Ask any of the 8.5 million New Yorkers living in the city for their essential list of must-see NYC spots, and you're bound to get as many different answers, with the exception of one key highlight that just about everybody seems to agree on: the High Line. This beloved, elevated green space unveiled its first of three segments back in 2009, brilliantly reimagining an abandoned freight train trestle as a wildly popular public park that has served to revitalize Manhattan's lower West Side.
The High Line's 1.45-mile-long stretch runs from Gansevoort Street, in the Meatpacking District, through Chelsea and the work-in-progress Hudson Yards mixed-use redevelopment project, and up to 34th Street at its northern end, tapering off near the Javits Convention Center. Eleven entrances allow visitors to hop on and off the raised promenade along the way.
With the “rails-to-trails” park's final phase completed in September 2014 (with just a few final touches still pending in the park's northern reaches), and the new Whitney Museum of American Art debuting May 1 at its Gansevoort Street terminus, there's never been a better time to discover this reliably pleasant park and its many neighboring gems. Here's the ultimate guide to the High Line, with park- and street-level picks for what to see and do and where to eat, drink, and sleep along the way.
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High Line Highlights
While the aerial greenway is restricted to the confines of its narrow, linear design, the collaborative designers (James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf) have created an assortment of microclimates and mini-environments along its length, keeping the city's four seasons in mind. A walk through its entirety reveals some 350 species of trees, grasses, perennials, wildflowers, shrubs, and vines; glimpses of the original railroad tracks; generous seating via the parks distinctive “peel-up” benches; and scenic overlooks out onto the Hudson River and surrounding cityscapes from the park's 30-foot-high perch.
Real estate development along the route has blossomed, adding a layer of inventive, modern builds to the old industrial brick factories and warehouses for a fascinating architectural landscape. Be on the lookout for innovative buildings like Frank Gehry's IAC Building (on W. 18th St.) or Jean Nouvel's Chelsea Nouvel apartment building (look down W. 19th St.) and for sections of the park that cross through buildings like The Standard, The High Line Hotel, which bridges the High Line, or the historic 1890 Chelsea Market building (a former Nabisco factory, where the Oreo cookie was invented).
Several temporary, commissioned, site-specific art installations from worldwide artists pock the park—check out the current line-up.
Some permanent park features to look for include the Tiffany & Co. Foundation Overlook at Gansevoort Street—the balcony ending here marks the park's severed southern terminus (the rail line's more southerly extension was cut off and demolished at this point in the 90s), which now stands just next to the Renzo Piano-designed Whitney Museum of American Art.
For an idea of what the High Line looked like before it was landscaped, sneak a peek over the Northern Spur Preserve (at W. 16th St.), which has been planted to evoke the self-sown landscape (crabapples, asters, and more) that grew naturally before it was a designated park.
The 10th Avenue Square and Overlook (at W. 17th St.) is an overhanging amphitheater-like space with wooden seating, where visitors can peer out a viewing window onto 10th Avenue. Don't miss the Hudson River and Statue of Liberty views in the distance, on the opposite side.
Insert yourself into the rectangular frame that serves as living billboard at the 26th Street Viewing Spur, which recalls the billboards that were once prominently affixed to the High Line.
If you have kids in tow, head to the Pershing Square Beams play area, at W. 30th St., which reveals the rail line's original (and now safely silicone-coated) steal beam and girder framework, creating sunken areas where kids can climb and play.
Events and Activities
The park plays host to 400-plus public programs and activities annually, including tours, talks, performances, and dance parties. Some free upcoming and ongoing events to look out for are 75-minute park tours illustrating the High Line's history, design, and landscape; evening stargazing sessions with high-powered telescopes and experts on hand from the Amateur Astronomers Association; and guided meditations, led by reps from neighborhood yoga studios.
Where to Eat
The High Line's many benches, lawn section, and even picnic tables (along W. 30th St.) make for perfect alfresco dining and picnic lunches. Stock up on fare-to-go from area food halls, like the recently opened Gansevoort Market, set in a historic nineteenth-century trading post, with more than twenty vendors hocking tacos, crêpes, and more. Or, hit up ever-crowded shopping-and-dining standby, the block-long Chelsea Market, jam-packed with more than thirty-five vendors. Most offer take-out, but our favorite spot is the sit-down-only The Green Table, with a menu of farm-to-table, seasonally driven ingredients with signatures like chicken pot pies and four-cheese mac & cheese (reservations recommended).
Alternatively, look to the High Line-affiliated seasonal food and beverage vendors, largely clustered around the bi-level Chelsea Market Passage section of the promenade around W. 15th St. Vendors for 2015 include Blue Bottle Coffee, La Newyorkina (for frozen treats and sweets), L’Arte del Gelato, Melt Bakery (ice cream sandwiches), The Taco Truck, and La Sonrisa Empanandas.
For more traditional dining, look to Fodor's-recommended area restaurants like the bustling The Standard Grill, serving up seasonal American fare at the ever-trendy The Standard; upscale Italian Del Posto, backed by Mario Batali; Barcelona-style tapas bar Toro; celeb chef Tom Colicchio's contemporary American eatery Colicchio & Sons; and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's transporting Southeast Asian street food inspired Spice Market. Farther north, hit up sit-down pizzeria Co. focused on all things bread, from tasty wood-fire pizzas (try the spinach pie) to rustic flatbreads, courtesy of Jim Lahey, of Sullivan Street Bakery.
Where to Drink
When the weather's cooperating, look no further than the High Line itself for a little alfresco imbibing, thanks to the seasonal Terroir High Line (set at W. 15th St.; opens May 1) serving wine, beer, and small plates. Another area go-to is the railroad-themed rooftop garden oasis at Gallow Green, atop The McKittrick Hotel. Using the High Line's underside as its rooftop, the Standard Biergarten at The Standard hotel is a popular year-round watering hole inspired by German-style beer gardens, with communal seating, steins of imported German and Austrian beer, and traditional bites like bratwurst and pretzels.
More to Do
Tack an area attraction onto your High Line visit for a well-rounded day out. The most buzz-worthy option is the newly relocated Whitney Museum of American Art (opens May 1), set just adjacent to the High Line's southern edge at Gansevoort Street. The museum's mission of documenting arts in the U.S. from 1900 to today is well accomplished through its inaugural exhibition, “America is Hard to See” (runs through September 27, 2015). Expect a multi-floor presentation that sources more than 400 artists and 600 works from The Whitney's renowned permanent collection, with pieces from Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Andy Warhol.
The park's linear format is more geared toward walking and sitting than anything else, but you can burn off some steam getting active at the nearby Chelsea Piers, a sports and recreation complex on the Hudson River waterfront where tennis, rock climbing, bowling, and pretty much every other sport under the sun awaits. They also offer year-round indoor ice-skating. In season, head instead to The Standard, which sets up a seasonal outdoor rink right on its plaza.
For a memorable evening of eerily transporting entertainment, stop by The McKittrick Hotel, home to Sleep No More. This spine-tingling reinvention of Shakespeare's Macbeth is realized as an immersive, interactive theatrical experience that will haunt your dreams. Theater-goers, masked and sworn to silence, wander through nearly 100 spaces within the massive multilevel set, as actors rove among rooms, acting out scenes of sex, conflict, and despair. You’ll leave with you own interpretation and tale to tell (book in advance, and leave kids at home).
Where to Shop
The streets surrounding the High Line in the Meatpacking District and Chelsea spill over with a slew of interesting independent boutiques. Try the Chelsea Market, which hosts shops like the Williamsburg-based Artists & Fleas that showcases work from more than thirty independent artists, fashion designers, and vintage collectors. Pop into Diane von Furstenberg's flagship boutique for designer womenswear (look for her signature wrap dresses), or hit up independent bookseller 192 Books for its small but thoughtful selection of literature and art books.
Where to Sleep
Love the High Line so much you don't want to leave? Then don’t. The Standard's winning combination of beautiful faces meets beautiful spaces continues to impress six years after opening. André Balazs’ beautiful architecture straddles the park at W. 13th St., with 338 modern rooms that boast floor-to-ceiling windows touting killer views. Stick around for highlights like the beer garden, The Standard Grill, and seasonal ice rink.
Or, look to the 1.5-year-old, 60-room The High Line Hotel, set within a converted, landmarked nineteenth-century seminary. The old-world-style property boasts a “collegiate gothic” aesthetic, with rooms and public spaces tastefully blanketed with Victorian and Edwardian antiques, Oriental carpets, Tiffany-style lamps, and stained-glass windows. Don't miss a stroll in the cloistered landscaped gardens just out back, and ask a hotel staffer to see the adjoining, cathedral-like refectory, a special-event space that's still used as a daily dining hall for members of the General Theological Seminary.