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New York City’s subway system is a great way to get around the city for those on a tight budget, but it can be difficult for first-timers to understand. If you’re new to New York or planning to visit anytime soon, here’s what you need to know if you want to navigate the subway system without getting lost.

NYC Geography

In order to be able to navigate the NYC subway system, you first need to know about the geography of the city. New York City is divided into five boroughs:

  • Manhattan
  • Queens
  • Brooklyn
  • Bronx
  • Staten Island

These boroughs are used as a direction of travel for subway trains. Trains that are headed towards Manhattan are Manhattan-bound, those headed towards Queens are Queens-bound, trains headed towards Brooklyn are Brooklyn-bound, and trains headed towards the Bronx are Bronx-bound. There is no subway train that goes to Staten Island, so you will have to take the Staten Island Ferry or cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to get there. Once you’re there, you can navigate the borough using the Staten Island Railway.

Subway Maps and Apps

New York City is too big for us to properly tell you how to get everywhere by subway; you’re encouraged to pick up an official map of the subway system. Physical maps are available, but you can also go online to the MTA’s official website for a map as well. It is a little difficult to understand at first. After all, New York City is a big place, and the subway system covers almost all of it. There are smartphone apps that will let you plan a trip and navigate the subway system if the official MTA map is too difficult to understand. In any case, don’t just try to figure out the subway schedule on your own. Download a good app or learn to read the official map.


Finally, you will need a MetroCard to ride the subway in New York City. These cards are the size of a credit card and can be used to pay your subway fare. They can be purchased at any subway station in the city, and there are plenty of options for temporary cards that will give you unlimited rides for a certain length of time. Find one that will last for the duration of your stay, and you should be good to go.