Are you visiting New York and want to learn about the best ways to get around? In that case, this easy-to-digest guide is just what you need! This guide includes all the major transportation options, as well as tips for using each one.
There are many ways to get around in New York City, which is pretty expected in the most populated city in the United States. Depending on the destination, New York’s residents can get around by subway, buses, ferries, taxis, ride sharing apps, and more.
My personal favorite way to explore and move around in New York City is by foot. Walking in this city is a great way to explore and will help you to get more familiar with the neighborhoods and their differences. However, the quickest way to travel around is by taking the subway.
Now, let’s get right into it. The following are the best ways to get around in NYC.
Without any doubt, the subway is the absolute fastest and cheapest way to get around in New York City. This is the largest subway system in the US and runs in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. The subway in NYC runs 24 hours a day, and every day of the year (with exception of bad weather conditions). See the map below for an overview of the NYC subway system.
The subway is great if you’re planning to travel during rush hour since you’ll not be stuck in a taxi in traffic. However, if you take the subway during rush hours, be prepared for crowds.
Here you can read a more detailed guide about using the subway in New York. Trust me, you want to read this if it’s your first time taking the subway in New York City.
How to pay for a ticket
There are two options here. You can either get a MetroCard or use their contactless payment system (which is much easier to use) OMNY. Note that the MetroCards will be discontinued in 2023.
Using a MetroCard
You can purchase your MetroCard from the ATM-style machines located in each subway station.
The current price for one ride is $2.75 (plus $1 to purchase a new MetroCard), but if you plan to stay for a few days, I would recommend the unlimited MetroCards. With the unlimited MetroCard you get two options, either 7 days for $33, or 30 days for $127. This option would be worth the money if you plan to take the subway at least 12 times during your visit.
This is a new system for the city. The OMNY (One Metro New York) payment system lets you pay for your ride by tapping your credit card or smartphone. Easy, right!
They will charge you $2.75 for each time you take the subway, only until you reach $33 (the same price as an unlimited 7-day MetroCard). After that, it’s free. Just make sure to use the same payment method every time you enter the subway.
Express vs. local lines
The most common mistake tourists do is to jump on an express train instead of a local train. Knowing which one is which is important since you can miss your stop if you jump on the wrong one. Then you would have to take the train back to get the correct train.
Each color-coded line is shared by both local and express trains. The express trains often skip around three stops for each one they make. If you look at the subway map, you can find the express stops by looking for the white solid circles. If your destination is located at an express stop, you can take either the local or the express train to get there.
Before you take the subway, I would recommend downloading the MYmta app where you can see the full subway map (so you don’t have to look for it on the subway), plan your trip, and see if certain lines are delayed or not running for some reason. To plan your subway trip, you can also use Google Maps.
Basic subway etiquette:
- Let people exit the train before you enter
- Don’t block the subway car doors when they open
- Always offer your seat to someone who might need it more than you
- Don’t stare at people on the subway
Now that you know how to take the subway in New York, let’s talk about the buses. Taking the bus is not my first option of transportation and I would most likely rather walk. Sometimes walking is faster than taking the bus if there is a lot of traffic.
The bus system in New York covers around 300 routes and can definitely get you where you need to go. Buses could be a great option to get around in New York if you’re too tired to walk, or if you’re going crosstown east to west or west to east (for example from 1st Ave to 10th Ave), since the subway lines mostly go from uptown to downtown.
The crosstown buses normally have their own bus line, which is great if you’re traveling during rush hours and much faster than a cab for example that would be stuck in traffic.
The buses only stop at marked stops and are normally located two or three blocks apart (except for the express buses).
How to ride the bus
You ride the bus by waiting at a bus stop. Once you enter the bus you can pay with coins, with your MetroCard, credit card, or by using their contactless OMNY system. Note that they don’t sell MetroCards on the buses. The price is $2.75 for local, and $6.75 for express buses.
To get off the bus, you pull the yellow cord along the windows or press the red stop button located on the grab bars. Make sure the stop light goes on in the front of the bus since some buttons might be broken. If that’s the case you can always let the driver know you want to get off.
Just like the subway, the buses run local and express. The express routes have fewer stops and focus more on serving commuters who live further out in the boroughs.
- Don’t block seats or aisles
- Exit from the rear doors
- Always offer your seat to someone who might need it more than you
- Don’t stare at people
New York City’s iconic yellow taxis will be found all around the city, 24 hours a day, and is a very popular and convenient choice for both residents and visitors. Taking a taxi is a great way to get around without having to worry about getting lost, if you’re traveling a short distance, late at night, or in bad weather.
The yellow taxis are very easy to recognize with their bright yellow color and light box on the roof. They pick up street-hailing passengers and are the only vehicles in NYC allowed to do so.
How to hail a taxi
To hail a taxi, you need to attract the driver’s attention by waving from the sidewalk or street corner. You will know when it’s available if the numbers on the lightbox are illuminated on the top of the cab. Note that if all lights are off, the driver is off duty.
When the taxi sees you, they will stop somewhere safe to pick you up, and you can let your driver know of the address or by referencing the cross streets near your destination. Taxi drivers are required by law to take you where you want to go within the five boroughs. If they refuse or say they don’t know how to get there, you can ask for their name and medallion number and you can report them to the Taxi and Limousine Commission by calling 311.
TIP: Try to look at the map before going in the cab so make sure the drivers don’t jack up the fare by taking a longer route. But on the other hand, taxi drivers sometimes know a quicker route to avoid traffic jams.
All taxis are metered and have a starting fee of $3. The price on the meter increases by 80 cents for each fifth of a mile or every 60 seconds of waiting time. You also have to pay a $2.50 surcharge between 4-8 pm, and a 50 cents surcharge between 8-6 am. Tolls are extra and will be added to the total fare.
The taxi fare can be paid in cash, or with a credit, debit, or prepaid card. You should usually tip the driver somewhere around 15-20 percent.
The green taxis operate in areas of NYC not commonly serviced by the yellow taxis such as north Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. They can drop you off anywhere but can’t pick you up in Manhattan.
Ride sharing apps
An alternative to taking a taxi would be ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. These apps allow you to book a car in advance for a set price and are sometimes more convenient than a taxi since you don’t have to hail one down on the side of the street.
You pay for your ride in the apps with a credit card, and no tipping is required but recommended amount is 15-20%. They also give you the option of picking the size of your car which is great if you’re traveling in a larger group.
Ride sharing apps actually used to be cheaper and have friendlier drivers than yellow cabs, but not anymore. Today, I would say the price and service are the same according to my experience.
I normally take an Uber or Lyft if I’m facing a longer trip. In that case, I don’t have to worry about the ticking taxi meter since the ride sharing apps give you a set price when you book it.
Exploring by foot is a great way to explore and familiarize yourself with different neighborhoods and the local culture. This might be pretty obvious, but it’s also the cheapest way to get around in New York City.
If you’re only traveling a couple of blocks, walking can sometimes be faster than taking a taxi or the bus since they are often stuck in traffic (especially during rush hour).
Make sure to pack comfortable shoes if you plan to do a lot of walking.
I would not recommend walking to get everywhere during the very hot summer months or during the cold winter days. During those months, I would combine walking with taking the subway and taxis
Try to pay attention to the traffic flow, just like when you’re driving, and always pay attention to what’s happening in the streets, even if you have the right of way. Don’t just stop in the middle of the busy sidewalk to take a photo or to look down at your phone, someone will most likely bump into you. If you plan to “pull over” look behind you and then move over to the side to make a stop.
If you walk on a sidewalk in a busy part of the city, make sure to not walk more than two people next to each other. New Yorkers are not shy about expressing themselves when they get annoyed with the slow-walking tourists who take up the whole sidewalk.
Unfortunately, most bicyclists don’t seem to think that traffic laws apply to them, so watch out when you cross the street.
First things first: be careful! If you decide to bike around in the busy streets, make sure to stay in the bike lanes, and wear a helmet. Considering the chaos of the streets in New York City, getting around with a bike might not be a recommended activity for beginners. But it’s a great way to see a lot in a shorter time.
Cruising around neighborhood after neighborhood it’s a great way to get to know the streets and the city. One of my top things to do in New York City is to rent a bike and go around Central Park.
All around the city, you can find Citi Bikes. This bike-sharing system is very popular among locals as well as tourists and it’s perfect for exploring the city. You can find them all around the city and pay for either a single 30 min ride for $4.49 or for a $19 day pass, using their app.
The Roosevelt Island Tram
With the swipe of a MetroCard, this aerial tram gives you a beautiful view while bringing you over to Roosevelt Island, which is located between Manhattan and Queens. The Roosevelt Island Tram runs every 7-15 minutes and departs from 59th Street and 2nd Avenue on the Upper East Side.
The Roosevelt Island Tram is linked with the MetroCard and OMNY system and costs as much as a single ride with the subway ($2.75). If you already have the unlimited plan, this would be completely free.
You can also get to Roosevelt Island by ferry, or subway.
As a result of all the water in New York City, there are many options for getting around with a boat. The subway might be the fastest and most popular choice, but it can’t beat the view of the city from the water.
The NYC Ferry is a recent addition to New York’s public transportation system, connecting Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Roosevelt Island, Staten Island, Governors Island, and the Bronx. You can’t use the OMNY system or MetroCards here. To ride the ferries, you need to purchase a separate ticket. Ticket machines are located at all ferry stations where you can pay for your $4 ride. You can also purchase the ticket on board using the NYC Ferry app. You can see the routes on the map below.
The NY Waterway connects Manhattan with New Jersey which is located on the other side of the Hudson River. See the image below for the routes. This is used mainly among commuters, or for those who want to visit New Jersey. One way tickets are around $10 and children under 5 years old ride for free.
Staten Island Ferry
To get over to Staten Island you need to take the ferry. The Staten Island Ferry is linked with the MetroCard and OMNY system so if you already have the unlimited plan, it’s completely free. If not, the cost is $2.75. This is actually one of the best free things to do in New York City since it passes right next to the Statue of Liberty. The Staten Island Ferry has been around since 1905.
Trust me, driving in New York is not worth the headache. The traffic is rough, and parking is expensive.
If you decide to arrive in New York with a car, you can park in a garage which might cost you $35-75 per day. I would suggest leaving your car at home and explore the city using any other option on the list.
The only time I would suggest renting or bringing a car is if you’re planning to do a weekend getaway outside NYC in the middle of your stay.
Summary of the best ways to get around in New York:
- Ride sharing apps
- The Roosevelt Island Tram
FAQ about getting around in New York City
I lost an item in a yellow cab, what do I do?
Dial 311 in NYC if you lost an item or have other concerns.
What is the cheapest way to get around in New York City?
Walking (free), bus, and subway ($2.75).
Do taxis and Ubers have car seats for my kids?
Use the Kid Car app, which guarantees car seats for your kids.
Can I bring my pet on the subway?
You can travel with your pets if they stay in a bag and are carried. This rule doesn’t apply to service animals.
What is the best way to get around in New York?
By walking or using the subway. It’s fast and inexpensive.