How To Choose Between The Best Observation Decks in New York?

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Wondering which of the observation decks in New York you should visit?

We get it! The entrance fees for NYC’s observation decks are expensive, so you want to make sure you’re spending your cash on the right one for your style of travel.

Do you go for the traditional Empire State Building or the social media star SUMMIT One Vanderbilt?

This guide will help you decide as it goes through each of the top observation decks in the city, looking at the height, popularity, what you can see from the deck, and what else is on offer.

We’ve also considered which decks have tickets that let you skip the line so you can fit more into your NYC itinerary.

Hey! Budget travelers! Find out where you can see the best NYC bird’s-eye view for free at the bottom of the guide.

So, let’s take a look at what the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, One World Observatory, SUMMIT, The Vessel, The DL, The Skylark, and many more have to offer.

How to Choose Between The Best New York Observation Decks 

Consider the following, then read about each observation deck in detail:

  • Which of the tallest buildings in NYC do you want in your skyline? If you are up it, it won’t be in it!
  • What is your budget?
  • How much time do you have?
  • How high is too high?
  • Do you want sunrise, sunset, daylight, or night views?
  • What’s the weather like? Indoors or outside observatory?
  • Would you like to learn more about the building’s history at a museum?
Beautiful skyline of Central Park and New York city from Rockefeller Observatory - Top of the Rock - New York

Empire State vs. Top of the Rock vs. One World Observatory

  • Tallest Outdoor Observatory in New York City: Was Empire at 1,050 ft (320 m), now The Edge 1,100 ft (335 m)
  • Highest Indoor Observatory: One WTC at 1,268 ft (386.5 m)
  • Cheapest NYC observatory ticket: One WTC then Top of the Rock then Empire
  • Wheelchair Access: Empire, Top of the Rock + One WTC
  • Open the earliest: All premium decks open at 9am
  • Open the latest: Empire and Summit 12am,
  • Length Of Stay: Edge 1 day, Summit 2 hours, others 45 mins
  • Line skip tickets: Empire, Top of the Rock and One WTC

Empire State Building

This is the first observation deck worth mentioning because King Kong personally chose it himself.

It is the most iconic landmark in the city and is one of the first sights where tourists finally feel like they are in New York, aside from visiting Times Square.

This New York observation deck is for all movie lovers, architecture enthusiasts, history buffs, and even the romantics. Who can ever forget those days of watching Gossip Girl, where Chuck waited to propose to Blair after years of waiting for them to be together?

Even Kevin McAlister made the most of this viewing deck because, well, he was Home Alone in New York, which is a thrill that many adults don’t get to enjoy.

Over 3.5 million visitors a year visit New York’s tallest open-air observatory each year, so you can imagine how long the lines are and why it is a must-see.

If you are using public transport, the Empire State Building is only an eight-minute walk from Penn Station.

You can save time by not adding a subway ride in between unless you want to experience the subway as part of your New York itinerary.

It is so close to Penn Station that when you walk outside, you can immediately see the building and start taking pictures.

While strolling down 34th Street, you can also see many iconic flagship stores like Macy’s, which has one of the best-decorated windows during Christmas!

After the short walk, you will see a sign that points you to the entrance of the building.

There is a friendly doorman outside who will greet and wave you inside.

They usually let people in quickly, but at times, they might ask for evidence of a ticket or ask if you are planning to buy one.

If you have a pre-booked ticket, it is always best to have a copy on hand.

Depending on the time of day, the lobby itself might be a little chaotic.

From as early as 9am, it can be flooded with visitors.

Your journey to the 102nd floor will begin at the lobby, where you will see a model of the Empire State Building, which took 110 days to build.

When the line starts moving, you will go up to the second floor, which is the first stop.

This floor is full of engaging and interactive exhibits with architectural drawings and lots of pictures that tell you the entire history of this building.

The second floor is very spacious, especially very early in the morning when there are fewer crowds.

You will walk into a room with several screens on the wall that play a short clip of under 200 movies, games, and commercials that feature the Empire State Building.

This is entertaining because you get to see popular shows and movies on these screens, a bit of nostalgia to get you pumped about the high-rise views.

The Empire State Building also has many tenants, like Walmart and LinkedIn.

An exhibit will tell you about what life is like for them, and if you look through a hole, you can see some office spaces.

After passing through this area, you will head to the interactive elevator that is going to zoom you to the 79th floor.

If you look at the ceiling, you can watch a short video of the building being constructed.

This will be very interesting if you love architecture.

When you reach the 79th floor, there will be a staff member to guide everyone to another elevator enclosed in glass.

This will finally take you to the 102nd floor-observatory, officially called the Empire State Building Top Deck. Here you are at the summit of the tower!

The moment you step out of the elevator at 1,250 feet (381 meters), you will be blown away by the giant floor-to-ceiling windows that give you a complete 360-degree view of the entire city.

It is always fun playing games, wondering how good everybody’s sense of direction is to name all the surrounding areas.

This observatory deck can feel a little cramped because it is not that big, but you won’t feel claustrophobic at all.

There is still room to move around and take lots of photos.

Thanks to a renovation, the windows are much larger, and you can see all the way to uptown, downtown, and everything in between.

This is an incredible view where even Central Park feels little, but you can see how much of the park connects the city.

On this floor, you are around 1,050 feet (320 meters) feet above the ground, so hopefully, you are not afraid of heights.

If you do not want to be this high, you can always visit the main observation deck on the traditional 86th Main Deck floor instead.

The Main Deck outside area and is heated, so you don’t need to worry too much about visiting in winter or fall.

Views of NYC from Empire State Building

Empire State Building Opening Times

The 102nd-floor observation deck opening times vary between 10am and 10pm so that you can enjoy both daytime and nighttime views.

Pro tip: Visit the Empire State Building for day views of the city and Top of the Rock (below) for night views, as you want the Empire State Building all lit up in your night skyline.

You may also like our post on things to do at night in New York.

Empire State Building Ticket Prices

There are a variety of packages depending on what you want to see at the Empire State Building.

Tickets for the Main Deck 86th-floor and 2nd-floor museum cost $48 for adults.

With the 102nd-floor ticket, you get access to the 86th and 2nd-floor museums for $86.

Depending on the time and day of your visit, you should expect to spend a minimum of two hours.

However, most people often spend way more than that when the lines are very long.

The sunset experience tickets are expensive at over $137.

For a much more cost-effective deal, you should consider the Empire State Building General & Skip-the-Line tickets with GetYourGuide, which cost only $48.

With this package, you will enjoy the 86th-floor observation deck, the Art Deco lobby, the Dare to Dream Exhibit, audio guides in multiple languages, the 2nd-floor museum, all the binoculars on deck, and a line skip, which saves time and, therefore money.

If you are not planning to visit the 102nd floor and want to spend less time stuck in lines, this is a good deal.

You can add on the Top Deck on the day at the Empire State Building, availability permitting. Wheelchair-access service dogs are allowed.

Families are permitted to use collapsible strollers.

Empire State Building Address

20 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001, United States

The Empire State Building is also featured on our NYC bucket list! How many things have you done?

Empire State Building at night lit up

Rockefeller Center/Top of the Rock

At the Top of the Rock observation deck in New York, you can only go up to the 70th floor, but it is way less crowded than the Empire State Building. Rockefeller Center is a very famous attraction in New York, especially during the festive period, for its famous Christmas tree.

You will find it between 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

The area around the building itself is a miniature city, with lots of shops, restaurants, and even an ice-skating rink.

If you are lucky, you might get to see them taping a television show.

Rockefeller Center golden Prometheus Statue

The Rockefeller Center has three observation decks on levels 68, 69, and 70 (850 feet/260 m), and they all give you complete 360-degree views of New York.

Tip: The 70th floor has no glass paneling, which is great for photographers. However, tripods or professional photography kits are not permitted.

Level 69 is where you will find the thrilling beam ride, which lifts brave visitors up to imitate the famous 1932 “Lunch atop a Skyscraper,” the one the TV show Friends, copied!

The beam also spins 180 degrees to face the NYC skyline, featuring Central Park.

Crowds-wise, there are a fair amount of people by the afternoon, but lines move consistently, so you do not feel stuck.

It only takes a few moments in the elevator to reach the first observation deck; this is an indoor space with floor-to-ceiling windows where you can see the views.

There is a public bathroom and gift shop for those who want to take a short break.

Top of Rock view including Empire State Building

Then, you can go to the main deck, which is an entirely open space.

The tall curved glass surrounds this entire deck, so if you want to take photos without this glass, you should go up another flight of stairs above the main deck.

There is no glass covering this area, and it feels even more open.

On one side, you will see Central Park and all its surrounding areas.

The other side has more expansive views, including the Empire State Building, which is what makes Top of the Rock so incredible because you get to see that landmark!

There is a lot of space to move around and no rush to leave the area.

Everyone is welcome to take their time, and when you are ready to go, you can exit back downstairs to the gift shop floor.

Top of the Rock is wheelchair-accessible, and service dogs are allowed.

Families are permitted to use collapsible strollers.

Views over Midtown Manhattan from the Top of the Rock Rockefeller Observatory

Top of the Rock Opening Times

Top of the Rock is open daily from 9am to 12am so that you can capture city views during both daytime and nighttime.

With a timed entry ticket, you can complete a visit in just a couple of hours.

This is what makes Top of the Rock a personal favorite New York observation deck.

You feel freer and more relaxed, even if you do not have the benefit of being on a higher floor like the Empire State Building.

Rockefeller Plaza has some incredible food, so make sure you get hungry after a visit to this deck.

Visitors spend around 45 minutes over the three floors.

→ Pro Tip | Top of the Rock has excellent night views since its panoramic views of the city include the Empire State Building.

If you’re going during the holidays, Top of the Rock is also one of the observation decks you can visit in New York on Christmas day.

ew York city at twilight.

Top of the Rock Tickets

The best pass to buy is the New York Top of the Rock Observation Deck ticket for $48.

This includes a visit to levels 68, 69, and 70. You can schedule the ticket to visit any time during the day or evening.

Keep in mind that since this observation deck in New York is entirely open, you might have to check the weather.

If it is raining or snowing, then the experience might not be as fun because it does get a lot colder at the top compared to ground level.

Make sure you wear some warm clothes if you cannot visit during the summer months. If you are using a selfie stick, ignore anybody who laughs at you.

Top of the Rock has wheelchair access, and service dogs are permitted.

Top of the Rock Address

30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112, United States

Our guide to outdoor activities in NYC includes visiting the Top of the Rock.

Top of Rock view including Empire State Building

One World Trade Center

The One World Trade Center Observatory is one of the best observation decks in New York as not only does it sit on top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, but it is also known as the Freedom Tower.

The official opening year was 2014, 13 years after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the original World Trade Center, aka the Twin Towers in New York.

One WTC stands on the very spot where the 6 World Trade Center once stood.

However, it is not associated with the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

This NYC observatory is an all-weather indoor observatory with three levels, 100th, 101st, and 102nd, capping off at 1,268 ft (386.5 m), making it the tallest observatory in New York.

However, it is a completely covered observatory, so if you are looking for heights outdoors, the Empire State Building still trumps it.

The journey begins when you walk through the Global Welcome Center on the ground level before getting into the “Sky Pod” elevators.

It takes under 50 seconds to go up 102 floors, and you have screens inside the elevator to watch a short video showing how the Manhattan skyline was constructed all the way back to the 1500s.

When you reach the top, you are rewarded with a wide 360-degree view of the entire city and can also see the Statue of Liberty from here at 1250 feet.

If you go two floors down, you can visit the gift shop and buy souvenir photos to take home for friends and family.

You will also find both casual and fine dining options on this lower floor, but it is expensive, so you should wait till you are back on the ground for better places to eat.

→ Pro tip |  The lines for the observatory are not that long if you choose weekdays instead of weekends. The longest lines are usually at the Empire State Building because it is an iconic national landmark. One World Observatory is also a much higher viewpoint compared to At the Top, and you cannot see the Statue of Liberty from the Rockefeller Center.

One World Trade Center Tower (AKA Freedom Tower) over Hudson River viewed from New Jersey

New York One World Observatory Opening Hours

One World Trade Center Observatory is open from 10am to 7pm daily, but the timings can change according to the season.

Make sure to check the timings before booking a visit.

One World Trade Center Tickets

The best package available for this trip is the New York One World Observatory: Skip-the-Line Ticket for only $46.

It is valid for just one day, but you can enjoy skipping the lines on busy weekends while going to the 102nd floor.

You also will get to ride in a SkyPod at a high speed of 28mph, enter the Forever Theater, and enjoy a two-hour City Pulse Multimedia Presentation.

One World Observatory has wheelchair access, and service dogs are permitted.

One World Trade Center Address

285 Fulton St, New York, NY 10007, United States.

One World Trade Center also features in our guide on things to do in NYC when it rains.

Sunset over One World Trade Center or Freedom Tower

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

SUMMIT (45 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017) is New York’s most immersive observatory experience called Air and is designed by Kenzo Digital.

This modern sky deck is located at One Vanderbilt, 1401 feet high, 77 stories up.

You don’t even have to leave Grand Central to get to it.

Take the ear-popping elevator ride to the 91st floor, Transcendence I, in 43 seconds.

Enjoy the skyline views and trippy reflections from the floor and roof.

The next room is Affinity, which is the one you’ve probably seen on social media, where visitors are welcome to play with the giant silver balls.

You can see Top of the Rock from Affinity.

The 92nd floor is where you will find Transcendence II.

Here you can look down at Transcendence I.

Also on the 92nd floor is Levitation, a clear floor about Madison Avenue.

There is also a standard outside observation deck with views over to the Empire State Building.

Finally, for an additional fee, a glass elevator takes you to floor 93, Ascent at 1,020 feet (310.9 m).

Opening/closing times vary between 9am and 12am.

‘Free’ Observation Decks in NYC

The Vessel at Hudson Yards (Currently Closed)

Heatherwick Studio proves that no architectural project is a challenge for New York.

Throwing bronze into the concrete mix, The Vessel is popping up in everyone’s Instagram feeds.

Toying with the city’s love of stairs – stairs up to the townhouses in The Village, stairs down to the subway, The Vessel is just that.

A series of stairs stopping off at different levels.

Check the official website for status.

Sunset over The Vessell Hudson Yards

The Edge

A 60-second elevator at Hudson Yards will take you 1311 feet high to the tallest man-made viewing platform in the Western Hemisphere.

The Edge isn’t just an NYC observation deck; music performances, model shoots, and sky-high yoga are also performed here.

Located at Hudson Yards, skip-the-line tickets are available here.

Edge Observation Deck on a blue sky day in NYC

NYC Rooftop Bars

If you want a little more than just observation decks in New York City, there are also plenty of incredible rooftop bars where you can enjoy expansive views while sipping on cocktails and munching on some delicious food.

The DL

The DL (95 Delancey St) is a great bar to enjoy downing cocktails with friends while listening to pop, house, and R&B music, with a lot of popular DJs performing here.

Their third-floor rooftop is one of the city’s most extensive retractable roofs, making this space a lot of fun no matter what the weather is outside.

The 5000-square foot space provides exceptional nighttime views of the Williamsburg Bridge and the Lower East Side Skyline. Instead of standing in queues, it is a real treat to kick back and relax with a drink while dancing in the middle of all the city lights.

230 Fifth Rooftop Bar This bar has the largest rooftop garden in the entire city. You can also feel like you are in a real garden by sitting on a wooden bench or a picnic table while sipping drinks.

There are large umbrellas to give you plenty of shade if it rains, and they play some great old-school tunes from the 1980s and 1990s.

The DJ here will not be offended if you ask for some Britney Spears hits. They also have an indoor penthouse lounge, but it is easy to have fun outside because they have heaters everywhere to keep you warm during winter.

During the cold season, you can even sit inside a see-through igloo and enjoy the skyline views while giving all your friends a big “Cheers” to celebrate your trip to New York.

The Skylark

The Skylark (200 W 39th St) has a gorgeous rooftop terrace on the 30th floor with spectacular views of Times Square in the north, the Hudson River in the west, and Midtown in the east. You are literally surrounded by city views, which is why this bar should not be skipped.

There are multiple levels of lounges, but the outdoor terrace is the best part.

If you are up for a challenge, you should play pool on one of the custom pool tables that can be converted into a dining table after a game for you to take a break from this busy city life.

Ink 48 Hotel’s Rooftop in Hell’s Kitchen

The Press Lounge is a classy rooftop bar on the 17th floor of Ink 48 Hotel in Hell’s Kitchen (653 11th Av).

Cocktails and small plates are served at this ‘floor to ceiling’ glass rooftop, and drinks can be enjoyed with city views outside.

Just avoid drinking too much or being too in awe of the skyline, then fall in the swimming pool.

Westlight, Williamsburg

Head over the Brooklyn Bridge to the hip Williamsburg and snatch a square of faux grass at Westlight’s rooftop bar (111 N 12th St, 22nd floor).

NYC Helicopter Ride

Nothing will get you the best views in New York City than a helicopter ride.

This is the best way to get up close to the Statue of Liberty and take photos of it at arm’s length.

The helicopter also circles around the One World Trade Center and flies above Central Park.

The views beat every single observation deck in New York because you are literally flying high in the sky, and you can catch the sunset and nighttime flights too.

There might also be special trips for New Year’s Eve, where you can take a ride before the ball drops and watch the fireworks from above.

Imagine being a bird above this concrete jungle where dreams are made of, feeling an adrenaline rush in the safety of the cabin. Once-in-a-lifetime material!

Don’t fancy a helicopter ride IRL?

Use the One World Observatory interactive game to take a ride instead.

Here’s our guide to unique things to do in NYC for more unusual tips.

Aerial view of lower Manhattan New York City and the Hudson River

Final Words

Visiting New York City is a dream come true, and nothing beats all the skyline views that are famously known around the world, thanks to Hollywood.

Apart from the fantastic shopping experience, culinary masterpieces, drunk nights out, and, at times, the weird smell, you can learn a lot about the history of this city just by visiting any New York observation deck.

Any questions? Let us know below, and we’ll get back to you

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