If you plan on visiting New York City in the near future, or really any time in general, preparing yourself to navigate the subway makes a lot of sense. To be sure, you can get around in NYC via cabs, buses or just by walking, but there’s certainly no better way to make your way through the Big Apple than via the subterranean straphanger express.
The first thing you will want to do, in addition to picking up a New York Explorer Pass, is get a subway map. They are free and generally available at every subway station that has a booth with an MTA employee on duty, so don’t be bashful and ask away. That doesn’t mean that you need to whip out the map and familiarize yourself with it while waiting for the train – in fact definitely don’t do that – but just look it over when you have five minutes to yourself at a hotel, coffee shop or park bench. Even just having a brief overview of the lines and where they go can be helpful
The next thing you want to do is get yourself a MetroCard. Using the machines can be frustrating at times, but don’t get too upset if it is taking you longer than it should to use a crumpled dollar bill or if the people behind you in line are giving you dirty looks. The machines are annoying for everyone – seasoned NYC veterans and day trippers alike – so keep calm and carry on. Also, once you manage to fill up your card, you’ll want to hold on to it. There’s a $1 green fee every time you buy a new card, so just fill up the old one to avoid paying it.
It’s also important to keep an eye on the clock when using the subway. Although it’s true that the subway never completely shuts down, it does change the way it runs on late-nights and weekends and service on certain lines is suspended at designated times. The signage in the stations isn’t always clear – and is in a constant state of flux – so the best place to stay on top of things is at the official website of the MTA. There are also a multitude of mobile apps to use at this point, so download one or two just in case.
When you are actually on the train itself, don’t be alarmed if you see something strange (and don’t lose your New York Attractions Pass). There are dancers, mariachi bands, people telling stories and people selling just about everything else constantly wandering throughout the subway, so just let them do their thing. If you do interact with them, chances are they’ll respond in kind, so don’t start a conversation unless you feel like finishing it.
As in the case in most cities, let people exit the train before getting on and you’re all set.