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New York: The High Line

The history of rail transport in Manhattan goes back to the mid-1800s when surface trains used to run through the city bringing supplies to Lower Manhattan. This created dangerous conditions for pedestrians; 10th Avenue became known as “Death Avenue.” By 1910, more than 540 people had been killed by trains. In response, the City hired men on horseback with flags to patrol the street crossings. Until their final ride in 1941, the “West Side Cowboys” patrolled 10th Avenue, waving red flags to warn of oncoming trains.

In the mid-1920s the West Side Improvement project first began when the city’s Transit Commission ordered the removal of street-level crossings; this later led to a plan to remove tracks from the streets and create an elevated rail line. The first train ran on the High Line in 1933 —which was then called the “West Side Elevated Line.” The line was fully operational by 1934, transporting millions of tons of meat, dairy, and produce.

Train use dwindled due to the rise in trucking. In the 1960s the lower section of the elevated line was demolished and eventually, the trains stopped running and the elevated rail line fell into disrepair. There were calls for it to be dismantled, but Chelsea resident Peter Obletz formed The West Side Rail Line Development Foundation, seeking to preserve the structure. In the same year, Congress passed the Trail System Act, allowing people to circumvent complicated land rights issues in order to transform old rail lines into recreational areas. But, it was not until 2004, with the support of Mayor Bloomberg did the dream become a reality. In April 2006, the first section of the High Line opened to the public from Gansevoort to 20th streets.

Today, The High Line is now one, continuous, 1.45-mile-long greenway featuring 500+ species of plants and trees. The park is maintained, operated, and programmed by Friends of the High Line in partnership with the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. An estimated 8 million annual visitors now visit the park.

We decided to walk the length of the path, starting down in the Chelsea District, next door to the Whitney Museum. This is a quaint area with boutique shops and cosy restaurants if a little touristy. As soon as you step up on the High Line you are transported into an oasis. As we walked along we were amazed by the variety of the plantings. In some sections, the old railway track has been left in place, which was a nice touch!

The High Line - an example of urban regeneration
The landscaping along the High Line using the old railway lines

Along the path, there are a number of places where you can sit and take a rest, take the weight off your feet and watch life pass you by. People watching is one of our favourite pastimes. 

The are plenty of places to stop and contemplate life
A stylish bridge viewed from the High Line
Verdant abundance

As well as enjoying the plants we were also taken by the art along the way. Some of this was murals painted on buildings adjacent to the High Line, others were art installations on the trail itself. Much of this art was contemporary, some of my favourites being those using repurposed industrial items. I am a sucker for steam-punk designs.

New York City street art
The are several contemporary art installations along the High Line

The end (or the beginning depending on where you start) of the High Trail for us was the Hudson Yards. This former industrial area has been transformed and is now surrounded by steepling skyscrapers. As well as apartment buildings Hudson Yards is home to the Shed, a performance arts centre and an upscale shopping mall. 

Probably, the most distinctive building in Hudson Yard is the Vessel, an interactive artwork imagined by Thomas Heatherwick and Heatherwick Studio. It was designed to provide a varying perspective of the City from different heights. The Vessel has 154 intricately interconnecting flights of stairs and almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings. It is a very eye-catching centrepiece for Hudson Yards.

Sadly, the Vessel is closed as of today, after a 14-year-old boy died by suicide here. This was was the fourth suicide at the tourist attraction in a year and a half. The Vessel was built with only waist height barriers, which offer no deterrent to someone looking to take their life by jumping. Hopefully, one day they will find a way to prevent future suicides and the Vessel will open once again.

If you are looking for something thrilling then look no further than the Edge, a pizza-shaped observation deck teetering 100-stories above the City. is the highest sky deck in the Western Hemisphere.  Obviously has some great views! The deck is surrounded by thick glass panels giving an unobstructed 360-degree view of New York City. There is also a section of glass floor if you are good with heights (which I am not!)

The Vessel in Hudson Yards
The High Line ends (or starts!) at the Hudson Yards
The Edge Observation Deck - Courtesy of Related Oxford

Planning your visit to The High Line

Address: New York
Website:https://www.thehighline.org/
Telephone:T: (212) 500-6035
Hours:

December 1 to March 31: 7 am to 7 pm
April 1 to May 31: 7 a.m. to 10 pm
June 1 to September 30: 7 am to 11 pm
October 1 to November 30: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m

Admission Fees

Free

Best time to visit New York City

Fall and spring are considered by tourists and locals as the best times to visit, and you can expect pleasant temperatures to reign in the months from April to June and September until November. However, the best times of year to visit New York City for warm-weather activities are from mid-June to July and from early August to the end of September.

Other things to do whilst in New York City

1. BRONX ZOO

The Bronx Zoo is a zoo within Bronx Park in the Bronx, New York. It is one of the largest zoos in the United States by area and is the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States by area, comprising 265 acres of parklands and naturalistic habitats separated by the Bronx River. 

It is a great place to spend the day with your family, or indeed on your own. The highlights for us are the Congo Gorilla exhibit, JungleWorld, Madagascar and the Wild Asia Monorail.

2. NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDENS

Established in 1891, The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) is distinguished by the beauty of its landscape, collections, and gardens, and the scope and excellence of its programs in horticulture, education, and science. NYBG was inspired by an 1888 visit that eminent botanists Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife, Elizabeth, took to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London.

Today, the 250-acre Garden—the largest in any city in the United States—is a National Historic Landmark.

3. STATUE OF LIBERTY & ELLIS ISLAND

The Statue of Liberty is an iconic symbol of the United States of America. You can visit the statue on Liberty Island by ferry from Manhattan and New Jersey. On Liberty Island, there is a museum dedicated to the history of Lady Liberty.

Also, from Liberty Island, you can make the short journey across the water to Ellis Island, which was the reception centre for people emigrating to America. Today, it is a museum run by the National Park Service and an archive where visitors can trace their relatives who made the life-changing journey across the water to start new lives in the United States of America.

4. MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (MOMA)

The New York Museum of Art was established in 1929 with an initial gift of eight prints and one drawing. Today, the collection has grown to approximately 200,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, media and performance artworks; including works from the greatest contemporary artists, including Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Dalí, Warhol, Hockney and Pollock to name but a few.

5. CENTRAL PARK

Central Park is one of the most recognisable parts of New York City anyone who has seen TV series or films made in New York will be familiar with many of its features. It is not just a place for visitors to the city to wander it is also a playground for New Yorkers to come and escape the concrete and brick of the city.

Where to stay in New York City

1. ELEMENT TIMES SQUARE

During our visit to New York, we stayed in the Element hotel which is in the Hells Kitchen district. For us, it was perfectly located and was only a 5-minute walk to Times Square. It was also very close to several metro stations and the main bus terminal. We were feeling a bit stingy and cautious due to the Covid-19 pandemic so we decided to walk from Penn Station to the hotel, which only took us 10-minutes, hauling our luggage.

The room was good, we had a little kitchenette and there were pots, pans, plates and silverware, so we were self-contained. We were lucky enough to be on one of the higher floors, so we had a view. It was also possible to see the Empire State building.

Breakfast is included but nothing to write home about, but there are plenty of places to eat in the area so it was not a problem for us.

2. YOTEL NEW YORK

A futuristic hotel set in the centre of New York with a robot luggage sorting machine will wow and amaze you. 

The hotel offers both double and family rooms with incredible city views, all uniquely furnished and decorated to give a modern, sci-fi feel. Each room has a large double bed and some have bunks or sofa beds too. They come with a desk area for working (plus great wifi), a flat-screen TV, air-con and a large shower room. 

There is a lovely Mediterranean fusion restaurant on site that offers meals all times of the day, plus a gorgeous roof terrace where you can enjoy the New York skyline with your favourite tipple in hand. There is also a gym in the hotel too with Peloton bikes, for fitness training. Your stay also includes the hire of a Yotel Bike for touring around the city. Green room 42 is a cabaret club that offers live performances and food and drinks. 

3. FREEHAND HOTEL

Freehand is located in the former George Washington hotel, known as the home of many artists, and it has maintained its creative spirit. It has a partnership with Bard College and many artists take an active part in designing the hotel and in shaping its cultural life. Freehand features five restaurants and bars, and elegantly designed rooms with private bathrooms. The rooms sleep up to 6 people.

It is located on Lexington Avenue and within walking distance of Union Square, Midtown and Flatiron.

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