How to Ride the Subway

By now you’ve probably noticed that it’s summer.  It’s a time for unbearable heat, cold and frosty treats, and traveling.  It’s entirely possible that one of your travel destinations this summer is New York City; it is, after all, one of the most popular cities in the world to visit, and attracts 47 million tourists each year.  If NYC does figure into your summer travels, you’re going to need a plan when it comes to getting around.

Although Manhattan is pretty walkable, you’re still going to want to have a back-up for when your feet get tired or you want to go a bit further than your two legs are willing to take you.  Unless you have a lot of money to spend on parking or cab fare, I’d recommend forgoing above-ground travel options.  The bus can be useful, but it can also be slow and crowded, and if you’re not entirely familiar with your destination, knowing where to signal the driver to stop can be an added source of stress.  Flawed as it is, the subway is probably your best bet.  It’s not particularly hard to use (all you need is a metrocard, and they are very easy to obtain), but it does come with its own set of rules: a combination of common sense, etiquette, and a few idiosyncrasies.  Herewith: a guide to using the subway in New York City, designed to make your summer travel all that much easier.  It’s also possible that this guide will come in handy if you’re moving to the city and want a big of a leg up on the public transportation sitch.  Let’s get started, shall we?


  • Before buying your card, consider how much you’ll be using the subway.  If you think you’ll be taking it several times a day, it might be worth it to purchase an unlimited ride card.  They can end up being cheaper than a pay-as-you-go card, but make sure to do the math before spending the money.
  • Know whether you’re going uptown or downtown, as you can’t necessarily get to either train from the same subway entrance.  This is another thing you want to check on before you swipe, otherwise you could end up wasting a fare because you entered in the wrong place.
  • Dress comfortably and bring water.  Most subway cars are air conditioned, but the stations are not.  In fact, they often feel like ovens, and the longer you wait for a train, the worse it gets.  If you’re planning on trekking all over town you will probably have already thought of this point; if not, well, just keep in mind that this is something you should plan for.
On the train
  • When the train arrives, make sure to let everyone who is getting off actually get off before you try to get on.
  • As you enter the car, move to the center.  This seems like common sense, but it’s amazing how often people (and I include New Yorkers who take the subway on a daily basis in that group) get on the train and stop so that the areas by the door are crowded and the rest of the car is empty.
  • If there are seats available and no one else around who should be sitting (i.e. the elderly, someone on crutches, pregnant women), sit down.  There’s no point in standing up when there are seats open, it just makes the train more crowded.
  • Keep your clothes on.  People do crazy things on the subway.  Don’t be one of those people.
  • Keep your hands to yourself; if someone isn’t keep their hands to themselves (I’ve never had a problem with this, but others have, so be ready for anything), for the love of God, say something.  And make sure to say it loudly, so that other people will hear you.  Something like, “WHAT is WRONG WITH YOU, PERVERT?!” is good, and don’t worry about having to follow up with anything.  This is New York, someone will just be looking for an excuse to shout a pervert down and will come to your aid immediately.  People here have a lot to get off their chests, so once you’ve managed to catch someone’s interest, you can sit back and relax.
  • Don’t hold the door for other people as they run for the train, doing so just holds everyone else up.
  • Don’t push and shove your way around the car.  Try not to get annoyed when other people do (I write this last part mostly as a reminder to myself).  The more patient and zen-like you can manage to be, the better (again, this may be more for me than anyone else).
At your stop
  • If you’re sitting, don’t stand up as the train is arriving at your stop.  This just puts people who are standing in the awkward position of having to move out of your way while the train is still in motion.  Wait until the train is completely stopped.  I promise you’ll have enough time to get off the train.
  • Get off the train quickly so that others can get on.
  • Don’t get off and stop right in front of the car doors.  This is another thing that happens a lot.  I don’t know why people do it.  Just remember that other people might be getting off behind you, and you don’t want to block their passage.
  • If you’re not sure where to go, ask someone.  But be prepared to get a long answer with many different options– New Yorkers love to give directions, and they love to tell you every variation there is when it comes to getting from point A to point B.

Have fun!  It’s not all that complicated although it may initially seem a bit overwhelming.  And if you feel especially lost, feel free to call me.

By Emilie

Runner, yogini, knitter, Manhattanite in spite of myself. Also blogging at

2 replies on “How to Ride the Subway”

So true! Another thing I’ve never had a problem with, but important to mention nonetheless. I usually just try to look sufficiently sullen and angry at the world (not hard to do while on the subway) that no one (including purse snatchers) will feel inclined to bother me. It works a good 25% of the time.

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