In the weeks (and honestly, the years) leading up to this trip, there was one place firmly at the top of my must-visit list – the High Line. Snaking for roughly a mile and a half through Chelsea and the Meatpacking district, this park-come-path-come-art gallery is one you cannot miss.
Originally the West Side Elevated Highway, the tracks were used to transport heavy cargo trains through the city. Eventually, as freight moved out of the city, the tracks fell into disrepair. Following much to-ing and fro-ing, it was all but decided that the disused tracks – an eyesore in the popular districts – would be demolished. By the 90s, much of the once-13-mile-long route had been removed, leaving the remaining section to urban explorers and hardy city weeds.
In 1999, the Friends of the High Line formed, with one aim – creating something beautiful out of the neglected tracks. They fought plans for demolition of the final section, proposing the creation of a community park. Their campaign gathered pace, helped along by support and fundraisers by high-profile neighbours including Diane von Fürstenberg. Pressure mounted, and support for demolition faltered. The High Line was born.
Today, this is a place of quiet beauty in the midst of New York’s inherent madness. Trees and shrubs provide dappled shade for artists and school groups. Lovers wander hand in hand. Modern sculptures and art projects appear from time to time. At one point, a stream finds its way onto the concrete block work of the path. It’s a world away from the dizzyingly busy streets just metres below.
On our first full day in the city, we headed east from Grand Central, our sights set firmly on West 30th street. Upon arrival, we came across The Collectivity Project, by Olafur Eliasson.
Thousands upon thousands of white lego bricks have been formed into teetering towers – an impossible alternative cityscape. Visitors are encouraged to join in, add to the buildings and continue the ebb and flow of a city in metamorphosis.
We continued southwards along the line.
Roughly two-thirds of the way south, we reached Chelsea Market. Located within a dark, labyrinthine warehouse is a treasure trove of shops and eateries. No tastes are left wanting; Chelsea Market has everything from whole fresh lobsters to whoopie pies, açaí bowls to cheesesteak sandwiches. We explored into the depths of the market, before settling down to share a bento box of Mexican-Japanese fusion tacos and fresh lychee iced tea from Takumi Taco and craft beer by the jar from The Filling Station. Both come highly recommended.
Heading back out into the heat of the day is somewhat disorientating after the cool calm of the market below.
The final stretch of the High Line passes through the Meatpacking District. Streets open up into wide, cobbled lanes, a modern day Western scene embellished with designer stores and high-art graffiti. The path come to an abrupt end at Gansevoort street, right by the Whitney Museum of Modern Art – worth a visit, if not for the art, then for the blissedly arctic air conditioning on a humid New York summer’s day.
The adventure doesn’t end there. One of the High Line’s greatest spots lies 18 floors above.
Exit at street level and aim for the Standard Hotel. Head inside and take the lift up to the 18th floor, where you’ll find a (questionably murky) plunge pool and bar. Take the stairs up one more level to the grass-covered rooftop bar, Le Bain. We made it up there at 2.30pm, revelling in the peace and quiet, only to be scolded by a bartender (for those of you who like to plan ahead, the bar officially opens at 4.00pm…). Returning that evening, we sampled the cocktail menu and fought the urge to visit the pop-up crêperie. The skyline glittered as the sun sank towards the horizon. The views speak for themselves…
It was the perfect start to a week in one of my favourite cities. Forget the Empire State, seeya Lady Liberty – I left my heart at the High Line.