Best New York Observation Deck? – Top Of The Rock vs The Empire State Building!

New York is synonymous with tall buildings, epic skylines, and sweeping vistas. Naturally then, one of the most popular activities is a trip up one of New York’s behemoths Skyscaers to visit an observation deck. This provides a quick and relatively cheap way of getting the best view in New York! And what a view it is! The vistas available from up high are really unlike anything else in the world! If we could recommend just one paid activity in New York it would be an observation deck…but which is the Best New York Observation Deck?

New York Skyline Empire State Building

There are 4 New York skyscrapers with Observation decks at their summits. Each has its own unique strengths and weakness, and all of them offer simply mind-blowing views out over the concrete canyons of manhattan. Making sure you visit the best Deck is tricky, but rest assured. even the worst options are a breathtaking experience offering views quite unlike anything else in the world. Our guide pits the contenders against each other, The Top Of The Rock vs The Empire State Building vs One World Observatory vs The Edge.

Let’s take a quick look at the contenders and how they line up

Quick Comparison –

Empire State Building

Top Of The Rock vs The Empire State Building!
  • Express: $87 All Visitors
  • 102nd Floor* – Cost: Adults: $84 Seniors (62+): $82 Children (6-12): $77 Kids under 6 Free

*all prices including all taxes and booking fees

New York’s most iconic building and most people’s first thought when picking an observation deck. Everyone wants to go to New York and go to the top of the Empire State Building. But is it actually any good?

Well, Yes, it is actually. The views from this height are staggering. The entire Sprawling metropolis spreads out before your eyes. It’s a view like no other in the world (well apart from the other New York Observation Decks). It’s a fantastic experience.

But the views from the other Decks are pretty comparable and in some cases better. However, the whole point of the Empire State Building is to be able to say We Did it. To Say you have been up the Empire State, to walk through the hallowed lobby and jump in the escalator to the Top of the City, it’s all moving stuff!

The Empire has a lot going for it against besides the emotional high. It’s the most central so it gives good views of downtown Manhattan while still giving a great perspective of Midtown. The view of the Chrysler building is a great bonus as it’s our favorite New York building. The layout of the deck is excellent giving a full 360-degree view of the city as you walk around. It can be very chilly up there so the heated indoor areas give you a rest bite from the cold.

Climbing the tower is pretty effortless. You enter via the world-famous lobby then after the inevitable queue for tickets and security, you meander through the corridors before the elevator Fires you up to the 80th (less than 60 seconds!) The Indoor 80th floor gives incredible views and plenty of displays of information about the towers of New York. Finally, you take the lift up the final 6 floors to the outdoor viewing area.

There is also the option to go up to the 102nd-floor observation deck. This is however expensive and indoor only. The extra height does little for the view and the glass ruins photography. We personally don’t see the value but it’s there if you want to go really to the TOP or for that extra exclusivity.

Pros: Indoor and outdoor viewing area. A wire fence is great for Photography. The very high 86th floor. Great views of lower Manhattan.

Cons: Can’t see the Empire State Building! Poor view of Central Park. The wire fence is obstructive for “casual” photography, selfies and couple photos, etc… Queues can be very long. The small outdoor area can be very busy.

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<<< Book the Empire State Building Experience now >>>

Top Of The Rock

Top of the rock sun

  • Height: 70 floors high, 850 feet (260 m)
  • Cost*:  Adults: $42 – Seniors (62+): $39 – Children (6-12): $28 – VIP: $82
  • Sunset: + $10
  • Location: MAP 30 Rockefeller Plaza
  • Prominent Landmarks: Central Park, Empire State Building, Mid-Downtown Manhattan
  • Indoor or out: indoor and Outdoor

*all prices including all taxes and booking fees

The Less obvious choice of the 4 and the least well-known. The top of Rock puts you on top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The Deck is actually on top of the building, unlike the other 4 decks. This gives you the feeling of being very high up as there is nothing above you but the sky. This is despite the fact that it is actually the lowest deck on offer. Prominence is everything when height is involved and The Rock just towers over everything in the immediate vicinity, giving it the feeling of being early really high.

So the fact this is the lowest deck really doesn’t count against it. What does count in its favor is the view. This is the only Deck with a close-up, unobstructed view of the Empire State Building, The icon of New York.

It is worth noting that during your journey up the Empire State Building the souvenir photo has you standing in front of the empire state building. Seemingly taken from the top of the rock. Basically, the view here is SO good, the other decks use it as their Promo Photos. Simply put, this is the BEST view out of all the decks on the list.

The views out over Central Park are also excellent. The relief of the park against the building is very visually striking. Unfortunately, this has been reduced as of late and the View of the Park is greatly obstructed by two sodding great buildings, The One Vanderbilt Building and the Central Park Tower. These have had a very detrimental effect on the view of the park.

The Glass screens surrounding the building mean Selfies and “couple” photos come out great while the regular gaps in the glass are the perfect size to fit a DSLR lens through meaning you get unimpeded shots. The Highest terrace is also set back into the center of the building. Meaning if you fell off you wouldn’t go very far, So there is no need for high Barriers. This means you get a completely unimpeded panoramic view. Perfect for camping out for sunset…But get there early for the prime spots.

What lets it down is the overall experience. While at the top it’s got the others beat, but getting up there is a long tedious task. The only plus side is the glass-roofed elevators which give a fantastic view of you ascending or descending the elevator shafts! Maybe close your eyes if elevators are not your thing! But apart from that, it is a fairly joyless activity. But getting to the top makes it all worthwhile.

Pros: Fantastic views of Central Park and the Empire state building. Actually the TOP of the building. Glass Screens perfect for all photography. The top-level has no Screen or fence for a completely unobstructed view.

Cons: Lowest of all Observation Decks. Poor view of Chrysler building. Lower Manhattan is a long way off. Poorer overall experience.

<<< Read Our Full Review Here >>>


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One World Observatory – Freedom Tower

*all prices include Taxes and booking fees

View from the One World Observatory

The highest of the 3 main observation decks The 100thfloor Deck towers above almost everything in New York. The experience is very flashy and slick, but for us, the Indoor only viewing area is a disappointment. While couple photos and selfies are great, serious photography is let down due to having to shoot through Glass as you can see from the photo reflections and marks on the glass can show.

It is in our opinion the poorest view of the decks and the lack of outdoor area makes this the lowest-rated on our list. Of course, if you have done the others before and want a different experience it’s perfect. Or maybe the thought of standing on the outside of a mega skyscraper towering over the streets below fills you with dread? Then the indoor area would provide stunning views without as much inducing so much vertigo.

Some people do get a little freaked out on the very high open decks!

It is still a very good experience, It just lacks compared to the other two. You can see how hard they have tried to make up for that, with the bells and whistles, but really it doesn’t make up for the disappointment of the Main Event.

Pros: Very high, a different perspective on New York. Very slick Presentation. Extra features such as the virtual glass floor.

Cons: Shooting through windows spoils photo opportunities. Indoor isn’t as Exciting as outdoor.

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NEW – Edge – Hudson Yards Observation Deck

  • Height: 100th Floor – 1,131 Feet – Tallest Outdoor Deck in the Western Hemisphere
  • Cost*:  Adults: $42 – Child $36 – Senior $39
  • Location: New, Hudson Yards Development MAP
  • Prominent Landmarks: All Of Manhattan!
  • Indoor or out: Both

*all Prices includes Taxes and Fees

The Edge is the New Comer to the Observation Deck Party! Part of the incredible new Hudson Yards development the 100th Floor open-air Deck juts right out over manhattan giving phenomenal views right across the island! From Central Park, through Midtown, Times Square, Empire State, and finally Downtown, with the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

It promises to potentially have the best view of all the decks, the stomach-churning terror of a glass floor (only in places), and the incredible feeling of being alone above manhattan where you take your turn at the tip of the deck with 300 Degree views (We envisage a lot of Titanic Moments here!) all around you. The Glass is also angled outwards so you can get the ultimate drop selfie with the city falling away behind you!

Best of all there is a Champagne bar so finally, we can enjoy a tipple while drinking in the stunning views of the city from above. We already have our tickets booked for this brand new attraction and cannot wait to tell you how it is. We are a little concerned from a Photography point of view as the all-around glass panels may make great photo’s tough with the reflections ruining the shots slightly, but we will see! The top of the Rock Has All Glass and is NO issue!

We will report back as soon as we have been to the top to let you know how this stacks up against the competition. But for the sheer novelty, it’s got to be right up there.

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So, Which is the Best New York Observation Deck?

Well the truth is the view from New York’s incredible Observation decks is SO good you need to try a couple as a minimum. The Empire State Building is just so iconic it can’t be missed but the view from the Rock is just SO good you need to head there too. The Edge seems to offer some really exciting possibilities and we can’t wait to sink some bubbles on top of the City!

But if you have to choose only one, if it’s your first time in New York we would steer away from the One World Observatory. It’s a great experience but the indoor area just doesn’t quite give it the full “experience”. For the full New York experience it has to be the Empire State Building. It’s one of the first questions you will get asked, “did you go up the Empire State Building?”

The best views are found on the Top of the Rock However, any budding Photographer should defiantly head here first. And the view out over midtown and the Empire State is really just to die for.

When Should I go?

This is another important question. The experience changes completely with the setting sun! The Endless Concrete and Steel Transforms into a year-round “Christmas tree” of twinkling lights. And We love Both Scenes We simply couldn’t recommend one over the other. So our recommendation for someone who only has time, funds, or inclination to only go once is to hit Sunset!

This gives you a great daylight view of the city. You then watch as the city slowly lights up before seeing it in its full evening dress! The only problem with this is you won’t be the only one to have this idea! It will be very crowded at this time.

But really this simply confirms what we said earlier, you really have to visit two times as a minimum, once in the day and again at night. Of course, this is pretty expensive, over $90 per person if you visit the Rock and Empire State Building! If you fancy visiting 2 or more of the decks you are definitely going to need to cut some costs!

Save Money With an Attraction Pass?

One option to Cut Costs is to purchase an Attractions Pass. With one of these passes, you get access to at least 2 of the observation decks for a fixed price plus quite a few other attractions. Saving, often, a considerable sum. They are a really great way to save money and see more of the City than buying individual tickets.

For example, the New York CityPASS offers a visit to the Top of the Rock and a visit to the Empire State Building. It also includes a same-day Evening return. So go up the Empire state building one morning, then return after 8 PM and you can go up again for free! Seeing the City in both the day and the night. Plus schedule your top of the rock for sunset and you really will have the skyscraper viewing nailed!

The CityPASS is $136 and covers $92 worth of observations Decks, you also get two top museums, Tickets to the Statue of Liberty and the 911 Museum. So you can see how much you can save.

The Edge now features on several Passes too so you really can experience everything the City has to offer

There are 4 pass’s available and it’s a bit confusing but well worth investing to maximize your trip and minimize your costs!

For a full comparison and guide to the passes see here

Something Different?

FlyNYON Money Shot

Some of the BEST aerial views of the City we have enjoyed have not actually been from the Observations decks. Instead, consider a Helicopter Tour? Or for a much cheaper and equally enjoyable view of the skyline from up high try one of New Yorks Roof-Top Bars. Enjoying drinks from high up overlooking the City of lights is something you never forget!

We hope that’s helped you understand the different options when choosing an Observation Deck. The Take home message is they are all very special and whichever you choose you will have a great time gazing at the incredible New York Cityscape from above. It’s something you will never forget and really a New York must do.

View from Top of the Rock
View from Top of the Rock

Have Your Say

If you are planning a New York trip feel free to ask any questions in the Comments Below or if you have already been up one of New York’s Towers Let me know in the Comments Below which Tower you went up? Do you agree with our Assessment? Or if you have any further questions let me know?

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4 thoughts on “Best New York Observation Deck? – Top Of The Rock vs The Empire State Building!”

  1. Oh, New York has been on my bucket list for a while now. I have actually been there since I added it, but it was not a leisure trip, and I didn’t get to do anything I wanted to. One being to visit the Empire State Building. I like the idea of a City Pass. I think you could save a lot of money that way on the various things to do and see in NY. I read the pros and cons of all, and I now I have mixed feelings on which one is the best for me. I’m still thinking the Empire State Building.

    • Hi, Its a shame you got to a bucket list place and didn’t get to do what you wanted…So close. Don’t be too worried about which is best …They are all incredible experiences. But remember If you get the CityPASS you can do the Empire State building(twice) and the Top of The Rock!

      Hope you get to get back soon!


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