How To Read A NYC Subway Map And Have A Pleasant Ride

I’ve taken the subway for a very long time now and every time I get on it for the life of me, don’t understand how people new to New York are thoroughly confused by the NYC Subway map. There have been rants written about it by visitors from other cities.
I’ve written posts about the horror of the subway in Summer here, and the 25 characters you’re likely to meet if you take the subway for any extended period, here. That being said getting around on a weekday (weekends are admittedly harder because that’s when construction takes place).

Here are my tips for the most pleasant and efficient subway ride:

1. Get a subway map! They’re free at every token booth and visitor’s center. They’re also posted on the wall of every car of the subway train near each end. Get accustomed to it without the pressure of having to get somewhere right at this moment. Or if you don’t live here do it at

2.You can also get apps for your phone, so you can act cool about being lost. I have the map downloaded onto my phone for new places I’ve never been, yes that does happen. Also when the map is downloaded on your phone, you don’t have to worry about not having a signal. The apps I’ve found most useful are Hopstop (IOS only), Citymapper, Moovit and MTA trip planner online. The MTA is always adding apps so look on Google play and the App store regularly.

3. It’s best to always plan an alternate route because there can be delays due to a sick passenger, weather, etc.

4. I always carry my headphones and I’m not alone, it’s not sociable but when it comes to the train, I don’t care. Between the dance troupes yelling “Showtime!”, panhandling and inappropriate conversations there’s so much I want to block out so I can decompress from my day, on the ride home. A little anecdote to prove my point; recently on the train an R&B singer/Broadway actor was so excited to take the train and living in New York that she felt like giving an impromptu concert when she hopped on the train. Her feelings, I’m sure were hurt because New Yorker’s don’t like to be annoyed during the rush hour ride home, no matter how special you are unless you’re giving them money. No one paid any attention to her performance and there’s video to prove it.

Brandy sings in a New York Subway but no one… by MisterBuzz

5. And to the Subway map, each subway line is designated by a color and a route is either a number or a letter. The history behind the numbers and letters is too long and won’t really help you read the map better so let’s move on.

NYC Subway Map, How to use the subway map
NYC Subway Map

For example, on the map, the train I ride is in blue which is the “A” line, which is also the longest train ride. It starts at one end of the five boroughs and goes through all of them (except Staten Island). So if you live near the “A” that’s how you’ll trace where you need to go next and pay attention to the transfer points. Pick the West 4th street station stop on the “A” line to use for this explanation. The A,B,C,E,,D,F,M trains all stop here and it is a major transfer point.NYC Subway map with ink

The “A” is an express train, which means it has limited stops and the other trains ( called local) that also run on the same line are also blue in color, which means they stop at the between the stops that the “A” doesn’t. Β And the darkened bullets on the map are served by one train and open bullets are major transfer points (transfer point are stations where you can change without leaving the subway system) for multiple trains. Beside each bullet on the map, tells you which train stops there, so you can tell which trains are available for transfer.

I think those are all the main points of traveling on the subway. It just takes practice. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Oh, I almost forgot to mention don’t try to be so cool and do yourself a favor, hold onto the metal poles on the subway car and not people who you are traveling with, you’ll look like a complete ass when you go flying when the train picks up speed. The poles are there for a reason.

Do you travel on the subway where you live? Do you have any tips to make the ride easier? Let me know in the comments below.

Until our next rendezvous…




Rendezvous en New York

  15 comments for “How To Read A NYC Subway Map And Have A Pleasant Ride

  1. September 14, 2015 at 8:14 AM

    Well now I’m really confused! Haha. I’ll just look you up when I make a trip to NYC and you can show me the ropes. ~Elle PS… I won’t be singing! πŸ˜‰

    • September 14, 2015 at 9:45 AM

      You can look me up no problem. Here I was thinking that I was clearing things up and now I’ve confused you more. Sorry , it really is easier than you think, not everyone here has a PHD in subway travel and we make it.

    • September 14, 2015 at 10:10 AM

      And thank you for not singing, haha!

      • September 14, 2015 at 10:24 PM

        You have no idea how lucky you are! ~Elle

        • September 14, 2015 at 10:26 PM

          Drunk karaoke?

          • September 14, 2015 at 10:27 PM

            Not that bad! Lol!

            • September 14, 2015 at 10:29 PM

              I didn’t think so. ?

  2. September 14, 2015 at 8:24 AM

    Thanks. I needed this information.

    Every single time I’ve taken the NYC subway I have either gotten on the wrong train or off the wrong stop. I’ve also driven over the Brooklyn Bridge on accident more times than I care to remember and gone through the Lincoln Tunnel more than once accidently.

    Now I only ride the subway with people who know where they are going. πŸ™‚

    • September 14, 2015 at 9:47 AM

      Going through the Tunnel, by mistake,would scare the crap out of me! I understand your hesitance, but planning before you even leave the house/hotel really helps.

      • September 14, 2015 at 10:35 PM

        I was very lucky the first time I did it. There was no traffic and I was able to turn around and get on the NJ Turnpike.

        • September 14, 2015 at 10:42 PM

          It’s all subjective because the NJ turnpike is frightening to me.

  3. September 14, 2015 at 10:14 AM

    Riding the subway is not an option for me any more, being geographically challenged in NC, but you make it sound easy. The first time I rode a train by myself to meet my husband, he was late. I swear 2 million people whizzed by me, and I was terrified that he wouldn’t show up.

    • September 14, 2015 at 11:00 AM

      There have been a lot of upgrades to make it easier as well, they have touchscreen info wall that tell you when the next train is coming in the major stations , and help stations that have operators in multiple languages. So it’s not as scary as it once was for newbies.

    • September 14, 2015 at 11:01 AM

      But that does sound traumatic, like getting lost from your Mom in a department store.

What do you think? I would like to know.

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