The Ultimate Guide to the High Line
May 7, 2019
Written By Jenna Scherer • Photography by Max Touhey
Everything you need to know about Manhattan’s popular park
Stretching 1.45 miles through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea along the west side of Manhattan, the High Line is one of New York’s newest—and most innovative—green spaces. The park is built along a now-defunct elevated railway; the original tracks are still visible along the path. Elevated 30 feet off the ground, the High Line weaves between buildings, offering vistas of the city and the Hudson River that are by turns dazzling and intimate.
Here, you’ll find food and gift vendors, a seasonally changing array of public art, and year-round gardens inspired by the plants and grasses that once grew wild on the abandoned tracks. Whether you want to stroll above the city, lounge in the sun, or even stargaze through high-powered telescopes, heading up to the High Line makes for one of New York City’s most singular experiences. It can get crowded, particularly in the summer, but trust us: It’s worth limboing underneath a few selfie sticks for.
The High Line stretches from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street in Chelsea along Tenth Avenue, curving west to Twelfth Avenue around the Hudson Yards development at its northern end. Entrances every few blocks along its length lead up to the park. The whole of the High Line is wheelchair accessible, with elevators at the Gansevoort Street, 14th Street, 16th Street, and 30th Street entrances and a ramp at 34th Street. Hours vary depending on the season: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. December 1 through March 31; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 1 through May 31; 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. June 1 through September 30; and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. October 1 through November 30.
Thanks to its length, the High Line is accessible via multiple subway stops and lines. To start at the bottom of the park, take the A/C/E or L to 14th Street and Eighth Avenue; for the top, take the A/C/E or 1/2/3 to Penn Station or the 7 to 34th Street-Hudson Yards. The C/E and 1/2/3 trains make other stops in between. For cyclists, both bike racks and Citi Bike docking stations are situated every few blocks along Tenth Avenue. (Just don’t attempt to bring your bike up to the park itself; bikes—as well as dogs—are forbidden.)
High Line history: from rail to rail
The West Side Elevated Line opened in 1933 as a means for freight trains to pass above the city, after locomotives running at street level became a dicey prospect for pedestrians in the increasingly crowded neighborhood. The trains carried food and other goods along tracks that ran as far south as Spring Street, weaving through and among the many factories that characterized the neighborhood at the time.
As the decades passed in the 20th century, trucks displaced trains as a means of shipping, and the freight lines fell out of use. The southern section of the Elevated Line was dismantled in the 1960s, and the last train ran on the tracks in the autumn of 1980. The ’80s and ’90s saw a slow battle over the fate of the disused space, with preservationists seeking to find a new use for the structure and developers advocating for demolition (another section of the tracks was torn down in 1991). Rudy Giuliani even signed a demolition order in his final days as mayor.
In 1999, Joshua David and Robert Hammond founded Friends of the High Line in order to advocate for a future park along the tracks—which at this point had taken on a rundown beauty, overgrown with native plants and grasses. Giuliani’s plan never took root, and, bolstered by public interest, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council approved zoning and delineated funds for a public park under the stewardship of David and Hammond’s organization and the New York City Parks Department.
Construction began on the High Line in 2006, and the first section—which went from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street—opened three years later. The remaining segments of the the park debuted over following five years (most recently, the Rail Yards in 2014). The modern High Line boasts rotating public art exhibitions and food and gift vendors along its length, and weaves in and amongst glossy new developments.
BUILDING THE HIGH LINE
The High Line was a collaborative effort between James Corner Field Operations, Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf. Building the park required stripping the old railway down to everything but its bones, and creating an entirely new landscape—DS+R calls this “agri-tecture”—that functions as a park, pathways, and gathering spaces all at once.
Before the High Line was the High Line, it was an untamed space, and some of the wild feeling remains—particularly when it comes to the landscape architecture, which emphasizes native plants. One section, the Interim Walkway, remains in its previously uncultivated state.
THE FUTURE OF THE HIGH LINE
Despite its seemingly limited space, the High Line still isn’t finished growing. A new area of the park is slated to open on a spur over 30th Street this summer. Called the Plinth, it will serve as a gathering space and a dedicated showcase for art installations. The debut exhibition is Brooklyn sculptor Simone Leigh’s “Brick House,” a monumental 16-foot-tall bust of a black woman that will be visible from the street below. The Spur and the Plinth will provide a rare open space along the long, narrow High Line.
DID YOU KNOW?
Before the West Side Elevated Line debuted, crossing Tenth Avenue could be mortally perilous for people on foot. In the 19th century, steam-powered trains rain along Tenth and Eleventh avenues with no barriers between them and the pedestrians, horse-drawn cabs, and other traffic. The thoroughfare earned the gruesome nickname “Death Avenue” for the hundreds who met their end on the tracks. It got to the point where the rail company employed legit cowboys on horseback to patrol the avenue, riding in front of trains with red flags to come between pedestrians and steam engines. They became known as the West Side Cowboys.
I'm here-now what?
If you need a respite from the bustle of the park—or just want to duck indoors—there’s plenty to see and do along the High Line.
WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART
Its architecture integrated with the south end of the High Line at 99 Gansevoort Street, the Whitney is home to one of the largest collections of 20th- and 21st-century American art in the world—more than 22,000 pieces in all by artists ranging from Louise Bourgeois to Keith Haring to Andy Warhol. Though the museum has been around since 1931, the current building opened in 2015. The Whitney is legendary for its Biennial, which displays works by contemporary artists every two years; the next Biennial runs from May through September 2019.
You’ll find just about any food option you can dream up at Chelsea Market, a sprawling indoor food hall just east of the High Line at 75 Ninth Avenue. Occupying an entire block, the building was once home to the National Biscuit Company (a.k.a. Nabisco) factory; the Oreo cookie was invented on this spot. Today, 35-plus vendors have set up shop inside—everything from restaurants and grocers to clothing stores and bookshops. It can get crowded along the walkways, but it’s worth a visit for a fudge milkshake from Creamline a lobster roll from Cull & Pistol—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
If you’re feeling sporty, Chelsea Piers is a massive athletic complex located at 23rd Street along the Hudson River. Here, you can try your hand at bowling, ice-skating, rock climbing, golf, and even parkour. There’s also lots to do for kids, including a colorful Toddler Gym and guided gymnastics and rock climbing. You can also get a day pass to the Piers’ sizable health club.