New York is a Fearsome City. It is BIG in every possible meaning of the word. The Towering Concrete Canyons, bustling streets teeming with angry, hurried people. Traffic jams filled with aggressive Taxi drivers honking at anything even remotely in their way. It really can be a daunting place for the uninitiated. The thought of having to navigate this giant maze of concrete, steel, and angry people is enough to send you packing for the beach. But fear not. New York is actually a really simple City to get around.
The car is almost redundant in the City so transport links are fantastic. The City has a super simple Gris System so getting to where you are going is a breeze, and the streets are lined chock a block with taxis and Ubers to whisk you off to any destination you please. Our Guide on how to get around new york will soothe your fears and calm your nerves before showing you the best way to get around New York, and how exactly to get you from A – B in the Big Apple.
Navigation – Finding your way around New York.
The First task is trying to orient yourself in this Giant City. For the sake of this article, we will largely stick to Manhattan (along with airport links!) Take a look at a New York Basic’s Page to understand the City better.
New York has two huge things going for it as far as navigation goes. First, it is largely orientated North to South, not quite but close enough for navigation purposes. Second, the entire street network is broken up into a super convenient Numbered Grid System!
Streets run East to West from 1st through to 193rd way up in inwood. Avenues run South to north, With First Avenue on the East Coast and 12th Avenue along the West.
This makes the basic premise for getting around super simple. If you want to travel up or down the City, you follow an Avenue and count off the Streets as you go. To Travel north the Street numbers Rise, To go South the count down. The Same with Moving Across the City. Follow a Street and count off the Avenues. Move west and they rise, east and they fall.
Some Avenues have names (Lexington, Park (4th), and Madison) which adds a little confusion, but they can still be counted off.
However, you move around the City, by Car, Subway, Bus, or on foot use this simple concept to know exactly where you are and how to get to your destination.
Understanding New York Addresses
Noone but the postman uses addresses anymore but these still follow the basic principle, for example:
Empire State Building – 20W 34th Street
Your Hotel – 213E 43rd Street
The last part is the Street, the Address is located on. So the Empire State is on 34th Street, and your Hotel is 9 Streets further north on 43rd. To get to the Empire state you head south 9 blocks until you hit 34th.
The First part takes care of the east and west navigation. unfortunately, it does not mention Avenues instead the numbers east and west of Fifth Avenue.
Every 100 is a block with the E or W stipulating East or West of Fifth.
So 20W is between fifth and 6th Av, 20 “doors” along, meaning it’s closer to 5th than 6th. 213E is East of 5th, between 3rd and 2nd avenue.
Unfortunately, this is the basic rule, there are hundreds of exceptions and different ways of writing New York addresses so you really need not concern yourself too much. As we said, no one still uses this apart from the postman, we all have google maps and we can see clearly on the map which way to travel, but understanding the Blocks helps you know if you are traveling in the right way towards your destination. If the map shows you need to head north and the Street numbers are going down…go the other way!
Getting Around New York
New York is a great walking City. So many of the attractions are within walking distance of each other. So wherever you are and where ever you want to go, the first thing to check is “Can We Walk It?” Often the answer is yes. If so great, it’s often the quickest and always the cheapest way to get somewhere. However, the City is big and while a lot of places are clustered together others are clustered elsewhere!
For example, Midtown and Downtown are really far too far apart to walk as a means of transportation. In which case, you will need to read on. However once in Downtown pretty much all the attractions are within easy walking distance. From the center of midtown pretty much all you would want to see is within a 1-mile radius.
For the most part, the most effective way to see the majority of the sights and attractions is to clump together the ones you want and travel to them then walk between. It’s a very effective way to cram in lots of great things, and it goes some way to helping negate the effect of all those hotdog and Pizza Calories.
The Downside is it can mean ALOT of walking. We often clock up over 10 miles of walking without really knowing it. Our Feet and legs can be very sore after a day on the march. We are active people with lots of experience being on our feet all day, but New York is a killer. We fall into our beds in the evening and sleep the sleep of the dead after a day seeing the City. Then get up and do it all over again!
Navigating the City is incredibly easy for most of the city. The Grid system makes it pretty much foolproof. It’s a bit more complex in lower Manhattan. But with a map, it’s really no trouble at all.
The best thing about walking in New York is when you treat it as an activity. Walking to and from somewhere is normally a chore. But in New York for a tourist, it needn’t be. Walking between most places can be an absolute joy. Famous landmarks are everywhere. Just walking around Midtown is an experience all by itself. Exploring Greenwich village hunting out TV Locations (Carries Apartment from Sex in the City, the Friends Apartment) is a fabulous way to spend an hour or two.
I really do think your first thought whenever you are heading somewhere is “can We walk it”, your next thoughts will be about what you will see on the way.
Finally, unless you are relocating to another part of the City, Walking is often just the fastest way to get about. By the time you have got to the Subway Station, navigated the platforms traveled a couple of stops, found your way out, and re-orientated yourself, you could have just walked there. A cab/Uber may save time, but there is a real possibility that traffic and one-way systems mean walking is a lot faster. We have walked alongside traffic many a time and normally at least keep up with the flow!
Sometimes it’s just too far though and some form of mechanical transport is needed!
The New York Subway System
The Subway is our preferred method of covering longer distances. It’s cheap, quick, and despite its reputation very safe. You are never alone on the Subway it is always busy. The one other reputation it’s got is it’s hard to understand.
That one is true. At least to begin with. It’s a daunting task trying to understand and decipher the “codes”. But once you “get it” the Subway is really quite easy. A good tourist map makes the experience a lot easier. Ask your Concierge for one, if you don’t get presented one automatically.
You can now view the Live MTA Subway map here. This fully interactive Map has all the Stops and live availability of every train on the system. The lines are color-coded and getting around on the Subway has never been easier.
As you can see on the Map Most stations are Street Named so you use the Grid system in exactly the same way. If you are heading south the street numbers got down, heading north they go up.
The big disadvantage of the Subway is many of the lines only really run north to south. This is fine for most journeys but if you are traveling a long way east to west the Subway is of less use, and remember Manhattan can be 2+ miles Across in places. We either just hike the necessary blocks or if it’s a particularly far jump in a Cab/Uber.
One of the things that are often overlooked about subway travel and where a lot of people fall down is the fact you will have been spun around and never really know where you are when you emerge from the depths. Always take a minute or two to orientate yourself. Work out where is north and south, east and west using the Grid system. It’s easy to get a bit flustered and think you are lost. But once you have righted yourself you will be back on track in no time.
Subway fares are fairly straight forward it’s $2.75 per trip via a Metro card. You just buy your card ($1 one-off fee) and then add money to it. every time you swipe $2.75 is removed from the balance. You get one Free Transfer from Subway to Bus, bus to bus, or Bus to Subway within Two Hours of starting your trip.
If you plan on more than 12 Trips it’s cost-effective to buy a 7-day pass for $33 (+$1 Metro Card fee). This allows unlimited subway travel anywhere in the City. Honestly, we just buy a 7 day unlimited every trip, we almost always use it more than 12 times but even if not, the lack of hassle of not having to keep adding money to your card is worth the extra. We just buy the unlimited at the first opportunity (usually at the airport) and then forget about it for the rest of the trip with unlimited swipes!
Buy your metro cards from a ticket machine. These can be a little daunting at first but are quite straightforward. If your first subway experience is a busy station there may even be an attendant on hand to give you a hand.
Metro cards are also usable on the Local bus’s too and charged at the same rate, and as we said you can transfer once between the two. You can then use the buses to navigate the sideways travel across Manhattan. We tend to not hang around and just hoof it, but there are normally options to jump on a bus if walking is more difficult for you.
Using Taxis in New York
Taxicabs are easily the most convenient method of transport around NYC. They are not always the cheapest though. Expect fares of $10-15 dollars for short trips. Penn Station to Battery Park would be over $25+ each way!
As you can see this quickly adds up if you are using Taxis a lot. Compared to $2.75 on the Subway. If there are a few of you sharing it quickly becomes more affordable though. Remember this will be door to door when you need it. Even the best subway journeys require a little walking. So you are paying for the convenience
For some, the convenience easily outweighs the extra cost. Your concierge will happily hail you a cab at your Hotel and you will have little trouble finding a return ride at any tourist destination. We have all seen the Films, just lift up your hand and yell “TAXI” and one appears!
Well not quite but waiving down a Taxi is pretty easy, they are after all looking out for rides! At heavily visited areas such as outside museums etc expect there to be queues of taxis at the ranks.
The Big disadvantage with taxis, in fact, all road-based Transport is the traffic. It really can be appalling at times. Taxi fares (and Uber fares) are linked to time spent stuck in traffic as well as the distance of the journey. So by hitting a snarl-up, you are not only costing precious trip time but it’s costing money also! Fares can actually Double in the worst of the worst traffic.
So you are sitting there, getting later and later, costing more and more, all the while the subway thunders past underneath your feet. We have heard stories of people missing planes stuck in taxis and have regularly walked right past lines of stationary taxi’s and even on quite long journeys, we beat the traffic in foot races!
Quite simply at rush hour just avoid taxis at all cost. It would be cheaper and just as quick to head into a bar, have a few drinks, and catch the cab later on…no really!
Example Taxi Fares:
All Examples are guesstimates of the metered Fare. Fares are calculated by the distance plus time in traffic. These are average traffic Example fares will be higher at very busy times of the day and journey times MUCH LONGER. It also includes an Optional 20% Tip.
- Times Square – Battery Park $30.00 – 25Minutess
- Penn Station – National Museum of Natural history $21.00 -19 Minutes
- Times Square – Empire State Building $12.00 -7 Minutes (Less than 1 Mile and 15-20mins walk)
- One World Trade Centre – Brooklyn heights promenade $25.00 -20 Minutes
- Penn Station – Wall Street $33.00 -27 Minutes
- JFK – Times Square – $70 – 41 Minutes (Traffic can be terrible!)
- Newark Liberty Airport – Times Square $64.00 – 45 Mins
Using Uber in New York
Uber is fast becoming the Go-To for getting around any City. And after a slow start, we are completely on board! We live very rurally so Uber really hasn’t reached us but whenever we visit ANY city UBER is fast becoming the only way we get about.
New York is the Exception and we only use Uber Sparingly, we still use the Subway and walking as the main methods of getting from A-B. This is mainly because Uber suffers the same problem in New York as the Taxis, getting suck in diabolical Traffic. It is also Not exactly much cheaper than a Taxi! We still like the convenience of using the App and not worrying about having cash, but we tend to use them only in the evening when we are not dressed for the Subway!
- Times Square – Battery Park $27.00 – 25Minutess
- Penn Station – National Museum of Natural history $17.00 -19 Minutes
- Times Square – Empire State Building $11.00 -7 Minutes
- One World Trade Centre – Brooklyn heights promenade $25.00 -20 Minutes
- Penn Station – Wall Street $32.00 -27 Minutes
- JFK – Times Square – $66 – 41 Minutes
- Newark Liberty Airport – Times Square – $55 – 45 Mins
The Local bus service is very extensive in New York. It is, however, subject to the same traffic that all road users suffer, only worse as you constantly stop starting to let riders on and off. For this reason, we rarely use the bus in New York. But it is still a very effective service. The Subway has fairly poor East to West Service and the Bus can Fill in the Gaps. Maps and Service Guides can be found here. It’s great for people who just don’t want to walk. We find ourselves just walking the gaps left by the Subway.
The Metro card used for the Subway is valid on all local bus routes. The Fare is the same $2.75. you can also pay on the bus with the exact change. But using the Metro card means you get a free transfer within 2 hours. A 7 Day unlimited Metro card provides unlimited Local bus travel also.
Hop On Hop Off Bus
There are several Tourist buses in Manhattan that tour the sights and attractions. These are good for people who are really new to New York and want a nice gentle introduction. They are great for seeing several attractions in one day providing a good link between the attractions.
However, as they are very touristy they are not very well suited to regular transport. Think of them more like a tour where you can get on and off as you please.
They are also quite expensive (over $40 for a day). As an attraction on their own, that’s fine, and most people find them enjoyable we certainly still love seeing the City from the top deck. But as transport, it’s not very cost-effective. And Queues at stops can be quite long, and they are pretty infrequent. They can definitely be useful, but just don’t rely on them to get you anywhere in a hurry.
If you like the idea of one of these they are included in some of the city pass deals
Of course, you can always hire a car and drive yourself around. While this can be very problematic in New York Due to the limited and expensive Parking not only at any location you wish to visit but also at your own Hotel. Really hiring a car is only recommended should you wish to use New York as the Starting point of a Road-trip.
Expect overnight parking fees of $60+ at your hotel and £20+ per hour anywhere you want to stop.
Getting to and from the Airports
We have written individual guides for getting to and from the airports. You can read them below:
Have Your Say
What Transport do you use when in New York? Do you agree with my opinion? do you think there is a better way of getting about? Please drop me a comment below and let me know what you think. Any questions just fire away in the comments.