Tourists and locals alike simply can’t get enough of one of New York City’s most unique and beloved attractions: the elevated High Line park. Suspended 30 feet above the hustle-and-bustle of city life just below, this linear urban oasis – a brilliant reinvention of long-abandoned railroad tracks – carves its way through an architectural forest on lower Manhattan’s West Side.
With the first section of the High Line unveiled in 2009 — and newly developed segments rolling out ever since — those that ascend to the park’s heightened realm come upon another world, an unhurried oasis where pleasant promenades beckon along nearly 1.5 miles (2.3 kilometers) of landscaped walkway. En route, strollers pass by thoughtful design features, rotating art installations, and novel vantage points over NYC's one-of-a-kind cityscape and waterfront. Here’s everything you need to know about the rails-to-trails marvel that is the High Line.
Spread out along an old elevated rail line, the 1.45-mile-long High Line stretches across Manhattan’s West Side from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea and onto the Hudson Yards. The southernmost park entry point is in the Meatpacking District, on Gansevoort Street (at Washington Street), with its northernmost entry located at Hudson Yards on West 34th Street (east of 12th Avenue).
In between, High Line access is available via staircases and elevators at nine points, including West 14th Street and West 16th Street, to the east of 10th Avenue; West 17th Street, West 20th Street, West 23rd Street, West 26th Street, West 28th Street, West 30th Street, to the west of 10th Avenue; and West 30th Street at 11th Avenue.
Set at what was then Manhattan’s largest industrial district, the High Line's roots date back to 1934, when elevated cargo train service was introduced as a means of transporting goods to and from the upper stories of area factories and warehouses, on a run between West 34th Street and Spring Street. The 30-foot-high elevated tracks served to get much of the freight train activity off of the dangerously busy streets below, which had been the site of so many mid-19th- and early 20th-century accidents and deaths that sections of 10th and 11th Avenues were dubbed “Death Avenue.”
In the decades that followed, the rise of the interstate trucking industry would ultimately render the train service obsolete, with most of its southernmost sections (between Gansevoort and Spring Streets) torn down by 1960. As of 1980, the freight line had completely ceased operations, with the remaining tracks subsequently falling into disrepair and poised for demolition.
In 1999, the nonprofit Friends of the High Line advocacy group was initiated by neighborhood locals in an effort to preserve the remaining tracks and to repurpose the rusty relic as public park space. A series of High Line images, showcasing its self-seeded landscape, were captured by photographer Joel Sternfeld in 2000, which would further help bolster the appeal of the would-be park’s potential. Paris’s similar Promenade Plantée project, which successfully debuted in 1993, served as further inspiration.
After much planning and campaigning, New York City took ownership of the new park space in 2005, with the groundbreaking and construction underway in 2006 and landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, design studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and planting designer Piet Oudolf at the helm. Today, the park is run in partnership between the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and Friends of the High Line.
The High Line park has been unveiled to the public in sections. Its first, southernmost stretch debuted in 2009, running from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. Two years later, in 2011, the second section from West 20th Street to West 30th Street was opened. The third and northernmost section of the park, dubbed the Rail Yards, debuted in 2014, running between West 30th and West 34th streets.
The great success of the High Line—which attracts over 8 million visitors annually—has been credited with revitalizing the surrounding neighborhoods, prompting real estate development and raising property values as well as concerns about rapid gentrification. It has since inspired similar elevated rails-to-trails projects in cities across the U.S., with discussions underway again in New York City about developing a similar elevated rail trail park, dubbed the QueensWay, along the former Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Beach Branch tracks in Queens.
Things to Do
Limited by the narrowness of its design, the High Line is geared more towards strolling and sitting than to more active types of recreation. All the same, you won’t want for things to do here, jam-packed as the park is with seating nooks, overlooks, rotating art installations, and creative landscaping.
Don’t miss a trio of notable vantage points: The Tiffany & Co. Foundation Overlook, set at the park’s southern terminus (at Gansevoort St.), looks out onto the trendy Meatpacking District and Renzo Piano-designed Whitney Museum of American Art; the 10th Avenue Square (at West 17th St.) offers bleacher-like seating overlooking 10th Avenue’s buzzing traffic below; and the billboard-styled 26th Street Viewing Spur, which frames the cityscape below.
Temporary public art projects, including site-specific commissions, exhibitions, performances, and video programs, are put on by the Friends of the High Line’s High Line Art division; check out the current lineup and an up-to-date art map on the High Line's website.
Keep an eye out for notable architectural works, both old and new, en route, like the 1890 Chelsea Market building (the High Line cuts right through this old Nabisco factory, where the Oreo cookie was invented, between West 15th and West 16th streets); Frank Gehry's IAC Building (at West 18th St.); or Jean Nouvel's Chelsea Nouvel apartment building (at West 19th St.).
The park also has public restrooms (at 16th Street and on Gansevoort Street at the Diller–von Furstenberg Building). Note that no dogs, bicycles, or any wheeled recreational transport like skateboards or scooters are permitted on the High Line. The park is open from 7 a.m. daily year-round, and closes between 7 and 11 p.m., depending on the season.
The High Line hosts more than 450 free seasonal programs and activities annually, including its LIVE! series of performances. It's possible to enjoy open-air dance parties, poetry readings, concerts, and more. Ongoing wellness activities include weekly Tai Chi and meditation sessions and the park also plays host to stargazing on Tuesday evenings, with high-powered telescopes (strong enough to break through Manhattan's light pollution) and astronomy experts from the Amateur Astronomers Association on hand. Public walking tours, meanwhile, led by volunteer docents, offer insight into the park’s history, design, art program, and landscape.
Where to Eat
With plenty of benches and seating nooks, the High Line makes for a welcoming spot for indulging in a little grub on the go. Happily, you needn’t leave the park to find quality food vendors during the summer season, like those clustered in the Chelsea Market Passage area, a sort of open-air food court between West 15th and West 16th streets. Note that these outdoor vendors only operate in the summer and the High Line's roster of vendors changes from year to year.
If you’re craving more selection, pop into nearby food halls like Gansevoort Market (353 West 14th St.) and the massive Chelsea Market (75 9th Ave). The German-styled Standard Biergarten (848 Washington St.) utilizes the High Line as its rooftop and is a fun spot to imbibe in cold brews and casual fare like bratwurst and pretzels. Or, try coastal Italian cuisine eatery Santina; set just underneath the High Line at Gansevoort Street.