How to Navigate the NYC Subway System


The New York City subway system can be confusing, but even understanding a few things about it can make it much easier to navigate. Once you gain confidence and a little know-how, you’ll find that you can save time by riding the trains instead of relying on the taxis stuck in the traffic-choked streets.

Things You'll Need

  • MTA map
  • MetroCard

Buy a subway map and keep it on you. There are maps posted in most trains and stations, but having one on you will help when you’re stuck in the middle of a packed train, or when you’re not near a station and want to know the best route to go.

Notice the white and black circles at each stop on the map. A white (or open) circle indicates a stop where both express and local trains stop. A black (or closed) circle indicates a stop where only local trains stop. If you’re not sure which train you are on, ask a conductor. Also listen for an announcement that should be made prior to the train leaving the station. Also look above the tracks for signs indicating whether a train is a local going uptown or vice versa.

The numbered lines generally run north to south, and the lettered lines east to west. Since some lines run in all directions, such as those heading from the Bronx to Queens via Manhattan. you should consult your map if you’re not sure which way you want to go.

If you want to go north, look for trains that say “Uptown,” and if you want to go south, look for trains that say “Downtown.”

New York City trains no longer accept tokens, so you’ll have to purchase a MetroCard. A single fare is $2, but discounts are given when you purchase more than $10 worth of fares. Hang on to that card! Since the discounts often don’t add up equally to an additional fare, you may wind up with some money left over on the card. Cards can be refilled using the MetroCard machines at the stations. All-you-can-ride monthly cards are also available. Be careful if you buy a single-ride card—those cards are only good for 2 hours after purchase, so don’t buy them too far in advance.

When you enter a train, immediately move as close to the center of the car as you can. Take a seat if one is available, but don’t just stop at the doors when you walk on the train. This prevents other people from easily entering and exiting the train.

Log online at to check for updates on construction and train changes. The lines are frequently changed on the weekends to accommodate construction, and it can get confusing trying to keep track. The website is also helpful for determining whether a train you wish to take runs at the time you want to take it. Some trains only run during the week or late at night. If the train you wanted to take isn’t running, the site will provide the alternate train to take.

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