Although New York City is a massive sprawling metropolis, most of the key sites are thankfully clustered closely together on the lower half of the island of Manhattan.
With much of Manhattan laid out in a grid, it makes getting around on foot pretty simple. Generally, the numbered streets run north-south (the higher the number of the street the further north) and avenues run east-west (getting higher to the west).
Consider 20 north-south blocks to be a mile and - if you have good weather - plan to do plenty of exploring through walking, you’ll probably be moving more quickly than the cross town traffic. Otherwise, taxis and subways are very convenient and relatively cheap. A yellow taxi fare from midtown to Soho will cost around ten bucks for example (and you can even pay with credit cards now, which has made the whole proposition easier).
The Subway system is relatively straightforward, runs 24 hours, and contrary to what you might have seen in the movies, is very safe - even in the evenings. During high traffic periods, it’s also the fastest way to get around. Every New Yorker takes the subway and in fact riding the rails beneath the massive skyscrapers feeling the frenetic pace of these winding underground labyrinths is a key part of New York City culture and shouldn’t be missed.
Trains are oriented by their direction and destination so be sure you know whether you are heading UPTOWN or DOWNTOWN or if you are heading in the direction of Brooklyn (downtown), or Queens (uptown).
You need to swipe a Metrocard to enter the Subway system, which you can purchase at the automated machines in any subway station (most bigger stations also have 24-hour booths where you can also buy a card). Fares are fixed at $2.25 per ride, regardless of your destination. If you plan on taking more than one ride, it makes sense to buy an unlimited use card (a one day unlimited card is $8.25 and a seven day unlimited card is $29).
Most stations have big maps of the subway lines by the information booth so you can plan your route before you get on board. Once you disembark, large neighborhood maps can orient you before you exit.
The same information about Metrocards also applies to the bus system. Fares are $2.25 for local buses, regardless of the journey, and $5.50 for express bus journeys. You can use the Metrocard, or you can use cash - but you must provide the exact change and no dollar bills. Up to three children (less than 44 inches in height) ride for free on local buses when accompanied by a fare-paying adult.
I tend to only use public buses that run east to west and north to south during off-peak hours so not to get caught in rush hour traffic.
For up to date information on both the subway and bus lines check out at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority website at www.mta.info/nyct or download an application like NYC SUBWAY MAP to your iPhone.
For advice on transport to and from New York City's three major airports (JFK, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia), see my New York City flights page.