How to Walk the High Line in NYC (As Told by a Local)
From relic to gem, the High Line has been turned into one of the most pioneering public spaces in New York City. What was once a decrepit railway line has now been transformed into a park that offers locals and out-of-towners a chance to get away from it all and admire public art, gardens, and city views in every direction.
Since its inception in 2009, walking the High Line has become a right of passage for almost anyone who visits the city. On this nearly 2-mile stretch of historic rail line on Manhattan’s West Side, you’ll quite literally stroll through history, from the city’s bustling Meatpacking District to Hudson Yards at West 34th Street. With the promenade’s unique blend of enchanting botanical gardens and urban immersion, it’s sure to leave you — and your Instagram feed — more than satisfied.
But First, a High Line History Lesson
Manhattan in the 1800s was very different from today. There were no bridges to the other boroughs, downtown was very industrial because of the bustling shipping industry, and there was no Naked Cowboy in Times Square.
Though it might be hard to believe today, street-level freight trains used to run through lower Manhattan to deliver food. This obviously created dangerous situations for pedestrians, so the city constructed an elevated rail line to fix the problem. Opened in 1934, the original West Side Elevated Line transported meats, dairy, and produce through downtown, often cutting through buildings to make delivery easier.
As the century pressed on and trucking became more popular, rail use declined. Much like Grand Central Terminal, the West Side Elevated Line fell into obscurity, and sections were actually torn down. Plants began to organically overtake the rail line, creating an urban wilderness above the streets of New York City.
A New Beginning
Luckily for all of us, a conservancy group stepped in, and in 1999 they began advocating for the park’s preservation. They started an “ideas competition” to generate potential uses for the old track, which resulted in some … interesting submissions. A few people hoped it would become a rollercoaster or a mile-long swimming pool.
In 2009, the first section of the new High Line opened. It exists today as a 1.45-mile elevated walkway that showcases art, public events, and more than 500 species of plants and trees. I guess the swimming pool will have to wait.
What to See and Do on the High Line
Considering the High Line is almost 1.5 miles long, a walk through this park isn’t exactly a short walk in the park. There’s a lot to see and do up there, so read on for some suggestions on where to start.
Art on the High Line
The art on the High Line is one of the main reasons to visit.
The collection up here features domestic and international artists, ranging from emerging artists to seasoned pros. Curators included almost every type of art you can imagine, from sculpture to multimedia to live performances to murals that take up the entire sides of buildings. Best of all, it’s totally free to see. Whatever you do, you have to get a picture with The Sleepwalker, the weirdest piece of art on the walk.
Gardens That Are Still Growing
A good portion of the landscape on the High Line is self-seeded, which means the gardens are the remnants of wild vegetation that grew here during the 25 years that the trains stopped running.
The design, however, is very intentional. Some creative landscape architects added other plants to enhance the surroundings, resulting in zones that resemble different outdoor environments. Pedestrians can walk the High Line and find themselves passing by woodlands, grasslands, and even water features.
The High Line also has some treats for the wildlife enthusiast. The Hudson River and vegetation attract more than 300 species of birds each year. Woodpeckers, finches, and even peregrine falcons have made appearances along the High Line.
Interactive Experiences Along (and Under) the High Line
In addition to public arts and gardens, the High Line has features for visitors of every age.
Although it can be fun to wander, sometimes it’s equally as fun to stop and contemplate your surroundings. Walk through the 14th Street Passage to get some shade and check out a daily video series. Or continue on to the Chelsea Market Passage to see remnants of the old train tracks and grab a bite at the open-air food court.
On summer evenings, the High Line also hosts a public dance series where all are welcome to move and shake to salsa sounds under the lights of New York City.
Underneath the High Line, Chelsea Market welcomes shoppers for a truly unique retail experience. Dozens of restaurants, merchants, and food stands cater to more than 6 million visitors every year, making Chelsea Market one of the most popular food halls in the world. From doughnuts and fresh-baked bread to seafood, tacos, or piping-hot espresso, you’re sure to find something for every appetite.
The northern end of the High Line terminates at Hudson Yards, a city-within-a-city that was also built on top of train tracks.
If your feet aren’t too tired from the High Line walk, keep going to experience the newest neighborhood in NYC. Whether you’re in the mood for tapas at the Spanish market, snapping a selfie on the Vessel, or a show at the Shed, Hudson Yards has everything you need to stay entertained.
Answering Your High Line FAQs
Where do you start to walk the High Line?
The High Line starts on Gansevoort Street in the south or 34th Street in the north. Which direction you choose to go kind of depends on what you want to do and where you want to end up when you finish.
If you want to finish up at Hudson Yards and celebrate with paella at Mercado Little Spain, or continue on to catch a Broadway show, head from south to north. If you want to finish in the Meatpacking District and celebrate with a slice of pizza at Artichoke Basil Pizza, head from north to south.
How long does it take to walk the High Line?
As I mentioned above, the High Line stretches 1.45 miles. Depending on your pace, and what you want to do there, I would block off 2-3 hours to walk all of the park and get the full experience.
When is the High Line open?
The High Line is typically open year-round, and it’s great to see no matter what the season is. In fact, winter might be my favorite time to go because the crowds are smaller. Hours can also vary depending on the season, so check out the visitors page to see when it opens and closes.
COVID-19 update: Following its quarantine-related closure, the High Line is currently slated to reopen July 16.
A Short Walk with Big Rewards
With millions of visitors a year, it’s easy to see why the High Line is considered one of Manhattan’s most popular parks. Even the surrounding neighborhoods have taken on new lives, revitalized by the popularity of the promenade. As far as NYC experiences go, it’s one of the most unique things you can do in the city. Carefully tended gardens surround you at each turn, and sweeping views of the Hudson River vie for your attention.
At 30 feet in the air, it’s a sweet retreat from the concrete jungle that is New York, and you might find yourself tempted to explore its many charms on more than one occasion. Plan your visit to the High Line today, and don’t be afraid to have high expectations — walking the High Line is guaranteed to be an experience to remember.