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Streets and Avenues: There is a Difference

November 16th, 2010 |  Published in Getting Around  |  32 Comments

New York Streets and Avenues

No matter where you are from, your hometown has streets. Maybe some avenues, parkways, calles, boulevards, roads, lanes or rues. In most cases, there is no real rhyme or reason behind why a road has a particular classifying name, it’s simply thrown up there by whoever happens to be planning the surrounding construction. In New York, however, the difference between streets and avenues is very critical and it’s definitely something everyone needs to understand. This post is focused mainly on navigating and understanding Manhattan because it’s very standardized.  Let’s hit the pavement.

The Basics

The most basic thing to remember is that avenues run north and south while streets run east and west (…ish, Manhattan does not a perfect compass make, but don’t try telling any New Yorker that). Most streets and avenues only accommodate one-way traffic, but there are some thoroughfares (14th, 23rd, 42nd, etc…) that do have two-way traffic and are a bit bigger (I’ll fill you in on the history in my next post). This might not seem all that important now, but eventually, you will be sending a text, reading a book or just generally not paying attention as you walk down the street and suddenly find yourself in the middle of two-way traffic because you only glanced down one direction. It happens.

Also, in case you don’t know already, most of Manhattan is a giant grid, so people will give you directions like “it’s on 52nd Street between 5th and 6th”. From that you know the exact block you are going to: the block of 52nd Street that falls between 5th and 6th Avenues. Having a grid is also pretty handy for measuring distance: . So, if you are on 50th Street and 6th Avenue and need to go to 30th Street and 2nd Avenue, you have about 1 mile to walk south and 1 mile to walk east. Remember this when judging whether or not a subway ride is worth it.


View of Manhattan Streets and AvenuesFinding your way around the city gets pretty easy once you know where the avenues are, so hopefully this next breakdown will help make your life a little easier. Avenues start on the east side of Manhattan with…options, downtown Avenues D, C, B and A preceed 1st Avenue, 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue, but uptown, York Avenue and East End Avenue take the alphabet’s place.  Staying away from the gridless, lower part of Manhattan, the numbers turn into the renamed avenues- Lexington, Park and Madison – which are followed by 5th Ave, 6th Ave (aka: Avenue of the Americas), 7th Ave, 8th Ave, 9th Ave, 10th Ave and 11th Ave on the west side. Not bad, right? If you know this much before moving to New York, you will be fine everything beyond this is bonus points… things are a bit more complicated on the west side once you get above 59th Street.

North of 59th Street, 11th Avenue is called West End Avenue, 10th Avenue becomes Amsterdam Avenue, 9th Avenue is called Columbus Avenue (a bit confusing since it doesn’t go through Columbus Circle), and 8th Avenue becomes Central Park West for the length of the park. It’s easy to remember where Central Park West is (for obvious reasons), and in the 2 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never been to West End Avenue – I’m sure some of you will need to know about it, but most of you will just need to remember where to find Amsterdam and Columbus. Once you get up into Harlem, there are a few other avenues that don’t come all the way downtown, but we’ll cover those in a future post focused on Harlem.

The main thing I’ve left out thus far is Broadway. Broadway is one of the major exceptions to the grid system in the city.  It starts out on the Upper West Side on the far side of the island but ends at the southeast corner, crossing almost all the avenues on its way down. If you use the 4 avenues to a mile rule I mentioned before, don’t include Broadway in your calculation, it’s generally just a wildcard.

As you can see, the avenues are only easy in their simplest, exception-less forms. Luckily, there is a pretty good mnemonic device for remembering the order of the named avenues.

“You take a CAB back home if it’s Late PM.”

This helps you recall the order of the avenues on the west side: Columbus, Amsterdam, Broadway. Then the avenues on the east side: Lexington, Park, Madison. Thanks to David Stiles for that helpful nugget… it’s helped me get around more than a few times.


Streets in Manhattan are a lot easier to understand than avenues, for the most part, once you know one street, you know them all.  They are almost all numbered, so you always know where you are – some have names for small stretches (there are some cool ones), but numbers prevail.  As I mentioned before, all streets run east and west, and are usually one-way.  A general rule of thumb is that even numbered streets have eastbound traffic while odd numbered streets carry westbound traffic.

After you have been here for awhile, it will become very easy to remember which streets have two-way traffic asOne Way Street Sign in Manhattan they almost always correspond with subway stops.  Starting from the south, you have 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th, 59th (on the south side of the Park), 72nd, 79th, 86th, 96th, 106th, 116th, 125th, 135th, 145th and 155th Streets.  There is no point in memorizing these, but it’s good to have an idea of where you can drive both ways in case you need to bring a moving truck into Manhattan or you need to grab a crosstown bus, since these are usually good places to start.

One final note about streets in Manhattan: parking on the street is notoriously difficult, and the signs telling you when/where to park can be complicated enough to warrant placement in the Da Vinci Code.  Parking itself is an entirely different post, but be warned that it can be nightmarish for the impatient driver.

Update: One other thing that is sometimes handy to know is that building numbers on streets change from East to West at 5th Ave.  So if you are looking for a building that is 123 E 25th St, you know it is to the East of 5th Ave, whereas 123 W 25th St would be on the opposite side of 5th Ave.

Go Forth and Wander

It should be mentioned again that everything here applies to the part of Manhattan that is within the standard grid.  South of Houston Street, things get a bit crazy and most of these rules don’t apply.  The other boroughs are each laid out differently and in the future, we’ll come up with a few ways to help you navigate those as well.  There are also other parts of Manhattan that are exceptions such as Harlem, Lincoln Center, Washington Square Park, etc… The best way to know your way around will always been to explore. Frequently when people come visit, they find that the most fun they had on their trip wasn’t at a Broadway show or on top of the Empire State Building, but rather while they were just walking the streets.  The most ‘New York’ things you will encounter are likely to be little restaurants or shops you stumble upon while simply wandering around.  So, go get lost and enjoy your city.

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Image Credit:
Joe Schumacher

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About the author: Andrew Cafourek

Andrew Cafourek Andrew lives in Brooklyn, and just got back from drifting around Eastern Europe for a few months. He makes stuff on the internet including Become A New Yorker, Alumni Spaces and a variety of other goodies with A022 Digital.

Andrew came to New York from the Midwest in the fall of 2008 after selling his car for $350... just enough for a one way plane ticket.

Email Andrew | Follow @acafourek | All posts by

  • soon a new yorker

    this is the best site ever, if i worked on a big magazine i would nominate this to the best website EVER. My english may not be the best but i hope you understand and please make more articels!! I’m dying here for more

  • jab7168

    yeah what you say works in Manhattan, but Queens is totally different.

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  • british student

    omg, it all makes sense now. thanks

  • yorgo

    Yes..perfect way to enjoy a facinating place.

  • logic 101

    I believe your distance measures might be mistaken. I grew up here, and the general rule in Manhattan has always been 20 North-South blocks to a mile, and 6 or 7 numbered (or lettered) avenues to a mile (Park Ave is 4th Ave, while the blocks around Madison & Lexington are about half as long as those between numbered avenues).

  • abovemeisjerkoff

    he totally said that dude

  • Aqua144

    This would be so much better if it applied to where I live bc I have no idea about streets and avenues and how to tell where I am or how to give or follow directions to a certain location. Anyone know something that could help?

  • deb

    This site is so helpful! The best explanation ive seen yet! Ive been to new york 14 times and learn new stuff each time. For what i need this is great.Thank you for such helpful information in one site!

  • Brigita

    It should be mentioned again that everything here applies to the part of Manhattan that is within the standard grid. South of Houston Street, things get a bit crazy and most of these rules don’t apply bus stops in 11th Avenue

  • Adam

    So when to gonna do the tough ones ….the streets avenues roads crescents +++++ in QUEENS. The largest sized borough?? Where almost 2 million people live!!!!?

  • Adam

    You’re killing me

  • Adam

    Try Washington heights too harlem

  • Adam

    I nwood anyone? Anyone been north of 96 st recently?

  • Adam

    You’re killing me

  • Adam

    Get out to Queens Flushing and walk around.

  • Meggan J. Lanahan

    Thank you for this info!! My best friend and I will be visiting NYC next month. It’ll be my first time since 2008 and I’ve missed it every day. Since this time will be on our own agenda, I don’t want to get there and be an obvious tourist, so thank you!!

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  • Kimberly Johnson

    Most New Yorkers call the avenues that have other names by their numeric name. For instance, Avenue of the America’s is 6th to everyone but tourists who look at maps. Gave myself away to the cabbie on this one!

  • Kimberly Johnson

    Btw, I know you wrote this years ago but it’s all still great info and very useful for my recent trip!

  • Joan wetherell

    Great site. The bit about where the East/West divide was just what I was looking for.

  • Joanne

    You say that the avenues go up to 11th Avenue, but there appears to be a 12th Avenue on the map you show. What gives? It looks as if 12th Avenue becomes “New York 9A.”

  • Richie Jack Batra

    In my state of ND, the entire state is set up on a grid, with Avenues going north and south, and streets going east and west.

  • Richie Jack Batra

    I suck cock, because I’m a republican
    Trumps dick is delicious

  • Richie Jack Batra

    I suck cock, because I’m a republican
    Trumps dick is delicious

    North Dakota… see ya soon

  • Jennie Batra

    ^Please delete above comment. Someone hacked my husband’s account and is posting nonsense with it.

  • Jennie Batra

    ^Someone hacked my husband’s account and posted this. Please delete it.

  • Richard Turner

    I watch the TV game show Cash Cab and i listen to where the people are going. Then i type it into my tablet on Google Maps or Bing and i can try to figure out exactly where the people are going. It’s like a hobby or game with me. Try it, it’s fun!

  • Richard Turner

    I’m sorry to hear that Jennie. I tried to delete it for you but i couldn’t. Some people are just uncooth!

  • Jennie Batra

    Hi Dick. I think only a moderator can do it. I’m not sure if u are 1?

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