At first glance, navigating NYC can seem like a daunting task. But to tell you the truth, all you need is a good map app and these NYC navigation tips below and you’ll be fine… mostly. Hey, sometimes locals get lost too, but we generally live to tell the tale, probably because we’re aware of these NYC navigational tips.
Navigating in General
1. Know your cardinal directions. If nothing else I tell you sticks with you past today, remember this. Knowing where north, south, east, and west are will make navigation so much easier! It’ll help you with reading maps and choosing the right exit when you’re leaving the subway.
2. Manhattan is the easiest borough to navigate because, for the most part, the streets are laid out in a grid. Technically, the grid starts north of Houston Street, but the grid system doesn’t fully make sense until you hit 14th Street. The system goes a tad awry once you make it past 100th Street, but it’s not nearly as confusing as being below Houston Street. Unfortunately, there aren’t any tricks that I know of which will help you navigate that part of the island. Just submit yourself to the mercy of your map.
3. Manhattan is split up between streets and avenues. The streets cut Manhattan across its width, while the avenues run the length of the island. The highest street number you’ll find in Manhattan is 220; however, there are only eleven main avenues.
4. On even-numbered streets, the traffic flows east, while on odd numbered streets, the traffic flows west. Traffic on the avenues tends to alternate directions with the exception of Third and Fourth Avenues.
5. Fifth Avenue divides Manhattan’s east and west sides.
6. Broadway, which was originally a Native American trail, defies the grid as it cuts across Manhattan perpendicularly from the southern tip of the island all the way to the Bronx.
7. For the most part, the Freedom Tower will always be to the south of you.
8. Some of the avenues change their names once you are around or above Central Park. Sixth Ave becomes Lenox Ave/ Malcolm X Blvd. Seventh Ave becomes Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. Eighth Ave becomes Central Park West, then turns into Frederick Douglass Blvd. Ninth Ave becomes Columbus Ave. Tenth Ave becomes Amsterdam Ave and Eleventh Ave turns into West End Ave.
Navigating the Other Boroughs
9. The street systems in the other boroughs are nowhere near as uniform and straightforward as the Manhattan grid system, probably because the other boroughs have much more land mass to work with and because several neighborhoods used to be their own separate towns before becoming part of a larger borough. Therefore, my overall advice to you when navigating the outer boroughs is to use a map app.
10. If you’re in Queens and you see something like 59th St, 59th Ave, 59th Dr, and 59th Pl, stay calm. You haven’t entered the twilight zone; Queens just has a really odd street-naming setup. Check out this article I wrote explaining the system after I got traumatically lost in Queens a few years ago.
Navigating the Subway
11. Throughout most of Manhattan, the subway station entrance for uptown-bound trains will be on the east side of the street while the entrance for the downtown-bound trains will be on the west side of the street.
12. The MTA is slowly working on increasing this number, but at the moment only 114 out of more than 400 subway stations have elevators that will take you down to the subway platform or up to the street level.
13.The black dots you see on the subway map represent local stops. The white dots are for express stops.
14. The stops on local trains are typically eight to ten blocks apart; however, the stops on the express trains are much more spread out.
Navigating the Buses
15. There are three main kinds of MTA buses: local buses, which make frequent stops, limited/select stop buses, which don’t stop as frequently, and command/express buses, which take commuters from the far reaches of the outer boroughs into Manhattan and back.
16. When traveling via a select bus, you must buy your ticket at the bus stop kiosk before you board. Don’t discard the ticket until after you exit the bus. Fare enforcement agents randomly board the buses to make sure all passengers have paid the fare. If you don’t show them your ticket, you can face a $100 fine, so hold on to that ticket like you’d hold on to a hundred dollar bill.
17. You can transfer between the bus and the subway without paying an extra fare within two hours of swiping your MetroCard.
18. If you’re using an unlimited ride MetroCard, keep in mind that your card can’t be used at the same subway station or along the same bus route for 18 minutes after you swipe your card.
19. Between 10pm and 5am, you can ask bus drivers to stop wherever you want (within the parameters of safety and reason).
20. Waiting impatiently at the bus stop and you’re tired of wondering when (or if) the bus will arrive? Text your bus stop’s six-digit code to 511123 and the MTA will let you know what time the next bus should be pulling up.
There you have it: the best tips and tricks I know for navigating NYC! Let me know which tip surprised you the most or if you have any other NYC navigation tips to share. Thanks for reading!