Visiting an observation deck in NYC is the ultimate way to experience the city’s epic scale. The sometime chaos of New York sidewalks gives way to a clarity on the upper stories of the city's observatories. The grids of streets, the flow of traffic, and architectural masterpieces from across the eras all come into clear focus. There’s no bad time to take an eagle eye to the lives of millions of New Yorkers, but if you can time it, we’d steer you to dusk, when you can enjoy both sunset and the thrill of watching the city’s lights flickering to life.
The 5 Best Observation Decks in NYC
- Empire State Building
- One World Observatory
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck
- SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
EMPIRE STATE BUILDING. Ever since its 1931 completion, the Empire State Building has been the most famous skyscraper in the world. It remains a vital part of NYC and an inspiration to the millions of visitors who ascend to the ESB observation deck in every season. Despite the feel of another age conveyed by the building’s Art Deco style, the Empire State Building is very much a modern phenomenon. From its pioneering energy efficiency to its selfie-friendly panoramas, the structure stands firmly in the 21st century.
The 86th floor is home to the Observation Deck, one of the most famous spots in all of New York. When you step out onto the platform time slows down. It’s open to the elements, and you’ll feel the breeze, with the city’s hum still audible, but quieted by the remove. The views are, of course, unparalleled. Main thoroughfares are seen as the arteries that they are, pulsing with traffic. Competitor buildings are reduced to the size of a child’s block set. The views from the deck go 360° and a look into the distances will reveal the curvature of the Earth. (You can see five states from here.) Experience it yourself and you’ll know immediately why it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE NEW EMPIRE STATE BUILDING SECOND FLOOR EXHIBITION. Take a virtual tour of the space and check out the many features the attraction offers.
WHY TO CHOOSE THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING:
- If you're seeking out an all-time classic, the Empire State Building is your destination.
- Famous, welcoming, and forever a part of New York City (the outdoor deck keeps you feeling connected even from so many stories in the sky).
Audio tours available in seven languages.
Children 6 and under are free.
The ESB's reimagined 102nd floor offers an exclusive view; combination 102nd floor and 86th floor admissions
2022 Empire State Building Hours
- Apr 25th - May 29th (Mon-Thurs): 11 A.M. – 11 P.M. | Last Elevator at 10:15 P.M.
- Apr 25th - May 29th (Fri - Sun): 9 A.M. – 12 A.M. | Last Elevator at 11:15 P.M.
- May 30th: 9 A.M. – 12 A.M. | Last Elevator at 11:15 P.M.
- May 31st - Jun 2nd: 11 A.M. – 11 P.M. | Last Elevator at 10:15 P.M.
20 W. 34th St., 212-736-3100, esbnyc.com
2. Visiting One World Observatory
ONE WORLD OBSERVATORY. There’s only one tallest. Only one strongest. And only one destination selected as the Best New Attraction in the World. These attributes belong to One World Trade Center, and its pinnacle, the One World Observatory, rising over 100 stories in the sky.
You’ll learn some fast facts as you make your way to the elevators, confirming the superlatives: at 1,776 feet, One World Trade is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere; with over 40,000 metric tons of structural steel and a unique concrete core, it’s the strongest building in the world.
After a minute’s ride and a short video, you’ll hit the Discovery Level (the main observatory), with 360° sights of the city and beyond. It’s all here, from the rivers to the harbor, from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building. Jersey and Queens recede in distant horizons. Helicopters zip by like hummingbirds, well below the floor-to-ceiling windows. If you want to get up close with downtown, One World Observatory is the place to go. The skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan—some of which once claimed title to the tallest building in the world—cluster below your feet like playthings.
One World Observatory offers a restaurant experience in the sky. One Dine matches its spectacular views with first-class service and seasonally inspired menus.
Photo: One World Observatory Facebook page, via Instagram user thesocialgirltraveler.
WHY TO CHOOSE ONE WORLD OBSERVATORY:
- One World provides a unique look at midtown from a Lower Manhattan perspective, as well as all the amazing views of the region that you get from the tip of the island.
- Entirely indoors, this is a great option on a cold or blustery day.
- There is no extra charge for booking a dusk/sunset ticket.
VIRTUAL TOUR OF ONE WORLD OBSERVATORY. Check out this virtual overview of what you'll find at One World Observatory.
ONE WORLD OBSERVATORY TICKET PRICE
Children 5 and under are free.
2022 One World Observatory Hours
- April 10am-8pm daily
- May 9am-9pm daily
- June 9am-9pm daily
Last available entry time is one hour prior to the posted closing times listed above.
285 Fulton St., 844-696-1776, oneworldobservatory.com
3. Visiting the Top of the Rock Observation Deck
TOP OF THE ROCK. At this stunning perch atop Rockefeller Center, you’ll find state-of-the-art features like reserved-time tickets, multimedia exhibits, an indoor viewing area, and transparent safety-glass panels that allow wholly unobstructed views of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the rivers, and all of Central Park (its size can only truly be appreciated when seen from above).
Top of the Rock also boasts two crystal installations by Swarovski and the jaw-dropping Sky Shuttle elevators. Outfitted with transparent glass ceilings, the Sky Shuttles let riders view their own rapid acceleration through the building’s shaftway as they zip their way towards the light and open air above. The Grand Viewing Deck on the 69th floor offers unparalleled views of the city, with visibility that reaches some 30 miles on a clear day. The 70th Floor is the proverbial cherry on top, allowing visitors to experience a 360° panorama of Manhattan in all its glory. This is an open-air perch with completely unobstructed views—no glass or anything. It provides a vantage point unlike any other in the city...or the world.
Photo: Ivan Velazco/Flickr
WHY TO CHOOSE TOP OF THE ROCK.
- For an elegant immersion into Art Deco glamour, Top of the Rock is your pick. You really feel like you're in the middle of Manhattan here, immersed in the skylines while getting some distance from the bustle.
- For your souvenir photographing, note that the Empire State Building will actually be in your photo if you take it here.
VIRTUAL TOUR OF TOP OF THE ROCK.
Children under 6 are free. Entries during designated sunset times are an additional $10 per ticket.
2022 Top of the Rock Hours
Top of the Rock is open from 9am–11pm, 7 days a week. The first elevator goes up at 9am, the last one at 10:10pm. (Hours of operation may vary on holidays.)
30 Rockefeller Ctr., 212-698-2000, topoftherocknyc.com
4. Visiting Edge Observation Deck
EDGE. The Western Hemisphere’s highest outdoor observatory, Edge, stands atop the city’s newest neighborhood, Hudson Yards. Step out onto the triangular deck and you’ll be 100 floors above the ground with miles of visibility in every direction. Edge will also thrill you with its glass floor, providing views of the High Line far below your feet.
At the tip of the observation deck, the glass walls meet 80 feet from the building’s face at The Eastern Point; there, suspended above New York City, you can take in unobstructed views. The outdoor stairs at the observation deck, providing other unique vistas, offers a place to sit for visitors.
Look for activations like yoga (which sells out quickly) on Edge's deck. A champagne bar lets you toast the city, in addition to the dining at Peak, a restaurant and lounge on the 101st floor. Peak promises awe-inspiring views of the city, from the Empire State Building in Midtown to One World Trade Center in the Financial District, and everything in between. The sleek aesthetics of the restaurant interior come courtesy of David Rockwell and the Rockwell Group. The London firm Rhubarb Hospitality Group operates Peak, as well as the restaurant Wild Ink, located on the 5th floor of the Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards.
Serving lunch and dinner, Peak features rotating seasonal menus from Executive Chef Chris Cryer. Previously, Cryer helmed Seamore’s, a chain of seafood restaurants serving sustainable, local seafood to New Yorkers. Peak will follow suit, serving local ingredients from purveyors such as Bowery Farms, Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co., Hudson Valley Steelhead, Pat La Frieda, Square Roots, and West Robbins Oysters. For reservations, call 332-204-8509 or visit peaknyc.com.
You can also have a drink 101 stories in the air. Atop Edge, Peak's new lounge Peakaboo offers light bites, bottle service, cocktails, and DJ beats. Oh! And spectacular views across Manhattan and beyond. Opening hours are Thursday–Saturday 10:30pm–2am, no reservations required.
Edge also is the host for City Climb, the highest external building climb in the world. City Climb will let you scale the outside of the building, from the observatory on up to the skyscraper's top. Led by trained guides, small groups traverse a series of open-air platforms and stairs. edgenyc.com/cityclimb
To visit Edge on a Peak day, tickets are an additional $2 when you purchase online or an extra $4 when you purchase on site.
WHY TO CHOOSE EDGE.
- Edge offers a big outdoor space to explore the city's skylines, with a set of bleachers for chilling as you take in the views.
- There's also a great photo op where the glass panels form a thrilling corner.
- Primarily outdoors, this is a great destination when the weather is favorable.
VIRTUAL TOUR OF EDGE. The deck offers 360-degree views with jaw-dropping perspectives of the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, the Hudson River, and much more. You can tour the various features at Edge here.
EDGE TICKET PRICE
|Adult||$38 online ($40 on-site)|
|Seniors (62+)||$36 online ($38 on-site)|
|Youth (6-12)||$33 online ($35 on-site)|
Children under 6 are free.
2022 Edge Observation Deck Hours
10am-10pm daily. Last elevator ride is 50 minutes before close.
Level 4 inside The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards, 332-204-8500, edgenyc.com
5. Visiting SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Observatory
Image courtesy SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.
SUMMIT ONE VANDERBILT. Blending elements of art, technology, architecture, and thrill, newcomer SUMMIT One Vanderbilt takes the concept of an “observation deck” to new heights through three levels of multi-sensory interactions. An immersive storytelling studio is behind the stunning AIR designed by Kenzo Digital, which creates the illusion of boundless space. At night, the magic of AIR dramatically shifts as TRANSCENDENCE 1, 2, and AFFINITY are transformed through a one-of-a-kind light and sound story, turning the installation into a beacon of energy, visible to all of New York City and beyond.
WHY TO CHOOSE SUMMIT ONE VANDERBILT.
- SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is a new way of experiencing an observatory, with immersive art and views that give you the feeling of being places amid the architecture of midtown.
- As a primarily indoor venue, this is also a good pick for cold and blustery days.
VIRTUAL TOUR OF SUMMIT ONE VANDERBILT. Check out this series of slides that walk you through the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt experience.
SUMMIT ONE VANDERBILT TICKET PRICE
Children 5 and under are free. Evening tickets are $49 for both youths and adults.
SUMMIT ONE VANDERBILT TICKET PRICE WITH ASCENT
General admission + Ascent: a thrilling glass elevator journey to over 1,200 feet
Children 5 and under are free. Evening combo tickets are $69 for both youths and adults.
2022 SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Hours
WED & THU Open: 1PM | Doors close: 8PM | SUMMIT closes: 9PM
FRI & SAT Open: 9AM | Doors close: 10PM | SUMMIT closes: 11PM
SUN Open 10AM | Doors close 8PM | SUMMIT closes: 9PM
45 E. 42nd St., 877-682-1401, summitov.com
Peek Inside the Empire State Building's New Second Floor
The Empire State Building has revealed a new museum, the Observatory Experience. The result of a $165 million investment, this second floor stopover substitutes for what was once time spent waiting on line. The exhibition space features Instagram-ready displays that show visitors the iconic building through the years. (It also provides insight into how the building is used today.) The space is accessible for ticket-holders headed up to the viewing platform on the 86th floor. —Samantha Aronson
All photo credits: Evan Joseph.
Start your experience with a look at the outside of the building during its creation.
Then, check out artifacts from through out the years. These objects are from the 1930s!
Next, view statues and a special video recreating the building process.
After that, it's time to jump to the present and learn about how the Empire State Building is leading the way with energy efficiency.
Before you go, you'll be transported to every single time New York's most iconic building has been referenced in a movie—animated and foreign films included.
This experience leads to the ultimate King Kong attack. Fun fact: the hands vibrate!
The most famous building in NYC latest exhibit wouldn't be complete without a shout out to all of its famous visitors. Spot celebs like BTS, Mariah Carey, Andy Cohen, and more.
NYC Observation Deck: 7 Secrets of the Empire State Building
From the time it took to build the Empire State Building to the nap pods that once took over an entire floor, these seven secrets are inspiring, intriguing, and in some cases, downright bizarre!
1. You can get married here.
No, we are not kidding. Every year the Empire State Building has a lottery that allows its winters to get married on the 86th floor observation deck. The catch? It only happens once a year, on Valentine’s Day.
Want to begin your forever story here? The Happily Ever Empire package provides priority access to the iconic 86th Floor Observatory prior to a proposal. Tailored to your interests, the package includes a private guided tour and access to the 102nd Floor Observatory for breathtaking photos; a complimentary bottle of champagne in a private corner is included in the price.
2. There is a private observation deck.
Ever glimpsed a photo of one of your favorite celebrities atop of the Empire State Building with no gate behind them? That’s because there’s a private observation deck on the 103rd floor for VIPs. Reportedly, there isn’t even an elevator that leads to it, so those VIPs must take the stairs from the 102nd floor. We’d say it’s worth it.
3. It has its own zip code.
That’s right, the Empire State Building has its own zip code. Because of the building’s enormous size and the amount of people that occupy it, the city has given it 10118 as its own, personal zip code, shared by no other building in the city. Pretty awesome if you ask us.
4. The lights go out at midnight during migration season.
If you ever find yourself up past midnight during the fall or spring seasons and are shocked to see that the Empire State Building isn’t aglow, worry not. The darkened skyscraper is not broken; it’s merely been turned off so as not to confuse birds who are migrating. Thoughtful, right?
5. It took less than two years to build.
Most of us get sick of looking at the same construction project for more than two years, but fortunately for the people living on 5th Avenue during 1930 and 1931, that wasn’t a problem. The Empire State Building only took one year and 45 days to be built, making it the quickest construction recorded for a project of its size.
6. Blimps have never docked on top of it.
Though its builders claimed that the spire was designed to be a docking space for airships, this was never the case. In fact, the famous photo of the Navy dirigible Los Angeles docking at the building’s post is a fake. The spire was likely added to the building for record-breaking purposes, helping the Empire State Building to surpass the Chrysler Building in height, it’s competition at the time of its building.
7. There was once entire floor dedicated to sleeping.
And you thought Google was the only place you could find nap pods? Between 2004 to 2008, an entire floor of the Empire State Building contained nap pods for those wanting to catch some quick shut-eye in intervals of 20 minutes. Though there are no longer nap pods in the building, we have to commend the Empire State Building for being way ahead of the game.
What It's Like to Visit One World Observatory
Visitors to New York who want to experience the city in its entirety should point themselves toward Lower Manhattan and OWO.
With an attraction this popular, OWO’s all-timed-entry system is a major advantage. Computerized ticketing ensures wait times are always kept manageable. You can buy your ticket on the spot, or in advance online. When you reach the entry downstairs, the first thing to greet you is the Global Welcome Center, which shows a running tally of OWO visitors (well over two million since its opening on May 29th, 2015). Spend a minute watching the giant world map as it pings with the points of origins of your fellow visitors.
As you continue on, note the interior architecture, with sleek angles that mirror the exterior of One World Trade Center. A video program, “Voices,” provides context for the construction, with a few New York accents heightening the sense of place. Move through a corridor of re-created bedrock to get a sense of how the building is anchored into the ground. You’ll see some fast facts illuminated on the stone, confirming the superlatives: at 1,776 feet, One World Trade is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere; with over 44,000 tons of steel and a unique concrete core, it’s the strongest building in the world.
It’s rare that you wish an elevator ride could last a little longer, but the Sky Pod visuals will have you hypnotized on the ascent. A time-lapse video shows the city’s skyline evolving from the 1500s to the present: you’re on the 102nd floor in less than a minute. There, you’ll find another video, with a real New York rhythm that underscores OWO’s strong connection with the city.
From there, it’s time to check out the view: down one flight is the Discovery Level (the main observatory), with 360° sights of the city and beyond. It’s all here, from the rivers to the harbor, from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building. Jersey and Queens recede in distant horizons. Helicopters zip by like hummingbirds, well below the floor-to-ceiling windows. The skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan—some of which once claimed title to the tallest building in the world—cluster below your feet like toys.
If you’d like a guided tour of the city from 101 floors up, consider adding the One World Explorer iPad to your visit. New York novelist Jay McInerney provides the narrative as you point the iPad around the view and have the highlights of the city brought to life. One World Observatory is a great first stop on a trip to New York because you can get a sense of the scale of the city, and figure out what things to target in your further explorations. To that end, there are global ambassadors stationed around the main observatory floor. They each have areas of expertise and give periodic talks about the city’s attractions, with the help of HD screens on the City Pulse rings.
Another attention-grabber on the main floor is the Sky Portal, a real-time perspective on what street level would look like if you could see straight down.
You can stay as long as you like checking out the views (it’s hard to tear yourself away), although there are other temptations. A gift shop provides souvenirs, as does a special photo wall, where you can get a souvenir image with a OWO background. There’s coffee and fresh lunches at ONE Café, no reservations needed. There’s world-class cuisine at ONE Dine. There’s even a bar, ONE Mix, with the house’s own red and white wines, joined by artisanal bites and cocktails. The views? Do we even have to say? Try to time your visit around the end of the day. You’ll get late-day sunlit views, a sunset, and the thrill of watching the city turn on its lights.
What You'll Experience on a Visit to SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
SUMMIT takes the concept of an “observation deck” to entirely new heights through its 3 levels of mind-bending multi-sensory experiences. AIR designed by Kenzo Digital, a 5-part story driven immersive walk-through art experience within SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, mixes transparency and reflectivity to create the illusion of boundless space. Every moment in TRANSCENDENCE offers a tantalizing experience of infinite reflection unique to that moment in time. AIR becomes interactive and playful in AFFINITY as reflective orbs encourage physical connectivity to the space.
“In addition to its remarkable materiality, AIR is a living, breathing entity, expressed through its multisensory use of sound, lighting, and production design. It’s a story that evolves with each successive space, bringing visitors deeper and deeper into the experience until finally, they become part of it. Though AIR is deeply personal, the experience reveals a shared consciousness, inviting visitors of any age to revel in collective wonder,” says Kenzo Digital, Artist and CEO, Kenzo Digital Immersive.
At night, the magic of AIR dramatically shifts as TRANSCENDENCE 1, 2 and AFFINITY are transformed through a one-of-a-kind light and sound story, turning AIR into a beacon of energy, visible to all of New York City and beyond.
The observatory at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt provides much more than just spectacular views. In addition to AIR, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt features thrill experiences, world-class food and beverage, and an outdoor terrace with the highest urban alpine meadow in the Western Hemisphere. Thrill seekers can enjoy two options to test their mettle. SUMMIT One Vanderbilt’s LEVITATION sky boxes allow guests to step out from the envelope of the building and stand on transparent glass 1,063 feet above Madison Avenue, with the hustle and bustle of the city streets directly beneath them. For the extreme thrill seeker, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt’s ASCENT, an all-glass elevator with a transparent glass floor, takes guests from the terrace level up the side of the building, to over 1,200 feet nesting at the highest viewing point in Midtown Manhattan.
The final stops on the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt journey are APRÈS and the SUMMIT TERRACE. APRÈS is SUMMIT One Vanderbilt’s sky-high lounge and café featuring bespoke light fare and an innovative cocktail program curated by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events. APRÈS’s offerings can be enjoyed inside the Nordic themed lounge and café designed by Snøhetta or outside on the SUMMIT TERRACE. The SUMMIT TERRACE wraps around the south and west sides of One Vanderbilt and is the perfect open air viewing spot to take in the incredible views for up to 80 miles while toasting your experience at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.
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