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What is the best observation deck in New York City?

In less than two years, New York City got 2 new observation decks, bringing the number of places like that in the city to 5! Yes, you read that right: New York City has 5 observation decks! Seeing the city from above is, in my opinion, one of those things that you have to do, mainly because of the city’s architecture, full of skyscrapers, and also because of the geography itself – after all, Manhattan is an island, and the East River and the Hudson River complete the city scene. But, among the 5 observation decks, which one to choose? Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory, Edge or Summit One Vanderbilt? In this post, I will try to help you decide, giving an overview of each one, the pros and cons, prices, and other details. Let’s check it out!

  • As a reminder: this post contains affiliate links – it costs you nothing extra to buy through them and you support my work.
  • I’ve decided to list the options from oldest to newest.

Empire State Building

Located in the heart of Manhattan, in Midtown, it is probably the most famous building in New York City. Seeing the Empire State is always magical and, for some people, visiting the building itself has a lot of meaning because of its history. The Empire State Building was completed in 1931, and this Art Deco icon still retains its charm – plus, it is an icon that is part of the collective imagination of many people due to so many features in movies and TV series.

  • The observatory –  Empire State Building has 2 observation decks: one on the 86th-floor and another one on the 102th-floor – that you pay extra. 86th-floor one is open and you have 360° views of the city, contemplating places like Central Park and Downtown. Note that this specific area has views obstructed by grids. On the 102th-floor, the experience is totally different. It is a glass-enclosed observation deck, which provides better views compared to the one on the 86th-floor.
  • The experience – in addition to the two observation decks, Empire State Building still offers a very nice experience through more than 10 exhibits that the visitors pass through on their to the observatory. If you are interested in discovering more about the history behind the building, this experience will make your visit even more interesting. You will see how the Empire State Building was built, relive the building’s defining moments, and put yourself in the clutches of King Kong.
  • Pros – the experience of visiting one of the most iconic buildings in the city, if not the world. Undoubtedly, the exhibitions add a lot to the experience. The view from the 102nd-floor observatory is impressive because of its height.
  • Cons – in my opinion, Empire State Building loses a lot of points because of the view obstructed by grids on the 86th-floor observatory. Also, you can’t see the Empire State Building when you’re on top of the Empire State Building… On very cold days, it can be uncomfortable to be up there too – you can always go indoors and warm up, but anyway…
  • EXTRAS – in addition to access to the observation decks at regular hours, the Empire State Building also offers the option to purchase sunrise tickets.
  • Did you know? A defining feature of the New York City skyline since 1976, the Empire State Building lights have captured the world’s imagination for decades. They maintain a tradition of changing the color of the lights to recognize important occasions, holidays, and organizations throughout the year. Since 2012, the building has used a state-of-the-art LED lighting system, capable of displaying more than 16 million colors. You can check tonight’s color – and the meaning – here.

Tickets

Top of the Rock

It is located in the Rockefeller Center, real state development also in the heart of Manhattan, where you can see the iconic Christmas tree and ice skating rink every year, in addition to NBC studios, shops, and restaurants. Top of the Rock has one of the most iconic and privileged views of the city because it faces the Empire State Building. It is the perfect observatory for anyone looking for nothing less than a classic, perfect view.

  • The observatory – there are three levels of observation decks to explore at Top of the Rock. The first deck includes the Radiance Wall and the gift shop. The second, featuring the Breezeway, is entirely outdoors, glass-enclosed. The third observation deck, located on the 70th-floor open-air roof deck, is completely outdoors and free of a glass enclosure, making it perfect for photos – but it’s also smaller.
  • The experience – as it is an observatory with two levels, one with glass protection and the other completely open, the experience is much more intense and exciting. It is one of the most beautiful places to contemplate the sunset in the city – of course, it is also very popular. It is worth remembering that there are no “extras” such as exhibitions or anything like that, as happens at the Empire State. But Top of the Rock delivers what it promises – a privileged place to contemplate New York City from above. In addition, it also has a beautiful view of Central Park.
  • Pros – the unobstructed view is, without a doubt, where Top of the Rock earns points, even more so because it is located in Midtown, providing a classic and incredible view of the Empire State Building.
  • Cons – to be quite honest, I have almost nothing to say about Top of the Rock, it delivers what it promises – but since the idea is to be very honest, the last deck, which has no protection at all, is very small and tends to get very crowded at times like sunset.
  • Did you know? On the 65th floor of the same building, you will find Bar Sixty Five, with similar views of Top of the Rock – a great to finish your experience. Check the details.

Tickets

One World Observatory

Opened in 2015, on the top of the Freedom Tower, this observatory has a lot of meanings – given the 9/11 attacks – and symbolizes, in a way, the city’s resilience and its power to rebuild. It is the tallest skyscraper in the western hemisphere. One World Observatory, in a way, started a trend in tourist attractions that has grown more and more: an era where places not only offer what they propose but also a complete experience – a lot of them tailored for Instagram.

  • The observatory – the building is about 1,776′ tall and the observatory is located on the 102nd floor, providing a 360-degree view of the city. On a clear day, you can see more than 30 miles away. From up there, you can see the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, Empire State Building, New Jersey, Hudson River, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and more.
  • The experience – Before reaching the elevator, you pass through corridors with several screens that display images of testimonies from people who worked on the building. As you go up, the elevator walls show the development of the city, from the year 1500 to the present day. It is so real that the impression you get is that there is nothing separating you from the outside world. Before reaching the observatory itself, you will come across a huge wall, like a movie screen, which will show an inspiring video of the city – it’s exciting. The video lasts a few minutes and, in the end, the screens go up and show the real views.
  • Pros – it is a very high observatory, which provides a very wide view of the city. Also, the place is big. Another positive point is the fact that it is completely enclosed – which is great on very cold or very hot days.
  • Cons –  the same pro can be a con: the glass-enclosed structure. It becomes more difficult to take a nice photo  – and depending on the angle, the glass reflects people.
  • Did you know? There is a restaurant next to the observatory. ONE Dine features a diverse and seasonally-inspired menu and signature dishes; including a nightly array of premium meats and freshly caught seafood. Check the details.

Tickets

Edge

Edge at Sunset - Courtesy of Related-Oxford (1)

Since the opening of Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate development in U.S. history since the Rockefeller Center, the opening of Edge was one of the most anticipated attractions in New York. Edge was open in March 2020 – unfortunately, right before the pandemic hit NYC and all the business had to close. Rising over 1,100 feet in the air from the heart of Hudson Yards, Edge is designed to take visitors out of their comfort zone to experience New York as it has never been seen before.

  • The observatory – Edge is the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere extending out almost 80 feet from the 100th floor of 30 Hudson Yards. On the floor of the deck is a glass floor expanding 225 square feet; this glass floor offers unprecedented views of the city. The sky deck is bordered by 3,000 square feet of glass walls divided into 79 panels manufactured in Germany and finished in Italy; each panel is 9 feet tall and weighs 1,200 pounds; the glass panels sit on a 6.6-degree angle facing outwards allowing guests to lean out over the city
  • The experience – Hudson Yards is located right in the west of Manhattan, at 34th Street and, because of that, it offers a unique and special view of New York City – especially the island of Manhattan. From the Edge, you can see from Central Park to the Statue of Liberty, including iconic buildings like the One World Observatory and the Empire State Building, which is basically facing the Edge. On the floor of the deck is a glass floor expanding 225 square feet; this glass floor offers unprecedented views of the city. Last but not least, the elevator ride to Edge takes 52 seconds.
  • EXTRA: if you are feeling adventurous, you can try City Climb. It’s the highest external building climb in the world, located above Edge, challenges Climbers to scale the outside of a 1,200+ foot building, then lean out from the outdoor platform.
  • Pros: it is an experience unlike any of the other observatories in the city. The open platform is wide, large, which does not give that feeling of overcrowding. It is also full of cool photo opportunities. In addition, the complete view of Manhattan is unique. Edge manages to present New York with the grandeur that this city deserves.
  • Cons: Because it is an open observatory and it is near the river, it can get very windy, which is not very pleasant on cold days. Plus, it is common to wait in line to take pictures in some of the corners.
  • Did you know? On the observatory floor, Edge has a cafe and also a souvenir shop. On the 101st floor, you will find Peak restaurant, for meals and drinks. Reservations and more information about the menu and prices are on the website.

edge nyc8

Tickets

Summit

Summit is located on the One Vanderbilt, in the heart of Manhattan, next to Grand Central station. It is is a new, innovative destination that combines unparalleled vistas, curated multi-sensory experiences and cutting-edge technology to offer an unprecedented guest experience spanning art, nature, and design. It is produced by SL Green with the immersive art experience designed by Kenzo Digital and interior design by Snøhetta.

  • The observatory – when you decide to open a new observatory in a city with another four ones, you need to be creative. Whoever conceived the Summit knew this and there are so many experiences that, in some of them, the views are even secondary – but they are still incredible. The observatory starts on the 91st floor and has 4 floors.
  • The experience – in addition to spectacular views of Midtown and Downtown – no observatory is as close to the Empire State Building as Summit – you still have views of Central Park and the iconic Chrysler Building. Summit has several experiences: Transcendence, which is a huge, mirrored room where every corner you look at provides a different view of the space. Mirrors on the walls, floor, and ceiling create an incredible sense of infinity; Levitation, fully transparent glass skyboxes that jut out of the building and suspend guests 1,063 feet above Madison Avenue; Ascent, two all-glass enclosed elevators which travel up the outside of the building to breathtaking views that soar at 1,210 feet above New York City. It’s like having a VIP view of lower Manhattan. Besides all these spaces and experiences, Summit features an outdoor bar, seating areas to enjoy the magnificent views, and the highest urban outdoor alpine meadow in the world.
  • Pros – Summit is more than an observatory, it provides a complete experience – there are many ways to contemplate and feel the city. Plus, there’s a detail you won’t find in any of the other observatories: the incredible view of the Chrysler Building! It is surreal to see this iconic building so close up. Another thing that I found amazing is the fact that it is a predominantly closed observatory – which makes it an incredible destination for those visiting the city during the winter. Not to mention that the glasses are great for photos – I didn’t have any problem with reflections.
  • Cons – you need to think about your outfit – due to the mirrored environment, the staff does not recommend the use of skirts or dresses. Besides that, you need to wear protection on your shoes when exploring the mirrored room. The access to Levitation is limited – staff control the time and there is a line. Also, Ascent, which is one of the most amazing features, has an extra charge.
  • Did you know? On the first floor of One Vanderbilt, there is a restaurant from chef Daniel Boulud, Le Pavillon. The environment is beautiful and the restaurant faces Grand Central and Chrysler Building.

Tickets

 

Final thoughts

There is no such thing as a bad observatory in New York. All of them provide the experience that anyone is looking for when visiting an observatory: contemplating the city from above. And, of course, each of them invested in infrastructure and details to complement the experience and attract the public. After having already visited all of them – more than once – this is my podium:

  1. Summit – I had privileged access to the observatory and the advantage of visiting it without the crowds– but I was there after the opening and still had a good experience – in the gallery, the photos in black and white were taken that day and the place was not empty. If you know how to be creative, you’ll be able to take amazing photos even when it’s crowded. Summit earns points for the infinity of experiences – and there’s still the bonus of the outdoor area.
  2. Edge – I also had exclusive access and I also visited Edge after they have opened. It is about the perspective – while the majority of the observatories are in Midtown, this one is on the west and the view is completely different. The huge platform impresses and provides an incredible experience. It also has some indoor areas where you can take great photos.
  3. Top of the Rock – for having the most classic and beautiful view of the Empire State and the bonus of being all open – which is great on nice days. The sunset from a completely outdoor space has its magic!
  4. One World Observatory – the elevator and video experience are exhilarating, it’s spacious and you don’t feel suffocated. The view is also distinguished by its location in Downtown and its height.
  5. Empire State Building – loses points for the obstructed view – gains points for exhibits and the historical factor. And because I always want to see the Empire when I’m looking at the city from above.

And what about the best time to visit?

In my opinion, the sunset will always be magical – despite costing you more to visit some of them at this time, it gives you a glimpse of the city during the day and at night. Seeing the lights come on in New York is always magical. Of course, be patient: you won’t be the only one to have this idea…

Remember: if you are going to visit more than one observatory, vary the times. Empire State Building, for example, offers the opportunity to watch the sunrise from above – if it’s within your budget, why not? Other than that, the first available time in the morning is good because it tends to be more empty and, depending on the time of year, the light is very good too. Avoid the time between noon and 3 pm in the summer – the light is terrible and will create horrible shadows on your face. Also, keep an eye on the observatories’ Instagram profiles – from time to time they offer special events such as sunrise tickets.

Hope you liked this post!

  • As a reminder: this post contains affiliate links – it costs you nothing extra to buy through them and you support my work.

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