7 tips for navigating the New York City subway

Nothing made me feel more New York than conquering the New York City subway trains. They’re so excitingly complicated, and I loved the challenge of it. While I don’t claim to be any subway expert–I did learn a lot about how to navigate them (sometimes the hard way) during my fall semester living in Manhattan. The subway trains are the most reasonable way to get around the city and five boroughs quickly, so if you visit or move to New York, you’ll most likely use them. They’re also the best way to get a taste of NYC’s culture and life. Here are seven tips for tackling the city’s trains– these tips were my life and how I survived.




  1. Citymapper app

    This is the ultimate subway lifesaver. I can’t imagine navigating New York City without it, especially during my first few weeks living in NYC. The subway systems can be complicated, and this app helps immensely. Basically, you type in your desired location’s address and it will give you details about which train(s) to take and alternate navigation options. It’ll show you the quickest routes and how long it will take to walk between the train and your location/destination. It also shows you options for taking a bus, uber and more.  I used it every day.

  2. Double check before you swipe — uptown or downtown

    Always make sure you are in the right location before you swipe your metro card. Subway stations usually have separate entrances for the trains at each location–one for the trains running uptown and one for the trains running downtown. It can get confusing and costly if you enter the wrong one. Always read at the entrance before you enter because once you swipe your card, there’s no refund, and if you have an unlimited time card you have to wait 15 minutes before you can swipe again. Always ask for help if you’re lost, but if you locate the entrance for uptown, the station for downtown is typically close or running on the opposite street.

  3. Get on the train as quickly as you can

    New Yorkers are always in a hurry, and no one likes an annoying subway passenger. If you’re on the platform and the train arrives, let the people on the train get off first and then get on quickly–the doors don’t stay open forever and people are sometimes in a mad rush. You don’t want to be the one to hold them up. Enter the train and then find a seat or place to stand.

  4. Hold on tight!

    The worst thing ever is falling over on the train, trust me, it happened to me and it will never happen again if I can help it. There’s nothing more embarrassing than landing into some guy’s arms and making the whole subway car laugh–but at least I was caught. Grab onto a pole if you’re standing and hold on tight! Otherwise, pick a seat and try not to rock into others, the ride can get bumpy!

  5. Keep your belongings to yourself + bring headphones

    Never place your purse on the seat next to you during a full train. Always keep your things to yourself and keep an eye on them. Always also keep your purse zipped while walking through the subway platform to the trains. If you’re alone–put headphones in to keep yourself occupied. Most people on the trains keep to themselves and it’s weird to make eye contact and small talk with those you don’t know. The trains can be known for awkward situations with people sometimes going around talking about their financial situations, asking for money, selling things or even breakdancing for change. I was told its best to ignore these situations and keep to yourself. I also learned quickly this is what everyone does.

  6. Familiar yourself with what stations have transfers

    If you’re in NYC taking the trains for an extended period of time, it’s great to pay attention to the stops and become familiar with what stations are bigger and have transfers. There’s nothing worse than navigating trains with a dead phone when you’re trying to get somewhere. Whenever I would go back to my apartment, I knew I could get off pretty much any downtown train at Fulton because that was a subway hub that most trains stopped at and was a short walk from my apartment. It helps to be knowledgeable of trains and stops closest to your destination if you go without your citymapper app or get lost.

  7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

    If you don’t know where you’re going, ask someone. New Yorkers will take a minute or two to help you out because after all, most have been in a similar situation and those who moved there remember their first subway rides. If there’s a kiosk with an individual selling metro cards–ask them for help. You can also utilize the train maps as well.


Got any subway tips I didn’t mention? Leave me a comment! Let’s talk New York :-)

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