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Guide to getting around NYC

Mar 16, 2016 by Jamie Burke

New York City is one of the biggest cities in the world—which makes it a daunting place to navigate, even if you’re already familiar with public transit. Here, we’ve covered the basics on how to get where you’re going (plus included our favorite things to do in New York City) so you’ll be finding your way in no time flat on your tour of the Big Apple.

subway sign for stop at times square and 42 street

Riding the subway for beginners

Go by letters and numbers

Each subway line has its own color, which helps when you’re reading the map, but multiple trains run along the same line. Don’t just rely on the color—also check which letter or number train will reach your destination.

Fun fact: The MTA’s letter and number trains were once run by two different companies.

Local or express? It’s all black and white

The dots on your subway map each represent a stop, but you’ll probably notice that some dots are white while others are black.

Black dots represent local stops, meaning you’ll be able to catch a train that visits every station (or dot) along its route. Just double-check that a train is making “all local stops” before you hop on it.

White dots are only express trains, which pass multiple stops on the route. For example, the 4 and 5 share the same line but both are express trains, which means they’ll only stop at 59th, 86th and 125th streets along the Upper West Side. Take the 6 instead if you’re hoping to get off somewhere in between.

Uptown or Downtown?

This one is easy! In Manhattan, Uptown trains run north toward the Bronx and Downtown trains run south toward Brooklyn. If you know which direction your destination is in, the rest is simple. Just remember that The Bronx is up and Brooklyn is down.

New York by neighborhood

fountain outside the met in new york city at night

Upper East Side

Why you’ll love it: It’s the definition of posh. From window-shopping along Fifth Avenue to strolling the halls of The Met, the Upper East Side never lacks for stylish adventures.

Get there by: Taking the 6—that’s the local train along the Lexington Avenue Line, which runs up and down Manhattan’s east side.

Things to see: The Upper East Side is New York at its most iconic. For those who haven’t visited, you’ve likely seen the beautiful brownstones, luxury hotels and views of Central Park in countless films and TV shows. Definitely pay a visit to the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or talk a walk through Central Park to the Upper West side.

Grab a bite at: Daniel. It’s been called one of the best restaurants in the world and boasts three Michelin stars—just don’t balk at the “jackets required” dress code or prix-fixe price tag. It’s worth every bite.

pond surrounded by lush green trees in the upper west side in new york

Upper West Side

Why you’ll love it: The Upper West Side is a must for culture-seekers, and the neighborhood’s iconic brownstone-lined streets are endlessly charming.

Get there by: Taking the 1 or the B or C. Like the east side of Manhattan, the Upper West Side is reachable by a number of different subway lines (namely the Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line and Eighth Avenue Line), but these are the only trains that regularly make local stops.

Things to see: Don’t miss a visit to Central Park—the iconic Tavern on the Green is on the west side—or a stop at the American Museum of Natural History. You can also stroll by cultural landmarks like the historic Beacon Theater and Lincoln Center.

Grab a bite at: Barney Greengrass. This Jewish deli is like the famous Katz’s Delicatessen in the Lower East Side, but famous for its preserved fish dishes (and slightly shorter line).

blurred out image of time square at night in new york city


Why you’ll love it: Between sparkling Broadway marquees and the dazzle of neon in Times Square, Midtown might just be how New York earned its moniker as “the city that never sleeps.”

Get there by: Riding almost any subway line. If you want to walk out into the middle of it all, take the N, Q, R,Sthe1, 2, 3or 7 to Times Square – 42nd Street station. The important thing to remember, especially leaving the middle of Manhattan, is which direction you want to travel first. (Remember, The Bronx is up and Brooklyn is down.)

Things to see: All of the Big Apple’s icons. Along with Times Square, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, there’s my favorite—the New York Public Library.

Grab a bite at: Má Pêche. Run by the reigning king of the NYC food scene, David Chang, this Midtown outpost of his empire is located in the Chambers Hotel and offers to-go sweets from its sister restaurant, Milk Bar. (Dessert lovers take notice!)

high line bridge in chelsea in new york city on a sunny day


Why you’ll love it: Chelsea’s industrial past gives the neighborhood’s now-polished personality its unique character—and with so many world-class galleries, it’s a go-to for art lovers of all stripes.

Get there by: Taking the C, E or 1 train to 23rd Street and walking a few blocks west.

Things to see: Explore the High Line, the park along a revamped stretch of an elevated freight rail line, to Chelsea Market. This former Nabisco factory now houses one of the world’s biggest indoor markets, filled with food stalls and specialty shops.

Grab a bite at: Scoop up fresh oysters or a lobster roll at Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar, right in Chelsea Market.

sun beam shining through arch at washington park in new york city

Greenwich Village, Soho & TriBeCa

Why you’ll love it: Eclectic-yet-chic, city-yet-cozy, Greenwich Village is a study in contrasts. Plus, as a haven for trendy shopping (or celebrity spotting), nearby SoHo and TriBeCa can’t be beat.

Get there by: Taking the 1,2 to Houston Street, A, C, E to Spring Street, B, D, F, M to West 4th Street, or the N, Q, R to Prince Street.

Things to see: Pass the iconic Washington Arch at Washington Square Park, and maybe catch a few street performances. Admire historic architecture, like beautiful townhouses along St. Luke’s place or Soho’s iconic cast iron buildings. Walk down Houston Street, and pop into the boutiques in Soho.

Grab a bite at: Quality Eats. The name says it all—this newly opened steakhouse (a spinoff of its sister, Quality Meats) distinguishes itself with updated takes on the classics.

staircases outside of a building in the lower east side

Lower East Side & East Village

Why you’ll love it: Old meets new in the East Village and LES. While high rises take over the skyline, New York stalwarts like bodegas and tenement-style buildings still remain.

Get there by: Taking the F to 2nd Ave, N,R to Prince Street, orJ to Bowery.

Things to see: Learn about the history of the city’s immigrant populations at the Tenement Museum or Eldridge Street Museum, site of America’s first Orthodox Jewish synagogue.

Grab a bite a: Lil’ Frankies Cash only (but worth a visit to the ATM), this laid-back Italian eatery serves up one of the best slices in the city. (Their hand-built brick oven might be their secret ingredient.)

saint patricks cathedral lit up at night in new york city

Chinatown & Little Italy

Why you’ll love it: Chinatown and Little Italy are a feast for the senses. From the bright colors of market stalls to the scents of fresh-baked pastries, you’ll feel like you’re transported to another city altogether.

Get there by: Taking the N, Q or J, Z to Canal Street, 6 to Spring Street or the F to East Broadway.

Things to see: Stroll down Canal Street, Chinatown’s bustling thoroughfare, to browse the neighborhood’s iconic market stalls. On your way, visit the Mahayana Buddhist Temple and see the 16-foot tall Buddha, the largest in the city. Head over to Mulberry Street, where Little Italy’s Feast of San Gennaro takes place, and see the old St. Patricks’ Cathedral.

Grab a bite at: Wo Hop), the longstanding Chinatown staple, which serves up classic Cantonese fare from its ground-floor dining room. In Nolita (that’s North of Little Italy), hit Parm for some seriously tasty Italian-style sandwiches.

new york city skyline lit up at night

Financial District & Downtown

Why you’ll love it: It epitomizes hustle and bustle, but the neighborhood takes on a quieter character at night. Plus, it’s the perfect place to see icons old and new.

Get there by: Taking the 2, 3 or 4,5,6 to Wall Street or J, Z and A, C to Fulton Street.

Things to see: Visit the 9/11 Memorial Park, which honors those lost and pays tribute to the city’s resilience. Pass the New York Stock Exchange and stop at Bowling Green Park to see the famous Charging Bull statue. If you purchase tickets in advance, you can visit the observatory atop One World Trade Center and soak in the view from 102 stories above Manhattan. Head to South Street Seaport and stroll along through Battery Park, where you can spot the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

Grab a bite at: North End Grill. Indulging at Danny Meyers’ upscale all-American bar and grill is the perfect way to celebrate your trip to the Big Apple.

Know any tips for taking the subway? Have a favorite New York neighborhood? Tell us more on Facebook!

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About the author | Jamie Burke
Always on the lookout for the next best meal ever, Jamie loves exploring the world—and all the great food in it. When she's not working to inspire new travelers, you'll find her biking around Boston, eating at her favorite sushi place, or hanging out at home with her family (and cat).

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