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Yes New York is big and loud and busy but be reassured, the transport system is very effective, well signposted and it’s super easy to navigate.
Getting to and from JFK airport
Once you arrive at the airport, there is always the small stress of trying to get to your accommodation while navigating a new city. Depending on how many of you there are, plus your baggage, it might be easier and cheaper to take a cab. All New York yellow cabs are fixed meter fares so you don’t need to worry about being ripped off by getting in a cab at the airport. Just head towards the designated taxi rank outside the terminal.
The flat fare rate from JFK to Manhattan is $52.50 plus any tolls. The meter will not always run for this trip since it’s a fixed rate so don’t be alarmed.
I have only flown to JFK but having done some research there is not a fixed flat rate from LaGuardia, however the fare is usually less - around $30 although this will depend of traffic.
We flew into JFK and took a cab when we arrived and took the metro when we returned to the airport. Both were easy and straightforward, especially after we had been using the metro system in the city for a week. In fact, taking the subway is often quicker than a cab – I’ve never seen so much traffic in my life!!
There is no direct subway from JFK to Manhattan but you can navigate to Manhattan with just one change.
If you’re heading to Lower Manhattan, Soho, Tribeca or anywhere on the blue line (A/C/E) you will need to take the GREEN AirTrain towards Howard Beach. At Howard Beach change to the blue A line towards Inwood - 207 St. This will take you straight downtown and you can get off there or change anywhere there to get the line you need.
Alternatively you can take the RED AirTrain towards Jamaica Station which connects to the commuter train lines.
A ticket for the AirTrain costs $5 unless you buy a pay-per-ride Metrocard in which case the AirTrain is included. See below for a full breakdown of the Metrocard options.
How to get around the city
The New York public transit system is very effective and easy to navigate. We were staying in Upper Manhattan so we primarily used the metro A and C (blue) lines to take us downtown to various stops or across to Brooklyn but there are several different lines so check which is closest to where you’re staying.
If you plan on using the public transit system then get a METROCARD. I cannot recommend this little piece of plastic enough! There are two types of Metrocard:
2. Unlimited rides
If you’re only visiting the city for a couple of days then it’s probably best to get the Pay-per-ride. This type of Metrocard needs to be topped up with cash and you pay for each journey as you swipe into the subway. Each ride costs $2.75 regardless of the length of journey or destination.
Benefits of Pay-per-ride
This card can be shared between up to 4 people, just swipe through then pass it back to the next person to come through. This is great for couples or young families.
You can also use this card on other transport such as the buses.
You can use this card on the AirTrain to/from JFK.
If you’re visiting New York for more than a couple of days then depending on how much you plan on using the metro, you might benefit more from using the Unlimited Metrocard. There are two types – a 7-day unlimited rides card ($33 + $1 non-refundable card fee) or a 30-day unlimited rides card ($127 +$1 card fee). We bought the 7-day card and it was such good value for money, we took the metro at least 4 times a day and we were coming from Upper Manhattan so the journey in and out each day was a minimum of 30 minutes.
Benefits of Unlimited
Unlimited travel on metro and buses, only pay the initial $34 fee.
The card is not activated until the first time you swipe in. So if you buy it then don’t use it for the first two days, you haven’t eaten into your 7 or 30 days of travel.
If you travel 12 or more times in the time period then you are better buying the unlimited card than the pay-per-ride.
You cannot share an unlimited card (there is a time limit of 18 minutes between turnstile swipes which we discovered after Taylor swiped then tried to go the wrong way through the turnstile. We then had to wait 18 minutes before he could swipe in again or ask the manned booth to let us in).
Unlimited tickets are not valid on the Air Train. You will need a separate ticket which is $5.
You can buy Metrocards at the automated machines in most stations or at the manned booths. Note that some automated machines will only accept card. They also ask for a ZIP code but if you’re from outside the USA just enter 00000.
For more information on how to ride the subway, click here.
As mentioned, the tickets above do include the bus transit system too, however we never actually took the bus, mostly because traffic was so bad it was best to either take the subway or just walk!
If you’re staying further out the city or in New Jersey then a bus might be an option but we were still able to use the subway even when staying in Washington Heights.
Be prepared to walk. A lot. We are big walkers and we were averaging 10-15 miles a day walking - it was exhausting but honestly such a great way to see the city too. Just make sure to pack good walking shoes or trainers.
Also Google Maps or any other mapper service works great in New York. Download the map offline so you can use it without data and map your way around - it was honestly such a lifesaver for us especially when we were exploring neighbourhoods and needed to find our way back to the nearer subway.
See my full 6-day itinerary for a first-time guide to New York.
Flights: I use Expedia to find great flights and the best deals all over the world, they have regular sales and offers so I always check their website. I also check CheapOair to find cheap deals on round trip flights.
Car Rental: I love the customer service I've always gotten and the variety of options with Rental Cars. But for short notice rentals, I've been using Expedia for the last year, they always seem to have great one-day rates or last-minute rates from the main rental companies.
Accommodation: I prefer the flexibility of booking accommodation with Booking.com so I can cancel or change my reservation without a fee or only pay on arrival for most properties. For longer or more unique stays I prefer AirBnB because you can get the long stay discount, you can also find more unique properties and book experiences with talented locals and businesses. For my budget trips, I always stay in hostels and book through Hostelworld because they have great guarantees if anything does go wrong. If you arrive and your booking is not at the property, they refund the full deposit AND give you $50 extra credit.
Tours and organised trips Although I don’t use tours that often, I do like to book local experiences or day trips once I reach my destination. For that I use GetYourGuide because it has the biggest selection and variety of tour and experience options.
Travel Insurance: I currently use SafetyWing Nomad Insurance. Which allows me to pay a rolling monthly fee to cover my long term travels.
My camera gear and equipment: I use a Canon 77D with an 18-135mm lens or a 50mm lens. And a DJI Mavic Mini Drone. For all my gear including laptops, tripods and more camera accessories read my travel photography gear guide.