Getting from JFK to Times Square (or anywhere near Midtown such as the Port Authority Bus Terminal) as a first-time visitor to New York City can seem like an overwhelming first task in the city that never sleeps. To ease the stress, we are here to tell you that the voyage is actually quite easy. To make it even easier, I compiled a step by step visual guide to get you from JFK to Times Square. As a local, I answer this exact question literally multiple times per day so I finally spent a weekend visiting each terminal collecting good visual cues to make it easy.
JFK to Times Square
First things first, let’s get our bearings. Distance-wise, JFK is technically further away from midtown than LGA as the bird flies, but it is a much easier commute thanks to better public transit options. Both Laguardia and JFK are located in Queens. Another popular option is Newark airport, which is located in New Jersey. We will have separate posts on how to get to Manhattan from the other airports, but this one is dedicated to JFK.
JFK to Times Square Options
There are many options into the city from JFK. Below is an overview with links to more detail.
- Taxi – Taxi from JFK to Manhattan is probably the most iconic and popular option and a good first choice. Taxi will take anywhere between 35 minutes in good conditions to well over an hour due to traffic. The cost is fixed, with tip should be around $65.00 per car.
- Uber/Lyft – Taking an Uber/Lyft is my preferred option over a Taxi if I want to drive. Uber/Lyft should roughly cost as much as a Taxi, you can follow along on a map, you can do a Uber Pool to save money, and you can have your receipt emailed. You also can type in your final destination and avoid any confusion or language barriers that you sometimes will run into with a Taxi. I will choose Lyft over a subway if I’m traveling with my parents or someone who isn’t comfortable walking up and down stairs or if my employer is paying for me to travel. I also may take a Lyft if I have a huge amount of baggage. Otherwise, I just think the subway is the easiest.
- Air-Train -> Subway – Taking the subway from JFK to Manhattan is my overall method of choice. This is the cheapest option and the most reliable. The total cost will be $7.75 per person, noting that small kids are free. The subway takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get from baggage claim to Port Authority. One thing I like about the subway is it is unaffected by traffic. If you arrive around rush hour, it will be crowded, but hoards of people are what you get in NYC.
- Air-Train -> LIRR – The LIRR is a nicer train than the subway and there won’t be extra stops, but this will be more expensive by a few bucks. I’m not sure what the appeal is because the LIRR station is literally at the exact location as the subway on both ends, but if you want cushy seats and more legroom, go for it.
- Helicopter – Yep. There are several service providers for this, including Uber. The cost is usually about $200.00 per person and the actual ride is about 8 minutes. If you want to impress your date on a once in a lifetime trip, do it up.
- Shuttle – There are a few shuttle options, but GoAirLink is the official partner of the Port Authority. If your hotel arranges a shuttle, this is a viable option. Otherwise, I would avoid this just because it will cost more than the subway and I found it difficult to locate the shuttle pick up locations at the airport. I spent the better part of 6 hours bouncing from terminal to terminal and had to really search and ask for help to locate the shuttles.
- Limo/Car Service – Don’t do this. I see people asking about specific car services all the time on Facebook Groups and message boards. I don’t understand where the urge to take car service comes from now that Uber and Lyft exist. If you want a nice car, get an UberXL.
- Bus – Another one to avoid. If you want to take public transportation, use the subway.
Navigating to your preferred transfer method
As soon as you exit the baggage claim area, you’ll notice the signs above. Below is an example from Terminal 1. Some of the signage is misleading, however, so I’ve included terminal-specific instructions in separate posts.
Taxi from JFK to Times Square
Taxi is the easiest way to get from JFK to Times Square, or anywhere in Manhattan. It’s also the most iconic. One quick note is you should only hail a taxi from a taxi stand at the airport. There may be drivers offering limo service as you exit baggage claim. Ignore these people. Aside from that, the first question folks ask is how much it costs.
Cost of a taxi from JFK to Midtown
Taxis from JFK to anywhere in Manhattan, including Midtown, Port Authority, and Times Square, charge a flat fee of $52.00 during off-peak hours. During peak hours there is a $4.50 surcharge, which includes 4-8 pm on weekdays.
There is also a $0.50 state tax added to the bill and tipping is generally expected. I will usually tip between $10 and $15 for a trip from the airport, but otherwise around 15%.
Other notes about a taxi from JFK to Midtown
Four passengers are the limit for NYC taxi cabs, but minivans will allow 5. There is no standard make and model of a taxi cab, but yellow cabs are the only cabs allowed to pick up from JFK. You may also see light green cabs, known as boro cabs, in the city. These boro cabs are only allowed to pick up in the outer boroughs, hence the creative name.
Finding the taxi stand at JFK
At every terminal, there are huge signs on where to find the taxi stand and then there are well-defined queues. Below is an example of what a taxi queue looks like.
When you approach the taxi stand, the agent will ask you where you are going. You can say Manhattan or Midtown or Times Square to the agent without giving a specific street address. All they are looking for is what flat rate to charge you. At this point, they will print out a ticket and tell you what taxi is yours. You can see in the image above the taxis are parked in front of TAXI 1, TAXI 2, TAXI 3 painted on the sidewalk. You can go stand where the agent tells you and the driver will take the ticket and you’ll be on your way.
What to say to your taxi driver on the way from JFK to Manhattan
Once you are in the cab, the driver will ask you where you are going and at this point, it’s best to say your hotel name or a cross street. For example, you might say, “I’m going to the Knickerbocker Hotel in Midtown.” or “I’m going to the Crowne Plaza in Times Square.” Taxi drivers will usually know all of the popular hotels, but will occasionally need a cross street so it’s good to know this in advance. A conversation may go like this:
Me: I’m going to the Moxy Hotel in Times Square.
Driver: OK what’s the cross street?
Me: That’s at 7th and 36th street.
If you see the driver has a GPS, you can give them the exact address as well.
Uber or Lyft from JFK to Times Square
Taking an Uber or Lyft from JFK to Manhattan is almost identical to taking a cab. I prefer the Uber/Lyft option because the cars are usually nicer than cabs, I like getting my receipt emailed to me, and I don’t like fumbling around with my wallet when I have all my bags with me. Another nice option about Uber/Lyft is you can pre-arrange a ride including pre-arranging an Uber/Lyft family ride that includes a car seat.
Where to pick up an Uber or Lyft at JFK
At almost all terminals, Uber and Lyft pick up locations are directly across the street from the taxi stands, except for Terminal 4. At terminal 4, Uber/Lyft pickup is right outside the doors next to the baggage claim, whereas the taxi stand is up an escalator and down a walkway. Below is an image of the passenger pick up at Terminal 4. You can see the taxis line up right next to the terminal, and right across the street is the passenger pick up for car services.
But how do I know where to stand?
The apps make hailing an Uber or Lyft easy from JFK. Once you exit the baggage claim area, pull up your app and it will not only recognize what terminal you are at but will also give you the option to choose what passenger pick up location you want. Note in the image above, I am standing in passenger pick up D, but you can see pick up location C in the background. Uber and Lyft give you the option to choose whatever zone you want.
Air Train and Subway from JFK to Times Square
Taking the subway from JFK to anywhere in New York City is the cheapest and most reliable option. Subways run on a schedule and are not affected as much by weather or traffic. If you are comfortable riding the subway and are OK with walking up and down the stairs to the subway stations, they are really the best way to navigate the city.
Cost of riding a subway in New York City
From JFK, you will need to use a metro card for a $7.75 each way fare on the Air Train, which takes you from the terminals to the actual subway station. In addition to the Air Train fare, you need a fare to ride the subway into the city. Each ride on the subway is $2.75 per person.
When riding the subway only to and from the city, it is best to just buy exactly what you need and the MTA machine makes that easy for you, as shown in the images in how to purchase a metro card section below.
If you plan on riding more, you can load your card up with more money. If you plan on riding the subway more than 12 times within a week, I recommend loading your card up with the 7-day unlimited option for $33.00. Note that if you have a card loaded with value, you can use the same card for multiple people in the same subway station. If you have a card loaded with unlimited rides over time, you cannot swipe multiple people into the same station.
Never underestimate the value of Google Maps. To this day, I still use Google Maps to double-check I am taking the right train wherever I am going. There are often multiple options to get from point A to point B and Google Maps will always highlight the best option based on traffic and other conditions. There are other apps as well, but Google has always worked for me.
Below you can see what shows up for me from Terminal 8 heading into Manhattan. You can see there are multiple options, and notice that Option #2 is AirTrain -> LIRR -> Subway, and it takes only 4 fewer minutes to get to Times Square and you still have to ride the subway anyway. This is why I think the LIRR is a waste unless you’re going somewhere further away.
We want the recommended route, which is AirTrain -> E train.
Google Maps Pro Tip
One pro tip when traveling to NYC or any destination is to always download the local map data into Google Maps while you’re on the free WiFi at the airport. This way, if you ever happen to lose cell signal for any reason, you’ll have the map to reference. Usually, most smartphones can still use GPS even without cell service.
How to get to the subway station from JFK to Manhattan
If you are looking for the subway, follow signs for the AirTrain. Note the AirTrain will seem free, until you try to leave, at which point you have to buy a Metro card and pay before exiting the turnstiles.
There are three AirTrain lines at JFK. If you are traveling to Times Square, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, or anywhere near Midtown Manhattan, the line you want is the Jamaica line. It is easy to tell which line arrives on each track based on the screens above the loading zone.
Whatever train is listed on top is arriving next.
Once you are on the train, you want to get off at the Jamaica stop. There should be an announcement on the train for each stop, but just in case you want to be double sure, there is also a screen at the front and back of each car that says what stop is next. I’m on the Howard Beach train below so if you see what I see, get off! Generally, the train line is on top and the next stop is on the bottom though.
Once you get to the Jamaica station, follow the signs to the subway.
Purchasing your metro card from JFK to Times Square
At the exit, there are machines for both the LIRR and the MTA Subway. MTA Subway machines look like the image below.
Don’t ask me why, but you can’t even purchase a 7-day pass from the MTA machine near the airport. Ask any New Yorker their top 5 biggest frustrations and MTA stupidity will be listed in every single person’s top 5, but I digress.
Anyway, from here, choose your language, then choose the Metro Card option, and then choose AirTrain + Subway. If you want to add an unlimited 7-day pass, I would pick the $10.50 option to get you to your hotel and then refill your card before you leave the station at your final stop.
Navigating to the subway
The next step is to follow the signs for the subway, which is on the same path as the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR). It looks like two different walkways, but it is literally the same. Once you get to the LIRR platform, however, just walk all the way to the other side for the elevators to the Subway. You are going to take the E train into the city.
Getting on the right train!
Now, very important, and probably the most common mistake I hear from tourists coming to NYC, is make sure you get on the train going in the correct direction! The easiest way to tell which direction a train is traveling are the signs above the boarding area. From JFK, you want to take the E train to Manhattan!
Another place to look is right above where the subway doors open. At other train stations in the city these signs aren’t as obvious, but they are always there. You may just have to walk up and down the platform a bit before you see them. At a lot of train stations, one side of the street is uptown and the other is downtown so just check the signs before you walk downstairs.
Where to get off the train
You’re almost there! Check your Google Maps for your final destination. Most E Trains will be newer and will have upcoming train stops listed on the LED screen above the seats. If your stop is more than 10 stops away, your stop may not show up right away. Keep an eye on the “Further Stops” section because it will rotate through all future stops on the train.
You made it!
For me, heading right to Times Square I got off at 50th Street. For you, to your Midtown hotel might be anywhere from 7th Ave-53rd Street to PABT (Port Authority Bus Terminal). Either way, hopefully this guide will get you to where you need to go near Times Square.
I hope it helps and I hope NYC isn’t overwhelming. I can tell you as a native Midwesterner living in the Big Apple, to this day Times Square is still overwhelming to me.