Advice to the New York City Tourist - How to Use Subways, Stairs, and Streets

Are you planning a trip to visit the Big Apple?

Are you afraid of getting there and looking like a tourist?

Don't be.

No matter what you do, you are going to look like a tourist, so embrace it!

Think of it as your way of saying to the New Yorkers, "I love your city so much that I am spending my time and hard-earned dollars to come visit where you live and work."  New Yorkers recognize this and genuinely want to help you, but here's the problem:

You drive them crazy!

I've gone to New York enough times to notice what tourists (myself included) can do to really frustrate those who commute to or live in the city.   Here is some advice about getting around so that you can make your trip more enjoyable.  The three main things you will be using are subways, stairs, and streets.


Subways are a great way to get around Manhattan quickly.  They allow you to avoid crosswalks, taxis, pedestrians, and the pesky peddlers trying to sell you something.  But they can also be confusing if you haven't used them before.  If you aren't sure which line to take, or which direction to go, stop and look at a subway map.  If that doesn't answer your question, ask the person at the service desk.  Don't bother those who are rushing to catch the metro.  Once on the subway, however, you'll find people to be very helpful.

Be courteous to those around you.  Chances are pretty good you only bought one ticket for yourself, and not for your bags.  Put your bags on your lap so that others can sit next to you.  

People like to crowd near the doors because they can get off the subway faster.  But this also makes it harder for people to get on the subway at the next stop.  If you can, try to work your way towards the middle to give room to those who will be getting on later.  People are really good about making room for you to get off, you just need to say "Excuse me" loud enough for people to hear you.


Stairs can easily reveal that you are a tourist.  While in New York, you'll find that stairs are everywhere, but especially at the subway stations.  When you exit a subway, to get back to the street, you'll need to climb a set of stairs.  Reaching the top can be disorienting.  You are greeted with daylight or city lights, horns, food carts, and lots of people going in different directions.  Your first instinct will be to stop and get your bearings.

Don't!  Keep going.

The reason why is because you have a whole bunch of people behind you who have just gotten off the subway too.  They know exactly where they need to go and how to get there.  And you are in their way.  So when you come to the end of a set of stairs and don't know where to go next, step to the side.  Find a place where you can stand that doesn't get in the way of pedestrian traffic.  


When walking on the streets of Manhattan, you need to think of yourself as on a highway only instead of cars, people.  Think of the sidewalk as having imaginary lanes.  If you are with a group of people, try to only take up one "lane."  When you walk 2-, 3-, or 4-people wide, you make it harder for people coming the other way and for those behind you who want to pass you.  As you'll notice, New Yorkers walk very fast, and most likely faster than you.  

When you get to the intersection, recognize that the lights are suggestions, not rules.  Be very aware of your surroundings at an intersection.  Commonly cars will inch up into the crosswalk to save themselves time when they finally have the light.  People will commonly cross the intersection, even when they don't have a light, if no cars are coming.  If jay walking and walking in between cars makes you uncomfortable, then you best avoid midtown!

If at any point you feel lost or don't know where to go next,  

Get out of the way!

Again, think of yourself driving on a road.  If you needed to look at a map, you'd pull over right? You need to do the same thing on the streets in NYC.  Move to the side before you stop to get your bearings.  If you need to ask someone for help, don't bother those who are trying to get to work or home. Ask a someone working in a nearby shop, talk to a vendor, or ask someone who is in line waiting to make a purchase.  They aren't going anywhere so you aren't taking up their time to talk to them.

When it comes to subways, stairs, and streets, the best advice is to be aware of those around you, be courteous, and don't stop or stand anywhere that will disrupt the flow of traffic. 

One more thing to keep in mind.   Imagine that while you are driving to work, people ask you to pull your car over every few minutes so that you can give them directions.  That would drive you crazy right?  Well it drives New Yorkers crazy too.  They only difference is, they aren't getting to work in a car, they are getting to work on foot.

In the morning between 7 and 9 and in the afternoon between 4 and 6, New Yorkers are on their commute.  They have somewhere they need to go, and don't want to waste time getting there.  While they are generally pretty friendly and helpful people, during this time they are focused on getting to their next destination.  Be respectful of their time and try your best to leave them alone during this time.