How to Navigate the Metro

Traveling is tricky. Big cities are tricky. Trying to find your way around a big city on your first visit while you’re looking at maps, carrying luggage, trying to keep everyone in your group from wandering off, and trying but oh-so-miserably failing to get out of everyone’s way while they’re running back and forth? Yeah, it can get overwhelming. And confusing. Whether you’re a traveling pro or a new adventurer, getting from place to place with public transportation can save you time and money, if you know what to do. You can find a metro system in almost every major city worldwide, from New York to Milan to Shanghai. The continent and language may change, but most of the big moving pieces are the same, and knowing at least kinda what to expect before you arrive can make your trip so much easier.

Step 1: Find your start and end destination on the metro map

I highly suggest planning out your route before you get to the metro station to avoid any unnecessary complications when you arrive. The maps can get confusing, but first just focus on where you are and the location of your final destination. For our example, we’re going to use the Boston metro. Let’s say you just got off your flight at the airport and want to go to the Aquarium to start your vacation (which I 100% recommend, the New England Aquarium is fantastic). Both the airport and the aquarium are on the same line, the blue line (different lines are usually drawn in different colors on metro maps, and are labeled differently, either designated by different numbers or letters). We can use this map from Transit-Maps for our example.

Step 2: Get to the metro station and buy your ticket

Use Google maps or another GPS app to get you from your location to the nearest metro station and buy your ticket. If you’re just buying a ticket for a one-way trip, the fare is typically $1-$4 dollars depending on the city and type of transportation. However, if you are staying for an extended time, there are available packages to buy weekly or monthly tickets to save money. There are usually ticket counters available, but if you’re in a foreign country with a different language, there are almost always ticket machines nearby where you can walk through the buying process in your native language. Fun fact: the following picture is from a metro stop in Milan, Italy!

Step 3: Find your platform

With your ticket in hand, find the platform that corresponds to the color or name of the line you’re looking for. In our Boston example, you would be looking for the blue line. Typically, when you find your correct line, you have to choose between two directions, both pointing to your line. Don’t worry, you just need to make sure you are getting on the platform going in the right direction. Underground trains usually run both ways, but on different parallel platforms. To figure out which direction you want to take, look at the endpoints of your line. The endpoints of the blue line are Bowdoin and Wonderland. From the airport, you want to go in the direction of Bowdoin to reach the aquarium, so you will take the direction to Bowdoin.


Step 4: Wait for your train

You can usually find a board on your platform listing the approximate time of the next incoming train. At this point, you’ve done the hard work, now sit back and wait for your train to arrive.

Step 5: Mind the Gap

When your metro/subway/train enters the station, calmly and efficiently get onboard, just be prepared for lots of people to be getting on and off, especially if you’re there at a busy time of day. Watch your step and your belongings, and find a seat or a bar to steady yourself once the train starts moving again.

Step 6: End Destination

If the metro map isn’t on the inside of the train, pull out your map again and watch the stops. You should hear an announcement of every stop as it is coming up, but just in case it’s loud in the train, chart your own course to make sure you get off at your correct stop. You don’t want to miss your station and end up having to get on a new train and retrace your steps. Once your stop comes up, get off the train, exit the station, and enjoy your next adventure!

Additional Tips:

  • Some lines have branches with more than 2 endpoints, if this is the case and your end destination is on one of the branches, double check to make sure you are on the correct platform that corresponds to the branch’s end destination.
  • If your beginning and end destinations aren’t on the same line, don’t panic. Just find the stations in between where you can get on different lines. For example, with the Boston system, if you are at the airport on the blue line and want to go to Quincy Center on the red line, you will take the blue line toward Bowdoin, get off the train at State and while still in the same station, take the yellow line toward Forest Hills to Downtown Crossing, get off the train and finally take the red line toward Braintree until you reach Quincy Center.
  • Every marker is a new station, and at places where two lines cross at the same station (for example: Downtown Crossing, State, Government Center, Park Street) you can change lines

There you have it, our quick guide to mastering any metro! Do you have any transportation tips? Let us know in the comments!