New York City is a surprisingly easy city to navigate. It is easily explored on foot and has an affordable and efficient public transport system. The majority of tourists to the city choose to get around New York by using a combination of walking, subway and taxi.
Exploring New York on foot
New York is an easy city to explore on foot. It is mostly flat, with wide pavements making it easy even for small children or parents with strollers. Most of Manhattan, particularly uptown has an easily navigable grid system, with avenues running north to south, and streets running east to west.
Note that this numbered grid system only exists north of Houston Street on the east side of Manhattan and above 14th Street on the west side. The lower into Manhattan you go, the less uniform in nature the streets are, and you will notice streets have actual names rather than numbers.
When exploring Manhattan on foot, it is useful to know that the distance between streets is shorter than the distance between avenues. So walking time for blocks between streets is around one minute at a brisk pace, whereas walking time between avenues can be between three and five minutes. (This means that walking five blocks from 52nd Street to 57th Street will take around 5 minutes, whereas walking two blocks from 5th Avenue to 7th Avenue could take around 8 minutes.)
Addresses in Manhattan are often described as being, for example, ‘on the corner of 58th and 2nd (meaning 58th Street and 2nd Avenue), or ‘on 57th between 5th and 6th (57th Street between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue).
Another useful fact to remember when navigating Manhattan is that 5th Avenue divides the city between east and west. This means that street names change either side of 5th Avenue to, for example, East 57th Street and West 57th Street. From an address point of view, these are treated as separate streets – eg. Number 75 East 57th Street is a different address from 75 West 57th Street.
- Avenues run north to south, streets run east to west.
- The distance between streets is shorter than the distance between avenues.
- The grid system does not exist in lower Manhattan.
- 5th Avenue divides the city between east and west.
- Street names change either side of 5th Avenue.
Getting around New York by Subway
The New York subway is the most popular form of transport for visitors to New York City. The New York subway map may look daunting at first but it is actually very easy to use. That being said, here are a few tips to help make riding the New York subway easier.
- Check the subway map inside the station or look at the map online before you travel.
- Subway lines are named by a letter or number. When looking at the map, be sure to follow the letter or number you want to take, and not the colour.
- There are two types of train: local and express. Express trains do not stop at every station, whereas local trains do. When looking at the map, local stations have black dots and express stations have white dots. If you need to get to a station with a black dot, make sure you take a local train.
- The letter or number of the train you need will be noted under the station name on the map.
- Trains head either uptown (north) or downtown (south). Note that some stations have separate entrances for platforms heading uptown and downtown.
- Download either of the following apps to help you navigate the subway more easily: Transit or Citymapper.
New York Subway Tickets
Public transport tickets in New York are known as MetroCards. There are two types of MetroCard for the subway: Pay-per-ride tickets and Unlimited ride tickets.
Tickets can be bought at the machines in the subway stations. You can pay cash or use a credit card. Note that the machines only give a maximum of $9 in change. The smaller top-up machines only accept credit cards.
Pay-per-ride MetroCard: You can buy a SingleRide card, which cost $3 per ride, or a multi-ride ticket, which works out at $2.75 per ride. Multi-ride tickets can be purchased with anything from $5.50 to $80 in credit. These tickets can be topped up at the ticket machines when credit is low.
Unlimited ticket. If you plan on riding the subway a lot (more than 12 times in a week), it will be cheaper to purchase an unlimited ticket, which gives you unlimited rides for 7 days for $32. Note: The unlimited ticket cannot be shared. Once you have swiped the card, it cannot be used again for 18 minutes, to prevent people sharing cards.
Getting around New York by Taxi
The yellow New York taxicabs are one of the iconic sights of New York City. New York taxis are plentiful and relatively cheap. Here are some tips for riding a New York taxi.
- You can hail a New York taxi in the street.
- New York taxis run on a meter.
- If the centre number on top of the cab is illuminated, the taxi is available.
- If no lights on top are illuminated, the taxi is occupied.
- If the whole top light illuminated (taxi number and ‘off duty’ light), the taxi is off duty.
- If you are not traveling to a well known landmark, you can just tell the driver an intersection eg. ‘corner of 57th and 6th’ or ‘75th street between 5th and 6th’.
- New York taxis accept cash and credit cards. All taxis have a credit card machine in the back making it easy to pay this way.
- Don’t forget to tip. Credit card machines give you the option to add a tip, or you can tip in cash. Officially the tip should be around 18% – just be sure to add at least at $2 tip to each ride.
Uber in New York
As in other cities in the world, Uber is a popular alternative to taking a taxi. There are always plenty of Uber drivers hovering around Manhattan, so they are never usually more than a few minutes away.
Beyond New York City
If you want to see some of the highlights beyond New York City, there are plentiful places an easy day trip away from NYC.
Some parts of New York State can be reached easily by public transport such as Long Island by the hourly Long Island Rail Road and the Hudson Valley on Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Station.
Heading to upstate New York or off to the Catskills or the Adirondacks, you may find it easier to hire a car for a family adventure.
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