The New York City subway runs 24/7 and transports millions of people every day. With 230+ miles of routes, it’s also one of the world’s longest transit systems. While overcrowding and delays make the NYC subway easy to knock, true subway buffs know there’s a lot to cherish and admire. Here’s our five favorite activities designed to bring out the subway lover in even the most cynic of riders. By Jessica Allen.
Public art in the subway? Yup. And we’re not talking about craftily defaced ads, either. When you’re hustling and hurrying to make your train, it’s easy to miss the sponsored art that abounds. Our favorite public works include “Life Underground,” a permanent installation of 25 whimsical sculptures by Tom Otterness at the 14th Street and 8th Avenue “L” station, and “Gardens of Fort Hamilton Parkway Station,” laminated glass photographs of flowers by Portia Munson — an attempt to bring some nature into the Fort Hamilton train station.
Not for the faint of heart, the Subway Challenge requires participants to visit each and every one of the subway’s 469 stations in the shortest time possible. It requires stamina, snacks, and, of course, a MetroCard. The rules vary, from forcing people to ride every line (but not necessarily the entire line) to stopping at each station (versus just passing through). The most recent Guinness World Record holder traveled through all the subway stations in 21 hours and 49 minutes in January 2015. Can you beat that?
The subway lover’s holy grail, the abandoned station beneath City Hall is glorious—with decorative plaques, scrubbed tiles and chandeliers. But it’s extremely hard to visit. Members of the New York Transit Museum (see below) are periodically invited to tour the station, which has been closed since 1945. Alternatively, you can ask a conductor for permission to stay on the downtown 6 train as it turns around in the station and begins its long route uptown to the Bronx. Conductors don’t have to say yes, so make sure to be as polite as possible.
One of our favorite museums in all of New York, the small, lovable New York Transit Museum highlights the best of the city’s extensive transportation system throughout the years, explaining how a vast network of machines and people moves folks from one place to another. You can swing through old turnstiles, admire metal slugs (once used to avoid paying the 5-cent fare), and hang out in preserved cars, complete with wicker seats and original ads and maps. It’s a perfect antidote for days when your subway is not only super-late but also super-packed.
Santiago Calatrava designed the exterior of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub to evoke a child letting go of a dove — a universal symbol of hope and a nod to the violence that destroyed the World Trade Center. Inside, it’s a futuristic testament to engineering, full of clean lines, glass, and steel. Once completed, the $4.4 billion project will feature retail and restaurants, along with connections to the PATH train and subway. For now, though, you can wander around the Oculus and pretend you’re a character in Star Wars.