About this Itinerary
An urban rail-trail in New York’s Manhattan, may at first be hard to conceptualize. Fortunately for us, a group of committed individuals not only imagined this possibility but accomplished the daunting and colossal task of preserving a demolition-bound rail corridor as an innovative public park. Truly an urban marvel, the High Line rail-trail stretches 1.5 miles and towers almost 30 feet above street level through several neighborhoods in the lower west side of Manhattan.
Running from Gansevoort Street to W. 34th Street, the High Line offers rare views of the city skyline and the Hudson River. Suspended above the busy streets of Manhattan, you are immersed in a surreal blend of organic beauty and stylized form with characteristics of the old corridor artfully incorporated into the trail. Sections of original railroad track are visible in the concrete slab designs that make up the surface of the path and other sections reveal original art-deco steel railings paired with modern wooden benches. Grasslands and gardens have been planted with many of the wild grasses and other self-seeding plants found on the corridor during its dormant years, thoughtfully tended to now in beds made from old railroad ties.
When planning your visit, give yourself plenty of time for exploring this rail-trail. Even though the High Line is only 1.5 miles long, you may decide to get on and off the greenway numerous times to discover and enjoy the gems of the neighborhoods below. And if you opt to stay just on the corridor, don’t be surprised if your walking slows to a leisurely pace and you find yourself stopping, sitting, gawking and simply soaking in the beauty and creativity that exudes from this treasure.
Be mindful that the High Line comes with both the amenities and restrictions of a popular public park. There are elevators, stairways, restrooms and seasonal food kiosks along the way. This trail is only for pedestrians; dogs, bikes, skateboards and scooters are not permitted. The corridor is maintained and operated by the non-profit organization Friends of the High Line (FOTHL). For more details on park policies, updated trail activities and a trail map, visit the official High Line website.
The High Line can be reached via public transportation. See the High Line website or MTA schedule for subway and bus routes. Several airports service the city, including LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The southern terminus of the trail begins at Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District of Greenwich Village. The tenor of this district has changed enormously over the centuries, from the location of Fort Gansevoort, to the freight yards of the Hudson River Railroad, to its development as a meatpacking district. By the early 1900s, the area was home to hundreds of slaughterhouses and packing plants. The original High Line corridor was built by the New York Central Railroad in the 1930s to remove rail traffic from streets bustling with industry. The elevated design improved street-level safety and allowed freight cars to roll directly into the buildings so that workers could load livestock and meats at the slaughterhouses and agricultural goods at factories and warehouses. Though few of those industrial operations remain, the district’s name did stick and now points to a hip neighborhood full of boutiques, galleries and restaurants.
Today, the corridor takes you from this northern edge of Greenwich Village through the next district of Chelsea. On the way you pass through a series of unique features, beginning with the Gansevoort Woodland and Diller-Von Furstenberg Sun Decks and Water Feature. Between West 15th and 16th Streets is the famous Chelsea Market, formerly the site of the National Biscuit Company (where the Oreo cookie was invented and produced). You can still the bakery’s initials engraved above the brick building’s archway. Now it is a massive indoor food court—a block long and a block wide—housing food vendors, shops and restaurants. Whether or not you are hungry, you will want to spend some time enjoying the unique ambience of this lively market place. Look for the Chelsea Market Passageway off of the greenway.
Nearby on the High Line itself are several options for food and refreshments during spring-fall. The High Line’s food vendors may vary slightly from year to year but are generally in the vicinity of West 12th – 17th Streets and have included a taco truck, ice cream and coffee stand, a bakery, and a barbecue outpost. Terroir at The Porch, a seasonal High Line open-air café on West 15th Street, highlights artisanal wineries and breweries from New York State.
Another innovative project of FOTHL, High Line Art, commissions public art projects on or near the park that are site-specific works responding to the corridor’s unique characteristics. Make sure to read about the current projects or download a map so you can keep an eye out for them as you wander down the trail. At West 16th Street, look for the connector path across 10th Avenue that will take you to the Northern Spur Preserve—once the old Merchants Refrigerated Warehouse, now a horticultural sanctuary with rail tracks embedded in the landscape.
Before the High Line opened as an elevated rail corridor, 10th Avenue was called “Death Avenue” as so many trains collided with pedestrians. Men on horseback, referred to as “West Side Cowboys” were hired to keep pedestrians away from a train’s path. The amphitheater windows at West 17th Street allow you to look to street level and imagine this scenario.
Beyond this, you go through the Chelsea Grasslands feature and the corridor then begins to pass over part of the Chelsea Gallery District where more than 200 galleries, primarily featuring contemporary art, line the blocks beneath you. During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, Chelsea transformed from a center of industry with warehouses lining the piers, to a hub of culture known for its fine arts. Though off of the High Line, you may be interested to note that the famous Hotel Chelsea is just a few blocks away on West 23rd Street. This hotel and historic landmark is known for its extensive list of notable past residents (and associated stories), from Janis Joplin to Leonard Cohen to Jack Kerouac.
By now, you are getting a sense of the magnitude of this rail-trail effort. When the rail corridor fell into disuse in 1980, the owners of property under the High Line lobbied—unsuccessfully—to level the structure and make way for development. The neglected corridor quietly turned into an overgrown natural landscape. On the trail at West 26th Street, the Viewing Spur pays homage to these decades of disuse when the elevated railway also became a place to attach billboards. In 1999, Chelsea residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond founded the Friends of the High Line and began waging a hard-won battle that resulted in the support of city officials and, in 2005, the transfer of High Line ownership from the CSX Rail Company to New York City.
Once you have passed through the 23rd Street Lawn and a wildflower field, you are nearing the northern end of the trail. Beyond West 30th Street, you enter the “High Line at the Rail Yards” section where the trail extends a half mile around the Hudson Yards (a 26-acre mixed-use development site). The Pennsylvania Station is just several blocks to your east, should you be ready to travel out of the borough to the next leg of your New York City adventure.
Do you prefer instead to experience at ground-level what you have already spied from the heights of the High Line? If so, the first order of business may be to head west toward the waterfront and the Hudson River Park which extends from 59th Street south to Battery Park. Follow the path south and you will soon be back on the edges of Greenwich Village. On the way are Chelsea Water Park and the Chelsea Piers, a large sports and entertainment complex.
The West Village is widely known for being the seat of bohemian culture, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. It still retains elements of the lifestyle that inspired the moniker “Little Bohemia,” such as the artist’s lofts of the Westbeth Artists Community (an affordable living and work space for artists and art organizations). A few historic landmarks stand as reminders of the artistic and intellectual heavy-weights of the 20th century that made the West Village their home. The White Horse Tavern, still open for business, was a popular gathering place for writers such as Ezra Pound, Norman Mailer and Dylan Thomas. The original office of the newspaper The Village Voice was nearby as well. On a musical note, The Village Vanguard is a jazz club that first opened its doors in 1935 and is a well-loved venue for live performances today. Musicians such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Stan Getz, are among the long-list of jazz masters who have performed within these walls. Also in the village is the Cherry Lane Theatre, New York’s longest, continuously running off-Broadway theatre. Edna St. Vincent Millay and some of her theatre artist colleagues were instrumental in opening the theater in 1924. Since then, multitudes of illustrious writers and actors have contributed to the long succession of influential American plays that have streamed forth from this historic jewel.
Simply walking the cobblestoned streets lined with brownstones and art-deco apartment buildings, or sitting in Washington Square Park for a bit of people-watching, is a good way to discover the village’s charms. Right off of the square is the historic Washington Square Hotel, also a haven for the village denizen and countless visitors since 1902. However you decide to spend your time discovering the seemingly infinite array of restaurants, clubs and boutiques, you will surely be captivated by this neighborhood’s unique blending of the historic and the modern, the bohemian and the upscale.