New York Highline is one of those must-visit places in Manhattan, which often gets overlooked by tourists flocking to the Big Apple. Many of those who do seek it out tend to stay for just minutes, before ticking it off the list and moving on.
I think this is because it doesn’t scream quite as loudly as the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. Pictures of it don’t pepper the tourist shops on magnets and T-shirts. It won’t be on the front cover of your guide book, though it probably will be within its pages.
The Highline is essentially a disused railway line. From the 1930s to 1980, freight trains would transport goods into areas of Manhattan along this elevated trackway, until eventually it was taken out of use. Rather than demolishing the no-longer-needed structure, as the authorities initially intended to do, a number of activists got together to petition against its deconstruction, and instead proposed something much more innovative.
The Highline was turned into a garden.
Today, you can walk just under 1.5 miles along this raised walkway, stopping to rest and people-watch at the many benches along the way, and snatch some great views of the Hudson and the Empire State Building. There’s also a wide variety of plants (which, unfortunately, I don’t know any of the names of, apart from maybe ‘daisy’ – sorry!) and plenty of public artwork along the route.
This is something I love about the Highline: the integration of art and nature, functionality and aesthetics, the busy noise of the city and idle relaxation.
The route ‘starts’ in the Village, where the Gansevoort / Washington St entrance was just a few blocks away from the hostel I was staying in. It took me a couple of hours to walk along the Highline to the 34th St / 12th Ave exit – not because of the distance, but just because there was so much to look at.
And anyway, why rush? Where else was there to be but here?
Besides, I think that the Highline has its own natural pace, which is not a quick one. Above the city and away from all that day-to-day Manhattan rush, it fills you with its own sense of timelessness. Everything about it is designed to take time: the history, the meandering path through the plants, the benches all along the way, the art that begs you to stop and take note, the viewpoints that make you want to stop and soak up the skyline…
The first time I visited New York, I missed it off the list. As far as I was concerned, there were bigger, ‘more impressive’ sights to see. (You know – the ones that were on the front of my guidebook and on all those magnets…)
And while I think the Highline is definitely worth a visit, missing it out that first time was probably a wise move. For one thing, New York in midwinter is freezing. I couldn’t believe how cold it was. It’s basically on the same latitude as Spain, but somehow it was much much colder, and a cold that was biting – even more so than winters at home in the north of England. There’s no way I’d have been able to stand being outside for as long as it would have taken to give the Highline the time it deserves – besides which, none of the plants would have been out.
But October? Beautiful. Not quite as swelteringly exposed as in the height of summer, and I suspect not as busy either, but still enough plant life to make it worth a wander. And I spent ages watching the bees as they gathered the last of the nectar for their winter stores.
When I headed towards the Highline, I expected to spend 10-15 minutes walking along its southern section, before setting off in search of a coffee shop. Instead, I found a little oasis of peace in the middle of the big city rush. In other words, the perfect place of reflection for the wandering solo traveller.