10 Tips for Traveling New York City’s Subways and Trains During the Holidays

The New York City Metro Authority System, referred to as the MTA by locals, is one of the busiest public transit systems in the world. The subway is the most common mode of transportation for New Yorkers to carry more than 3 million passengers daily.

While the subway isn’t usually too difficult to get the hang of, it can feel overwhelming at first. It’s no surprise that navigating the subway during the busy NYC holiday season only makes it busier. Cope with MTA stress like a real New Yorker with these 10 tips for subway and train travel during the holiday season.

10/10 Have your Metro Card ready

When you swipe through the turnstiles on any MTA system, whether bus or subway, you’ll have a MetroCard in hand, ready to go.

There are often other people waiting to go through the turnstiles, and holding up the line to rummage through your wallet is a big taboo in New York. Remember that New Yorkers are fast-moving, so always be ready to keep it moving.

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9/10 Know how to refill a MetroCard at a machine

Visitors who need to add money to their MetroCard go to a trusted machine found on most subway systems.

NEVER buy a MetroCard from a person, and only ever buy one from a machine.

Have a card or cash ready at the machine to add the amount of money.

If you plan on using the subway frequently during your visit to New York, it might be wise to purchase a weekly pass as it offers unlimited rides.

8/10 Use a smartphone or card to pay

For travelers wanting to take the eco-friendly route, ditch the MetroCard altogether and take advantage of the new Omny system, where you can easily pay with a credit card or smartphone.

Just approach the turnstile, tap the black box that says “OMNY” and you’re allowed to ride the subway.

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7/10 Go earlier than necessary

Nobody wants to run to catch their subway or bus, so avoid it altogether by leaving earlier than you think you have to. If your train is in four minutes and you walk there in three minutes, assume you’ll catch the next train.

Go with enough time so you don’t feel rushed and don’t sprint to catch the train, which can be quite dangerous. Most subways are fairly frequent, so if you miss one, you probably won’t have to wait too long to catch the next train or bus.

6/10 Check for delays (and consider an alternate route)

Unfortunately, the MTA is notorious for delays. It’s not an uncommon occurrence and can be a real pain for New Yorkers on their daily commute. Try not to get frustrated if the subway or bus is late and think of an alternative route instead.

Most major subway lines intersect at some point, so traveling on an alternative train, while a bit annoying, isn’t the biggest disruption to your day.

For example, stations such as West 4th Street, Times Square, Herald Square, and all 14th Street stations have multiple connecting lines.

In the worst case, be prepared to walk a little further by getting off at a different station than you originally intended.

5/10 Don’t stand by the doors

“Please stay away from the closing doors,” will keep running through your mind long after you’ve left New York. Because every time a train leaves the station, the doors close automatically.

If someone stands in their way, the train cannot go, causing further delays. Don’t be that person; stay away from the closing doors.

Sometimes the trains are so crowded that standing near the doors is unavoidable, but when that’s the case, hunker down and get out of the way like a true New Yorker would.

4/10 Let people off before boarding the train

There are many unspoken rules for riding the New York City subway, but one of the most profound unspoken rules of thumb is to let people off the train before boarding.

Stand on either side of the doors, make room for those exiting the train, THEN board the train.

This simple rule is proper etiquette and will disguise even the most lost tourist as a true New Yorker.

3/10 When you ride an escalator in a station, the right side is for standing and the left side is for walking

Most major subway stations are underground and therefore there are either stairs, elevators or an escalator to reach them. If you want to take full advantage of the escalator and give your legs a break, stand on the right.

For those who want to physically walk down the escalator, the left side is your friend.

Don’t stand side by side with a friend or family member or loved one and avoid those who want to keep it moving.

2/10 Download the MYMta app

As mentioned above, the MTA is notorious for delays. The MYMta app alerts travelers which lines are having problems and which lines are in good condition.

This can be very helpful when planning your route around NYC, especially during a busy time like the holidays.

Google Maps is also great for navigating the subway, but it’s not as accurate as MYMta when it comes to lag.

1/10 Be ready to see some characters

Oh, the city of New York. There’s a reason many film and TV scenes portray the subway as a prime place to see some characters.

Whether it’s “Showtime” dancers (a group of usually young men who dance on the trains), a homeless person, or just someone talking to themselves, it’s best to ignore what’s ahead goes.

When it comes to entertainment, you might be inclined to watch, but know that nothing in this world is free. After most performances on the subway, performers go around collecting tips.

If you enjoyed the show, don’t be shy and get your money ready!