanes on the busy streets, in my opinion, biking is mostly dangerous and chaotic in this city. There is simply too much traffic, between busses, cars, and pedestrians and therefore I find biking here stressful and un-enjoyable. The one exception may be biking through Central Park, but even then, the rental bikes on the street are from unmanned kiosks. These bikes can be rented by the hour by setting up an account and using a credit card.

If you do decide to bike, a helmet is necessary for safety, and helmets are not rentable where the public bikes are, so you’d need to have one available. As a side note, bike locks are also not rentable there, so stopping requires you to return the bike. Because you are paying hourly, that is probably best. I should mention that if you do rent a bike from a kiosk, you can return it to any available kiosk space by the same company in the city, so you can take a one way ride.

Tours

If you are uncomfortable exploring on your own, you can take one of many tours. However, this is not the only reason to take a tour. New Yorkers tend to be very proud of their city and tours can be a great way to learn history, insider secrets, and to gain entrance to places that are often private or sold out. So do not discount a tour here just because you are an “independent” traveler. Many are very worthwhile.

Try this unique catacombs tour by candlelight. These can only be seen on a tour! This Gangster and Ghost tour is also really cool.

If you are a fan of adventure and photography, this helicopter tour over NYC is truly amazing. If you are a fan of the Tv series, Friends, this tour is really fun. What I really like about the suggested tours is that they really are things you cannot do on your own.

Lastly, if you plan on being active and seeing many sights, look at the NYC Pass that either gives you free entrance or a significant discount at over 100 NYC attractions and tours (which can be individually very expensive).

Also see Jenny in Wanderland article How to Find the Best Price Accommodation or simply compare New York City best places to stay right here.


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One Comment

  • Susan Saltzburg

    What an amazing article on New York City! So much helpful and practical information on getting around the city, accessing tickets, venues, locations. This is a must read for all those visiting the city and especially people who have not been there before.,I will pass on the link to this article! Great job!

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