After six years of construction and $25 billion of investment, the first phase of Manhattan's new megadevelopment 'neighborhood' on the Hudson finally opened in 2019, giving visitors and locals a chance to see how New York is re-imagining itself for the future, unburdened by the shackles of tradition and nostalgia. Plenty of people just come by for the spectacle, but there are several sights to justify a trip, and plenty of shopping and eating to keep you busy when you arrive.
Five sheer glass skyscrapers full of office space and luxury condos surround a manicured plaza, alongside a seven-story mall for upscale shopping and dining. Outwardly, it’s very corporate and business-like but there are concessions to creativity – the Shed is a promising interdisciplinary arts center, while the Vessel is an Instagram-ready copper-clad basket of infinite staircases with fine river views. It might make you think more of gleaming Dubai than gritty old New York, but then again, that's rather the point.
The Hudson Yards story
The Hudson Yards development been decried by its critics as a soulless corporate playground for the wealthy, and hyped by its boosters as a live-work-play 'city within a city' revitalizing the formerly industrialized far west of Midtown. It’s certainly a change from the area’s former life as a run-down depot for Long Island Rail Road trains.
There have been many plans to revitalise this down-at-heel but vastly valuable piece of real estate over the years. In 1956, the site was picked for the never-to-be-constructed, 521m-tall Freedom Tower, which would have been the world’s tallest building at the time. A planned ‘passenger conveyor belt’ bringing in workers from Midtown also failed to materialise.
The Jets and Yankees American football teams both eyed up the site for new stadiums in the 1980s, and there were plans to build a huge West Side Stadium on the rail yard as part of New York’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympics. In the end, corporate interests won out – a consortium of billion-dollar companies, including merchant bank Goldman Sachs, was selected to fill out the site with towering, glass-fronted skyscrapers.
Visiting Hudson Yards
As it's connected to the northern end of the High Line public park, crowds of visitors inevitably end up here, wandering between the skyscrapers and wondering what to do next. A logical place to start is the Vessel, a futuristic metal construction towering 150ft (46m) above the central plaza of Hudson Yards.
Allegedly inspired by Indian step-wells, the sculpture features 154 flights of interlacing stairs across eight levels – the end result resembles a giant, copper-colored beehive, and there are great views of the Hudson River. Admission is free but you’ll need to book a timed ticket online or via your smartphone using the digital kiosks at its base.
You’ll find a bit more substance at the Shed, a Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed multimedia arts center fronted with quilted metal, that commissions original works across a range of disciplines. There are several performance spaces and art galleries, an good arty bookshop and large lobby bar-lounge that’s not a bad place to recharge after exploring Hudson Yards. Ticket prices for shows are kept low and many shows are free, though you’ll need to reserve a spot. See the website for the latest listings of shows and performances. Afterwards, it’s worth dipping into the Spanish-themed food hall Mercado Little Spain inside 10 Hudson Yards.
Beyond that, Hudson Yards is more about style than substance, but it does offer a chance to enjoy the rarefied heights in the form of The Edge, a large, prow-shaped balcony jutting out from the 101st floor of the 30 Hudson Yards tower. With its glass barriers and giddying sense of exposure, it’s certainly thrilling, and the views over Manhattan and the Hudson are awe-inspiring. In fact, at 1100 feet (340m), this is New York's highest open-air observatory (adult/child from $36/31), beating Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center on the far side of the Empire State Building by 250 feet (81m).
Tickets & Practicalities
Tickets can be booked online in advance for the Shed, the Vessel, and the Edge observation deck - its definitely worth looking at all three as there can be queues for the viewpoints and limited availability for shows at the Shed. To reach Hudson Yards, walk through the High Line park or jump on Line 7 of the Subway.