Skip to main content

A Guide to the Second Avenue Subway: Underground and On the Street

The long-awaited Second Avenue Subway is finally open, and its new art-filled stops make the subway a destination all on its own. With installations by artists Sarah Sze (96th St.), Chuck Close (86th St.), Vik Muniz (72nd St.), and Jean Shin (Lexington Ave/ 63rd St.), a ride on the Uptown Q becomes an underground art museum with the stops serving as galleries. It's tempting to keep riding to all the stops and never go above ground.

Entrance to 96th Street Subway station, 96th Street and Second Avenue

Don't be tempted. After seeing the art installations, get some fresh air and enjoy life in the streets.

From “Elevated” by Jean Shin, Lexington Ave/ 63rd St.
It's true that metro stops in many European cities have long incorporated contemporary design and art as part of their transportation networks - in Stockholm, Vienna, Milan, and Paris, for example, so New York may seem like a late bloomer. One of our first and most most beautiful subway stops, the fancy Romanesque Revival station at City Hall, opened in 1904 but is no longer in service.

At the same time, the MTA Arts & Design Program has enriched many subway riders with art, poetry, posters, and music since its beginnings in 1985. Most of these projects have come along as older stations required renovation.

So, in New York, we've waited a long time to get excited about a new subway line. The one exception may be the 34 Street-Hudson Yards Subway Station on the city's far west side, opened in 2015, but the future mini-city of Hudson Yards is not quite there yet.

On the other hand, the Second Avenue Subway stretches through established older parts of the city, at least the parts that have not been torn down in building contemporary New York. The historic neighborhood of Yorkville along the northern stops of the subway and the areas of Lenox Hill and the Upper East Side that surround the southern stations await your exploration and rediscovery.




To help summon the history and changing landscape of the Second Avenue Subway neighborhoods, I recommend delving into two offbeat guides. First, the story of the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Gummo, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo), begins in Yorkville at their boyhood home at 179 E 93rd St. (See related post.) Follow them through the old neighborhood, and you'll pick up what it was like to live in an ethnically rich neighborhood, though predominantly German at the time, that differed block by block.

Also, the 2009 novel Chronic City  by writer Jonathan Lethem is set in the Upper East Side, not in the old guard luxury blocks near Central Park but east of Lexington Avenue in the East 80s near Second Avenue. Read the novel to get a glimpse of the changing landscape in Bloomberg's New York and the collapse of the old order.
  
Subway 96th St. Q

“Blueprint for a Landscape” by Sarah Sze

Artwork: “Blueprint for a Landscape” by Sarah Sze
Neighborhood: Yorkville
Attractions: Marx Brothers boyhood home at 179 E 93rd St.; 92nd Street Y; President Barack Obama lived in a Yorkville tenement building at 339 E 94th St. while attending Columbia University.

“Blueprint for a Landscape” by Sarah Sze
"I still talk with an East-93rd-Street-New York accent. - from Harpo Speaks, by Harpo Marx with Rowland Barber (Limelight Editions, 1961), explaining what his voice sounds like.

Subway 86th St. Q

“Subway Portraits” by Chuck Close (Philip Glass)

Artwork: “Subway Portraits” by Chuck Close
Neighborhood: Yorkville
Attractions: Gracie Mansion; Carl Schurz Park; MTA Second Avenue Subway Community Information Center; Yorkville Glockenspiel, E 83rd St and York Ave., a mural by artist Richard Haas (2005)

“Subway Portraits” by Chuck Close (Lou Reed)
"The secret of this place is its quarantine from the boom-and-bust of Manhattan's trends and fashions. Maybe someday, if the rumors are true, they'll build a Second Avenue subway line and all of this will change." -  Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday, 2009)

Subway 72nd St. Q

“Perfect Strangers” by Vik Muniz

Artwork: “Perfect Strangers” by Vik Muniz
Neighborhood: Lenox Hill
Attractions: John Finley Walk; St. Catherine's Park; Sotheby's.

“Perfect Strangers” by Vik Muniz

Subway Lexington Ave/ 63rd St. F-Q

“Elevated” by Jean Shin

Artwork: “Elevated” by Jean Shin
Jean Shin's installation draws on archival photographs of the old elevated trains in the neighborhood.
Neighborhood: Lenox Hill
Attractions: Park Avenue Armory; Society of Illustrators

“Elevated” by Jean Shin, Lexington Ave/ 63rd St.

From the Lexington Ave/ 63rd St. F-Q station, the Q continues to the 57 Street Subway station at 7th Avenue (N Q R W). From there, the Q runs all the way down to Coney Island. Subway riders on the West Side interested in exploring the Second Avenue Subway may want to transfer to the uptown Q at the 57th Street Station.


The embedded map offers a few suggestions for places to eat and drink near the Second Avenue Subway, but the streets are lined with many more dining establishments. They would appreciate your patronage after a long and challenging wait.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from January 2017.








Popular posts from this blog

MoMA in Masks

Update. Beginning September 28, MoMA will require all members to reserve tickets in advance.*Walking into the gallery devoted to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (c 1920) at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Saturday afternoon, I saw a woman seated on a bench. She was looking at the artist’s dreamy depiction of his garden at Giverny, and I thought for a moment she might be dreaming as well. As she was the only person occupying what is usually a packed room for fans of Impressionism, I was hesitant to invade her private garden reveries.I would enjoy my own such private moments with my favorite MoMA works that afternoon, including Marc Chagall’s I and the Village (1911). The painting depicts a colorful and geometric fairy tale of peasants and animals, memories of the artist’s childhood home outside Vitebsk. And I had a long time to feel the scorching sun of photographer Dorothea Lange’s Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (1938), a setting closer to my hometown. Later I would sit in t…

In Washington Irving Country: A Walk Between Irvington and Tarrytown on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

A stroll in the countryside may be slow and rhythmic, accompanied by a soft breeze among the trees, but walking in this sleepy fashion doesn’t mean the brain is not alert. This pace is especially true for a walk in Washington Irving country about thirty miles north of New York City along the Hudson River. Up near Irvington and Tarrytown, just south of Sleepy Hollow, a steady yet alert pace is recommended, taking in whatever happens as the walk progresses. Walking along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail and going off the trail in whims and reveries can awaken the imagination, especially for overactive imaginations primed for the pump. You don’t want to get too sleepy near Sleepy Hollow.When I mentioned to an acquaintance not long ago that I had been exploring the woods south of Sleepy Hollow, this person affirmed with great conviction that this land was truly haunted. She said, “It suddenly gets cold and dark in the hollow.” As a child raised on the tales of the Headless Horseman and Sleep…

An Early Autumn Walk in Central Park: 2020 Edition

This week, the singer Diana Krall released a cover of “Autumn in New York,” the standard by Vernon Duke. An accompanying video, filmed in New York by Davis McCutcheon and directed by Mark Seliger, portrays the city in moody yet beautiful black and white tones. Beyond the lack of autumn colors, the film shows the empty streets of the pandemic city. The mood riffs on the underlying melancholy of the song’s lyrics, that the fall season “is often mingled with pain.”

When I think of autumn in New York, I automatically imagine walking in Central Park in the vivid colors of the season. The images here, from a meandering one-mile stroll this past Saturday, show only a hint of autumnal glory but reflect more conventional representations of both the season and the song. Yet, walking in Central Park at the beginning of autumn is tinged for me with a hint of sadness, or truthfully, with some anxiety about the coming months.

I hadn’t ventured into Central Park since before the pandemic. While I’ve b…

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers.

Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.  

Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been frequently occupied, as in Occupied, with crowds protesting police violence. This week, NYPD officers in riot gear remove…

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors. 

At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020. 

With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out. 

It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and happy. Thanks to the city’s gardeners and landscapers, the city parks are looking particularly lush and splendid this summer. The grounds of Battery Park feel…

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements.
UPDATED September 25, 2020. Many favorite local destinations have now reopened. 

Openings  - General Information and Popular Destinations   
• Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. Starting September 30, NYC will allow indoor dining at 25% capacity.
• As of September 25, outdoor dining in NYC has been extended FOREVER.
• The 9/11 Memorial reopened on Saturday, July 4. Visitors must wear masks and keep social distancing practices.
• Libraries: NYPL. Starting on Monday, July 13, the library will allow a grab-and-go service.
Governors Island reopened July 15 with advance reserved tickets. 
• The High Line reopened on July 16, with several rules and limitations in place, including timed entry passes - available July 9. Entrance only at Gansevoort Street. See High Line website for details. 
The Bronx Zoo reopened J…

The Company of Nature: Walking With Butterflies in Fort Tryon Park

If wandering the empty urban canyons feels a little lonely and depressing, a better idea would be to head to the nearest park. This past Saturday, a day that was sunny but not too hot, Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan turned out to be the perfect place to not only satisfy wanderlust but to rediscover the company of nature. Butterflies were there. Hundreds of butterflies - Tiger Swallowtails, Monarch Butterflies, Black Swallowtails, Cabbage White Butterflies, and Silver Spotted Skippers, among them. Moths, too, although I have not yet learned their names.  The Heather Garden is situated just beyond the entrance to Fort Tryon Park. With seasonal plantings, the garden is always a serene spot.  Observing butterflies involves watching their interaction with blooming flowers and shrubs. The Tiger Swallowtails are easy to find and found here in significant numbers. Just look for the Butterfly Bushes. The Cabbage White Butterflies are here in abundance, too, though not as showy as the swallow…

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge: 
"The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apro…

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.


The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.


First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester C…

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings.
Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours.
UPDATED September 23, 2020
Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details.
• The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) reopened to the public on August 27, with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. on Mondays for MoMA members only. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum.
• New-York Historical Society reopened on August 14 with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine.
• The Metropolitan …