What I learned about the New York Subway

I thought the New York Subway would be a walk in the park. I’m used to the mysterious ways of the Tube, surely nothing could surprise me?

A London Underground user's guide to the New York Subway

Well, I was wrong. To everyone else who is heading to New York and hasn’t given the subway a second thought, here are my top tips for you. Because things may not be as easy as they seem…

Some stops are named twice

Some subway stops are called different things on different lines. For example, I totally missed getting off at Union Square because it was called 14 Street on the line we were on. Spoiler alert, it’s quite a long walk between subway stops. And I made this mistake more than once. Sorry, Emma.

Some stops are double decker stops

There is no such thing as a double decker stop on any metro system I’ve ever been on. At all. So I just didn’t think to check for another platform when waiting for a train. Emma and I stood like lemons waiting for a train that came (and left) on a lower level that we had no idea existed. Cue a 20 minute wait for the next subway… Which leads me to my next point.

There are sometimes really long gaps between trains

I’m used to 2 or 3 minutes until the next tube. Perhaps 4 on a particularly bad day. I was not prepared for such long gaps between trains – particularly as so many different lines run through the same stations. That’s because…

There are fast lines and slow lines

Take, for example, the green line. However the green line is not just one line. Running along the green line you have three different lines; the 4, 5 and 6. They all stop at different places. Some are slow and stop at all stations (the 6), some are express and stop at only a couple (4 and 5) but end up at vastly different terminuses. You need to be quite sure you’re on the right one, which can be tricky due to the fact that…

There aren’t always displays on the platforms

Meaning you have no idea what train is coming next, when it’s coming, or where it’s going. This is a bit of a problem when you’re trying to account for all of the above. However, I learned (possibly a bit too late) that…

There is an app! And free wifi at stations!

If you download the MTA app, it tells you exactly which train is coming next, what platform, where it stops… You can plan the quickest route to your destination and generally feel a little bit more in control. All this is possible thanks to the free wifi at stations which is easy to connect to, and fast. Hallelujah. Just as long as you have a smartphone, that is.

And finally…

The rats are huge

If you think you’ve seen big rats, you ain’t seen nuffin ’til you’ve been to New York. The dainty little mice that dash around the tracks on the tube look positively quaint in comparison to the beasts that lumber around the tracks of the New York subway. I still found them intriguing to watch; but if you’re not a fan of rodents you may disagree.

And those are my subway tips for those more used to travelling on the tube. I’m afraid I have no actual practical tips for you about the best ticket to buy or how to avoid weirdos because I never figured that out. Sorry.

Have you ever been to New York? Any subway tips you can pass on?


Linking up with Emma, Angie, Jessi and Nano

Pin your favourite tip for later:

New York subway tips for London Underground usersNew York Subway tip 1 Some stops are named twiceNew York Subway tip 2 Some stops are double decker New York Subway tip 3 There are really long gaps between trains



  1. 1st August 2016 / 08:38

    Oh my days, the New York metro left us in a daze AND thanks to their penchant for naming multiple lines and stops the same we ended up at Columbia University instead of East Harlem…

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:37

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one! I felt like a proper country bumpkin at times. The multiple naming was the most baffling to me. Why would you do that? How does it help in any way? No.

      And I definitely had to google Columbia University but yes, that’s quite far away from East Harlem, isn’t it? I think at that point I’d be hailing a cab…

  2. 1st August 2016 / 13:15

    It’s been ages since I’ve been to New York but I remember the subway is so confusing – especially compared to the actual roads, as they’re all numbered on a grid…it’s so much easier to navigate above ground, but obvi that’s an issue when the city is HUGE!

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:38

      Yes navigating the roads is so easy, that’s what makes the subway even more frustrating! It’s like, if it’s so easy above ground why make it so difficult below…?? I get it’s a big place but so is London and the tube is WAY less confusing, in my opinion.

  3. 1st August 2016 / 13:41

    seriously i’ve always wondered why the NYC subway is a bit confusing (ok mostly to me, a non city girl) so i end up spending more on a cab or walking WAY too much. but i keep forgetting there is an app – so helpful!

    xoxo cheshire kat

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:39

      I walked whenever possible as well, I have to say. It’s more fun for sightseeing, and I tell myself that walking is good exercise but sometimes the distances involved are just not feasible! The app was useful, but there were some things the app couldn’t help with, like the long gaps between trains. Or the rats.

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:40

      Haha, it’s not the best metro system I’ve ever been on, that’s for sure! I wondered why everyone complained about it but now I know. I tried to UBER but my app kept not working, which was most frustrating. It’s a conspiracy, I say!

      Enjoy your trip, I wish I were going back!

  4. 1st August 2016 / 14:55

    Omg, I was lucky that I didn’t see any rats when I went. It was winter though, so they were probably freezing to death. I hope!

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:42

      I’m sure they were hiding out somewhere toasty. Like under your seat 😉 sorry! I don’t mind rats but I was just enthralled at how huge they were. They were bigger than a lot of the pet rats I’ve seen and absolutely fearless. One strolled past me on the pavement and it literally couldn’t have cared less that I was there. I almost mistook it for a small dog.

  5. 1st August 2016 / 18:29

    I don not want to see a New York rat!

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:43

      Ahh now I got quite into my rat spotting because I couldn’t believe how giant they were. However, I’m aware that’s not a normal response to rats…

  6. Jen
    1st August 2016 / 18:47

    Even though we spent a week in NYC we never went on the subway, I actually regret it haha.

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:44

      If you ask me, you had a lucky escape! There were a few times when it worked out well but mostly it was stressful and went wrong. Did you walk everywhere or take cabs?

  7. 1st August 2016 / 20:34

    Navigating the subway really is a big deal in NYC, and we loved using the Metro app when we’ve visited! So a not so funny story about the first time I visited NYC with Chris is that he was being polite and letting people get on the subway before him, and the doors ended up closing and he got left at the station. The subway really doesn’t wait for anybody! So I got out at the next stop and tried to call him, but he just got on the next train and didn’t have cell service. Basically it was a not so nice fight to start off our trip to NYC, but I always try to warn people to have a plan when riding the subway with multiple people after that little fiasco.

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:47

      I have to say, the app really is helpful. I wonder why the London Underground doesn’t have one.

      That story sounds so stressful! How sweet of Chris to be polite, what a nice chap! Tell him never to come to London though, he’ll never get on any tube ever 😉

      Emma and I actually came up with a plan about what we’d do if we got separated. Thankfully it never happened but I think we felt better knowing what we’d do. I’m glad it was just the two of us though, can you imagine trying to stick together with a group of people on the subway?? No thanks!

  8. 2nd August 2016 / 02:10

    This is great to know! I need to get that app when I go, and now, I’m curious about those rats…

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:48

      Seriously, they were huge! Keep an eye out. You won’t need to look hard though because they’re so big!

      I highly recommend the app, really useful. And the wifi in stations was a godsend.

  9. 2nd August 2016 / 02:18

    I can relate so much to this–but regarding the Tokyo subway/train system. I’ve taken the metro effortlessly all over ShenZhen, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. I thought Tokyo would be a piece of cake. Nope. Completely different ball game–the main complication being that there are three different companies running trains, and the metro map is so huge and confusing that there typically isn’t a full map at any station. And figuring out which trains were express trains and which trains actually stopped at every stop on the route was confusing because they were color-coded in Japanese and we weren’t entirely sure which color meant which. Sometimes we literally just hopped on a train and checked afterwards to make sure it was the right one. 😛 We didn’t see any rats, though. I can only imagine what it would be like taking the trains to get around New York!

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:52

      Oh goodness the thought of navigating around the Tokyo transport system brings me out in a cold sweat. That sounds like a total nightmare, it must have been a real adventure any time you tried to get anywhere! I’ve always wanted to go to Tokyo but haven’t quite found the courage yet. At least if I got lost in New York I could have asked someone for help, my non-existent Japanese wouldn’t get me very far in Tokyo!

  10. 2nd August 2016 / 09:57

    I don’t know why people complain about the tube so much because the NY subway system is the worst! It’s grotty (so is the tube, but at least it’s a little slicker in appearance), there’s no indication of which train is coming, no announcements about cancellations, and trains are infrequent. I wanted to kiss the tube when I got back to London (except, ew).

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:54

      I think the tube is getting marginally less grotty in places? Like, the circle line now has air conditioning on some trains..! And at least some bits are pretty in an historic sort of way. I definitely felt more warm and fuzzy feelings towards the tube when I got back to it, it was so nice to have frequent trains and not keep getting lost!

  11. 2nd August 2016 / 12:20

    I was such a NYC subway ninja when I was living there. Knew all the trains and shortcuts. Funny how you forget stuff as I was slightly lost-ish the last time I was there. 🙂

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:57

      That’s an impressive skill to master! I’m sure it’s like riding a bike, I bet you never forget really. Your secret subway ninja is just waiting to get out! And even at slightly lost-ish I bet you’d do a better job than me. Seriously.

  12. 2nd August 2016 / 13:07

    I’ve seen many multi-level subway stations in Germany, but it’s always very clear where you need to be. And the different name thing just seems mean! My husband is usually in charge of figuring out the subway system when we travel, but often that means he just downloads the map and has a route in mind, so I’ll have to remember that NY is extra hard if/when we get a chance to visit. Thanks for sharing!

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:56

      Oh I’ve never seen a multi-level station in Germany! I mean I’ve seen the S and U Bahn stations but I’ve never been anywhere with platforms for the same line directly on top of each other. That really confused me. Although of course it turns out one was for the train that stops at every stop and one was for the express train, but at that stage I hadn’t really figured out the express/non express thing… Sigh. I’m not sure I’m fit to be in charge of navigating, that’s definitely a lesson I learned on this trip!

  13. 2nd August 2016 / 15:59

    Wow!! Being a Londoner, I usually assume that I can ace any metro system but it was so fun to read about all of these. That’s funny that there are different names for the same stop, I would have got so confused to. Now it seems I will have to take a trip to NY to try these tips out 😉 Last time I was there was as a child so my family did all of the navigating!

    • 2nd August 2016 / 22:59

      I know, I was the same! I was like ha, subway, I ride the tube. I got this. And I so totally didn’t.

      I think you will definitely have to take a trip to try these tips out. Although if you find the subway totally no bother at all please don’t tell me! Just pretend you had a nightmare too so I don’t feel like a total idiot 🙂

  14. 2nd August 2016 / 18:59

    the double platform thing totally threw me as well, for the same reason. i’d never encountered it before!

    • 2nd August 2016 / 23:00

      Nope never! Made no sense to me. They don’t even signpost it very well. The moment when we realised we’d just stood around while our train came and left beneath us was pure comedy – except the 20 minute wait for the next one wasn’t…

  15. 3rd August 2016 / 13:06

    Some great tips, Rachel. I used the subway only a few times while visiting Manhattan and fortunately did not face any of the inconveniences you faced. Good to read this for my next visit.

  16. 3rd August 2016 / 18:15

    NYC rats are like small dogs. seriously i had always heard this but was still blown away when i first encountered them. almost every subway system i’ve encountered is slightly different. the EL in chicago, the T in boston, etc., they’re all a little different and took me a little while to get used to.

    • 3rd August 2016 / 20:55

      YES I’d been warned too but having a rat enthusiast as a best friend I was certain none of the rats would be as big as her breeding bucks. Turns out, no. They’re MASSIVO and they just aren’t bothered by people at all.

      I’m off to Chicago in a few weeks… any subway tips you can pass on?? Clearly I need more help with metros than I thought 😉

  17. 4th August 2016 / 22:12

    haha the rats are definitely scary to me – no fan of that stuff. I’m realising that I’ve never taken the subway in New york! And I love the rest of it – very efficient to have fast and slow lanes and to have wifi and apps and stuff yay modernity!

    • 11th August 2016 / 22:25

      I think they’re quite cute, but I wouldn’t want to mess with them! I basically love the entirety of New York but the subway was more of a challenge to overcome. I think I got there in the end… but then it was time to come home. I’m glad you loved it too! Fast and slow lanes YESSS.

  18. 7th August 2016 / 18:06

    I’ll be honest, I’ve never caught the New York subway before despite working in New York on many occasions. I’ve always tended to either walk everywhere or jump in a cab. Not quite sure why I’ve never considered the subway before in all honesty! Will definitely give it a go when I next visit!

    • 11th August 2016 / 22:26

      Lucky you to be able to work in New York! I think the subway is great for travelling long distances but wherever possible I always walked. I found it a much better way to see the city, and I think that’s true of cabs as well. The subway was a unique experience and for me part of getting to know the city. We had a tricky relationship but I think we’ve reconciled now 🙂

  19. 11th August 2016 / 22:54

    No subway tips to help. Sorry. 🙁 I always miss the fast European trains every time I’m in an American city using American subways. This past trip to NY we ended up walking everywhere which was an amazing way to see unique features of a city I thought I was on the verge of getting to know.

    You make me want to see the rats in the tube. 🙂 The last night that my husband and I were in NYC, we were just walking along the street and I swear we saw a rat party! Like 10 or 15 rats all scurrying along the roadway. It was gross and cool at the same time.

    • 11th August 2016 / 23:06

      Yeah I don’t think I realised how good we have it until I came to the US! Sorry! I tended to walk most places too, I much prefer it as a way of seeing the place. And also when I missed our stop and we had to walk back…. Anyway, it all turned out for the best I think as we saw much more of the city! Even if we did get sore feet.

      The rats in the tube are cute, in fact the ones on the tracks are pretty tiny. I think they might be mice actually. The rat party definitely sounds gross and cool all at the same time, I hear the congregate in the bins at night which is probably more on the gross side than the cool side!

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