A few years ago I had my first ever experience traveling to NYC. If you’re an NYC novice like I was, you’re probably trying to figure out how to get to or from JFK to Manhattan. Thanks to having some friends who are NYC experts, I got the local’s guide on what’s the best (and cheapest) way to get to Times Square Manhattan from JFK airport.
After using the train multiple times now to get to and from Manhattan and JFK, I can say it’s easy and, in my opinion, the best way to avoid NYC traffic and save money. I took pictures on my recent trip so you can see the method and know what to expect.
How Much Does It Cost to Take the Train from JFK to Manhattan Penn Station?
I used this method on a recent trip and it only cost me $15.50 for a one-way trip from JFK to Penn Station in Manhattan. They just raised the AirTrain tickets to $8.00, so if you take the AirTrain and the Long Island Rail Road from JFK to Manhattan, you’ll pay $15.75.
If you don’t mind taking the subway instead of the LIRR, you’ll pay $10.75 ($8.00 for AirTrain plus $2.75 for one Subway ride). Just know that the subway will have more stops along the way making the trip longer, and the train cars could be crowded and tough to manage with luggage.
How to Get from JFK to Manhattan (Penn Station)
After your flight, you’re going to make your way toward baggage claim. Once you’re at baggage claim you want to look for signs for the AirTrain. The access for the AirTrain is near the parking garage so you’ll exit baggage claim, cross the road, and then take the elevator up to level 3 of the garage area. It’s easy to do, just follow signs up to the AirTrain.
You’ll have two options for getting from JFK to Manhattan Penn Station. One is the subway, which is the cheapest option. It will cost $8 for the AirTrain ticket plus $2.75 for one Subway Metrocard ride.
However, I personally prefer taking the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road). The LIRR will cost you a little bit more ($5-$8 more) than the subway but based on my subway experiences I think the LIRR is better for comfort and having room for luggage. It currently costs $15.75 one way.
Once on the AirTrain platform for your terminal, you’ll look for the train that connects to Jamaica Station Train (or the Howard Beach Train but only if you want to take the Subway).
To take the LIRR, you’ll want to connect to the Jamaica Station Train. If you want to take the Subway into Manhattan, you can go to the Howard Beach Train for the A Subway or Jamaica for E, J, or Z Subway lines. Again, I prefer the LIRR, so connect to Jamaica Station.
As you exit the AirTrain to Jamaica Station you’ll need to buy a MetroCard. You’ll have to pay $8 for the ride you just ended (AirTrain to Jamaica Station) as well as the cost to go from Jamaica Station to Penn Station.
At off-peak hours you’ll pay $15.75. You’ll see a sign that tells you to stay to the right if you need to purchase a MetroCard. You’ll buy your pass at a ticket vending machine. Make sure you go to the LIRR ticket machines, don’t choose the Metrocard Subway “cheaper” machines unless that’s the method you want to take.
How to Buy a LIRR Train Ticket and AirTrain MetroCard at Jamaica Station
When you go up to the LIRR terminal you’ll be walked through your purchase. First decide if you want a round trip or if you’re just needing a one-way ticket.
Choose “Jamaica to Penn Station”.
Next, you need to select if you’re traveling during peak or off-peak times (you can also choose if you’re purchasing a military or senior ticket).
Peak times are for trains arriving in NYC (Manhattan) on Monday through Friday from 6 am to 10 am. Or for trains departing Manhattan between 4 pm and 8 pm M-F. This is standard rush hour thinking, people in the burbs (JFK) go into the city in the morning and out of the city in the evenings. Those are peak travel times.
Choose how many tickets you need. And then select ‘MetroCard and Air Train’. Don’t forget that you’re buying a MetroCard for $8 (was $7.75 when I took these photos) for the ride you just took on the Air Train from the airport to Jamaica Station.
This AirTrain Metrocard ticket will be needed to exit the turnstiles into the LIRR station area. If you plan to use the Subway often when in NYC, you can choose to purchase a $25 MetroCard at that time instead of just buying the $8 Air Train ticket.
Finally, you’ll just have to insert your payment and grab your MetroCard and Long Island Rail Road Ticket from the machine. NOTE – don’t lose your MetroCard or LIRR tickets and be sure to keep them in a handy spot. Then you’re ready to move on to the LIRR.
Follow the signs to the Long Island Railroad and insert your MetroCard into the turnstiles to move past the Air Train area. Look for the green open lights on the turnstiles and look at the insertion diagram to see how to slot your MetroCard into the machine.
Taking the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan
You’ll walk down and to the left, following signs for the Long Island Rail Road. Once you enter the central train station you want to look for the monitors that will tell you what track you need to go to for a Penn Station train. Note, the trains aren’t always on time so if you see a train showing on the board there’s a chance you can still make it.
Look for the track number for the next Penn Station train and hustle to the stairway that shows that number. The track numbers are split across two sets of stairs because the trains are coming between the stairways and you can enter the trains on either side.
Here’s where packing light comes in handy because you’ll need to haul your bags down the stairs to get on the trains (there are elevators, but they’re not near the tracks).
Wait for your train or go ahead and board if it’s already on the track. You’ll see a digital board display stating Penn Station on the side of the train near the boarding doors. Find a seat and store your luggage but be sure to keep your MetroCard ticket handy since you’ll have to show the conductor once the train departs.
Your train might make a couple of stops along the way but eventually, you’ll hear the Penn Station announcement and that’s your queue to get ready to leave the train. Beware that it can be hard to hear and understand the train announcements, so pay attention to the stops. The ride from Jamaica Station to Penn Station Manhattan should take about 21-30 minutes depending on stops.
Also note, that during off-peak times it’s not unusual for certain train car doors to not open for every stop. Make sure you ask a conductor or listen carefully to make sure you’re not sitting in a train car where the doors won’t open. Ideally just try to sit in one of the central cars, not at the far front or back. But this is rare, I just wanted to mention it.
Exiting the LIRR at Penn Station (JFK to Times Square)
If you’re trying to get from JFK to Times Square, you just need your feet once you get to Penn Station.
When you get off the train, look for the 7th or 8th Avenue exits and follow signs depending on which of those is closest to your hotel/destination. Penn Station sits between 31st and 33rd Streets and 7th and 8th Avenues. Times Square is around 47th and 7th Ave, so if you’re heading there, exit at the 7th Avenue exit and work your way uptown.
Please keep in mind that NYC sidewalks can be crowded and bumpy so allow some time and patience if you’re pulling a roller bag along with you. You can also take an Uber or taxi from Penn Station to your hotel. Catching Ubers in NYC can be tricky as drivers can have a tough time finding places to stop in order to pick you up.
Taking the LIRR train from JFK to Manhattan only costs $15.75 ($18.75 during peak travel) and it will get you into New York City in about 45 minutes from the terminal to Penn Station. It’s an easy way to avoid traffic and much cheaper than Uber, taxis, or car services which cost around $60-$80.
Families will save less money since you’ll need multiple train tickets, so booking a car service might be the best option for larger groups. On our recent trip to NYC, we priced an Uber from NYC to JFK at $85 for an UberXL (for 4 passengers and bags).
Now you’re ready to explore NYC! Check out these 31 ideas for things to do in NYC with kids.
When to NOT Take the Train to/from JFK – Manhattan
There are a few reasons I wouldn’t advise using the train, even though it is the cheapest and very easy option, in my opinion.
You’re a family traveling with small children
While the process is fairly simple, it does require moving around quite a bit and using stairs and elevators. If you have small children it might be a lot to manage to keep an eye on them and all the connections to various transportation modes.
The cost savings also diminishes versus Uber when you have more than 3 people. Ordering an uber or private shuttle service might be best, although the train would allow you to leave car seats at home.
You have a lot of luggage
As I said above, you will be connecting to multiple transportation options and you’ll need to deal with stairs (no elevators) at a few of the train stations. If you have multiple bags it would be a lot of work to haul them up and down the stairs as well as find space for them on the LIRR.
You’re traveling very early or late
While I have no experience or knowledge of the security or safety of this method, I personally wouldn’t want to take the train if it was late at night. Safety has been an issue lately in NYC, so if you’re traveling at late or very early hours, the train might not be best. LIRR also doesn’t operate during the very early morning hours.
You hate walking or have disabilities
If you have no desire to haul your suitcases up and down and all around, just grab an uber or cab from JFK to your hotel. You have to be willing to do a bit of work to save the kind of money you will when you take the train. If you have any disabilities or physical limitations you’ll likely struggle with the trains.
Penn Station to JFK
To go back to the JFK airport from NYC/Manhattan Penn Station you’ll just reverse this method. Go to Penn Station and follow the signs to the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) ticket booth. I recommend you go in at the new Moynihan Train Hall on 8th Ave between 31st and 33rd.
Find the LIRR Ticket Machines and buy your ticket from Penn Station to Jamaica station on the Long Island Rail Road. Not needed if you paid for a round trip ride on your arrival.
Look for the LIRR track signs for the next train to Jamaica and go to that track.
When you reach Jamaica Station, you’ll follow the signs to the AirTrain, buy your AirTrain ticket ($8 + $1 Metrocard fee), and take the AirTrain to the terminal for your flight.
You won’t need to buy tickets again if you purchased a round-trip ticket on your arrival trip. Just be sure you’ve saved all your tickets. And if you rode the AirTrain or Subway during your trip, you can use your Metrocard to buy your AirTrain ticket without needing to pay the extra $1 fee for a new Metrocard.
As an NYC first-timer, the train system can be daunting, however, with a little advanced research and patience, you can easily travel from the local airports into Manhattan in an easy and affordable way. Check out these tips for visiting NYC with kids and this guide to New York City with Kids.
Saturday 20th of May 2023
Kimberly, Thank you so much for well written, easy to understand, and with photos too! My non-English speaking sister-in-law is coming from China to help care for my wife, who is in the final stages of life. My wife's other sister arranged for a friend to meet her at JFK. They have to go to Penn Station. Then the Chinese sister-in-law will travel alone to middle of NJ.
Thursday 11th of May 2023
Best guide ever. I check it every time I fly to JFK. Thank you for taking the time to do it!
Monday 27th of March 2023
I am so happy that I found your great website. Thank you so much for the detailed explanation and the pictures since it helps me a lot!!!
Tuesday 21st of March 2023
Thank you so much for the directions, my BFF and I went to NYC this weekend and followed your directions. We knew what to expect and was able to get from JFK to NYC Penn Station and back to the airport. Thank you so much this made things so easy.
Tuesday 14th of March 2023
This is a fantastically comprehensive guide so thank you. Do kids pay the same price as adults on the trains?
Wednesday 15th of March 2023
Hi Alison, so glad you found it useful! Kids under 5 ride for free, but I'm not sure how the discounted fares work for kids beyond that. I believe that they are charged half fares for the LIRR, but I'm not positive. And I don't think the Airtrain offers child fares beyond the under 5 ride for free deal.