Hit the Top of the Tallest Building in the Western Hemisphere

There’s only one tallest. Only one strongest. And only one destination selected as the Best New Attraction in the World. These superlatives belong to One World Trade Center, and its pinnacle, the One World Observatory, rising over 100 stories in the sky. Visitors to New York who want to experience the city in its entirety should point themselves toward Lower Manhattan and OWO.

one world observatory views

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 (approaching 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.

statue of liberty from one world observatory

Image: schizoform/Flickr

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.

main one world observatory

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.

city pulse one world observatory

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.

sky portal one world observatory

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.

one world dine observatory

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.

one world trade center

Admission is $32 for adults, $30 for seniors above age 65, and $26 for children between ages 6 and 12. Kids 5 and under get in free. Admission for 9/11 family members, rescue, and recovery workers is free. Special discounts are also offered to active and retired members of the US military. Visitors with kids can take advantage of a "Family Four Pack" discount, currently being offered for $115.

Group visits are also available, customized based on individual group needs. One World Observatory's spaces can be rented out for private events.

85 Fulton St., entrance on the corner Vesey and West Sts., 844-696-1776.

About the Author

Ethan Wolff is the author of numerous guidebooks to New York, having covered the city for more than two decades. He has written for New York Magazine, BlackBook, and Details, among others. In addition to his work as the editor of City Guide, Ethan covers NYC’s talk and lecture scene for the website Thought Gallery. He lives with his wife and two daughters in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood of Brooklyn.

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