NYC with kids: making sense of subways, taxis, and trains

During our four days in New York City this past June, we relied exclusively on subway trains, taxi cabs, and our own feet to get us where we needed to go. Despite being accustomed to using public transportation in other cities, I will admit we found the NYC subway system to be overwhelming with kids…at first. By the time we were ready to leave, we (almost) felt we had it figured out, but to help other traveling families get a head start, below are my tips for navigating this busy, crowded, and exciting city.


1. Get a good map. Because multiple subway lines go similar directions (but deposit you in different destinations) and the first subway station you see may not be the one you need (that one may only be a block away!), it’s imperative to have a map detailing both subway lines and stations.

2. Follow the colors. More than one New York resident advised us to disregard the color system assigned to subway lines, instead focusing only on the subway number. We tried this…and ended up in the opposite direction of our intended destination more than once! I have a feeling this advice is more of the advanced variety, and we needed a beginner course. What we found worked better for us: relying on color to direct us to the station we needed, then number to direct us to the right train.

3. Ask, and then ask again. New Yorkers all seem to have their own way of navigating the subway system. They know the routes they take frequently, but seem as confused as we were when asked about other destinations. I wish I’d taken a photo of the moment we stopped to ask three beat cops standing on a street corner how to get from Union Square to East 50th on the subway, and all three of them scratched their heads and got out their iPhones to look it up. So certainly ask fellow subway passengers their advice, but once at the next juncture of your journey, ask again. The conflicting advice can be confusing, but like pieces of a puzzle, they usually fit together.

4. When navigating confusing routes, such as cross-town journeys that require transfers to up or downtown journeys, consider taking a cab. For our family of five (and we had six people with us while in New York), piling into cabs was sometimes cheaper than subway tickets, especially when our destination was close enough to keep the fare low. Other times, it’s simply worth the time savings to take cabs.

5. Last but not least, just get out there and GO. The only way to really get the hang of the subway system is to get on one (or two, or three, depending on how many wrong trains you take). And when in doubt, walk! (We often took a train up or downtown, then walked the cross-town distance to simplify matters!)

walking in nyc

The details:

1. Subway and bus fare is $2.25 per person. It’s easy to purchase pre-paid subway cards, then refill them when necessary (and this is certainly the quickest way to go about it).

2. Our cab fares throughout Manhattan cost between $6-$15 a trip. Keep in mind, however, that NYC cabs only fit four passengers. If you have a larger group, you’ll need to take two cabs wherever you’re going. We opted for cabs a few times, bur relied much more heavily on the subway.

3. Whether taking subways or taxis, we planned on a budget of $50-60 per day for NYC transportation, and found that amount to be realistic for our group of six people.

4. A great way to travel between cities on the Eastern Seaboard is via Amtrak. After leaving NYC, we took the Amtrak train to Boston (from NYC’s Penn Station), and found it to be a very easy and relaxing way to travel. The four hour journey was comfortable, food services were available on the train, and the scenery was fantastic. Fare was low for daytime passage as well (it’s Amtrak’s sleeper cars that give me and my wallet a heart attack).


A word about airport transportation:

Before arriving in NYC, I was told by several sources (including the NY Transit Authority) that cab fare from LaGuardia to Manhattan would be $45 per cab (not including tip), so I considered opting for one of the various town car and limo services that offer rides from both airports (and Newark) to Manhattan hotels; the cheapest I found for our group size was $130 (be sure the price you’re quoted includes toll fare and tip). I’m very glad I did not use a limo service (due to a mis-communication) because our cab fare was only $25 per cab from LaGuardia to midtown Manhattan, definitely saving us money.