You may not be dreaming about riding a crowded NYC subway at the moment, but these tips will have you navigating like a native New Yorker. In a college town, journeying on and off-campus might require a car or campus shuttle. At NYU, we are in and of the city, and that includes how we commute. Whether you’re taking a class across the Brooklyn Bridge, or exploring other boroughs, you’ll be swiping a MetroCard. And you’ll be doing it alongside fellow students and city dwellers alike. 

In 2022, annual subway ridership topped 1 billion. Despite the MTA complaints you’ll grow accustomed to hearing (and making), the subway is a great alternative to driving; shared rides significantly reduce pollution, help you save money, and contribute to your daily exercise routine (those stairs are no joke!).

Learning to share your space with others might take a bit of adjusting. And while New York’s subway is vast and complex, it can take you anywhere you’d like to go. You just have to know how to get there!

Reading is fundamental (and so is Google Maps)

All subway entrances will let you know what direction the train is heading in: uptown or downtown. Knowing where the boroughs are situated will give you a basic understanding of which steps you should be clamoring down.

Likewise, there are entrances that lead to trains heading in both directions, or have passages underground that can lead you to the right platform. You’ll learn which stations fall into these categories by experience, so stick to the basics for now!  

You should familiarize yourself with the NYC subway map, but you don’t need to memorize it! This is where Google Maps comes in handy. Plug in your destination, and the GPS will reveal your total travel time, which trains to take, and even real time updates of traffic reports or changed routes.

If you’re concerned about not having an internet connection underground, there are several apps like NextStop that come in handy. They let you bookmark your favorite stations, tell you when the next train is coming, and also have alerts.

TLDR: Manhattan, often referred to as “The City,” is surrounded by all neighboring boroughs. Brooklyn is to the lower right of the City and the Bronx is above. To travel to Brooklyn, you’d go downtown, but to travel to the Bronx, you’d go uptown. Your specific destination point (cue Google Maps) determines which train(s) you’ll hop on.

Don't Waste a New York Minute:

Always give yourself buffer travel time. Just like with cars, there are rush hours in subway travel, particularly in the morning and when people get off work. Giving yourself an extra 10-15 min window can often ensure you arrive early or just in the knick of time. 

Great Subway Map
A Nina Boesch artwork, “Metrocards 2.”

Mind your P[assenger]s and Q[uestion]s

Remember when your parents would say, do as I say, not as I do? Follow that same methodology here. When you’re sharing your space with hundreds of people, collective consideration makes for a smoother ride.

But the reality is, not everyone follows the rules. So it’s important to be consistent with your own subway etiquette — it reminds others to do the same by example.

Most subway rules stem from common sense: Move to the center of the car as people on-board to create more room, and let riders off first before entering the train.

Your Starter Pack on Etiquette:

But there are few unspoken rules that aren’t so obvious:

  • If you see a person with headphones or sunglasses on the train, don’t approach with a question. 
  • Snacking is alright. A full meal? Not so much. It’s messy, and who knows what might offend someone’s nose.
  • Service animals and pets that fit in a bag are allowed on the train. People get creative with the latter! 
  • The track is not a trash can. Debris in the tracks can lead to track fires. Instead, throw trash away in designated, you guessed it, trash cans.  

Here’s a more comprehensive list of NYC Subway Do’s and Don’ts

Subway Timeout NY

Keep Your Mind in Motion

It’s inevitable that you’ll run into train delays. So why not find a way to pass the time? You can learn a new skill, or if you’re daring enough, share it with other passengers. Subway karaoke anyone?

So plan ahead – get an idea of your travel time and dedicate an activity that can help your mind remain stimulated. Whether it’s meditating, listening to a podcast or participating in a book challenge, riding the train can be an organic way to achieve feasible personal goals.  

Check out these additional ways you can avoid Subway boredom!

Gamer's Paradise:

PokemonGO might be fun in the station, but maybe avoid catching ’em all during your train ride. If game apps help you pass the time, try downloading options that can also help you learn something new or benefit you outside of your subway ride. My personal favorite is Wordbrain!  

Higgins Art Work Subway

Subway Fresh and So Clean, Clean?

There’s no use sugar-coating it. The NYC Subway isn’t spotless in the slightest. With so many people heading to and fro, cleanliness habits are essential. Carry hand sanitizer with you, wash your hands once you arrive at your destination (especially if it’s a restaurant) and avoid touching your face after holding onto the pole. 



Subway Illustration 1

Subway Synergy: Put it to the Test!

Now that you’ve got these tips and tricks to help, you’ll be a pro at riding the trains before you even hear “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors Please.”

Put your newfound knowledge to the test (and learn even more inside scoops) with this ultimate Subway Quiz.

Catch you on the platform!