Culture and Cattails: Walking the High Line in New York

In a city famous for its iconic tourist attractions and rich cultural experiences, New York's greenway, The High Line, stands out among them all. See why…Read More

New York City's treasured High Line (Source: Shutterstock / Andrew F. Kazmierski)

In a city that is famous for its iconic tourist attractions and rich cultural experiences, New York’s elevated linear pedestrian park, The High Line, stands out among them all. Walking the High Line is part nature walk, part cultural journey, and part city commute. In fact, much of what makes New York City unique and exceptional converges here.

If you’re heading to the city, make sure you have at least half a day to take in this unique greenway. And while we recommend making it more of a meander than an agenda, to help with planning, we’ve provided a few of our favorite spots we think are worth noting along the way.

First, a smidge of history

Completed in 2009, the High Line was conceived as a “living system,” informed by the best of contemporary landscape architecture, urban design, and ecology to provide New Yorkers a different, more interactive park experience.

Inspired by Paris’ pedestrian walkway, the Promenade Plantée, the project was initially overseen by community-based nonprofit Friends of the High Line in the early 2000s. The park was to be built on an elevated portion of the abandoned New York Central Railroad line, known as the West Side Line. The planned greenway would stretch northward from Gansevoort Street in the heart of the meatpacking district (just north of Greenwich Village), through Chelsea, along the Hudson to the northern edge of the West Side Yard at 34th Street.

With initial fundraising support from some of the city’s brightest glitterati and city government muscle behind the initiative, lead architect firm James Corner Field Operations was brought onboard, and ground was broken in 2006. The park opened in phases over the next eight years with the last portion, the Spur (at 10th Avenue and 30th Street), opening in June 2019. Total project cost came in at about $153 million, viewed by most as a veritable bargain considering the over $2 billion in subsequent urban and commercial development the project has attracted since.

The High Line's "peeled" benches (Source: iStock / James Andrews)
The High Line’s “peeled” benches (Source: iStock / James Andrews)

The elevated parkland stretches nearly 1.5 miles along lower Manhattan’s west side, winding under buildings and amid a series of pulsating neighborhoods that in part, give the High Line its variegated character. Wow-worthy views of the city are apparent throughout and street access is available via stairways at a handful of points, making it an easy on/off route to any number of attractions along the way.

Built along a spine of steel and concrete, the High Line’s walkways are appointed in reclaimed wooden planks, interspersed with pebble dash and gravel mulch, and meander around lush plantings, colorful gardens, installations, murals, sculptures, and public meeting areas. “Peeled” wooden benches that seemingly grow out of the walkway planks themselves are scattered throughout for moments of reflection or to have lunch. Perfectly integrating form and function, the project stimulates the senses, intellect, and emotions, all while getting you where you need to go. So New York, no?

What to do /see

Whitney Museum of American Art

An iconic New York destination unto itself, the Whitney Museum of American Art was relocated from uptown to Gansevoort Street just adjacent to the High Line’s southernmost access point in 2014. Originally founded in 1930 by socialite and art patron Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the museum holds one of the best collections of 20th and 21st century American art anywhere. The permanent collection includes works by Edward Hopper, Alexander Calder, Joseph Stella, and Charles Ray, among many others.

The building itself was designed by starchitect Renzo Piano, of Paris’s Centre George Pompidou and London’s Shard building fame. A modern vision of boxy steel and glass with over 200,000 square feet of exhibition space, the Whitney also includes outside observation decks, an education center, a theater, a conservation lab, and a library. Check the Whitney online for updated schedules and exhibits.

The Standard, High Line

Once on the High Line at Gansevoort Street, a 3-minute walk north along its planks will bring you to “The Standard, High Line,” a Standard Hotel property that towers a good 19 stories above the walkway. The hotel is decked out Le Corbusier-style with pilotis, a façade of glass, and adjacent plaza with rotating art installations. Think the Jetsons, but in a New York cool sort of way. Follow the High Line as it passes under the building for a gape-worthy look up.

Diller – von Furstenberg Sundeck & Water Feature

Take a break at the Diller - von Furstenberg Sundeck & Water Feature. (Source: Shutterstock / MikeDotta)
Take a break at the Diller – von Furstenberg Sundeck & Water Feature. (Source: Shutterstock / MikeDotta)

Next, take in the sun on one of the teak loungers, or dip your toes in the streamlet at the Diller – von Furstenberg Sundeck & Water Feature. Just a hair north between 14th and 15th streets, this area of the High Line includes steel planters spilling over with cattails, pale-hued rose mallows, and swamp milkweed surrounding a long length of shallow water flow. Perfect for a bit of splashing or just to cool off, this portion of the High Line is a favorite recreation point.

Chelsea Market

Sugar and spice at the Chelsea Market's Doughnuttery (Source: Doughnuttery Facebook)
Sugar and spice at the Chelsea Market’s Doughnuttery (Source: Doughnuttery Facebook)

Just off the 16th street access point is one of New York’s finest food markets. Housed in the historic brick National Biscuit Company (aka Nabisco) building, Chelsea Market is the New Yorker’s go-to for artisanal cheeses, homemade baked goods, fresh fish, prime meats, fresh produce, as well as loads of sundries, gifts, and other goodies.

It’s also a good stop for a quick bite. Grab a mini doughnut from the Doughnuttery, famous for their proprietary sugar blends and tasty flavor combos. We like the Paris Time with lavender, pistachio, and vanilla.

For something a little more substantial, try Mokbar for a Korean-Japanese fusion ramen bowl. The Vegan Miso Ramen, a New York bargain at $16, hits the spot with rich kombu doenjang broth, spinach, beansprouts, shiitake mushroom, crispy potatoes, and scallions.

10th Avenue Square & Overlook

Try out your Shakespeare at the Overlook. (Source: Shutterstock / Carlos Neto)
Try out your Shakespeare at the Overlook. (Source: Shutterstock / Carlos Neto)

Return to the High Line via the amphitheater on 17th Street and 10th Avenue. Part stairway, part, well, amphitheater, wooden stepped platforms rise from the street level up to the High Line proper. Large enough for small performances and easy enough to navigate for street access, the amphitheater is another favorite High Line hangout. Stop, watch, or recite a Shakespearean couplet yourself for whomever has gathered. It’s New York, after all.

Another treat is at the top. Here, you will find a contemplative spot, speckled with the High Line’s signature peeled wooden benches and shaded within a maple grove. To the south, views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island peak through the leaves.

The Plinth

Simone Leigh's "Brick House" on the Plinth (Source: The High Line Facebook)
Simone Leigh’s “Brick House” on the Plinth (Source: The High Line Facebook)

At 30th Street, the High Line pivots west toward the Hudson River with a stretch jutting out opposite to the east known as the Spur. The turn itself is known as the Crossroads, and as the widest part of the High Line, includes a series of communal spaces shaded by large sweetgum, orange bark, stewartia, and black tupelo trees.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Spur is the Plinth, a space dedicated for commissioned outdoor art installations that rotate every 18 months or so. Its inaugural exhibition, unveiled in June 2019, is Simone Leigh’s “Brick House,” a 16-foot-tall bronze bust of a black woman whose torso includes elements of a skirt and a clay house. It is a powerful work that addresses the image of the black woman in body and society, revealing her as a manifestation of strength – both literally and culturally.

Hudson Yards

The extraordinary Vessel at Hudson Yards (Source: iStock / Mariakray)
The extraordinary Vessel at Hudson Yards (Source: iStock / Mariakray)

At its northernmost leg between 30th and 34th Streets, the High Line hugs the riverside just west of Hudson Yards, the city’s newest and coolest real estate development. The neighborhood currently includes eight of a planned 16 structures, and is comprised of a cluster of gleaming residential and commercial-use skyscrapers, public green space, cultural and performance spaces, and a tony shopping mall. In the center of it all stands Vessel, an interactive artwork designed to be climbed that resembles a bronze pineapple. A climb up is essential to experiencing the unique wonder of this piece and the extraordinary views of the city it affords.

There is much to do in Hudson Yards, including shopping at some of the world’s top brands (we’re talking Cartier, Chanel, Dior, and Tory Burch to name just a few) and dining at a fabulous eatery or two. Mercado Little Spain is a food hall featuring top grab-and-go Spanish cuisine favorites like empanadas, flatbreads, and cured meats. If you feel like sitting for a while, try MAR at Mercado Little Spain for seafood, tapas, and paella made with toasted pasta and cuttlefish that is to die for.

While there are other gustatory standouts here, including Momofuku Kāwi for elevated Korean fare brought to you by the Momofuku Group; and the TAK Room helmed by Chef Thomas Keller of Per Se and The French Laundry fame, they all lean toward exorbitantly expensive. As such, we would recommend going outside of Hudson Yards for your dining needs.

Tips for enjoying the High Line

Indeed, experiencing the High Line involves a lot of walking, so be sure and wear comfortable shoes and bring water and a hat for hot weather. Restrooms and water fountains are available at various points along the way, including at Gansevoort Street and 30th Street access points.

The entire length of the High Line is wheelchair accessible and elevators are available at 14th and 16th Street access points.

For more about the gardens, design, and art along the High Line, download the free app, available for both iOS and Android operating systems. Finally, check the High Line website for up-to-date information and news before you visit.