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Navigating the Subway System in New York City

Updated January 2022

Maneuver Manhattan’s train system like a local

Archer knows Manhattan, and he knows how to get around town with the least amount of hassle. Here, Archer Hotel New York’s consummate host offers timely tips on navigating the New York City subway (aka train) system like a boss.

LOCAL TIP: New Yorkers typically call the subway “trains” (not underground or metro) or by their alpha name (the C or the Q).

iStock.com/jensohlsson

New York City Subway Maps

If you’re like Archer, you’re partial to a good, old-fashioned paper map. The New York City subway maps are a hot commodity and are not as widely distributed since the start of the internet age and creation of digital maps.

To be on the safe side, visit the MTA website and download a PDF version and print. If printing your own isn’t an option, paper maps are typically in the station once you pass through the turnstile.

Photo by William Fortunato from Pexels

The city has rolled out One Metro New York (OMNY) — an easy, contactless way to “tap and go in every borough.” You can pay for your ride(s) three ways:

  • Set up your digital wallet (e.g., Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay) and tap your smart phone, smart watch or wearable at the OMNY reader.
  • Tap your contactless credit, debit or reloadable prepaid card at the OMNY reader.
  • Load an OMNY card (much like the classic yellow MetroCard) before you travel and tap the OMNY reader.
"File:14th St–Union Sq td (2019-10-28) 06 - BMT Broadway, OMNY.jpg" by Tdorante10 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The MetroCard + Subway Pricing

Keeping it old school with the MetroCard? Works like a charm — with just a bit of planning:

  • A single ride on the New York City subway or local bus is $2.75, and the fare for an express bus ride is $6.75. A pay-per-ride MetroCard ($2.75 cost per swipe) allows one free transfer within two hours of swiping the card; this involves exiting the station — and it works on buses, as well.
  • Buy a 7-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard ($33) if you think you’ll use the system for the week (or often for a shorter time period). It includes unlimited rides on all subway trains and local buses; it can only be used by one person. A 30-Day MetroCard ($127) is also available for purchase.
  • Buy a Pay-per-Ride MetroCard and load a minimum of $5.50 on it. This card can be used by up to four people (by passing the card back to your friend or family member after you’ve swiped yourself through. This card works well if you plan to use it for a few days and pay per ride.

NOTE: Keep your unused card! The MTA charges $1 for each new-card purchase.

Photo by Piero Nigro on Unsplash

Navigating the New York City Subway

It can seem like a daunting task or an endless maze. Here are some ways to zip through the concrete jungle.

Is this an express or local train? First-timers and out-of-town visitors may prefer to take the local trains, at least in the beginning; if you miss a stop, you won’t wind up in an unexpected borough. Riding the local trains is also a great way to get to know all the stops along the route. Always allow yourself extra time to take in the views; you’ll have plenty of sightings and stories for your friends.

Uptown or Downtown? When you’re in Manhattan, it’s simple to determine if you need to go uptown (north) or downtown (south). Keep in mind that the Bronx is up and Brooklyn is down. Make note of the station that comes before your stop as a sort of mental nudge prior to the actual stop. This is especially helpful when the trains are crowded and you need to reposition yourself.

Mtattrain, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

NYC Insider Train Tips

  • The front and last cars are typically the least crowded.
  • Always let passengers off the train before getting on.
  • Don’t count on the audible announcement of the next stop; at times, the speakers malfunction. Try to position yourself with a view of each stop, which is visible through the window.
  • Try to avoid rush hours (7 – 10 AM and 4 – 7 PM), which tend to be the most crowded. That being said, the trains during rush hours are faster and more frequent; just expect a crowd.
  • Hold on tightly. Even seasoned New Yorkers always hang on — the train can suddenly come to a halting stop or make a complete jerk, tossing riders or whatever they’re holding.
  • Don’t drink or eat anything on the subway. Coffees fly, sodas spill and food hits the well-traveled floor.
  • Keep your wallet in your front pocket and your handbag and belongings in front of you.
  • When in traveling doubt, Don’t be afraid to ask someone with a friendly face; most New Yorkers are happy to direct you.
  • Station globes at the subway entrances are lit either green or red; green indicates that they are always open. Red indicates that they are closed at night or certain times.
Photo by Guido Coppa on Unsplash

Your consummate host in midtown Manhattan

While you’re visiting this great city, we hope you consider staying at Archer Hotel, on 38th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. A few steps from our front door are many ever-so-popular things to do and see in New York, including Bryant Park, Times Square, the Theatre District, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal and Fifth Avenue shopping. Our smartly designed, intimate rooms have five-star beds and curated touches. And Spyglass Rooftop Bar on Archer’s 22nd floor serves up signature cocktails, shareable bites and Empire State views.

And the closest subway station? The W train stops at 34th Street Herald Square (a 4-minute walk from Archer Hotel New York), in addition to the N Q and R trains.

Welcome to New York City!

A warm welcome to Archer Hotel New York

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