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Getting around in New York City

Public transportation makes zipping to and fro a cinch.

Updated

Woman walking around new york

New York City is one of the most walkable cities in the world, with coffee shops and bodegas never more than a few blocks away. But what happens when you start in Washington Heights and want to loop down towards the Statue of Liberty, finishing up at the Met on the Upper East Side? An itinerary like that calls for public transportation.

Public transportation in New York City

Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) operates the city’s rail and bus system. To navigate routes, use MTA’s Trip Planner online or via the mobile app — or use Google Maps. You can also use apps like Citymapper to compare routes and see any service changes that could affect your trip.

Your options for getting around in NYC include:

  • Subway. Get from one neighborhood to the next in minutes. NYC’s subway system spans the city and surrounding boroughs, making it ideal for commuters and tourists alike. You’ll need to buy a $1 MetroCard, and each trip is $2.75.
  • Bus. Watch the neighborhoods roll by while riding the city bus for $2.75 per ride. You can pay with a MetroCard, exact change or on some buses with Select Bus Service, at a sidewalk kiosk.
  • Ferry. Manhattan’s island status makes water transport essential — and unforgettable. For $2.75 a pop, you can cross the East River to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx on one of MTA’s ferries. On a clear day, enjoy views of the skyline with a locally sourced refreshment.
  • Roosevelt Island Tram. Connecting Roosevelt Island to 59th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan, the Roosevelt Tram provides an awesome aerial view of the city over the East River. Hop aboard with the swipe of a MetroCard — that’ll be $2.75. Up to three children under 44 in. tall can ride for free with an adult.
  • Train. Penn Station and Grand Central Station are two hubs for choo choo transport off the island. Metro North trains depart from Grand Central Station and run up towards Connecticut and Westchester, ideal for folks who commute from the suburbs. Penn Station hosts the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit, which connect Manhattan to Long Island and New Jersey, respectively.

Subway Etiquette

The surest mark of a clumsy tourist is someone who doesn’t follow subway etiquette. How to blend in:

Don’t lean on the poles. Grimy as they may be, subway poles are meant for hands, not bodies. Leaning against a pole means that no one else can use it to balance. If the subway car is crowded, get a sturdy grip and stand back so others can do the same.

Be ready to swipe your MetroCard. City dwellers are used to moving through subway turnstiles quickly. Even if you’re a slow swiper, at least have your card out and ready to go when you approach the turnstile to avoid holding up the flow.

Wait your turn. When a subway car arrives, your instinct may be to rush on immediately. Let passengers leave the train first so you can board without bumping into each other.

Taxis, rideshares and tours

  • Taxi. Tell-tale taxis comb the city in that classic shade of yellow (green in the outer boroughs!) and accept cash or credit cards. Though more expensive than public transportation, they can be a godsend on humid summer days or frigid winter nights. It’s customary to tip about 15% to 20%.
  • Rideshare. Uber and Lyft transformed the NYC transportation scene in the early 2010s. Call a private or shared car through an app on your phone. You can also hop aboard a Via van, a service that moves along a set route toward your destination.
  • Bike. Citi Bike is NYC’s bike share system that operates between Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey City. Unlock a bike by swiping your card at a nearby kiosk or using the Citi Bike app. A 30-minute ride costs $3, while a 24-hour pass with unlimited rides costs $12.
  • Pedicab. See attractions in the Big Apple from the back of a rickshaw. Pedicab drivers in NYC charge a flat rate per minute, ranging between $3 and $10.
  • Tour group. Signing up for a themed tour around the city — say, a food tour in Greenwich Village or the New York City Explorer Pass — is a wonderful way to see sights through the eyes of a guide.

Car rentals in New York City

If you’d rather be behind the wheel, consider renting a car. But be wary that New York City is infamous for heavy traffic, quick swerves, and loud horn honks — not to mention, parking is almost nonexistent outside of garages.

Rental options include:

  • Hertz
  • Budget
  • Dollar
  • Silvercar
  • Thrifty
  • Payless
  • Advantage
  • National

Renting a car for two days can cost anywhere from $73 to $176 depending on the type of car you rent and service you choose. Reserve a car in advance to save.

Driving in New York City

Unlike many other cities, driving in NYC is more of a hassle than taking public transportation. But if it can’t be avoided, here’s what you need to know:

You can’t turn right at red lights. Due to pedestrians, bikers, and public transport vehicles, turning right at red lights is prohibited — except if there’s a sign indicating that it’s OK.

Signs can get complicated. You can’t make a left turn on some major avenues at certain times. To avoid getting a ticket, keep your eyes peeled for signs—always. When parking, be careful to note any exceptions or caveats because the entire city is technically a tow-away zone. As a general rule, watch out for red signs as these generally indicate a prohibited area.

When parking streetside, pay the meter. Instead of quartered meters, NYC has adopted muni-meters, which accept cash, coins or plastic. You’ll get a receipt to place on your dashboard, proving you paid.

Plan garage parking in advance. The average cost for NYC residents to park in a garage each month is $430 — and the high cost of daily parking for visitors follows suit. If you’re planning to park in a garage overnight or during the day, locating a spot in advance will help you compare prices and stay within your budget. Take note of special rates like early bird pricing too. NYC Bestparking is a useful tool.

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Airport transfers

Three airports around NYC offer convenient passage into the city:

  • LaGuardia (LGA). It’s located in the northern part of Queens and serves mostly domestic travelers.
  • John F. Kennedy (JFK). Also in Queens, but on the southern edge, JFK is a major international and domestic hub.
  • Newark (EWK). Just west of Jersey City lies Newark Liberty International airport, a 45 minute drive from midtown. Some travelers favor it as a less crowded alternative to LGA and JFK.

Pro tip – Consider taking a shuttle for safe passage from the airport to midtown. For newcomers and locals alike, shuttles offer predictable convenience at a flat rate, plus space to easily store luggage. You can get roundtrip shuttle service from LGA to Grand Central Station for $30 from NYCExpressBus.

Bottom line

New York City’s public transportation is famously accessible to visitors far and wide. Contrary to popular belief, most New Yorkers won’t mind pointing you in the right direction. So if you’re lost on the subway, just ask for help!

If you’d rather see the city from the driver’s seat, reserve a car in advance to get the best car rental deals.

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