Getting around New York City – what you need to know

New york street

New York City is a vast metropolis and getting around its five boroughs is a lot easier if you know the best options for traversing the city's famous streets. Manhattan is the borough most visitors spend time in, and while it's actually not as big as you might think, you’re still going to need to use public transport at some stage. So if you’re going to the Big Apple and need tips on getting around New York City, read on.

Arriving via planes, trains and automobiles

file Photo courtesy of The All-Nite Images.

NYC is served by three airports – John F. Kennedy International in Queens, La Guardia which is also in Queens, and Newark which is in New Jersey, but only 30 minutes away by rail. Incidentally, that’s the easiest way to get to Manhattan from that particular airport.

If you’re flying into JFK, the AirTrain is the most cost effective and, pending traffic, fastest way to Manhattan. The journey to Midtown Manhattan takes 50 minutes and, at time of writing, a one-way ticket costs $7.50. You can also take the pus via the company NYC Airporter.

If you’re landing into NYC in La Guardia airport, the bus provides best value. You can either take a bus operated by the MTA (Metropolitan Transport Authority) or, again, by NYC Airporter.

A more expensive, yet ultimately more convenient way to get to Manhattan or any of the other boroughs is in one of NYC’s celebrated yellow taxis. A taxi from JFK to Manhattan costs $52 plus tip, while the journey from La Guardia to Manhattan will set you back approximately $28 plus tip.

If you’re travelling to NYC from another part of the US by train, your journey will end at either Grand Central Station on East 42nd Street or Pennsylvania Station under Madison Square Garden at 8th Ave between 32nd and 33rd Streets.

Finally, if it’s a bus you’re arriving on, your first experience of life in NYC will be at Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Ave between 41st and 42nd Streets.

Getting around

Subway file

The easiest and best known way to get around New York is the subway. Frustratingly, the city’s underground network can be confusing, but you will get the hang of it. There are 24 services in operation which are labelled using a mix of numbers (services 1-7) or letters (services A, B, C, D, E, F, G, J, L, M, N, Q, R, S and Z). Confused yet? Don’t worry – I was too. But by sticking to this rule of thumb, I sort of had it figured out…the blue lines (services A, C and E) serve the west side of Manhattan, the red lines (1, 2 and 3) and orange lines (B, F and M) go through the middle of Manhattan, while the green lines (4, 5 and 6) serve the east side. Then the yellow line (N, R and Q) and grey line (L) cut across the city.

If you’re taking the subway from Manhattan to any of the other four boroughs – the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens or Staten Island – refer to this map. Also regarding taking the subway to the other boroughs, take note that there are ‘local’ and ‘express’ trains, express trains stopping at selected stops only, therefore much quicker.


I always find bus networks hard to figure out in most cities, but in NYC it’s surprisingly straight forward. For a start, routes usually stay within their own borough. Secondly, all routes begin with a letter(s): M = Manhattan; B = Brooklyn; Bx = The Bronx; Q = Queens and S = Staten Island. Like trains, buses can be useful for getting from one end of Manhattan to the other as most routes travel up and down the avenues. To see maps of bus services in all five boroughs, click here.

Taxis file

The most convenient way to get from one part of the city to another, but also the most expensive, is via the omnipresent yellow taxi. Finding one is never difficult and rates vary pending time of day and day of the week. (for more info on this see the offiical fare guide).

One thing to note – it is expected that you always tip taxi drivers in New York. Between 15% and 20% is the norm.


Unless you plan on visiting Staten Island, you’re not going to need to use NYC’s ferry service to the (almost) forgotten borough. But you shouldn't leave New York without going on a trip on the Staten Island Ferry service for one reason – the view it boasts of the Statue of Liberty. Forget the expensive Hudson River tours – just take this free ferry instead.

Tickets and pricing

To ride New York City’s buses or subways you’re going to need a MetroCard. To buy one costs $1 (you can then refill the same card repeatedly), then each journey (bus or subway) costs a flat fee of $2.50. This covers all destinations. There are alternatives though – a single ride journey costs $2.75 and must be used within 2 hours or purchase. Then at the other end of the spectrum, a 7-Day Unlimited pass will set you back $30. Also, if you top your card up with $5 or more, an additional 5% is added to your MetroCard, leaving each journey costing $2.38.

The best way to get around – on foot

Having been fortunate enough to have visited New York City on seven occasions, I can safely say that the best way to get around Manhattan is on foot. Places such as Midtown are quite big, but once you go below 34th Street, you’ll come across lots of smaller ‘villages’ that are close to each other (read more about that here). For instance, I once visited Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho, Greenwich Village, the West Village, the Meatpacking District and Chelsea in just over three hours while walking.

If you want to see as much of the world’s most famous city as possible, while soaking up the atmosphere at the same time, walk as much as possible.

Main image photo courtesy of torbakhopper

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