How to Get Around NYC According to a Local Tour Guide

This post covers how to get around NYC by subway, bus, bike, taxi, boat, on foot, and even a sky-tram! Be sure to check our separate guide to traveling to and from NYC’s 3 airports.

 

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SUBWAY

The subway system is a very efficient way to get around the city. It may seem confusing when looking at the map, but as long as you know how to use it before you hop on a train, you will discover how convenient the subway is.

Be sure to read our in-depth post on navigating the New York City subway.

 

Official Midtown Subway Map

 

In that post, we explain everything from how to tell the difference between local and express trains, how to transfer between stations and how to find the station you need when there are multiple stations with the same name.

It’s also good to plan in advance which New York City Subway MetroCard to buy so you can figure out which card is best for the length of your visit and the number of people in your group.

 

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If you have a smartphone, there are many free apps that will make your subway experience incredibly easy. We’ve used a number of them and share our recommendations in our post about which NYC subway app is best

A fun way to learn how to use the subway is to take our All-in-One Tour or Manhattan Night Tour. As we use the subway during the tour, you’ll get a lesson from our guide.

 


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BUS

Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tours

Bus tours are a great way to get a taste of the Big Apple without having to navigate the busy streets on your own. 

 

 

Read our post to find out about the different bus tours you can take and if one of them is right for you. 


Public Bus

How to get around New York City by busMany travelers don’t take advantage of the wonderful bus system. In fact, there are New Yorkers who have never stepped foot on a bus! That’s because they don’t know the benefits of taking a bus.

Most often buses are used as a supplement to a subway ride as some destinations are easier to reach using both the subway and bus in tandem.

The bus appeals to visitors who want an above-ground view of New York City and who have some extra time.

Very detailed instructions can be found on the MTA’s website. Here are the basics:

  • Buses cost $2.75 per ride. Buses accept the MetroCard and exact coin change (no pennies or paper money). You get a free transfer to another bus or the subway within 2 hours if you paid with a MetroCard.
  • Bus stops are located approximately every two blocks at street corners with a sign that displays a bus emblem and route number. Some stops have bus shelters with large ads.
  • Most stops have a “Guide-A-Ride” information box displaying route maps and schedules. Look at the Guide-A-Ride to make sure the bus you want will be stopping there.
  • Buses display their route number on the front in the electronic display sign at the top of the bus. If you see that the word Limited or LTD, this means that it is an express bus that doesn’t make all stops along the route but stops approximately every ten blocks
  • You can transfer from local to express buses just like you would along with subways.
  • Crosstown Buses run east and west along major streets, those streets such as 42nd Street or 14th Street, that are two-way and have four lanes rather than being single lane one-way streets.

TIP: Newer buses now include USB outlets that allow you to recharge your phone while you are riding. How cool is that!

 


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TAXIS AND UBER/LYFT

How to Hail a NYC Taxi

Taxis

Manhattan’s streets are flooded with yellow taxicabs and you can hail one from the side of the street. The process is just like what you may have seen in the movies.

There are some guidelines that will help you get a yellow taxi to stop. There are also some important rules to know once you are actually inside the taxi.

Our post on using New York City taxicabs has many helpful hints.


Uber or Lyft

Most people by now are familiar with Uber and Lyft, private, app-based car service companies.

Taking an Uber or Lyft can be a good alternative to using a yellow taxi.

We explain the pros and cons of using these companies in our post using Uber in NYC.

We compare Uber cars and yellow taxis and also information on how to take an Uber from the 3 major airports. 


Driving

Driving in New York City can be intimidating, so much so that we strongly suggest using other modes of transportation to navigate the city.

If you’re headed in from out of town via car, you’ll want to leave your car parked for the duration of your stay.

Here are a few tools that might make your journey easier around NYC easier, and save you a few dollars on parking:

  • Waze – Outsmart traffic with this crowd-sourced navigation app.
  • Parking Panda – Search and reserve available parking in NYC!
  • SmoothParking.com – Decipher NYC street parking regulations.
  • NYC Parking Guide – Everything you need to know about NYC parking, all in one place.

 


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BY BOAT

NEw-york-east-river-ferry-300x200

If you have the time and budget that allows you to take a boat tour or cruise, these tours offer you the chance to see the city from a whole different perspective.

There are many boat tours and options so we’ve gone through all the information out there and compiled it in our post on which New York City boat tour or cruise is best for you?

Keep in mind that if you have a tourist pass, some boat tours are included in these. If you haven’t decided about getting a tourist pass, check out our post to see if one of the New York tourist passes are for you.

For an alternative travel experience that will also save you time if traveling between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, the East River Ferry is a quick commuter ferry that costs $2.75 per person one way.

While it costs more than a subway ride, it is a great way to admire the city from a different vantage point and pass right by or under our stunning bridges (like the Brooklyn Bridge).

One of the best free excursions you can have in New York City is taking the Staten Island Ferry from which you will get a phenomenal view of the harbor.

Our post will give you all the details, schedules, and tips on making the most of this unforgettable ride.

If you find the cost of a boat tour doesn’t fit your budget, read our post on how to get out on the water for free or for very little money so you can enjoy those incredible views without spending a boatload of cash!
 


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WALKING AROUND NYC 

How to get around New York City on foot

New York is known as one of the great walking cities of the world. Most of the city is flat and perfect for strolling. It’s also the cheapest way to get around.

Exploring NYC on foot is also the best way to get a real feel for the city.

Consider one of our pay-what-you-wish guided walking tours We offer over 35 different walking tours of New York City!

Finding your way on foot in most Manhattan (and some neighborhoods in the outer boroughs) is fairly easy.

Streets are mapped out on an easily navigable grid system of uptown/downtown numbered streets intersecting with crosstown avenues.

The numbered grid plan, however, only exists above Houston Street on the east side and above 14th Street on the west side.

In Lower Manhattan neighborhoods, you’ll notice that the streets are named rather than numbered.

Here’s where apps and maps come in handy so you don’t find yourself on the corner of West 4th Street and West 10th Street. (An anomaly of New York that even confuses New Yorkers).

In the days of smartphones and tourist books with great maps, you won’t have too much trouble walking the city, but here are some basics to keep in mind:

  • Fifth Avenue divides Manhattan into East Side and West Side. Avenues run north and south while streets run east and west.
  • Since each numbered street has a West and an East side, the building numbers on streets change from East to West at 5th Ave.  So if you are looking for a building that is 123 East 25th St, you know it is east of 5th Avenue, whereas 123 West 25th St would be west of 5th Avenue
  • Most people will tell you addresses in a shortened form using only numbers, so if someone tells you “it’s on 52nd between 5th and 6th” that means 52nd Street between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue. This rule applies in Manhattan. The borough of Queens is a whole other situation! Bring a map if you go out there!
  • When walking along an avenue, an average person with a brisk pace can walk about one block in a minute. Walking on a numbered street crosstown between avenues takes about 3-5 minutes. Of course, it takes longer if you are walking casually and enjoying the sights.
  • Knowing your walking pace per block or avenue and using the grid system you can estimate the walking time or if it is better to take another form of transport. Let’s say you are 50th Street and 6th Avenue and need to go to 30th Street and 2nd Avenue, you have to walk 20 blocks south and 4 avenues east. That’s approximately 45 minutes walking at a brisk pace.
  • Lastly, safety should always come first. When walking around at late night in unfamiliar or unpopulated areas, you might want to play it safe and take other transport or hail a taxi rather than walk.

Sidewalk Etiquette 

Know your sidewalk etiquette in New York City

New Yorkers take the pedestrian ‘rules of the road’ quite seriously and you may innocently aggravate someone who is rushing somewhere and they may not-so-innocently snap at you.

It’s good to know these few things about how to walk on the sidewalk:

  • Walk on the right. The most basic rule of the road applies to sidewalks as well.
  • Don’t come to a complete stop in the middle of the sidewalk. Walk to the side of the street if you need to stop to do something.
  • Stay in your lane. Straight lines and 90-degree turns keep sidewalks running smoothly.
  • Do not walk and text. This is a big one. And definitely, don’t stop to look at your phone on the subway stairs.
  • On escalators, especially in the subway, stand on the right. The escalators are wide enough to accommodate two people and people use the left side of the escalator to walk.

Here’s a humorous article on sidewalk etiquette that covers the basic sidewalk dos and don’ts.  

In addition to strolling on your own, a great way to explore the city is with a walking tour. We have a wide variety of tours that highlight history, ethnic neighborhoods, architectural and historical landmarks, and food of NYC.
 


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BY BIKE

NYC on Bike

With a growing number of bike lanes and an eco-minded mentality to rely less on public transport and travel by bicycle, NYC is increasingly becoming cycle-friendly.

Traveling by bike can be fun and in some cases economically smart way of getting around New York City.

There are hundreds of shops that rent bicycles so looking at our post will help you see what choices are out there and what works best for you.

Also, you can use the city’s bike-share program, although not entirely suited for tourist sightseeing, there are some ways you can make it work for you, so read our post for all the information.
 


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BY TRAM 

How to get around New York City by the Roosevelt Island tram

If you want to see the city from way up in the sky, you don’t need to take a helicopter ride. Instead, take the tram to Roosevelt Island.

This ride is just $2.75 using a MetroCard and lasts approximately 2 minutes.

Because it is largely residential, there isn’t a huge draw for tourists to visit Roosevelt Island, though there are a few things that might be of interest.

The tram ride might be two of the most exciting minutes you’ll spend in New York City.

 


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GETTING TO AND FROM THE AIRPORTS

Of course, before you can enjoy any of these rides, you’ve got to get to New York City first, so see our advice on finding cheap flights to New York City, as well as our guide on getting to and from NYC’s airports including JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark.

 


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THINGS TO DO IN NEW YORK

Once you have settled in, and you’ve mastered the art of getting around New York City, where should you go?

Our blog is packed with suggestions, for example, check out our list of New York City’s top attractions and how to get discounts.

We also have suggested itineraries for 1,2, or 3-day visits,  a post on what to do with kids in NYC, and a comprehensive list of free things to do in NYC.

 


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About the author

Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker fascinated with the city’s history, culture and cuisine. She loves exploring the world, as well as sharing her travel expertise with others.

She joined the Free Tours by Foot team in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and a worn-out passport. Her motto is “Have backpack, will travel”.

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