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Learning the LIRR: An NYC Guide for Travelers

By Hedy Phillips
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Running from Long Island to Manhattan, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) is the busiest commuter railroad on the continent. If you’re visiting New York City and plan to see Long Island, too, you’ll want to know all about the LIRR. As an NYC local, I’m here to help.

According to the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority), the LIRR is the oldest railroad in the country operating under its original name. Since it was originally chartered on April 24, 1834, the LIRR has served millions of New Yorkers. These trains transport over 300,000 people on any given weekday, and the system runs more than 700 trains. 

Suffice it to say, these trains are busy, and if you plan to use them, you’ll want to be prepared. Read our guide to get the scoop.

How to purchase tickets

Long Island Rail Road

There are multiple lines of the LIRR that run throughout Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties. These trains can take you out to the Hamptons, to a concert at UBS Arena, and so many more places during your visit to New York City.

You may purchase your tickets from an MTA employee or a kiosk at one of the train stations. You can also use the MTA TrainTime app to purchase tickets directly on your phone. I like to use my phone so I can do it quickly and easily without having to deal with an unfamiliar machine or a person.

Local tip: While you can buy tickets on board the trains, they will be slightly more expensive. Buying in advance will save you some money!

Navigating peak and off-peak hours

LIRR

Peak tickets cost more money, so check the LIRR schedule to see if you’re traveling during peak or off-peak hours. The MTA charges peak fares during business rush hours on weekdays for trains scheduled to or from NYC terminals. Peak fares during LIRR business rush hours are:

  • 6-10 a.m. arriving in NYC
  • 4-8 p.m. departing from NYC

If you’re in New York for vacation and can adjust when you’re moving around in a more flexible way, try hopping on the LIRR during off-peak hours to save yourself money. Just know that the price can fluctuate.

To learn more about LIRR fares, check out the MTA website.

Where you can go on the LIRR

Long Island Rail Road

The LIRR can take you out to Long Island, obviously, which means you can get to the Hamptons pretty easily. While there, you can see the many lighthouses this beachy area has to offer. Spend a day sitting in the sand, if the weather’s nice, and browsing the boutiques.

Long Island is more than just the Hamptons, though. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Long Island Aquarium, especially great for families
  • Jones Beach State Park, with its 6.5 miles of sandy shoreline
  • Old Westbury Gardens, an early 20th-century mansion surrounded by 200 acres of landscaped grounds, lakes, and woods

Each of these can be found on Long Island. It’ll just take some navigating with the LIRR map and maybe some walking or buses.

Local tip: The LIRR will get you to and from the JFK airport (it’s technically on Long Island!), so you can plan to use one of these trains when you’re flying to NYC for your trip.

Which direction to travel on the LIRR to get to NYC

LIRR

Headed to NYC from Long Island aboard the LIRR? It’s easy to get there. Here are the steps if you’re on Long Island and going to New York City:

  1. Choose Penn Station as your destination.
  2. Wait for the train on the Westbound platform. 
  3. Get off at Penn Station (which is on 34th Street).

From there, you can explore all New York has to offer. Head uptown for Central Park and its many sights or head downtown and get on the boat to the Statue of Liberty and take a tour of history.  

What about your return trip? If you’re leaving Penn Station and going to Long Island, then make sure you input the correct information into the kiosk or your app and wait on the Eastbound platform.

Keep your tickets

Once you purchase your tickets, make sure you hold onto them! MTA employees may or may not ask for them while you’re on board the train. Though there are times you might ride the train without your tickets being checked, it’s better to have them than to be caught off guard and forced to pay an elevated fee on the train. 

Have the schedule handy

Check out the MTA LIRR website for the latest schedules. You can also monitor the schedules and get alerts on the MTA app. If you’re in a station, look for the monitors that tell you which route is on which line and when it’s leaving.

Getting around New York

New York is filled with transportation options to help you find your way to all there is to do here. Once you’ve got the hang of the MTA, which includes the buses, subways, and trains, you can go pretty much anywhere. Make sure you check out our guide to New York City’s best attractions and eat all of the iconic NYC food you can find.