New York City Transportation Tips by toonsarah Top 5 Page for this destination
New York City Transportation: 1,070 reviews and 961 photos
Virgin plane at Gatwick - waiting to board
Because we were to spend the second week of our trip south of the city in New Jersey, we decided it would make sense to fly to Newark rather than JFK or La Guardia, and it proved to be a good choice. We went with Continental from London Gatwick (although slightly oddly, and conveniently for us, returned to Heathrow). Both flights went smoothly, arriving ahead of schedule on both occasions (something Continental apparently pride themselves on). The service was pleasant, the meals instantly forgettable and the planes modern and reasonably comfortable – and travelling economy we’ve learned not to expect anything more than this!
Newark seemed to be a well-organised airport, apart from rather lengthy queues when we checked in for our return flight – the baggage conveyor had broken down which is some excuse for that. A free monorail, the Airtrain, links the three terminals with the station, car rental companies and parking lots, running every four minutes during the day. We found that a very efficient way to get to wherever we needed to be, both on arrival and departure and when we passed through the airport to pick up our hire car at the end of our week in New York.
Although the airport is in New Jersey, travel arrangements into the centre of New York City are similar to those from JFK as are the costs. The options include bus, train, shuttle service (see my next tip), or of course taxi. For more on all of these see the airport’s comprehensive website.
Looking back at Manhattan from the ferry
I queried with myself for a while as to whether I should put this tip here or under “Things to Do” as the Staten Island Ferry is certainly as much a sightseeing trip as a means of transport. It also happens to be one of the best freebies, not just in New York, but in any city in the world I suspect! Where else could you take a 25 minute ride affording spectacular cityscape views and not pay a penny?
The reason for this amazing bargain is that the primary purpose of the ferry is to transport Staten Islanders to and from Manhattan rather than provide a tourist attraction, but that’s not to say that tourists aren't made very welcome on board too. When we rode the ferry I think there must have been a fairly even split between tourists and locals (some heading home to the Island after a morning in Manhattan, others visiting friends or maybe business colleagues there). It’s easy to spot the difference – the locals settle down inside with a newspaper or good book and cup of coffee while the visitors head for the decks and hug the rails to get the best views of the city’s skyline and the Statue of Liberty. If you want to do the same, make for the right-hand side of the boat going out to see Liberty and head right to the front coming back to watch the skyscrapers of Manhattan loom ever closer as you approach the dock.
The ferry runs every day of the year, making over 35,000 trips a year and carrying as many as 60,000 people each week day. This can only be achieved by developing a pretty slick operation. In arriving at the terminal you’ll find clear signs indicating when the next boat will depart, and from which gate. When the gate opens everyone moves forwards and boarding is a quick process due to the wide gangway and the amount of space inside (although I appreciate this may be different in the rush hour – we were travelling late morning). When you arrive at the Staten Island Terminal, St George, you’ll be required to disembark even if, like many tourists, you plan to return immediately to Manhattan. On this visit we did just that, but had to wait about 30 minutes during which time we grabbed a quick coffee and admired the tropical fish in the huge fish tanks, a recent gift of Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro. But if you want to see something of Staten Island there are bus tours available, and local buses and taxis available just outside the terminal.
Ferries leave Manhattan from South Ferry Terminal – the nearest subway stations are South Ferry (line 1), Whitehall St / South Ferry (line W) or Bowling Green (lines 4 and 6)
A ferry heads towards Liberty Island
I’ve written about these two must-see sights in the Things to Do section, so here I want to say just a few words about the ferry that will take you to see them. The ferries leave from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, and tickets for them are sold in Castle Clinton in the middle of the park (well signposted and easy to find). The queues can be quite long, and a little muddling as they snake around the yard in the centre of the fort. Note that on a hot day such as we had for our visit you will be standing in the sun for a while, though Chris and I took it in turns to sit in the shade of the old stone walls surrounding the yard.
For a while after 9/11 Liberty Island was closed, and security is still high. Having bought your tickets in the old fort, you head out of its southern gate and join the queue for the next ferry. This moves slowly, and as you near the front you will see why; airport-style security checks are in place, with X-ray machines and bag searches. Be warned too that no photography is allowed in this area – one young girl was shouted at for trying to take a picture of her friend in the line. For more about these security restrictions see the National Park website.
Once on the boat though it is a relatively short ride across to Liberty Island, and the excitement mounts as you near your destination. Everyone is trying to get a shot of the famous statue. Don’t bother! You will get much better views once you alight, and no one will be jostling your elbow or blocking half the shot with their baseball cap. Wait till you dock, and the crowds spread out, and enjoy your visit to Liberty Island.
Fares: $12.00 for ages 13+, $10.00 for Senior Citizens (62 and over and $5.00 for children 4-12.
The ferry leaves from Battery Park. Nearest subway stations are South Ferry (line 1), Whitehall St (line W) or Bowling Green (lines 4 & 5)
Seen near Broadway
New York is a big city and there will be many times when you need to take to public transport to get from one place to the next, whether subway, bus or taxi. But please do try to explore as much as you can on foot. There are many aspects to this wonderful city that just can’t be appreciated any other way! The deep canyons created by the towering skyscrapers of Midtown; the quaint cobbled streets in parts of Greenwich Village and the other historic districts; the smells from the cafes and various food vendors; the displays in shop windows, both big department stores and neighbourhood corner shops; the amusing signs and colourful neons; and perhaps most of all the people. I confess I loved eavesdropping on other people’s conversations as we walked – snippets like “of course you have a dog, this is New York” brought the city to life for me.
Working out your route is relatively easy, thanks to the helpful grid pattern of the streets in most of Manhattan (see my General tip). But don’t expect to get from A to B too quickly. Depending on the time of day there will be many other people walking the same streets (it might be helpful for them as well as you if you try to avoid the rush-hour as much as possible) and there are also numerous distractions to slow your progress – but then, that’s the point! There really is no better way to experience the buzz that is New York.
You haven’t really experienced New York until you’ve travelled on the subway, but as well as being a quintessential New York experience it is also the quickest and easiest way of getting around. The map may look confusing at first, but to anyone used to similar systems in other cities it’s easy enough to pick up. The main things you need to know are:
~ lines are distinguished by a number or letter, not their colour (though the latter helps with the map reading)
~ as well as knowing the number or letter you’ll need to know whether you’re going uptown or downtown or east or west
~ some lines are express ones and only stop at a limited number of stations, so check whether you’ll be able to alight at your destination before selecting which line to use
~ some lines don’t run at weekends but these are usually those that are duplicated by another (e.g. express) line so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem – listen for announcements though as you could wait a long while for a train that will never come!
A single fare is $2 for anywhere in the city but if you’re planning to make more than a few journeys you’ll probably find a Metrocard (multi-trip card) to suit you. We bought 7 day unlimited cards, which cost $25 and saved us quite a lot - we were making several journeys a day and by the middle of day four these were all “free”. The card can also be used on buses, making it even better value. Other options include cards for shorter or longer periods, or ones which you can pre-load with cash to use on a journey by journey basis – useful perhaps if you’re staying for a period that doesn’t fit with the standard cards or aren’t expecting to make so many journeys. You can buy your card from the machine at all subway stations (though note that it wouldn’t accept our UK debit card), from ticket booths, in some shops and on buses.
The subway runs 24 hours a day, though with fewer trains at night. We didn’t use it after the early evening – not because we felt unsafe but because we never needed to. However friends living in the city seemed comfortable using it at around 10.00 PM after an evening out together and advice in guide-books suggests the same. During the day we never felt threatened and indeed enjoyed the people-watching opportunities and at times chatting to the local people we met.
Chris on the bus
The subway may be the quickest way to get around the city but you don’t see the sights from underground! So it’s fun from time to time to take the bus instead. We got a free map from a subway station ticket booth, which was a big help in planning our journeys. The system is pretty clear – buses run either north/south or cross-town, and indicators on each bus tell you which as well as giving the destination. One thing to be aware of is the number of one-way streets, which means that your return bus will probably be travelling on a parallel street to the one you took for your outward journey, e.g. buses going south on Fifth Avenue will return north up Madison. This is where the map is especially helpful.
Buses stop about every two or three blocks, although those marked "Limited" make fewer stops (about every ten blocks) – ask the driver if you’re not sure. Stops are located at street corners and have a tall, round sign with a bus emblem and route number. Most stops display route maps and schedules.
Buses are covered by the Metrocard system (see my subway tip for more about this). Board at the front and drop your card (black stripe on the right and the MetroCard name facing you) into the slot by the driver – it will disappear briefly (a little disconcerting at first!) and pop up again. If you don’t have a card you can pay in cash (currently $2 per ride) but note that this has to be in coins – no dollar bills are accepted and no change given.
Announcements are made to indicate each stopping point, though we found many of these too muffled to understand, so you’ll want to keep your eyes open – but the grid pattern of the streets (in most districts) makes spotting your stop fairly easy. Press the tape that runs under the windows to request a stop, and exit by the middle door (though we saw many people ignoring this and using the front door, especially when the bus was crowded).
Do give the buses a try! It my take a little longer to get where you’re going, but you’ll see a lot of the city, and isn’t that what you’re here for?
Super Shuttle bus
One of the many options for travel from Newark Airport to the city centre is by shuttle. Several companies provide this service, all of which seem to charge the same and offer the same. We looked carefully at prices and decided that this option would be a good compromise between cost and convenience. On the convenience side, the shuttle takes you right to the door of your hotel, so no need to battle trains and subways with all your luggage, but because you share with others you may go via other hotels (we stopped at two before reaching our own) which means it’s slower than taking a cab. As for cost, at $19 per person it’s just $4 more than the $15 to go by train, and to the latter we would have needed to add the couple of dollars to get from Penn Station to a subway stop near our hotel, so there’s not a lot in it. Convenience naturally won that argument!
To get the shuttle from the airport to your hotel, follow the signs to the Ground Transportation Desk. There you tell the desk clerk which company you want to use and (s)he’ll reserve it for you. As I said, I could see no difference between the companies, and the clerk isn’t allowed to recommend one over another, so I chose the one with the nicest flyer! You’re then given a ticket which you take to another desk by the exit, where you wait till your name is called by a driver – we waited about 10 minutes. Follow your driver to the mini-bus, board and enjoy the c.45 minute drive to the city (with some great views of it en route). Depending on where you and the other travellers are staying you may also find yourself driving round the city a bit before arriving at your hotel – in our case that added a further 10 minutes to the journey time but we were happy to savour our first taste of New York street scenes for over 20 years. You pay your driver on arrival at your destination, so make sure you have some US dollars with you.
To use the shuttle to return to the airport you must book ahead (naturally, as the driver needs to know to pick you up). We called the free-phone number provided from our hotel a couple of days ahead and were picked up only five minutes later than we’d requested – not bad considering the city traffic. Again, we had to drive via two other hotels, and at the first of these the other passengers kept us and the driver waiting more than ten minutes as they messed around with their bags and checked out (which they should of course have done in advance) – so do make sure you allow enough time if you have a plane to catch. With that one proviso, I would certainly recommend this as a good option for your transfer and well worth the extra dollars.
Phone: (212) 258 3826
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