Welcome to my comprehensive guide to New York City’s observation decks! Over several visits to this vibrant city, I have had the unique opportunity to explore each of its famed vantage points. From the historic grandeur of the Empire State Building to the innovative design of The Summit, my journey has been nothing short of spectacular. Most recently, in November 2023, I added the breathtaking Edge to my list, completing my tour of all five major observation decks in the city. In this post, I’ll share my experiences and insights to help you choose the perfect deck for your next visit to the Big Apple.
To give you a clear and detailed comparison, I’ve developed a comprehensive rating system for each observation deck. This system evaluates several key factors:
- 📍 Location: Evaluating the accessibility and convenience of the deck’s location.
- 🌆 View of Landmarks: Assessing the panoramic views of New York’s iconic landmarks.
- 🎉 Experience: Considering the ambiance, educational content, and unique features.
- 💰 Price: Analyzing the cost in relation to the value provided.
- ⏱ Lines: Reviewing wait times and crowd management efficiency.
- 🍽️ Amenities: Looking at facilities like cafes, gift shops, or restrooms.
- 📸 Photography Opportunities: Judging the photogenic aspects of the views and deck.
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How I recommend buying tickets
When planning your visit to New York City’s observation decks, I highly recommend purchasing tickets through resellers like GetYourGuide or Viator. Here are a few compelling reasons to choose these platforms over buying directly from the attraction’s website:
Ease of Mind: Booking through these platforms simplifies the process. You can avoid the hassle of navigating multiple websites, ensuring a smooth and stress-free experience.
Endless Payment Options: These resellers offer a wide range of payment methods, accommodating different preferences and making transactions more convenient.
Free Cancellation: GetYourGuide and Viator often provide more flexible cancellation policies than the official attraction sites. This means you can book with confidence, knowing you have the option to cancel if your plans change.
Better Terms and Conditions: These platforms often have clearer and more favorable terms and conditions compared to official websites, ensuring a more customer-friendly experience.
Authorized Reseller Benefits: In many cases, platforms like GetYourGuide are authorized resellers, or the attractions themselves sell tickets on these sites under better terms than on their regular websites.
To make your booking experience even easier, here are the direct links to purchase tickets for each of New York City’s top observation decks:
- Edge Observation Deck Tickets
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck Tickets
- SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Tickets
- Empire State Building Observatory Tickets
- One World Observatory Tickets
These links lead to trusted platforms offering convenient and reliable ticket purchasing experiences, enhancing your visit to these iconic New York City landmarks.
New York's Best Observation Deck
|🌆 View of Landmarks
|📸 Photography Opportunities
|7 – A bit outside, accessible via Hudson Yards mall. Near High Line and The Vessel (ticket required).
|9 – Offers unique views of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline.
|8 – Modern design with a glass floor, providing a unique viewing experience.
|7 – $41.32 for a basic ticket, a fair price for its offerings.
|8 – Efficient crowd management with moderate wait times.
|8 – Good facilities including cafes and shops.
|10 – Unique angles and glass structures provide excellent photo ops.
|Top of the Rock
|10 – Prime location in Rockefeller Center, surrounded by attractions.
|10 – Unobstructed 360-degree views, including Central Park and the Empire State.
|9 – Classic NYC experience with ‘The Beam’ for an extra thrill.
|8 – $46.82 for a basic ticket, value for money considering the experience.
|7 – Generally well-managed, though peak times can be busy.
|9 – Excellent amenities with various dining and shopping options.
|10 – ‘The Beam’ offers unique photo opportunities.
|One Vanderbilt SUMMIT
|8 – Located near Grand Central, convenient but can be crowded.
|8 – Offers panoramic views of the Chrysler Building and Midtown.
|9 – Modern, artistic installations enhance the viewing experience. Ascent Elevator Currently Closed
|7 – $45.73 for a basic ticket, slightly high but offers unique features.
|9 – Efficient entry process, less crowded than others.
|10 – Top-notch amenities, including high-end dining.
|9 – Art installations add to the photo experience.
|Empire State Building
|10 – Iconic location in the heart of Manhattan.
|9 – Classic views of NYC, though some angles can be limited.
|7 – The original observation deck, a bit plain compared to others.
|6 – $47.90 for a basic ticket, somewhat overpriced for what it offers.
|6 – Can have long wait times, especially during peak hours.
|7 – Basic amenities available, but not as extensive as others.
|8 – Iconic building provides classic NYC shots.
|One World Observatory
|9 – Located in the Financial District, accessible but a bit distant from Midtown.
|10 – Sweeping views of the entire city and beyond.
|9 – High-tech journey through NYC’s history, adding to the viewing experience.
|8 – $43.55 for a basic ticket, good value for a comprehensive experience.
|7 – Longer wait times, but multiple skip-the-line options are available.
|9 – Good range of amenities, including dining with a view.
|10 – Unmatched views provide spectacular photo ops.
The Edge at Hudson Yards
The Edge in New York City offers a distinctive experience for visitors seeking a different perspective of the city’s skyline. Situated in Hudson Yards, this modern observation deck stands out with its unique architectural design, including a glass floor and angled glass walls. As you enter through the Hudson Yards mall, you’ll find yourself at one of the city’s most recent additions to its array of sky-high viewpoints. The Edge provides a panoramic view of the Hudson River and the sprawling urban landscape of Manhattan. Its outdoor terrace, surrounded by glass panels, extends out into the sky, giving visitors the feeling of floating above the city. The highlight for many is the transparent section of the floor, offering a direct view down to the streets far below.
My Opinion of the Edge:
Visiting the Edge was a pleasant experience, though not without its nuances. While it’s not a waste of money and certainly adds a unique element to New York City’s observation deck offerings, it was probably my least favorite due to its location and the overall experience. The outdoor terrace, although impressive, didn’t strike me as particularly unique compared to other observation decks in the city. The much-talked-about transparent section of the floor, while an interesting feature, felt somewhat underwhelming in practice. However, this is a personal take, and others might find the outdoor aspect and the glass floor to be the highlights of their visit. In sum, the Edge offers a nice experience with a few standout features, but it might not outshine the charm and appeal of some other famous decks in the city. I didn’t try the ‘outside climb experience’.
Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center
Top of the Rock, located in the heart of Midtown at the iconic Rockefeller Center, offers a remarkable observation experience in New York City. Known for its unobstructed 360-degree views, it provides visitors with breathtaking sights of some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including an exceptional view of the Empire State Building. The deck spans three levels, each offering a unique perspective of New York’s skyline, from the lush expanse of Central Park to the bustling streets of Manhattan below. The environment here combines the classic allure of New York with modern amenities, making it a comfortable and engaging place to soak in the city’s vistas.
My Opinion of Top of the Rock:
During my visit to Top of the Rock, I found it to be an enduring favorite despite facing strong competition from newer observation decks like the One Vanderbilt SUMMIT. The unique selling point of Top of the Rock is undoubtedly its location at Rockefeller Center, offering an unparalleled view of the Empire State Building and placing you right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. This makes the experience incredibly vibrant and quintessentially New York. Although I visited before the addition of ‘The Beam’ – an exciting new feature that extends 12 feet above Top of the Rock, offering even more dramatic views – I can imagine that this new addition only enhances the allure of this observation deck. The Beam, simulating the famous “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” photo, adds an extra layer of thrill and historical connection to the visit. Overall, Top of the Rock remains a compelling and captivating choice for taking in the sights of New York, offering a perfect blend of classic city views and modern experiences.
One Vanderbilt SUMMIT
One Vanderbilt SUMMIT, a relatively new addition to New York City’s observation deck scene, stands out for its modern, sleek design and Instagram-worthy experiences. Located near Grand Central Terminal, this deck offers a multi-sensory journey, complete with artistic installations and panoramic views of Midtown Manhattan, including the Chrysler Building. The SUMMIT’s interior is a blend of art and technology, designed to provide visitors with an immersive experience. One of its key attractions, the Ascent, an outdoor glass elevator, is currently closed, but the deck still offers plenty to marvel at. The observatory spans multiple levels, each providing a unique perspective on the city and featuring interactive elements that enhance the viewing experience.
My Opinion of One Vanderbilt SUMMIT:
In my experience, One Vanderbilt SUMMIT is a highly recommended visit for anyone looking for a modern, Instagrammable experience in New York City. Despite the outside elevator being temporarily out of service, the observation deck doesn’t lose its charm and continues to offer an exceptional experience. The interior is meticulously designed, combining artistic elements with stunning views, making it a photographer’s paradise. While the exterior of the building may be less impressive compared to other iconic New York structures, the views from the top more than compensate for this. It’s worth noting, however, that the space can feel quite crowded, which might detract slightly from the experience. Nonetheless, One Vanderbilt SUMMIT stands as a testament to the evolving landscape of New York City’s observation decks, offering a fresh and exciting perspective on the city.
The Empire State Building
One World Observatory
One World Observatory, situated atop the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, offers a uniquely immersive experience. The observatory is more than just a place to enjoy stunning views of New York City; it’s an interactive journey that starts the moment you step into the elevator. This ride, one of the fastest in the world, is an experience in itself, featuring a virtual time-lapse that recreates the development of New York City’s skyline from the 1600s to the present. Once at the top, visitors are treated to sweeping 360-degree views of the city, with the opportunity to see landmarks far into the distance. The observatory also includes storytelling elements and interactive exhibits, offering a rich narrative about the city’s history and the significance of the One World Trade Center.
My Opinion of One World Observatory:
In my opinion, One World Observatory offers one of the best experiences among New York City’s observation decks. The storytelling aspect is excellently executed, making it not just a visual feast but also an educational experience. The elevator ride is particularly noteworthy for its impressive visual presentation of New York’s historical development. Additionally, the observatory frequently has staff available to share stories and insights about the city, adding a personal touch to the experience.
However, it’s important to plan your visit carefully, as it can get quite busy, and the security measures are understandably strict, given its location and significance. Purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended to avoid long wait times. Overall, the One World Observatory experience is thoughtfully curated and offers a comprehensive view of both New York City’s landscape and its rich history.