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Lots of people travel to New York, plop themselves down into Time Square, and never go anywhere else. They seem to fear venturing into neighborhoods that exist for purposes other than tourism.

 

You don’t have to be among them. By devoting just a few minutes to the basic geography of New York and its distinctive neighborhoods, you can immensely enhance your enjoyment of this multifaceted city. And once you absorb the highly logical organization of New York’s transportation system, you’ll find that you can zip from place to place with minimal fuss.

 

The Grid Plan of Manhattan

 

The city is comprised of five boroughs on four different pieces of land, only one of which is on the North American continent! When most people talk about “New York City”, however, they are referring to the borough of Manhattan, which is a long, narrow island between New Jersey and Long Island, bordered by the Hudson and East Rivers.

 

Finding your way around Manhattan is easier than in almost any other city because of the careful plan that was adopted for laying out the city’s avenues and streets. In the areas above 14th Street, the city fathers imposed a strict and unnatural grid upon Manhattan, leveling hills and tearing down existing homes to create straight, evenly spaced thoroughfares in all but a few places. The grid consists of numbered streets and avenues that cross each other at right angles. If you can count up to 100 you can get around this surprisingly compact island.

 

Streets in Manhattan are numbered and run from east to west. So if you’re on 23rd Street and wish to get to 42nd Street, you simply go 19 blocks north. To get from 80th Street to 75th Street walk 5 blocks south. The avenues of Manhattan run north to south with some bearing numbers and others names (which does complicate the picture but only a bit). Those that are numbered go from east to west with First Avenue being close to the East River and Twelfth Avenue on the far west side of the island. Interspersed between these numbered avenues are several named avenues, including (among others) Park, Lexington, and Madison. The named avenues live primarily on the east side between Fifth and Third Avenues in midtown and uptown. On the west side, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Avenues turn into Columbus Avenue, Central Park West, and Amsterdam Avenue above 59th Street.

 

The exceptions to the grid rule (all found below 14th Street) are the Financial District, Chinatown, Little Italy, the Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, Soho, and Tribeca. These southern parts of Manhattan were the first to be settled and therefore follow a haphazard non-system of the streets and alleys that curve and twist, sometimes doubling back on themselves (most famously in Greenwich Village where 4th Street collides with 4th Street). Because most of these southern section streets bear names rather than numbers (Delancey Street, Wall Street, Church Street), orientating yourself can be tricky. So it's important to carry a good map and to ask for directions when necessary. Even native New Yorkers can get lost down there.

Getting Around the City

 

Because most travelers confine themselves to Manhattan, I will, as well, in this section. Those traveling to the outer boroughs can be confident, however, that public transportation—subways, buses, ferries, or some combination of the three—can get you anywhere you wish to go in the city proper, whether it be the sandy shores of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, or Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The city’s transportation network is run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (aka the MTA); maps and schedules for NYC’s myriad transportation options can be found at www.mta.info. You can also key in your itinerary at www.hopstop.com, a terrific site and app that will give you complete directions, including how far you’ll walk to get to the station and whether you’ll also need to take a bus. Hopstop also estimates taxi fares, a handy trick.

 

Subway

 

I wish I could confine my transportation advice to just three words—“take the subway”—and be done with it. To my mind, the NYC subways, 110 years young in 2014, are the single most efficient, rapid, easy, and affordable way to get just about anywhere you’d want to go in Manhattan, with the exception of some of the far eastern sections of the Upper East Side (and that will change once the Second Avenue subway is completed); and crosstown above 59th Street. It runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and yes, it gets crowded at rush-hour (roughly from 8 to 9:30am and from 5 to 6:30pm on weekdays), but even then it’s still the fastest way to get from point A to point B.

 

But because of the starring role the subways have played in action films set in New York over the years, with squinty-eyed thugs menacing grandmothers on graffiti-riddled trains, many visitors are scared to go underground.

 

That fear is unwarranted. Not only is the graffiti gone, thanks to the persistent efforts of those invisible transit cops (you rarely see one, but there are 3,000 of them keeping order underground and on the buses, often in plain clothes), the subways are safer than ever.

 

Of course, that doesn’t make them Disneyland. Though the cars are heated in winter and air-conditioned in summer, the platforms are not, and they often feel 10 degrees colder than the city streets in winter, and 10 degrees hotter in summer. Pickpockets remain a problem, as they are in Paris, London, and every other city where large numbers of people jam together in small spaces. So remember to move your wallet to a place where you can keep track of it before boarding the train (if you’re wearing pants, the front pocket is usually best).

 

Paying Your Way

 

A SingleRide subway fare (available only at vending machines) is $2.50 (half price for seniors and those with disabilities), and children under 44 inches tall ride free (up to three per adult). To that, you’ll need to add a $1 fee for the subway card itself (add time or money onto your card and there will be no additional fee). Once you’re in the system, you can transfer freely to any subway line that you can reach without exiting your station. MetroCards also allow you a free transfer between bus and subway within a 2-hour period.

 

MetroCards are usually purchased at the ATM-style vending machines now located in every subway station, which accept cash, credit cards, and debit cards; from a MetroCard merchant, including corner delis and drugstores; Hudson News, at Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal; or at the MTA information desk at the Times Square Information Center, 1560 Broadway, between 46th and 47th streets.

 

MetroCards come in a few different configurations:

 

Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards can be used for up to four people by swiping up to four times (bring the entire family). You can put any amount from $5 (for two rides) to $100 on your card. Every time you put $8 or more on your Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard, it’s automatically credited 15 percent—in other words, spend $20 and you get a free ride, plus a 50[ce] balance. You can refill your card at any time until the expiration date on the card, usually about a year from the date of purchase, at any subway station.

 

Unlimited-Ride MetroCards, which can’t be used for more than one person at a time or more frequently than at 18-minute intervals, are available in two values: the 7-Day MetroCard, which allows you 7 days’ worth of unlimited subway and bus rides for $30; and the 30-Day MetroCard, for $112. They go into effect the first time you use them—so if you buy a card on Monday and don’t begin to use it until Wednesday, Wednesday is when the clock starts ticking on your MetroCard. Seven- and 30-day MetroCards run out at midnight on the last day. Unlimited-ride MetroCards cannot be refilled.

 

Tips for using your MetroCard: The MetroCard swiping mechanisms at turnstiles are the source of much grousing among subway riders. If you swipe too fast or too slow, the turnstile will ask you to swipe again. If this happens, do not move to a different turnstile, or you may end up paying twice. If you’ve tried repeatedly and really can’t make your MetroCard work, tell the token booth clerk; chances are good, that you’ll get the movement down after a couple of uses.

 

If you’re not sure how much money you have left on your MetroCard, or what day it expires, use the station’s MetroCard Reader, usually located near the station entrance or the token booth (on buses, the fare box also will display this information).

 

Mass Transit Fares in New York City

 

Subways, MTA Bus

 

Fare Type Full** Reduced*

 

Base Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard Fare $2.50 $1.25

 

Minimum purchase for new MetroCard $5 $5

 

Cash (Bus only) $2.75 $1.25

 

Single-Ride Ticket $2.75 N/A

 

Unlimited-Ride MetroCard

 

7-day $30 $15

 

30-day $112 $56

 

* Reduced-fare customers who do not have a reduced-fare MetroCard pay $2.50 at a subway station booth for a round-trip.

 

** Reduced fare is not available during peak periods, 6–10am and 3–7pm weekdays.

 

Using the System

 

As you can see from the full-color subway map of most of Manhattan on the inside back cover of this book, the subway system basically mimics the lay of the land above ground, with most lines in Manhattan running north and south, like the avenues, and a few lines east and west, like the streets.

 

To go up and down the east side of Manhattan (and to the Bronx and Brooklyn), take the 4, 5, or 6 train.

 

To travel up and down the West Side (and also to the Bronx and Brooklyn), take the 1, 2, or 3 line; the A, C, E, or F line; or the B or D line.

 

The N, R, and Q lines first cut diagonally across town from east to west and then snake under Seventh Avenue before shooting out to Queens.

 

The crosstown S line, called the Shuttle, runs back and forth between Times Square and Grand Central Terminal. Farther downtown, across 14th Street, the L line works its own crosstown magic.

 

Express trains often skip about three stops for each one they make; express stops are indicated on subway maps with a white (rather than solid) circle. Local stops are usually about nine blocks apart.

 

Directions are almost always indicated using “uptown” (northbound) and “downtown” (southbound), so be sure to know what direction you want to head in. The outsides of some subway entrances are marked uptown only or downtown only; read carefully, as it’s easy to head in the wrong direction or get stuck on the wrong platform.

 

Mapping Your Subway Route

 

If you’re not sure how to get, say, from the Museum of Natural History to the Brooklyn Bridge, you might want to visit www.hopstop.com. Offering navigation help on several major U.S. subway systems, the useful widget can tell you how to get from one place to the other underground. (It also gives you a comparison for time/cost using a taxi or car service.) You can modify your request by specifying “more walking” or “fewer transfers”.

 

By Bus

 

Since buses can get stuck in traffic and stop every couple of blocks, rather than the eight or nine blocks that local subways traverse between stops (unless you catch a “Limited” bus), they’re much less useful than the subway. I recommend using them only if you have to travel east to west; note that you can combine a bus ride with a subway ride at no additional cost (the transfer has to take place within 2 hours of the time you first boarded either the subway or the train).

 

Paying Your Way

 

Like the subway fare, a SingleRide bus fare is $2.75, half price for seniors and riders with disabilities, and free for children under 44 inches (up to three per adult). The fare is payable with a MetroCard or exact change (excluding pennies). And they do mean change: Bus drivers don’t make change, and fare boxes don’t accept dollar bills or pennies. You can’t purchase MetroCards on the bus, so have them ready before you board.

 

Take a Free Ride

 

The Alliance for Downtown New York's Downtown Connection offers a free bus service that provides easy access to downtown destinations, including Battery Park City, the World Financial Center, and South Street Seaport. The buses, which run daily, every 15 minutes or so, from 10am to 7:30pm, make dozens of stops along a 5-mile route from Chambers Street on the west side to Beekman Street on the east side. For schedules and more information, call the Downtown Connection at [tel] 212/566-6700, or visit www.downtownny.com.

 

Using the System

 

You can’t flag a city bus down—you have to meet it at a bus stop. Bus stops are located every two or three blocks on the right-side corner of the street (facing the direction of traffic flow). They’re marked by a curb painted yellow and a blue-and-white sign with a bus emblem and the route number or numbers, and usually an ad-bedecked bus shelter.

 

Almost every major avenue has its own bus route. They run either north or south: downtown on Fifth, uptown on Madison, downtown on Lexington, uptown on Third, and so on. There are crosstown buses at strategic locations all around town: 14th, 23rd, 34th, and 42nd (east- and westbound); 49th (westbound); 50th (eastbound); 57th (east- and westbound); 66th (eastbound across the West Side on 65th St., through the park, and then north on Madison, continuing east on 68th to York Ave.); 67th (westbound on the East Side to Fifth Ave., and then south on Fifth, continuing west on 66th St., through the park and across the west side to West End Ave.); and 79th, 86th, 96th, 116th, and 125th (east- and westbound). Some bus routes, however, are erratic: The M104, for example, turns at Eighth Avenue and 41st St. and goes up Broadway to West 129th St.

 

Most routes operate 24 hours a day, but service is infrequent at night. During rush hour, main routes have “Limited” buses, identifiable by the red card in the front window; they stop only at major cross streets.

 

In 2011, the MTA also added new Select Bus Service (“SBS”) on the M15 line, heading north on First Avenue and south on Second Avenue, as well as the M34 across 34th Street. For the first time, these buses let passengers save time by paying at the bus shelter before boarding, with inspectors on board verifying tickets. The stops are at the same 9 or 10 block intervals as Limited lines (more at www.mta.info/nyct/sbs).

 

Most city buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts, making buses the city’s most accessible mode of public transportation. Buses also “kneel,” lowering down to the curb to make boarding easier.

 

Taxi-Hailing Tips

 

When you’re waiting on the street for an available taxi, look at the medallion light on the top of the coming cabs. If the light is out, the taxi is in use. When the center part (the number) is lit, the taxi is available—this is, when you raise your hand to flag the cab. If all the lights are on, the driver is off-duty. Taxi regulations limit the number of people permitted to take a cab to four, so expect to split up if your group is larger.

 

By Taxi

 

Cabs can be hailed on any street, provided you find an empty one—often simple, yet nearly impossible at 5pm when the taxi drivers change shifts. They’re pricey, but can be convenient if you’re tired or are not sure how to find an address. Don’t assume they’ll be quicker than the subway or walking, though. In Midtown at midday, you can often walk to where you’re going more quickly thanks to traffic.

 

Official New York City taxis, licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), are yellow, with the rates printed on the door and a light with a medallion number on the roof. You can hail a taxi on any street. Note: In 2013, a city law was passed creating a new fleet of apple green taxis/livery cars, which will pick up passengers in the outer boroughs and upper Manhattan. Like yellow cabs, they will be hailable, but unlike the yellow ones they will not be allowed to pick up passengers below 110th Street in Manhattan (though they’ll be allowed to drop off passengers there). As we go to press, the details of their fare structure has not yet been worked out.

 

The base fare on entering the cab is $2.50. The cost is 50[ce] for every [bf]1/5 mile or 40[ce] per 60 seconds in stopped or slow-moving traffic (or for waiting time). There’s no extra charge for each passenger or for luggage. However, you must pay bridge or tunnel tolls. You’ll also pay a $1 surcharge between 4 and 8pm and a 50[ce] surcharge after 8pm and before 6am. A 15 percent to 20 percent tip is customary. All taxis are now equipped with a device that allows you to pay by credit card.

 

The TLC has posted a Taxi Rider’s Bill of Rights sticker in every cab. Drivers are required by law to take you anywhere in the five boroughs, to Nassau or Westchester counties, or to Newark Airport. They are supposed to know how to get you to any address in Manhattan and all major points in the outer boroughs. They are also required to provide air-conditioning and turn off the radio on demand. Smoking in the cab is not allowed.

 

You are allowed to dictate the route that is taken. It’s a good idea to look at a map before you get in a taxi. Taxi drivers have been known to jack up the fare on visitors who don’t know better by taking a circuitous route between points A and B. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

 

On the other hand, listen to drivers who propose an alternate route. These guys spend 8 or 10 hours a day on these streets, and they know where the worst traffic is, or where Con Ed has dug up an intersection that should be avoided. A knowledgeable driver will know how to get you to your destination efficiently.

 

Another important tip: Always make sure the meter is turned on at the start of the ride. You’ll see the red LED readout register the initial $2.50 and start calculating the fare as you go. I’ve witnessed unscrupulous drivers buzzing unsuspecting visitors around the city with the meter off, and then overcharging them at drop-off time.

 

For all driver complaints, including the one above, and to report lost property, call [tel] 311 or 212/NEW-YORK (639-9675; outside the metro area).

 

By Bicycle

 

Believe it or not, New York is a great bicycling city. Already the number of designated bike routes and lanes, including some major protected bike lanes painted green and with their own traffic signals, has mushroomed under Mayor Bloomberg—part of his vision for a more sustainable transportation network.

 

In 2013, it got even better with the city’s rollout of the Citibike system (http://citibikenyc.com). Following the successful examples set by cities like Paris, Montreal, and Washington D.C., the city’s program charges $9.95 a day ($25 per week), with unlimited free trips that clock in at less than 30 minutes (beyond that, a half-hourly rate kicks in). The freestanding, solar-powered racks dot many streets across the five boroughs, each holding around a dozen sturdy bikes outfitted with lights and tough tires. It’s been a huge success.

 

For a current map of the ever-expanding city bike-lane network, visit the NYC DOT webpage at www.nyc.gov, or www.nycbikemaps.com. Alas, helmets are not provided at these stands; it’s a smart idea to bring your own.

 

By Car

 

Forget driving yourself around the city. It’s not worth the headache. Traffic is horrendous, and parking even more problematic.

 

If you do arrive in New York City by car, park it in a garage (expect to pay at least $25–$45 per day) and leave it there for the duration of your stay. If you drive a rental car in, return it as soon as you arrive and rent another when you leave.

 

Just about all of the major car-rental companies have multiple Manhattan locations.

Frankly, Manhattan’s transportation systems are a marvel. It’s simply miraculous that so many people can gather on this little island and move around it. For the most part, you can get where you’re going pretty quickly and easily using some combination of subways, buses, and cabs; this section will tell you how to do just that. But between traffic gridlock and subway delays, sometimes you just can’t get there from here—unless you walk. Walking can sometimes be the fastest way to navigate the island. During rush hours, you’ll easily beat car traffic while on foot, as taxis and buses stop and groan at gridlocked corners (don’t even try going crosstown in a cab or bus in Midtown at midday). You’ll also see a lot more by walking than you will if you ride beneath the street in the subway or fly by in a cab. So pack your most comfortable shoes and hit the pavement—it’s the best, cheapest, and most appealing way to experience the city.

 

Sidewalks of New York

What’s the primary means New Yorkers use for getting around town? The subway? Buses? Taxis? Nope. Walking. They stride across wide, crowded pavements without any regard for traffic lights, weaving through crowds at high speeds, dodging taxis and buses whose drivers are forced to interrupt the normal flow of traffic to avoid flattening them. Never take your walking cues from the locals. Wait for walk signals and always use crosswalks—don’t cross in the middle of the block. Do otherwise and you could quickly end up as a flattened statistic (or at least get a ticket for jaywalking).

Always pay attention to the traffic flow. Walk as though you’re driving, staying to the right. Pay attention to what’s happening in the street, even if you have the right of way. At intersections, keep an eye out for drivers who don’t yield, turn without looking, or think a yellow traffic light means “Hurry up!” as you cross. Unfortunately, most bicyclists seem to think that the traffic laws don’t apply to them; they’ll often blithely fly through red lights and dash the wrong way on one-way streets, so be on your guard.

By Subway

Run by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, also known as the MTA (www.mta.info/nyct/subway), the much-maligned subway system is actually the fastest way to travel around New York, especially during rush hours. Some 4.5 million people a day seem to agree, as it’s their primary mode of transportation. The subway is quick, inexpensive, relatively safe, and efficient, as well as being a genuine New York experience.

The subway runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The rush-hour crushes are roughly from 8 to 9:30am and from 5 to 6:30pm on weekdays; the rest of the time the trains are much more manageable. Note: In December 2009, in order to make up for a $400-million shortfall, the MTA passed a budget that mandates major cutbacks in service on both the subway and bus lines. Subways and buses are running with reduced frequency during weekends, late nights, and weekday afternoons. Some lines have been eliminated altogether (the W and V subway lines). These cuts, many of which took effect in late spring of 2010, have infuriated many New Yorkers, and various groups have been fighting them. Some cuts were restored after public outcry, but a number of bus and subway lines were affected.

Subway Access Alert -- Subway service is always subject to change, for reasons ranging from “a sick passenger” to regularly scheduled construction. Your best bet is to contact the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) for the latest details; call tel. 718/330-1234 or visit www.mta.info, where you’ll find system updates that are thorough, timely, and clear. (You can also sign up online to receive service advisories by e-mail.) Also read any posters that are taped up on the platform or notices written on the token booth’s whiteboard. Once in town, you can stop at the MTA desk at the Times Square Information Center, 1560 Broadway, between 46th and 47th streets (where Broadway meets Seventh Ave.) to pick up the latest subway map. (You can also ask for one at any token booth, but they might not always be stocked.)

Stand Clear of the Closing Stations -- Since lower Manhattan will continue to resemble a giant construction zone for the next several years, be aware of subway service reductions and station closures south of Chambers Street. At the World Trade Center, the station for the No. 1 train is closed (probably until the site is rebuilt somewhere around 2014). The good news is that the wheelchair-accessible South Ferry station on the 1 line opened in 2009, while new elevators are up and running at the 2 and 3 line’s Chambers Street station in TriBeCa. 

Paying Your Way -- A SingleRide subway fare is $2.50 (half price for seniors and those with disabilities), and children under 44 inches tall ride free (up to three per adult). Note: The prices listed in this section reflect the latest price increase by the MTA, which went into effect in December 2011. The fares are scheduled to go up again in 2013. Tokens are no longer available. People pay with the MetroCard, a magnetically encoded card that debits the fare when swiped through the turnstile (or the fare box on any city bus). Once you’re in the system, you can transfer freely to any subway line that you can reach without exiting your station. MetroCards also allow you free transfers between the bus and subway within a 2-hour period.

MetroCards can be purchased from staffed token booths, where you can only pay with cash; at the ATM-style vending machines now located in every subway station, which accept cash, credit cards, and debit cards; from a MetroCard merchant, such as most Rite Aid drugstores; Hudson News, at Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal; or at the MTA information desk at the Times Square Information Center, 1560 Broadway, between 46th and 47th streets.

MetroCards come in a few different configurations: Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards can be used for up to four people by swiping up to four times (bring the entire family). You can put any amount from $4.50 (two rides) to $80 on your card. Every time you put $8 or more on your Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard, it’s automatically credited 15%—in other words, spend $20 and you get a free ride, plus a 50¢ balance. You can buy Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards at any subway station; most stations have automated MetroCard vending machines, which allow you to buy MetroCards using your major credit card or debit card. MetroCards are also available from many shops and newsstands around town in $10 and $20 values. You can refill your card at any time until the expiration date on the card, usually about a year from the date of purchase, at any subway station.

Unlimited-Ride MetroCards, which can’t be used for more than one person at a time or more frequently than 18-minute intervals, are available in two values: the 7-Day MetroCard, which allows you seven day’s worth of unlimited subway and bus rides for $29; and the 30-Day MetroCard, for $104. Unlimited-Ride MetroCards can be purchased at any subway station or from a MetroCard merchant. They go into effect the first time you use them—so if you buy a card on Monday and don’t begin to use it until Wednesday, Wednesday is when the clock starts ticking on your MetroCard. Seven- and 30-day MetroCards run out at midnight on the last day. These MetroCards cannot be refilled.

Tips for using your MetroCard: The MetroCard swiping mechanisms at turnstiles are the source of much grousing among subway riders. If you swipe too fast or too slow, the turnstile will ask you to swipe again. If this happens, do not move to a different turnstile, or you may end up paying twice. If you’ve tried repeatedly and really can’t make your MetroCard work, tell the token booth clerk; chances are good, though, that you’ll get the movement down after a couple of uses.

If you’re not sure how much money you have left on your MetroCard, or what day it expires, use the station’s MetroCard Reader, usually located near the station entrance or the token booth (on buses, the fare box will also provide you with this information).

To locate the nearest MetroCard merchant, or for any other MetroCard questions, call tel. 718/330-1234. Or go online to www.mta.info/metrocard, which can give you a full rundown of MetroCard merchants in the tri-state area.

Using the System  -- The subway system basically mimics the lay of the land aboveground, with most lines in Manhattan running north and south, like the avenues, and a few lines east and west, like the streets.

To go up and down the east side of Manhattan (and to the Bronx and Brooklyn), take the 4, 5, or 6 train.

To travel up and down the West Side (and also to the Bronx and Brooklyn), take the 1, 2, or 3 line; the A, C, E, or F line; or the B or D line.

The N, R, and Q lines first cut diagonally across town from east to west and then snake under Seventh Avenue before shooting out to Queens.

The crosstown S line, called the Shuttle, runs back and forth between Times Square and Grand Central Terminal. Farther downtown, across 14th Street, the L line works its own crosstown magic.

Lines have assigned colors on subway maps and trains—red for the 1, 2, 3 line; green for the 4, 5, 6 trains; and so on—but nobody ever refers to them by color. Always refer to them by number or letter when asking questions. Within Manhattan, the distinction between different numbered trains that share the same line is usually that some are express and others are local. Express trains often skip about three stops for each one that they make; express stops are indicated on subway maps with a white (rather than solid) circle. Local stops are usually about 9 blocks apart.

Directions are almost always indicated using “uptown” (northbound) and “downtown” (southbound), so be sure to know what direction you want to head in. The outsides of some subway entrances are marked UPTOWN ONLY or DOWNTOWN ONLY; read carefully, as it’s easy to head in the wrong direction. Once you’re on the platform, check the signs overhead to make sure that the train you’re waiting for will be traveling in the right direction. If you do make a mistake, it’s a good idea to wait for an express station, such as 14th Street or 42nd Street, so you can get off and change to the other direction without paying again.

The days of graffiti-covered cars are gone, but the stations—and an increasing number of trains—are not as clean as they could be. Trains are air-conditioned (move to the next car if yours isn’t), though during the dog days of summer the platforms can be sweltering. In theory, all subway cars have PA systems to allow you to hear the conductor’s announcements, but they don’t always work well. It’s a good idea to move to a car with a working PA system in case sudden service changes are announced that you’ll want to know about.

Help Mapping Your Subway Route -- If you’re not sure how to get, say, from the Museum of Natural History to the Brooklyn Bridge, you might want to visit www.hopstop.com. Offering navigation help on several major U.S. subway systems, the useful widget can tell you how to get from one place to the other underground. (It also gives you a comparison for time/cost using a taxi or car service.) You can modify your request by specifying “more walking” or “fewer transfers.”

iPhone, BlackBerry apps -- So much of the world now carries the Internet in the palm of his or her hand—literally. Whether you have an iPhone or a BlackBerry or some other type of ultra-modern phone/e-mail/Internet/God-knows-what-else device, there are apps associated with it that can make a visit to New York a little simpler. Frommer’s has a free travel app called Travel Tools that includes a currency converter and a tip calculator. Find it here: www.frommers.com/go/mobile. (You can also purchase the entire New York City Guide via that link.) The iPhone has an app for finding the best subway route called, not unexpectedly, New York Subway: http://itunes.apple.com/app/new-york-subway/id301912130?mt=8. You can download it for a mere $.99. For $9.99, you can purchase Zagat to Go, which has restaurant reviews not only for New York City but also from 44 of its other guides: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/zagat-to-go/id296428490?mt=8. For BlackBerry apps, go here: http://us.blackberry.com/apps-software/appworld. Of course, it’s good to know a 14-year-old, who probably knows everything about these and other apps and can upload or download them or whatever needs to be done for you in about 15 seconds.

By Bus

Less expensive than taxis and more pleasant than subways (they provide a mobile sightseeing window on Manhattan), MTA buses are a good transportation option. Their big drawback: They can get stuck in traffic, sometimes making it quicker to walk. They also stop every couple of blocks, rather than the 8 or 9 blocks that local subways traverse between stops. So for long distances, the subway is your best bet; but for short distances or traveling crosstown, try the bus.

Paying Your Way -- Like the subway fare, a SingleRide bus fare is $2.50, half price for seniors and riders with disabilities, and free for children under 44 inches (up to three per adult). The fare is payable with a MetroCard or exact change. Bus drivers don’t make change, and fare boxes don’t accept dollar bills or pennies. You can’t purchase MetroCards on the bus, so you’ll have to have them before you board.

If you pay with a MetroCard, you can transfer to another bus or to the subway for free within 2 hours. If you pay cash, you must request a free transfer card that allows you to change to an intersecting bus route only within 2 hours of issue. Transfer cards cannot be used to enter the subway.

Take a Free Ride -- The Alliance for Downtown New York's Downtown Connection offers a free bus service that provides easy access to downtown destinations, including Battery Park City, the World Financial Center, and South Street Seaport. The buses, which run daily, every 10 minutes or so, from 10am to 7:30pm, make dozens of stops along a 5-mile route from Chambers Street on the west side to Beekman Street on the east side. For schedules and more information, call the Downtown Connection at tel. 212/566-6700, or visit www.downtownny.com.

Using the System -- You can’t flag a city bus down—you have to meet it at a bus stop. Bus stops are located every 2 or 3 blocks on the right-side corner of the street (facing the direction of traffic flow). They’re marked by a curb painted yellow and a blue-and-white sign with a bus emblem and the route number or numbers, and usually an ad-bedecked Plexiglass bus shelter. Guide-a-Ride boxes at most stops display a route map and a hysterically optimistic schedule.

Almost every major avenue has its own bus route. They run either north or south: downtown on Fifth, uptown on Madison, downtown on Lexington, uptown on Third, and so on. There are crosstown buses at strategic locations all around town: 14th, 23rd, 34th, and 42nd (east- and westbound); 49th (westbound); 50th (eastbound); 57th (east- and westbound); 66th (eastbound across the West Side on 65th St., through the park, and then north on Madison, continuing east on 68th to York Ave.); 67th (westbound on the East Side to Fifth Ave., and then south on Fifth, continuing west on 66th St., through the park and across the west side to West End Ave.); and 79th, 86th, 96th, 116th, and 125th (east- and westbound). Some bus routes, however, are erratic: The M104, for example, turns at Eighth Avenue and 41st St. and goes up Broadway to West 129th St. Please note that the scheduled MTA cuts will affect some of the bus lines, especially at night.

Most routes operate 24 hours a day, but service is infrequent at night. Some say that New York buses have a herding instinct: They arrive only in groups. During rush hour, main routes have “limited” buses, identifiable by the red card in the front window; they stop only at major cross streets.

To make sure that the bus you’re boarding goes where you’re going, check the map on the sign that’s at every bus stop, get your hands on a route map, or just ask. The drivers are helpful, as long as you don’t hold up the line too long.

While traveling, look out the window not only to take in the sights but also to keep track of cross streets so you know when to get off. Signal for a stop by pressing the tape strip above and beside the windows and along the metal straps, about 2 blocks before you want to stop. Exit through the pneumatic back doors (not the front door) by pushing on the yellow tape strip; the doors open automatically. (Pushing on the handles is useless unless you’re as buff as Hercules.)

Most city buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts, making buses the preferable mode of public transportation for travelers in chairs. Buses also “kneel,” lowering down to the curb to make boarding easier.

By Taxi

If you don’t want to deal with public transportation, finding an address that might be a few blocks from the subway station, or sharing your ride with 4.5 million other people, then take a taxi. The biggest advantages are, of course, that cabs can be hailed on any street (provided you find an empty one—often simple, yet at other times nearly impossible) and will take you right to your destination. I find they’re best used at night when there’s little traffic and when the subway may seem a little daunting. In Midtown at midday, you can usually walk to where you’re going more quickly.

Official New York City taxis, licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), are yellow, with the rates printed on the door and a light with a medallion number on the roof. You can hail a taxi on any street. Never accept a ride from any other car except an official city yellow cab (livery cars are not allowed to pick up fares on the street, despite what the driver tells you when he pulls over to see if he can pick up a fare).

The base fare on entering the cab is $2.50. The cost is 40¢ for every 1/5 mile or 40¢ per 60 seconds in stopped or slow-moving traffic (or for waiting time). There’s no extra charge for each passenger or for luggage. However, you must pay bridge or tunnel tolls (sometimes the driver will front the toll and add it to your bill at the end; most times, however, you pay the driver before the toll). You’ll pay a $1 surcharge between 4 and 8pm and a 50¢ surcharge after 8pm and before 6am. A 15% to 20% tip is customary.

Most taxis are now equipped with a device that allows you to pay by credit card, though some drivers will claim the machine is broken (there is a transaction fee for credit cards that cuts into their income) and ask you to pay in cash. You can choose to either add the tip to the credit card, or tip the driver in cash.

Many, if not most, taxi drivers may not have the best grasp of English. If their driving is scaring you, ask them to slow down, stop slamming on the brakes quite so hard, and taking off like a rocket when the light turns green. Wear your seat belt—taxis are required to provide them.

The TLC has posted a Taxi Rider’s Bill of Rights sticker in every cab. Drivers are required by law to take you anywhere in the five boroughs, to Nassau or Westchester counties, or to Newark Airport. They are supposed to know how to get you to any address in Manhattan and all major points in the outer boroughs. They are also required to provide air-conditioning and turn off the radio on demand, and they cannot smoke while you’re in the cab. They are required to be polite.

You are allowed to dictate the route that is taken. It’s a good idea to look at a map before you get in a taxi. Taxi drivers have been known to jack up the fare on visitors who don’t know better by taking a circuitous route between points A and B. Know enough about where you’re going to know that something’s wrong if you hop in a cab at Sixth Avenue and 57th Street to go to the Empire State Building (Fifth Ave. and 34th St.), say, and suddenly find yourself on Ninth Avenue.

On the other hand, listen to drivers who propose an alternate route. These guys spend 8 or 10 hours a day on these streets, and they know where the worst traffic is, or where Con Ed has dug up an intersection that should be avoided. A knowledgeable driver will know how to get you to your destination quickly and efficiently.

Another important tip: Always make sure the meter is turned on at the start of the ride. You’ll see the red LED readout register the initial $2.50 and start calculating the fare as you go. I’ve witnessed unscrupulous drivers buzzing unsuspecting visitors around the city with the meter off, and then overcharging them at drop-off time.

Always ask for the receipt—it comes in handy if you need to make a complaint or have left something in a cab. In fact, it’s a good idea to make a mental note of the driver’s four-digit medallion number (usually posted on the divider btw. the front and back seats) just in case you need it later. You probably won’t, but it’s a good idea to play it safe.

A taxi driver is obligated to take you to your desired destination. If a taxi driver is on duty but refuses to take you to your desired destination (which happens on occasion when you want to go to an outer borough destination or very far uptown), get the driver’s name and medallion number and file a complaint with the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

For all driver complaints, including the one above, and to report lost property, call tel. 311 or 212/NEW-YORK (639-9675; outside the metro area).  For further taxi information—including a complete rundown of your rights as a taxi rider—point your Web browser to www.ci.nyc.ny.us/taxi.

Taxi-Hailing Tips -- When you’re waiting on the street for an available taxi, look at the medallion light on the top of the coming cabs. If the light is out, the taxi is in use. When the center part (the number) is lit, the taxi is available—this is when you raise your hand to flag the cab. If all the lights are on, the driver is off-duty. Taxi regulations limit the number of people permitted to take a cab to four, so expect to split up if your group is larger.

By Car

Forget driving yourself around the city. It’s not worth the headache. Traffic is horrendous, and you don’t know the rules of the road (written or unwritten) or the arcane alternate-side-of-the-street parking regulations (in fact, precious few New Yorkers do). You don’t want to find out the monstrous price of parking violations or live the Kafkaesque nightmare of liberating a vehicle from the tow pound. Not to mention the security risks.

If you do arrive in New York City by car, park it in a garage (expect to pay at least $25–$45 per day) and leave it there for the duration of your stay. (In our hotel listings, we note if a hotel has a garage or offers discounted parking, and the rate). If you drive a rental car in, return it as soon as you arrive and rent another when you leave. Just about all of the major car-rental companies have multiple Manhattan locations.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.