As lovers say a quick good-bye upstairs, the roar of an approaching Subway train echoes through the underbelly of the city. The stop at 42nd Street and Grand Central is just one of the subway’s 468 operating stations, helping  to make the New York City subway the fifth busiest rail transport system in  the world.
New York – Been There

Rats, roaches – and romance?

Photo by Lorenzo Domínguez

New York – Been There Rats, roaches – and romance?

It’s not the top of the Empire State Building. It’s not an afternoon in Central Park. But if you want to get a look at real New Yorkers, not buildings, New York City Subway – in all its grimy glory – is the single best place to watch the world go by.

Tara Isabella Burton
Tara Isabella Burton Travel Writer

Ride any New York Subway line from end to end and, in two or so hours, you’ll have met the whole city.

There’s the hipster on the L-Train reading Don DeLillo – in hardback, not Kindle, so everybody can see. There’re the Upper East Side doyennes on the 6 train when traffic is bad above-ground looking appalled at the indignity of having to share oxygen with other people.

There're the lovers who won’t stop kissing (or more), the drunk out-of-towners trying to keep the bile down on their way to Port Authority, the commuters and the conversationalists – rare, but not unheard of – who want to know why New Yorkers are so much less considerate today than they once were.

And that’s before you get to the buskers and proselytizers. The L train has the parkour dancers, who swing and jump from pole to pole. There’s the poet who’ll take cash for declamations (and ask you to follow them on “IG” if you make eye contact).

There’s the middle-aged opera singer I once saw belt out O il mio babbino caro on an afternoon A-Train. There’s the crop-haired woman in the bright orange dress who wants to make sure nobody on the subway car dares eat animal products. And, of course, the ones who want to share the “Good News”.

If taxis are the ultimate New York indulgence, the subway is the ultimate New York experience. Sweaty, miserable, uncomfortable – and full of some of the wildest, most fascinating people you’ll ever meet.

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