(Kevin Wu for WSN) (Kevin Wu)
(Kevin Wu for WSN)

Kevin Wu

The most picturesque MetroCard rides in New York City

The best views of the city skyline only cost $2.75.

March 27, 2023

Spending four figures on a helicopter tour that lasts 20 minutes is easy if you have money to spend in New York City. Taking an open-top, double-decker bus with pre-recorded commentary blasting through the speakers is even easier. What many travelers don’t realize, though, is how many scenic views your MetroCard can offer when you are taking a $2.75 ride through the city, whether it’s on the subway, ferry or even tramway.

Jodi Shapiro, the curator of the New York Transit Museum, says that the city’s public transportation — including the bus system, the subway, and even Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road — all offer unique perspectives of the city. People taking bus tours, on the other hand, only see what the tour operator wants them to see.

“Each one of those modes of transportation will show you something different about the place you are visiting,” Shapiro said. “By taking public transportation, you choose what you want to see.”

So next time you’re moving around the city, skip the Uber ride. Here are four scenic public transportation routes in New York City, all accessible with a single swipe of your MetroCard (or by tapping your phone or credit card!).

Take the No. 7 train to Flushing

Whether you’re on your way to a Mets game at Citi Field or on searching for Chinese food in Flushing, the No. 7 Train should be your top choice for transportation. One stop after the train leaves Manhattan, the track rises above ground and turns north. You will both see and feel the train tilt to the left with the track’s curve as the midtown Manhattan skyline looms behind the graffiti-covered buildings outside your window.

The 7 train arrives at the outdoor platform with the midtown Manhattan skyline in the background. There are people waiting on the platform.

According to Shapiro, the No. 7 Train — which debuted as the Flushing Line of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company in 1915 — was integral to the development of Queens as we know it today. The above-ground journey offers views of the city’s largest and most diverse borough, passing through neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights, Corona and Flushing.

The route’s scenic features were a centerpiece of the journey to and from the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Shapiro said. In fact, the trains to the convention were specially designed with larger windows so the passengers could enjoy the view.

The interior of a subway car with light blue walls and gray bench chairs.
The interior of the R36 train that served during the 1964 New York World’s Fair. (Photo by Neal B. Johnson via Flickr)

Staten Island Ferry

There’s no need to pay for the ferry to Liberty Island if you’re not planning on climbing into the Statue of Liberty — the Staten Island Ferry is completely free. A round trip between the Battery in Manhattan and St. George in Staten Island takes around 55 minutes, and the views are unbeatable — especially during golden hour.

Several people stand by the window on the Staten Island Ferry with the sun shining on them. In the background is the downtown Manhattan skyline.
The silhouette of three people looking at the Statue of Liberty onboard the Staten Island Ferry. The sun is setting below the horizon.

Standing among the waterway commuters, you’ll see the sun set behind the figure of Libertas and reflect off the glass facades of the New York City skyline. The ferry has open corridors on both sides and the stern, allowing passengers to seek out their own favorite views.

On the F train to Coney Island

For a weekend getaway to Coney Island, take the downtown F train. You’ll be 87.5 feet above Brooklyn 10 minutes after the train leaves Manhattan.

The F train arrives at the outdoor platform with the downtown Manhattan skyline in the background.
A view from above of an intersection in Brooklyn. The Statue of Liberty rises over the horizon at the top of the photo.

Take a pause and get off the train at the Smith-9th Streets station, and you will see the skyline of downtown Manhattan. When it was built in 1933, it was the highest subway station in the world — a record that remained unbeaten until it was broken last year by a station in Chongqing, China.

The station’s long platforms offer views of New York City from angles that no paid tours could offer. Look east to see the Statue of Liberty rises above the horizon. The view is a combination of landmarks, local communities and the busy New York Harbor.

Roosevelt Island Tramway

With a one-way trip taking only 10 minutes, the Roosevelt Island Tramway is the most unique public transportation experience you can get in New York City.

When you enter the terminal, located near East 59th Street and Second Avenue, you will see the red cable cars drifting slowly over the typical Manhattan traffic. Boarding the tramway feels surreal, particularly because of the calmly inefficient nature of the tramway compared to the subway and buses in the busiest city in the world.

Three people stand by a window with the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge and a Roosevelt Island Tramway cable car outside.
The interior of a crowded cable car with sunshine coming through the window.

The route runs parallel to the Queensboro Bridge over the East River, and the view is especially mesmerizing after dark when the bridge lights up in front of you.

Now imagine spending over $100 for a short helicopter ride when you can spend $2.75 for something with similar views and much less hassle.

Contact Kevin Wu at [email protected].

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