5 NYC Subway Stations That Double as Attractions

Yes, it’s cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, and undeniably grimy year-round but I truly believe the MTA subway system is an off-beat New York attraction in its own right. A microcosm of the city, it condenses the vastness of the Big Apple’s diversity into its stations and subway cars for fleeting moments at a time. Within the few second it takes to move from one stop to the next, there are so many stories, so many emotions, so many agendas, all in the same car, on the same train, heading in so many different directions it’s impossible to know where anyone’s journey began or will end.

Beyond the cars and the people however, I have always been fascinated by the stations that facilitate the transportation process. Even with all their grit, beautiful designs shine through, and there are a few of these hubs that I think are worth a visit beyond the purpose of getting you from point A to point B.

Representing both the past and the present, the vintage and the modern, the intricate and the sleek, here are my five favorite subway stations out of the 469 (at last count) that comprise the complicated, mysterious, efficient and largest rapid transit system in the world.

Fulton Center

Fulton Center

All glass walls and metal accents, the Fulton Center station is Apple meets MTA. The chic station in Downtown Manhattan includes trendy stores and restaurants, making it more than just another stop on the train line. While I consider myself a traditionalist who prefers tiled mosaics over modern art, I admit I was impressed by the futuristic design. It also gets points for the massive Shake Shack with views of the city streets and the station’s fascinating interior. Plus, there’s FREE WIFI! 

Trains: 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, Z and R  

Nearby attractions: WTC Memorial, One World Trade Center, The Oculus, St. Paul’s Chapel, Century 21

Westfield World Trade Center Transportation Hub

IMG_6610

At the center of the Westfield World Trade Center is Lower Manhattan’s newest pride of joy – The Oculus. Sleek and almost blindingly white, it was designed by Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava. The exterior is meant to reflect the image of a dove being released from a child’s hands, while the central skylight was strategically positioned to allow the shaft of light shining through it every September 11 to bisect the floor. It inspires awe, demands respect and serves as a reverent reminder of the tragedy that resulted in its existence. If you’re big on shopping, you can patronize any of the stores in the station, from Hugo Boss to Apple. If not, spend your time like so many others, staring up and around at the facility’s many interesting details.

Trains: PATH, Connects to Fulton Center (2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, Z and R)

Nearby attractions: WTC Memorial, One World Trade Center, Fulton Center, St. Paul’s Chapel, Century 21

34th Street Hudson Yards

34th Street Hudson Yards

A block from the High Line is a station with escalators that double as slow but invigorating theme park rides. The 34th Hudson Park station is 125 ft below street level, 108 ft below sea level, and the 3rd deepest station in the entire transit system. Even more fascinating to me than its beautifully designed exterior and the gorgeous mosaic tile work throughout the interior, is the 172 ft long incline escalators that deliver you into the bowels of the station. If you suffer from vertigo this might not be ideal for you, but if you can handle it, I highly recommend riding one just for fun. At first I was a bit freaked out, but by the time we made it 1/3 of the way down, it felt as if we were flat and the station was titled!

Trains: 7

Nearby attractions: Highline Park, Herald Square

14th St and 8 Ave 

IMG_6612

If you’ve never heard about the Life Underground installations by artist, Tom Otterness, you need to right that wrong. I have been obsessed with these adorable sculptures, arbitrarily placed throughout the 14th Street and 8 Ave station, since I discovered them almost a decade ago and I think it’s a shame to visit New York, ride the subway, and not glimpse at least one of them. If you have the time, I strongly recommend taking a stroll around the station to see how many of these you can spot. My absolute favorite is the alligator emerging from the manhole and biting into the poor passerby under the stairs on the A C E platform.

Trains: A C E L

Nearby attractions: Apple Store, High Line, Chelsea Neighborhood 

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station
#NYC Subway: Grand Central Station captures the romance, endurance and magic of New York City.

When it comes to New York stations, nothing is grander than Grand Central. It’s one of those iconic spots that is actually worth the fuss. A work of art, Grand Central captures the romance, endurance and magic of one of the greatest cities on earth. Visit only when you have some time on your hands because patience is required to capture that perfect shot from the very center of either of the landings leading to the east and west balconies. Once that’s checked off your must-do list, take a stroll past the vintage four-faced clock and ticket booths all the way down to the famous Secret Whispering Spot, where you can exchange softly spoken words with friends from opposite ends of the passageway. 

Trains: 4 5 6 7 S

Nearby attractions: Apple Store, NY Public Library, Shake Shack and other options in the Dining hall

Are you a fan of NYC subway stations like me? If so, where are you favorite underground spots?

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NYC Subway Stations are more than just a means of getting from one place to the next. They've got color and personality and stories to tell. Here are 5 that are attractions in their own right!

34 Comment

  1. Clare says: Reply

    I have only ever visited the Grand Central Station, I will have to visit the rest when I am back in NYC 🙂

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      Definitely check them out, they’re all remarkable in their own way!

  2. These are so cool! I have only been to New York once, and even then I was only there for a day. I definitely need to make another trip down there, They have so many sites that I am just dying to see!

    xx Victoria
    http://www.strungingold.com

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      You’re so right, New York has sooo much to offer! I hope you make it back there soon and have enough time to take it all in!

  3. I really enjoyed this post! It’s always nice to see something out of the ordinary that really give visitors a look at the “real” city. I’ve seen a few of these but will be putting the rest on my list for my next visit!

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      Thank you so much Bruce! It was a fun post for me because I enjoy the subway so much and I liked being able to show the nicer side of it. I hope you get to visit the other transit hubs on your next visit!

  4. Neat! Will keep in mind for my next trip to NYC!

  5. Having never been to NYC myself, I always imagined the subway system as dark, dingy, and even a little shifty at times. These photos prove me wrong! The stations you’ve showcased here are so bright and airy, like newly updated airports. I do hope to visit the city eventually, and when I do, I’m eager to have my eyes opened and see some of these beautiful stops! 🙂

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      I hope you make it to New York soon so you can see it all for yourself 🙂 There’s the dark and shady side but also so many beautiful details in so many of these stations!

  6. Monika says: Reply

    Grand Central is beautiful! I haven’t been to the Fulton Street one but I’ve seen the life underground figures and my aunt works right by the World Trade Center one. She always talks about how beautiful it is.

    -M

    Violet Roots || Instagram

  7. Suz says: Reply

    So I really, really, really love taking the subway in New York City. I used to visit the city all the time when I was younger, since I only lived a couple of hours away. But when I moved for college and subsequently got married, I’ve only been back once. Once! But this makes me really crave the adrenaline of the city. I would love to spend a day just exploring subway stations, thank you for the inspiration!

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      Isn’t the subway amazing? I’m so glad you feel the same way, most people I know don’t get it but it’s such an intriguing place. I hope you get that day to dedicate to exploring the subway stations, there are soooo many beautiful ones, I wish I could have captured them all!

  8. Sooo pretty! Hope to go to New York soon!

    Sheena
    http://www.sheenalovessunsets.com

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      I hope you make it there soon Sheena!

  9. I’ve only been to Grand Central, but will definitely have to check these out when I’m back in New York one day! (:
    Camilla | http://cammi.dk

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      Grand Central is so beautiful! The others are well worth a visit as well, hope you’re able to see them all when next you’re in NYC 🙂

  10. I visited NYC for the first time ever this year (only for a long weekend) and walked through the Westfield World Trade Center Transportation Hub. I’ll definitely have to check out the other ones mentioned in this list!

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      Isn’t it amazing? I hope you’re able to visit the other stations soon!

  11. Wow…it looks like a big shopping mall esp. the Fulton Center.

  12. Grand Central is so beautiful! I’ve always imagined going there (and having a romantic moment haha) after seeing it in so many movies! Lovely idea of showing the beauty of some subway stations. I’m considering doing the same for London tube as the art on the underground is also lovely 🙂

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      Thanks Natasha! And I would LOVE to read your post on the underground in London. It’s been about 3 years since I last visited but I’ve always enjoyed riding the tube and you’re right, the art is pretty cool 🙂

  13. I love the idea of making the stations part of the destination. When I visited NYC a few years ago, I think I only rode the subway once! Now when I return I have something to add to my must-see list!

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      Oh yes, absolutely! I do hope you get to spend more time on the subway. I know it has its downsides, but its such an integral part of the NY experience. Give it time and I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it as well 🙂

  14. Gareth says: Reply

    Having recently made a pretty comprehensive tour of NYC, I can totally attest to how beautiful and interesting the subway stations can be. Grand Central Stations is obviously the best known and you’re right, it is spectacular, almost like a cathedral and it really does embody the hustle and bustle that is NYC. Really interesting and unique post.

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      Thank you so much! Means a whole lot coming from you, Gareth. I absolutely LOVE your blog!

  15. I will start by saying that I’ve never been in NY yet so I just saw the Grand Central in many films… but from the pictures you posted I see there are more stations the surely worth a visit :). I take a note for the future for my Trip to New York.

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      I do hope you make it out to NYC soon so you can explore these stations and so much more!

  16. neha says: Reply

    Wow. beautiful stations indeed. When I go to NY, i will make sure to hop on and off the routes that cover these stations 🙂

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      There are so many gorgeous stations in the city, I hope you can check out these 5 and maybe even discover a few more!

  17. Maria says: Reply

    Love beautiful subway stations. Twitted the post (wild card Wednesday).

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      Thank you so much Maria!

  18. RC says: Reply

    I’ve heard so much about the Oculus and how the shops are hidden. You don’t see them when you’re standing at the entrances. So cool!

    1. islandgirlintransit says: Reply

      It really is such an amazingly cool place! I hope you get to visit soon, I spent so much time at the entrance just staring ahead, taking it all in. You could easily spend an hour in there observing the details and passersby and not get bored 🙂

  19. […] great, authentic Caribbean restaurants, thoroughly exploring Central Park, and identifying amazing subway stations that actually double as attractions. I’m very partial to New York in the summer because of all the activities taking place (so […]

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