Tips for Riding the New York City Subway with Kids - Tips For Family Trips (2023)

Taking the family to New York City? Riding the subway is one of the best ways to get around, but itcan be intimidating for first-timers.

On my family's first NYC subway ride, we were late, we were disoriented, and when we stepped onto the train for the first time with our two children, we just hoped it was going in the right direction.

Within a couple of days, my kids were swiping their passes like they'd done it all their lives, and we successfully navigated Grand Central Station during the evening commute.

If we can do it, so can you! Here are my tips, plus tips from other family travel writers, to help you ride the New York City subway successfully with kids.

Tips for Riding the New York City Subway with Kids - Tips For Family Trips (1)

Overview

If you can read a map or use the Google Maps mobile app, you can use the New York City subway. Officially, the subway is known as MTA or Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Each train line has a color-coded letter or number. See the online version of the map here. There is a large map on the wall of every subway station, and upcoming stops are easy to see when you are on the train.

I recommend that you use Google Maps or another good map app. It will give you step-by-step instructions for getting from where you are to where you want to be, using subway trains, buses, and your own two feet.

Most stations have pretty good mobile service, but there may be no service in the tunnels. Public Wi-Fi may be available.

Underground subway stations are much larger than I expected. Busy Manhattan stations may have severalentrances and serve multiple train lines on multiple levels. If you know the train you want and the direction you want to go, it's pretty easy to follow the signs to the correct platform.

Subway trains in Midtown Manhattan may be crowded every day, all day long. At rush hour, there is no personal space. Everyone just squeezes in because the next train won't be any better.

Jenny of Witness Humanitysays, “Don't stand in front of the doors.” Move to the center of the car when you can so others can get on and off. They should do the same for you.

(Video) How to Ride the New York City Subway

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Plan ahead

Jessica at Suitcases and Sippycups recommends: “Study the map before you get to the subway and have a good idea of where you are going.”

You may still be able to find paper maps of the subway, but the map on your phone is a better bet these days. It's always with you and it's a lot less obvious.

Pack a portable charger and a cord to make sure your phone lasts all day. Map apps can drain batteries fast.

Plan your next ride or while you're finishing up lunch or an activity – above ground where you have reliable service and are not feeling rushed. Make mental notes of what stations you'll use, the direction you want to go, what transfers to expect, and how much time it will take.

The direction of the train is usually indicated by the last stop on the line. These are generally not the places you want to go and they are generally not familiar names. However, they will become more familiar every time you ride, and Google Maps will tell you what to look for.

If you need to be somewhere at a specific time, give yourself extra time to get there. If you get on the wrong train or are delayed for any reason, you'll feel a lot less stress if you're not worried about being late.

Pack light

Storage space is limited when you have to carry it all with you, and that can be a challenge with young children. Many subway regulars carry a roomy tote bag or cross-body bag that is easy to hold in front of you in a crowd.

Tips for Riding the New York City Subway with Kids - Tips For Family Trips (3)Don't forget the hand sanitizer! Kids have a knack for touching the germiest surface they can find just before sticking their fingers in their mouths. You may also want to keep water, snacks, or toys on hand for young children in case of delays.

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Strollers

Honestly, strollers are going to be tricky on the subway. But it can be done.

Elevators are available at subway stations, but they are not usually obvious. If you can use the stairs, that's what I'd do.

(Video) Ride the NYC Subway like a pro (tips from a local)

I'd also avoid rush hour with a stroller when possible. You'll need to fold the stroller and squeeze it and your family into a packed car during rush hour. At less crowded times, you won't need to fold the stroller and your child can sit in it on the subway.

Jenny of Witness Humanity says, “ If you need help getting a stroller down the stairs, ask. Most New Yorkers are happy to help. The transit workers behind the desk will let you through the handicap door with a stroller if you ask (and they see you swipe your Metro card before you go through.) Rush hour is not a good time to let your toddler slowly make his way down the stairs by himself.”

Anna, a New York City local who writes at The Baby Bump Diaries offers many practical tips for using a stroller in the subway here.

Tickets

Children under 44 inches (112 cm) tall don't have to pay for a ticket, which makes “transportation one of the few things in New York that is actually quite affordable,” says Corinne of Have Baby Will Travel. Read all Corinne's tips for getting around NYC here.

For everyone else in the family, plan to pay $2.75 per trip. Transfers are included in that price.

If you are only staying in New York City for a few days or will not ride often, then a standard MTA card is your best option. The card costs $1. Then load it with however much you need for fares. You can re-load it with more money later if needed. You will not get a refund for any unused amount.

You can share cards. On our recent trip, my family of four bought just one MTA card. I swiped it four times every time my family rode the subway. Each trip cost my family $11 ($2.75/person).

If you are staying a week or longer, consider buying an unlimited 7-day or 30-day pass. At $33, the 7-day pass will save you money if you ride at least 12 times (about twice a day.) We did this on our first NYC trip, and it was nice to hop on the subway anytime we wanted without worrying about the cost every time.

You can purchase your tickets from machines inside most subway stations. You can also purchase from a live attendant at some stations. Find more information about current fares and ways to save at the official MTA website.

Related: Tips for Using Uber/Lyft with Kids

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Don't forget the bus

Your MTA pass can also be used on buses, and sometimes, that will be the easiest way to get from Point A to Point B. The bus was the fastest way for us to get down 5th Avenue from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to F.A.O. Schwartz one day, and to reach the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens on another.

(Video) Guide to the NYC Subway | How to Ride and Navigate the New York Subway

Related:7 Tips for Riding the Bolt Bus

What if you get separated?

A memory that still sends chills down my spine was when my 10-year-old daughter walked onto an NYC subway train without us and the doors closed behind her. We got her off the train before it pulled away, but the moments in between were filled with panic about what we would all do if she became separated from us in an unfamiliar city.

Michele of Malaysian Meanders says, “We have a plan for if we get separated on public transportation. If you don't get off in time with the rest of the family, get off at the next stop, and wait by the wall away from the track for a parent to come for you. If you're left behind at a station, wait by the wall or away from the track for a parent to return.” Michele's family did this once in Italy.

Michele also recommends having one parent go first through the turnstile and the other parent go last. If a child has trouble getting the pass to swipe, or waits too long to go through the turnstile and gets locked out, an adult will always be on the same side of the gate to help.

Tips for Riding the New York City Subway with Kids - Tips For Family Trips (6)

Safety

I'm sure that everyone on the subway knew we were tourists. Who else rides with the whole family on a weekday? But we have never felt unsafe on New York City subways and buses.

Still, it's a good idea to take a few precautions before you ride. Here are a few common-sense tips from the NYPD for keeping your family and your belongings safe:

  • Be careful not to display money in public.
  • Hold on to your purse or pocketbook when using the shoulder strap.
  • Keep your wallet out of sight and never put your wallet in your rear pocket.
  • Be sure your necklaces and other jewelry are not visible.
  • Do not doze or fall asleep on the train.
  • Beware of loud arguments or noisy incidents. They could be staged to distract you in order to pick your pocket.

Don't wear your backpack on your front. Instead, don't keep anything worth stealing in your pack. My husband keeps his wallet and phone in his front pocket and I carry a separate mini purse that's easy to wear in front.

I LOVE my Travelon theft-resistant mini bag so much that it has become my everyday purse. Click HERE to visit the Travelon Store at Amazon.com.

Finally… remember that when you're on the platform, the safest place to wait is behind the yellow line, away from the edge.

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Conclusion

Every family travel blogger who helped with this post agrees that New Yorkers were unfailingly helpful when they noticed a traveler in need.

(Video) Things to do in NYC with Kids | FREE & best places to play in New York City

Hilarye of Dotting the Map says, “New Yorkers get a bad rap. They were so nice to us on the subway – many people giving up a seat to me with a sleeping baby in my arms.”

We had a similarexperience when a young man with baggy pants, piercings and tattoos offered his seat to my 7-year old son.

Riding the subway is a great way for families to experience New York City. It's efficient and inexpensive, and it will get you just about anywhere you want to go. My kids thought it was a fun adventure…. and so did I!

Happy travels!

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Related

Tips for Riding the New York City Subway with Kids - Tips For Family Trips (10)Tips for Riding the New York City Subway with Kids - Tips For Family Trips (11)Tips for Riding the New York City Subway with Kids - Tips For Family Trips (12)

Allison

Hi there! I am the founder of Tips for Family Trips. I am a married mom of two children, ages 14 and 17, living near Salt Lake City, Utah. We took our first child on a two-week road trip when she was four weeks old and we have been traveling as a family ever since. We love to get out of the house to see and do fun things, both far away and in our own neighborhood.

FAQs

How do you ride the subway in NYC with kids? ›

You don't have to do anything after.
  1. Up to three children under 44 inches tall ride for free when they're with a fare-paying adult.
  2. Some Unlimited MetroCards are protected against loss or theft.

How do you feel safe on the New York subway? ›

When you are on the subway platform, the safest place to wait is behind the yellow line, away from the platform edge. Be mindful of your belongings at all times – particularly when using personal electronic devices.

What age do kids ride free on NYC subway? ›

According to the MTA, up to three children shorter than 44 inches can ride the subway for free with a paying adult. Small kids should ride in your lap on the subway. Additionally, children younger than 2 can ride express buses for free if they sit on your lap.

How do you use a subway stroller in NYC? ›

With your metro card in hand, approach the window attendant of the subway station and inform him/her that you plan to enter with a stroller. He will likely instruct you to swipe the card at the nearest turnstile, turn the stile to complete the transaction, and then unlock the emergency exit door for you to enter.

Can you use MetroCard for family in NYC? ›

Up to four people can ride together on a single Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard. If multiple people are riding together on the same MetroCard the first person can swipe the card through the necessary number of times and other riders can walk through the turnstile following them.

How do you use NYC subway first time? ›

To access the subway you can use a MetroCard (which you fill with money or can purchse a weekly pass) or with the new OMNY system which with a tap charges the $2.75 fare to your credit card through a contactless card of a e-wallet. Read about the MetroCard and OMNY to see which is best for you.

How do I protect myself from the NYC subway? ›

Tips to protect yourself
  1. During non-rush hours, wait for trains in designated areas.
  2. Avoid empty subway cars.
  3. During off-hours on the subway, ride in the conductor car. That's in the middle of the train.
  4. Use subway entrances and exits where there's the most activity.

How do you not get pushed into subway? ›

Lie down between the rails and turn your head to the side. There should be just enough clearance between the bottom of the train and the ground. Miraculously, it worked for the Subway Superman in 2007.

Does a 9 year old pay for tube? ›

If your child is under 11, they can travel free on: Buses and trams. Tube, DLR, London Overground, Elizabeth line and some National Rail services. They must be travelling with an adult who is using pay as you go, or has a valid ticket (excluding Group Day Travelcards).

Do NYC kids take the subway to school? ›

Many factors inform the decision, but NYC parents seem to generally agree that most 9- to 10-year-old children are ready to travel to school on the subways. But still, “It depends on the maturity of the child rather than the specific age,” says one Queens parent.

Do kids pay for NYC Bus? ›

Children under 44 inches (112 cm) tall don't have to pay for a ticket, which makes “transportation one of the few things in New York that is actually quite affordable,” says Corinne of Have Baby Will Travel. Read all Corinne's tips for getting around NYC here.

Do cell phones work in NYC subway? ›

The connection between Brooklyn and Manhattan on the L line became the first tunnel in the New York City subway system to provide full connectivity for AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile customers. Several other transit systems around the world are already equipped with similar technology or are building it.

Should I take a stroller to NYC? ›

As long as you don't mind the crowds, you will have no issues pushing a stroller here. Traveling to Manhattan with a baby or toddler, you may not get to see Times Square all lit up at night unless your baby is good at sleeping on-the-go.

Can you walk between NYC subway cars? ›

No person may use the end doors of a subway car to pass from one subway car to another except in an emergency or when directed to do so by an Authority conductor or a New York City police officer. When the Code of Conduct rules were changes, the language on the signs on subway doors grew more strident.

Can you use the same MetroCard for 2 people? ›

Unlimited Ride MetroCard

Cannot be used again at the same subway station or the same bus route for at least 18 minutes. Cannot be used by or transferred to another person until the completion of a trip for which entry was obtained.

Can 2 person travel with one MetroCard? ›

Up to four people can use a Metro card when you go on a per ride basis. The Unlimited Ride can only be used by one person.. if you calculate lat you will ride the subway or the bus more that 13 times each, it is recommended that each of you get an Inlimited Pass.

Can 2 people use MetroCard? ›

Only two people per card are granted entry to a METRO centre.

Do you need cash for NYC subway? ›

To pay your fare at subway turnstiles, AutoGates, and onboard buses (including Select Bus Service buses), simply tap your own contactless credit or debit card, smart device, or OMNY card on the OMNY reader. Use the same card or device for both legs of your trip to get a free transfer.

How do you tell which way the subway is going? ›

Go the right way

In Manhattan, "Downtown" means south and "Uptown" means north, so you will often see signs like "Uptown & The Bronx" or "Downtown & Brooklyn." The train itself will not say these things. Instead, when the train arrives, its destination will be indicated by signage along the side of the train.

What is subway etiquette? ›

Stand to to the side to let people off the train; put your backpack or messenger bag on the ground in crowded trains; avoid filling the seats next to you with all your stuff or your sense of entitlement ; and walk all the way into the train instead of stopping six inches after walking through the doors.

Are there cameras inside NYC subway cars? ›

But the decision to install cameras on subway cars worries some privacy advocates, who say it will increase the level of surveillance of New Yorkers without necessarily making the subway safer. Subway stations in the city already have surveillance cameras.

What to do if you fall into the subway? ›

Try to climb out with the help of someone who can help hoist you. Lie down between the tracks, depending on the depth of the tracks. Get to the side of the track. Step between the girders that separate tracks (but this involves stepping over the third rail, which carries more than 600 volts of electricity).

Is it safe to bring a backpack to NYC? ›

Yes, backpacks are very very common here, but we are very accustomed to being surrounded by throngs of people and knowing how to aviod thefts from backpacks. NYC has the lowest crime rates of any large city, but that doesn't mean you should be too lackadasical. Pickpocketing and scam artists are the most common crimes.

How do you pack a suitcase on a train? ›

Luggage should be stored in overhead luggage racks, under the seats or in one of the luggage compartments located near the doors or in the middle of the carriage. You may also take prams/ pushchairs and sports equipment (e.g. skis and surfboards) on board.

Can you wear headphones on the subway? ›

Please use headphones at a volume only you can hear." The subway etiquette signs are probably a bit more reliable, however, since subway announcements are often unintelligible. According to the MTA, however, this is not really new.

How do I get over subway anxiety? ›

If you begin to panic on the subway, take a deep breath. If you're standing, ask someone to give you their seat. You can explain that you're not feeling well. Lean forward, lower your head to heart-level, or even lower, to help return blood flow to your brain.

What are some examples of things that people shouldn't do on the subway? ›

10 Things You Should Never Do on the Subway
  • Practice Acrobatics. Image via Complex Original. ...
  • Fall Asleep. Image via Complex Original. ...
  • Engage in Conversation with Tourists. Image via Complex Original. ...
  • Eat. Image via Complex Original. ...
  • Count Money. ...
  • Perform Acapella. ...
  • Propose to Your Girl. ...
  • Get in the One Car That's Not Packed.
2 Feb 2013

Can you survive under a subway train? ›

So the answer is yes – it is possible to survive lying under the oncoming train, but it is very unlikely that you could survive that without a major injury. It is a good idea to stay away from railroad tracks. Just by hanging around such places you are putting yourself in danger.

Do kids go free on the underground? ›

Children under 11 years of age

Children under the age of 11 also travel free on London Underground, DLR (Docklands Light Railway), overground and TFL rail without a ticket if they're accompanied by a paying adult. Up to 4 children can travel for free with an adult that has a valid ticket.

Can kids use underground for free? ›

Children aged five to 10 can travel free at any time by Tube, DLR, London Overground and some National Rail services in London, as long as they travel with an adult who has a valid ticket. Up to four children can travel free with one adult.

Do 10 year olds pay on underground? ›

Up to 4 children aged 5 -10 years old can travel free on the following Transport for London services when accompanied by an adult travelling with a valid ticket. Children travelling free do not require tickets and will be allowed through ticket gates by staff. The accompanying adult should use gates as normal.

How do small kids get around in NYC? ›

Up to three children under 44 inches can travel with a paying adult on both the bus and subway. If possible try to travel on buses and the subway during off-peak hours to help ensure your child gets a seat and that they aren't rushed up and down the stairs.

Do all NYC kids get free lunch? ›

The meals are the same for all children, and no child may be identified as a free or reduced-price student or discriminated against in any way. Full-price students must either pre-pay for meals or pay for the meal at the time of service.

Is it better to take the bus or subway in NYC? ›

In general, trains arrive more frequently on a given subway track than a bus at the average bus stop, so the subway can be a better option if you're in a hurry. But if you have the time, the bus gives you the best of both worlds: a comfortable ride at a reasonable price.

How much is a MetroCard in New York? ›

For a new Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard, the minimum purchase is $5.50; the maximum purchase is $80. A $1 fee applies to each new MetroCard purchase. The fee does not apply to card refills or Reduced-Fare MetroCards.

What is Fast $9 MetroCard? ›

You have the choice between Single Ride, MetroCard and Fast $9 MetroCard. Select Single Ride if you only need one ticket for one trip and pay $3. To purchase a Pay-Per-Ride Card or a 7-Days-Unlimited Card press MetroCard. Select $9 MetroCard, if you want to buy a Pay-Per-Ride Card and you want to get done quick.

What age is a child 50 pounds? ›

What is Normal Growth for a Child?
AgeHeight Females in InchesWeight Males in Pounds
642 to 4936 to 60
847 to 5446 to 78
1050 to 5954 to 102
1255 to 6466 to 130
7 more rows

Do kids in New York ride the subway to school? ›

Many factors inform the decision, but NYC parents seem to generally agree that most 9- to 10-year-old children are ready to travel to school on the subways. But still, “It depends on the maturity of the child rather than the specific age,” says one Queens parent.

Do I have to pay for a 6 year old on the underground? ›

Travelling with children

If your child is under 11, they can travel free on: Buses and trams. Tube, DLR, London Overground, Elizabeth line and some National Rail services. They must be travelling with an adult who is using pay as you go, or has a valid ticket (excluding Group Day Travelcards).

Can kids ride in taxis in NYC? ›

The TLC encourages everyone, including those in the rear of the vehicle, buckle their seatbelts while riding in a cab. Passengers with children are encouraged to bring their own car seats, which the drivers must allow passengers to install. *NOTE - Children under the age of seven are permitted to sit on an adult's lap.

What is a reasonable distance for a child to travel to school? ›

What's the statutory walking distance? The statutory walking distance is the distance between home and school that the Government thinks a child should be able to walk: two miles for children under eight years of age. three miles for pupils aged 8–16 years.

Is Times Square OK for kids? ›

Visiting Times Square is a must when visiting New York City with kids. It is busy, fun, and full of NYC energy. There are a few places we like to see each time we visit this popular New York state attraction.

Do you need a car seat in NYC? ›

New York State law requires all motor vehicle passengers ages 8 and older to wear seat belts, regardless of seating position. Children under the age of 4 must ride in a car seat and children under the age of 2 must ride in a rear-facing car seat.

Do children go free on the underground? ›

Children under 11 years of age

Children under the age of 11 also travel free on London Underground, DLR (Docklands Light Railway), overground and TFL rail without a ticket if they're accompanied by a paying adult. Up to 4 children can travel for free with an adult that has a valid ticket.

How much is an Oyster card for a child? ›

There's a £7 fee for the Oyster card (non-refundable). Single fares and the daily cap for the underground and buses-only are 50% cheaper than adult fares. For example: Unlimited travel by underground in zone 1-2 is £3.85 per day.

Can 3 adults and 2 children take taxi? ›

“Can we fit three adults with two young children into one normal four-seater taxi?” The answer to these questions is a resounding YES! You don't need to book a six-seater or seven-seater MaxiCab for this, so that should help you save some fares.

Is it cheaper to take a taxi or Uber in NYC 2022? ›

With that being said, Uber is often slightly more expensive, with a NYC city taxi averaging about $1.40 less, according to Free Tours by Foot.

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