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

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 on ly. 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

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

A Walk in the Forest Primeval

Contemplating the fall of civilizations in Inwood Hill Park At times, it feels like we’re living at the end of civilization. With the arrival of the global pandemic, many governing structures are teetering at a breaking point, one measured in graphs, curves, and waves. Whole systems like mass transit and global trade are fractured as well. Steps leading to a high ridge trail in Inwood Hill Park Most threatened are our social arrangements, the ones in which most of us were socialized. The norms of human interaction are shockingly in tatters these days. Just three months ago, it was normal to hang out with others in person without worrying if being in one another’s presence would cause illness or possibly death. Political and economic structures are teetering, with a critical collapse of what was once known as the public space. A Baltimore Oriole visits a tree near the main entrance of Inwood Hill Park on Seaman Avenue. It’s easy to imagine a swift evacuation of once pr

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

The High Line and Chelsea Market: A Good Pairing for a Walk

(revised 2017) The advent of spring, with its signs of growth and rebirth, is apparent both on the High Line , where volunteers are cutting away the old growth to reveal fresh blooms, and inside the Chelsea Market, where new tenants are revitalizing the space. A walk to take in both can become an exploration of bounty and surprise, a sensual walk of adventure and sustenance. A good pairing for a walk: The High Line and Chelsea Market Walking the High Line for a round trip from Gansevoort to W. 30th and then back again adds up to a healthy 2-mile walk. Regular walkers of the elevated park look for an excuse to go there. Especially delightful is showing off the park, a model of its kind, to visitors from out of town. A stroll through Chelsea Market. Time check. If you haven't stopped into Chelsea Market lately, you may want to take a detour from the High Line at the stairs on W. 16th St. and walk through the market for a quick assessment or a sampling. Among the sampli

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

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. View of the Hudson River from the Keeper's House 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. Recommended purchase - a map det

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change. Hipstamatic iPhone images of contemporary Greenwich Village by Walking Off the Big Apple (Revised and updated.) Flipping through  Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today.    On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church