Your Guide to the New York Subway System

By Laura Jemetta

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Photo by Jack Gittoes on

The New York subway system can seem very overwhelming at first – that multi-coloured map with it’s criss-crossing lines looks like a bit of a mess. I had so many questions about the subway when I arrived in New York. How was I going to buy a ticket? How would I know which line to take? What if I get lost?

But don’t worry! The subway is a fantastic, reliable, and, most importantly, user-friendly mode of transport that will get you around New York City with no hassles.

Map of the New York Subway System

The subway map features all the subway lines that service both Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Yes, it looks confusing at first, but it’s actually handy to have every line on the same map. Each subway line is denoted by both a colour, and either a number or letter. For example, the line I took most often when I was in New York was the ‘green line’; or the 4, 5 or 6 train. You can see it on the east side of the map above.

What you need to know

As you can see, most lines travel either uptown or downtown Manhattan, rather than across town. There are a few exceptions, including the seven train, but it is always more difficult to travel across town than it is to just travel straight up and down the island. Use the subway to travel uptown or downtown, and then you can easily walk across town to wherever you want to go.

But how do I pick the right station?

It’s easy. Locate the nearest subway station to you, and check out the sign on the front of the station. It will have the name of the station, (for example: 56th Street), followed by the colour and number/letter of the lines that service the station. Most importantly, the sign will say whether the trains at this station are travelling uptown or downtown. Don’t worry, if you find yourself at an uptown station, it’s downtown counterpart will be close by – usually across the street, or at most, a block away.

Important Tips

  • Download the app ‘NYC Subway‘ app – it is a fantastic guide to the subway system. I used it when I was in New York, and it features the all important subway map, service updates and a route planner. I highly recommend it.
  • You might make mistakes, and that’s okay! Everything is well signposted, and most stations have station-attendants to help
  • Don’t get overwhelmed. Remember that you will more than likely just be travelling up or down Manhattan. If you make a mistake, it is easy to get off the train and simply go back in the other direction.
  • If you are planning on making good use of the subway, purchasing a weekly ticket is more cost effective than several daily ones.
  • Every station is well signposted, so you won’t be stuck on a train wondering where you are.

Let me know your best Subway tips and tricks in the comments below. I’d love to read them!

5 thoughts on “Your Guide to the New York Subway System

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