NYC Subway for Tourists

New York City Subway Guide for Tourists

A Visitor’s Guide to Traveling Underground in NYC

Travelers can turn a frustrating ride on the NYC Subway into a pleasant one by remembering a few guidelines and tips.

The New York City Subway is legendary for its complexity. To the untrained eye, or even the trained one, a subway map could appear as no more than a multi-colored plate of spaghetti.

Below is a simplified explanation of the New York City Subway to help the novice or the traveler navigate without pulling his hair out.

Simple Subway System Directions: Take the A Train

The A-Train deserves special mention for tourists. The A-Train is an express train (the C Train runs on the same track locally) that will take the traveler from John F. Kennedy Airport to Times Square, going through many New York City tourist spots on the way. To the traveler, the A-Train will be their best friend.

New York City MTA in Manhattan

Most travelers will be spending their time in Manhattan. Luckily, the Manhattan trains are the most forgiving to a mistake. Since most of the trains run near each other, if you get on the wrong train, you just get off and walk a few blocks.

The easiest way to remember the trains is:

  • the Red and Blue (including the A Train) trains run down the West Side
  • The Green trains Run down the East Side
  • The Yellow and Orange trains run down the middle.

Note that no New Yorker will ever refer to a train by its color, they will refer to it by its letter or number designation. Recognizing the colors, however, will help the novice until they know the lines better, or until they go home.

The Brooklyn Subway System

Brooklyn has many trains running through it, and they diverge as one gets further from Manhattan. The Blue Line (A and C) will take you through the Northern part of the borough. Most of the attractions in Brooklyn are in the Central and Southern parts though. The Yellow and Orange lines run here, in parallel routes.

The Three trains to remember, beginning from West to East, are:

  • The D Train
  • The F Train
  • The B Train

This becomes easier to remember with the mnemonic, “Don’t Forget Brooklyn.” Feel free to substitute a mnemonic of choice.

All three of these trains end at Coney Island. The B ends at Brighton Beach, the F at the New York Aquarium, and the D at Stillwell Avenue.

Queens for the Tourist

The most important train to remember for Queens is the 7 Train. The 7 runs from Times Square to Shea Stadium and The Arthur Ashe Tennis Stadium, where the US Open is played. There is very little else for the tourist in Queens and unfortunately, no train runs to LaGuardia Airport.

The other important trains in Queens are:

  • The E (Blue Line)
  • The F (Orange Line)
  • The R (Yellow Line)

These three lines, along with the 7 Train, will get the traveler where he needs to go.

On the El in The Bronx

In the Bronx, the Subway is called “the El,” because the tracks are elevated. Often a location is described as “under the El tracks” or near them. The only Tourist location that can be described in this way is Yankee Stadium.

The Bronx is the easiest to navigate. The three lines a visitor might need to know are from West to East:

  • The 4 (Green Line)
  • The 5 (Green Line)
  • The 6 (Green Line)

The 4 Train will take you to Yankee Stadium and ends at Van Cortlandt Park. The 5 Train runs past the Bronx Zoo. The Six Train Runs through the South Bronx and ends at Pelham Bay Park.

When possible, take the Express Trains instead of the Locals, otherwise, the constant stops will put the tourist on edge.

Staten Island by Subway?

There is no subway in Staten Island, further proof that Staten Island is not part of New York City, despite what the maps say.

A visitor could easily be overwhelmed by the subway. The best way for a vacationer to find his way around is to understand which subway lines are important, and which to ignore. Thinking in this manner will not get the visitor everywhere in the City, but it will get them close enough to walk, the most essential New York transportation.

NYC Subway

The New York City Subway is a rapid transit system owned by the City of New York and leased to the New York City Transit Authority, a subsidiary agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and also known as MTA. The New York City Subway is one of the oldest and most extensive public transportation systems in the world, with 468 stations in operation translating into 656 miles track. The New York City Subways run 24/7,365 days a year and transport over 2 million riders a day.

The New York City Subway is one of the busiest underground systems in the world and trails only the metro systems of Tokyo, Moscow, and Seoul in annual ridership and carries more passengers than all other rail mass transit systems in the United States combined.

In 1869 a demonstration for an underground transit system in New York City was first built by Alfred Ely Beach. His Beach Pneumatic Transit only extended 312 feet under Broadway in Lower Manhattan. The first underground line of the subway opened on October 27, 1904, almost 35 years after the opening of the first elevated line in New York City, which became the IRT Ninth Avenue Line. A very heavy snowstorm in 1888 helped illustrate the benefits of an underground transportation system. The oldest structure still in use today was opened in 1885 as part of the Lexington Avenue Line and is now part of the BMT Jamaica Line in Brooklyn.

In 1940, the two private systems were taken over by the city; while some elevated lines were closed immediately, and others closed soon after the Integration was slow. Several connections were built between the IND and BMT, and they now operate as one division called the B Division. Since the IRT tunnel segments are too small and stations are too narrow to accommodate B Division cars and contain curves too sharp for B Division cars, the IRT remains its own division, A Division.

The New York City Transit Authority was formed in 1953 to take over the subway, bus, and streetcar operations from the city, and was placed under the control of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968.

Z Train Service, New York City Subway

Z Train is a service of the New York City Subway also known as the Z Nassau Street Express. It is similar with the J Nassau Street Express, with the difference being that the Z train only operates during rush hour in the peak direction. Both train services ply the whole BMT Archer Aven ue Line and BMT Jamaica Line from the Jamaica Center – Parsons/Archer Subway Station in Jamaica, Queens, to the Williamsburg Bridge Subway Station in Lower Manhattan.

J Train Service, New York City Subway

J Train is a service of the New York City Subway also known as the J Nassau Street Local. It is similar with the Z Nassau Street Express, with the difference being that the Z train only operates during rush hour in the peak direction. Both train services ply the whole BMT Archer Aven ue Line and BMT Jamaica Line from the Jamaica Center – Parsons/Archer Subway Station in Jamaica, Queens, to the Williamsburg Bridge Subway Station in Lower Manhattan.

1 Train Service, New York City Subway

The 1 Train is a service of the New York City Subway using the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line. It is the only service in the system with elevated stations in Manhattan, that is, the 125th Street Subway Station and all the stations north of and including the Dyckman Street Subway Station.

3 Train Service, New York City Subway

The 3 Train is a subway train service of the New York City Subway on the 3 Seventh Avenue Express route. It uses the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line through most of Manhattan. The 3 train service operates between 148th Street Subway Station in Harlem, Manhattan and the New Lots Avenue Subway Station in New Lots, Brooklyn.

4 Train Service, New York City Subway

The4 Train is a subway train service of the New York City Subway on the 4 Lexington Avenue Express route. It uses the IRT Lexington Avenue Line in Manhattan.

The 4 train service operates between Woodlawn Subway Station in the Bronx and the Utica Avenue Subway Station in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. This is a local train in the Bronx and an express service in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

42nd Street Shuttle, New York City Subway

The 42nd Street Shuttle is a shuttle train service of the New York City Subway in Manhattan. It is also called the Grand Central – Times Square Shuttle because it only runs between these two subway stations under 42nd Street. At just 0.8 miles (1300 meters), it is the shortest regular service of the system. It uses the track that first came into operation in 1904, and is part of the first subway in the city.

The 42nd Street Shuttle operates at all times except during late night.

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