New York City – Getting Around (With Dogs Too)
One of the things we’ve always loved about the many big cities we’ve lived in over the years is that the public transportation rocks.
In the 4 years we lived in Hong Kong we never owned a car and the freedom of it was, quite frankly, liberating. So trust me on this. If you come to New York City you’re going to want to ditch the car as soon as you get here. Not only will it remove ALL the stress of driving, sitting in traffic and (heaven forbid) parking in the city, but it’ll get you flowing with that big city energy vibe in a way no other method will. It’s both fun & freeing.
The only problem is figuring it all out.
Between the waterways & ferries, the various rails (multiple different kinds), the buses and the subway it can seem like an overwhelming task for an “outsider” to have any hope of sorting through it all. Plus you don’t want to be that one idiot tourist that holds up the mass of folks trying to make their way home from work. In our case we had Polly too, and although we were prepared to leave her at home for most of our short outings we wanted to bring her along for some of them. Where do you find THAT info??
Well, in the spirit of being guinea pigs for all our blog readers we decided to play the newbie tourists and experiment for you. We didn’t try ALL the various transport methods (and we certainly don’t profess to be experts) but we DID try almost all of them and we discovered a few surprises, including one particular favorite that we never imagined we’d use. So, here’s our mini Wheelingit guide to getting around in the Big Apple on public transport:
Google Maps (Transit) Is Your Best Friend
If you’ve never used the public transport option on Google Maps before you’re in for a treat. Back in the dark pre-internet age you had to rely on printed train timetables and some serious mental yoga to figure out which connections took you where, especially if you planned on taking more than one kind of public transport. With Google Maps ALL of that is now done automatically for you.
Want to get from Liberty Harbor RV Park to Times Square? Just plug in the addresses to Google, click on the little “transit” icon and you’ll receive 3-5 options of how to get there including which exact train/bus to take, when to take it, how many stops to take it for and how much walking you might have to do in-between.
You’re not stuck with one mode of transport either. If you get half way through your planned route and you decide you want to stop off or bike/walk some of the way, just click on the “walking” or “biking” option and it will automatically re-calculate everything for you.
And lastly if you get REALLY tired and want to get on motorized wheels just scroll to the bottom of the public transport options (or click on the “cab/hail” icon) and you’ll be offered typical Uber/Lyft times & fare rates for your desired route. Makes it super easy to decide if you’d rather just cab it to your next destination.
It’s awesome, it’s efficient and it works on every mobile device you own. Just use it!
Get A MetroCard For Subways, PATH & Buses
There are several different types of rails & bus systems in the NJ/NY area. On the Jersey side the rails are called PATH and if you’re going into NYC from the RV Park that’s very likely the first train you’ll take. Once you get into Manhattan however, you enter into New York City bus & subway system operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Tons of different “lines” here that criss-cross the whole city, each designated by a number/letter. It can look really complicated at first sight (and it kinda is), but if you’re using Google Maps (see above) you just need to follow the instructions for the particular number/letter of bus/subway to take. After one or two rides, it’ll be easy as pie.
The one thing that ALL these transport options have in common however is the MetroCard. With a single card you can take pretty much every rail/bus/tram/subway in the city, and if you plan on doing this more than once or twice during your time in New York, it’s definitely worth it. There are two basic types:
- Pay Per Ride Card – You can get yourself a pay-per-ride refillable card (costs $1 to purchase and then you load it with as many $$ as you’d like). Note that one of these cards can be used by up to 4 people by just swiping the same card several times when you enter the subway/bus.
- Unlimited Card – You can buy an unlimited 7-day card for $31 which allows you to use as much rail/bus/subway transport as you please. Note that these cards only cover one person at a time, so if there’s 2 of you, you need to buy 2 cards.
Each single subway or bus ride costs $2.75 so it’s pretty easy to calculate which version makes the most sense for you. The only tricky part of this whole process? Actually finding out WHERE to buy the darn MetroCard! According to the web you can get them at any vending machine or subway booth, but the first 5 subway station entries we tried didn’t have either. My best advice? Just keep trying different stations until you find one that sells it.
How We Used It -> In our case we bought a single pay-per-ride from a vending machine and just loaded it up with $20. That was just enough for the number of times we used rails & buses during our stay. We took PATH from Grove Street (closest station to the RV Park) several times and the subway in Manhattan once. The rest of the time we were on foot, ferry and bike.
Try The Ferries = They Are Awesome
The one negative about Google Transit Maps is that it’s not really good with local ferry routes. It’ll handle subway/bus/rail really well, but won’t necessarily give you the option to take a ferry, even if it might be the fastest path. Also ferries are not part of the MetroCard system and do tend to cost a bit more ($7 per person per ride), so many folks tend to dismiss them as an option.
But in my opinion if you come to NYC you’ve got to try them at least once! Not only are ferries a super peaceful & efficient way to get into the city, but you’ll get some of the BEST city skyline views you’ll ever see. The even bigger bonus? Some are dog friendly!
If you’re staying at Liberty Harbor RV Park there’s two easy ferry routes that take you into and out of Manhattan.
Commuter Ferry -> There’s a ferry operated by New York Waterways that leaves literally right next to the RV park and drops you off at Pier 11 in the financial district (Wall Street). It operates mornings & evenings (commuter times only) and takes ~12 mins to get in. Only small dogs in pet carriers are allowed on board here.
- Dog-Friendly Ferry -> There’s a ferry ~10 mins walk away on Warren Street operated by Liberty Landing Ferry which runs all day long (every 30 mins) and drops you right by the waterway next to the World Financial Center. This one is 100% dog-friendly and an awesome way to bring your paws into town! Plus you can also bring bikes & strollers for free. We LOVED this ferry!!!
How We Used It -> We enjoyed the Warren Street ferry so much we ended up taking it almost every time we went into town, even when we weren’t bringing the dog. In fact had we known HOW much we would like this we would have bought a discount packet ($55 for 10 tickets) ahead of time. Plus the ferry dropped us off at another super AWESOME discovery -> City Bikes
Citi Bikes Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
If you’d told me last week that I’d be riding a bicycle around downtown New York City I’d have responded that you were off your rocker. You see I’m a pathetically wimpy biker, the type that hates traffic and gets terrified by speeding cars. My preference is a leisurely ride in the countryside on a quiet bike lane, preferably with no-one else around.
So HOW in the world would I end up on a bike in one of the busiest cities in the world??
Well turns out New York City has invested heavily in it’s bike lanes over the past few years. Not only are there well-marked lanes all through downtown, but there are wide, completely separate, very quiet & relaxed bike paths all along the waterfront = just my kinda biking! To make it even easier, along every bike lane pretty much everywhere (in HUNDREDS of locations across the city) there are Citi Bikes for rent, and they’re super easy to use. Just buy a pass either online or at the bike stand, then you simply pick up your bike, ride it around and drop it off at any other bike stand. The passes cost $12 for a day (unlimited 30-min rides in a 24-hour period) or $24 for 3-days (unlimited 30-min rides in 72-hour period). Easy Peasy!
These bikes are not top-of-the-line carbon frame speeders, but they’re comfortable 3-speed cruisers that anyone can ride, and honestly they are SO MUCH FUN. If it’s a nice day and you fancy a bit of time outdoors, this may be one of the coolest experiences you can have in NYC. Add it to your “list”, folks!
How We Used It -> We loved, loved, loved the City Bikes and took them several times during our stay whenever our feet were sore or we just felt like a leisurely bike along the waterway. If you’re biking from the RV park you can pick-up a City Bike just down the road by the Marin Light Rail. If you’re biking from the ferry there are City Bikes on both sides (Jersey & Manhattan) of the Liberty Landing Ferry terminal. For regular users, I recommend downloading the free CitiBike App that not only gives you real-time dock availability, but also allows you to buy a pass directly from your phone.
Taxis, Uber & Lyft Are Super Easy
So what do you do when you’re just tired and want to take a car to your next destination? Well, either hail a classic New York City cab (yellow cab) or call up an Uber or Lyft from your phone.
We have both the Uber & Lyft Apps on our iPhones and find them super easy to use. Just bring up the map, pick the type/size of car you want and you’ll get an estimate for both how long it’ll take for the car to arrive and how much it’ll cost. In NYC there are even “Uber Pools” and Lyft “Ridesharing” which allow you to share cars with a few other folks to reduce costs. You’ll see them right on the Apps when you open them up.
Is there any advantage to use one over the other?
In NYC the fares apparently run pretty close. Cabs tend to be somewhat cheaper when traffic is slow (Uber & Lyft have pretty hefty”surge pricing” during high traffic demand times), while Uber/Lyft tend to be somewhat cheaper outside of commuter hours. Every now and then one of the services will offer a special promo deal (e.g. $5 share rides), but other than that there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference either way though.
Note/ If you’ve never used Uber or Lyft before there’s tons of places you can get a Promo Code that’ll give you a “first ride free” or some kind of credit on your first ride. And you can share promo codes with others too! If you’d like to support us by using a promo code through our link, feel free to click on one of the following:
How We Used It -> We actually didn’t! We’ve used Uber/Lyft plenty of times in other cities (especially Miami), but during our stay in NYC we found we didn’t need them. Weather was fabulous while we were here and the other forms of transport (foot/ferry/bike/rail) worked just fine for us.
What About Traveling With Dogs?
So I promised I’d write something specific about getting around with dogs in the city. This was actually an interesting question that took me some time to figure out. The good news is that there ARE plenty of options, even for bigger dogs, but you might have to book special services or get more creative depending on where you are going. THIS article was the best source I found, and much of my info below comes from there:
Dogs On Buses, Subways & PATH – Technically you can take your dog on all city buses or subways (incl. PATH) as long as you he/she is “enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.” For smaller dogs, a regular dog carrier works fine. For medium-sized dogs you’d need a bigger carrier or a pet backpack. For large dogs? Well, I think you might need to get creative like these folks.
- Dogs On Ferries – The Ferry rules depend on the operator. The NY Waterways ferry that leaves right next to the RV Park only allows “small dogs in pet carriers”. However, the Liberty Landing Ferry that leaves just ~10 minutes walk on Warren Street is 100% dog-friendly (no size limits, cages or restraints needed, and dogs travel free!). This is the best/easiest way to get your paws into town IMHO. The Staten Island Ferry also allows dogs, but they must either be “caged or muzzled”.
- Dogs In Cabs/Uber/Lyft – The bottom line here is that it’s entirely up to the driver. If hailing a cab, just make it obvious you’re standing with a dog. If hailing an Uber/Lyft, call and driver and tell them you have a dog. You may have to try a few times, but most cars should accept you.
- Dogs On Metro North – If you’re looking to get out of town dog lovers can rejoice in the fact that Metro North Rail allows dogs up to 65 lbs, as long as the train isn’t crowded. No muzzles or cages needed and dogs travel free. A nice option for a day-trip.
Pet Specific Cars – If none of the above appeal to you there are several car services that cater specifically to pet owners such as Pet Chauffeur: 212-696-9744, or K9 Cars: 718-683-2152
My Last Tip -> Wear Comfortable Shoes
No matter how you decide to get into town, be ready for some serious walking. Many New York City sights are best seen from the ground and there’s no better way to get a feel for a big city than directly from the pavement. This is where you can watch humanity pass you by, where you physically feel the dwarfing reach of the sky scrapers, where you experience the city vibe step by step. Every time we went into town we walked an average 6-9 miles, sometimes more. Comfy shoes were key 🙂
That wraps up our mini-guide to NYC public transport, at least from the little bit that we experienced while we were here. I’m sure we have some NYC experts who can add lots more tips that I missed, so feel free to comment away below!
Coming up next? What we actually did and saw in this amazing city. Stay tuned….SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
terri bishop says
I am very grateful for your information on City Bikes ( I share your biking philosophy perfectly and because of your blog I would be willing to try it this in New York). By the way, my husband and I recently invested in electric assist “Pedigo” brand bicycles and it has completely changed our biking. We previously had high quality light weight road bikes that we used all the time but with these new electric bikes, we are now more willing to ride much further into town and carry heavier groceries in the bike’s saddle bags, even on hilly paths. And while I still prefer riding in low traffic zones, I can’t tell you just how much these bicycles have delighted us. They are not without effort so you can still get a workout according to your preference but you can also arrive at your destination with zero sweat (if you want to). Try one out once or rent one and you’ll be sold and I’m not trying to sell anything here, I’m just an enthusiastic user. I only mentioned our brand because we found them to have about the best power among those we tried.
P.s. Our little dog is 30 pounds – too large to carry around in a crate but easily transportable in canvas bag – how creative for the subway or bus – happy for the photo you posted!
The electric assist bikes are awesome. Plus you can get collapsible versions too, so they store nicely in an RV bin (or in the back of a car). We have good friends who have electric assist bikes and they love them.
Sue Malone says
I am amazed and thrilled. Our next big cross country trip in the MoHo will be to the East Coast and on up to the Maritime Provinces. New Jersey is one of the blank states on our map! Amazing information about how to actually see New York City with the MoHo. OF course I pinned this one so I don’t lose it. Thank you so much, as always, for your research and willingness to write about it, Nina. Love it.
Excellent! You’re gonna love the trip!
That is AWESOME info, especially including info about bringing the pups. Next time I go to NYC, I’ll be checking back here first.
This is amazing information, Nina. Staying outside of the city and using public transportation is exactly our approach when we visit big cities with our RV (New Orleans and San Francisco come to mind), but New York takes it to a whole other level of intensity and complexity. Thanks so much for the great tips!
I’m super excited about the biking options. We’ve seen similar rental bike stands in Portland and Eugene, but always have our bikes with us. Don’t think I’d hassle with taking my bike into NYC, though.
We travel with bikes too, but decided to use the Citi Bike option instead. It was so nice to be able to pick up a bicycle anytime we felt like it without the hassle of actually having our bikes with us the whole trip into town.
Sunny Harvy says
Thank you SO much for all the transportation tips!
Michael Nistler says
Many thanks for all the wonderful tips! Now then, I need to put our Siberian Husky on a diet to loose 10 pounds 🙂
HA! Yeah I can totally see that would be tough with a big Husky. Wonderful dogs, but they are not little ones 🙂
Kay Browning says
Thanks! My husband and I have been to NYC many times, but never with an RV or with pets. You pointed out a lot of options for getting around town that I wasn’t aware of.
Bob Nuttmann says
We lived 35 miles east of Manhattan on the North Shore of Long Island during almost all of the 1990’s. Wow, things have really changed on getting around in the city. The automation using smartphones is a huge advance, plus the bike rentals, uber-Lyft, and so on. We used to either drive in and park or train in and taxi. Both a PIA. We were in Port Jefferson and it was 2 hours by car or train. Ugh. Plus back then $35-45 to park.
But NYC has magic to it for me. I loved spending time at the Met Art Museum, shows, food, walking around Central Park. And so on.
I sort of would like to fly back (from San Diego) to visit again, and your guide post is fantastic. Our Frazier (Airedale) will be staying home though.
When I first visited NYC all those years ago I felt that same magic. And I totally agree that Google and all the new public transport options have made it so much easier to get around.
Wow Nina, this is an amazing overview! I’ve been wanting to park the RV near NYC and do exactly what you guys are doing. Now I feel confident enough to do it with all this wonderful information. Thank you!
Great! I definitely recommend it. You’ll see what the RV park is like when I put up the review (forewarning -> it’s nothing special), but the location totally rocks. We loved our stay here.
My favorite city! Looks like you guys had a lot of fun, thanks for the share. Keep up the posts!
We put the city on our list for next time so I’ve saved this great info for that trip. Love all the great info on traveling there with a dog! That skyline pic is brilliant!!!!!!
Too bad your trip was ahead of ours. As usual, your post is chock-full of useful information. Loved the views of the skyline from the ferries.
The ferry views are most definitely the best. It was one of my fav things about staying on the Jersey side.
Mark Gehring says
I would add that we found that you should get the 1 week Metrocard even for just three days. The first time were were there in 2012, we also stayed at the same RV park. We then planned out our day to minimize subway rides. However, we got very tired walking many miles. When we reflected on our “around the country” RV trip back in 2012, we really likes NYC the best and flew back there the next year ( 2013 ) for a week. It was a no brainer to get the 1 week Metrocard of course. But, we learned that when you have unlimited access like that you simply don’t avoid the subways and busses and use them a lot more. This lets you see a lot more of the city ( and get just as tired from walking ! ). So, I would encourage anyone to get a MetroCard for even just three days. It makes life so much easier not having to to think about trying to optimize spending on mass transit. It’s just not that much money in the Big Apple scheme of things !
That’s a good tip. If you have the unlimited MetroCard you are more likely to use it. We knew we were going to do a lot of walking in the city (plus we fell in love with the bikes), but for those who aren’t sure and just want the convenience to take any form of transport anytime they please, the unlimited travel MetroCard is definitely the way to go. It’s a small investment for easy transport.
MonaLiza Lowe says
Where were you when we needed you? ha ha. Great info to keep just in case we visit NY again but not with Betsy though. Looked like you had explored NY quite a bit despite some limitations.
Interestingly enough, given our experience this time around we feel great about coming back in the RV again in the future. Never thought I’d say that, but it’s been a really fun experience, RV and all. Of course we have 3 pets, so that makes the RV option much more attractive if you can make it work (it’s very hard to find short-term rentals that will take 3 pets). Without pets we’d prob come back and just rent.