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?
There are now 5 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.
When we first tackled this topic there were only 3 decks but as buildings have shot up in an incredible fashion so has the number of decks available…
Let’s take a quick look at the contenders and how they line up
Quick Comparison –
- Empire State Building – 86th Floor – 1050 Feet
- Empire State Building – 102nd Floor – 1224 Feet (Enclosed)
- Top of the Rock – 70th Floor – 849 Feet
- One World Observatory – 100th Floor – 1,368 feet (Enclosed)
- NEW – Edge – Hudson Yards Observation Deck – 100th Floor – 1131 Feet
- NEW – Summit – One Vanderbilt – 73rd+ 1200ft (Enclosed)
Empire State Building – Review
- Height: 86th Floor and 102nd Floor
- Cost*: Adults: $48 Seniors (62+): $46 Children (6-12): $41 102nd Floor : $36 Extra
- Location: Midtown, 5th Avenue 34th Street MAP
- Prominent Landmarks: Downtown Manhattan, Chrysler Building.
- Indoor or out: Both
- 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 elevator to the Top of the City, it’s all moving stuff!
The Empire has a lot going for it 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. And has been completely renovated with new exhibits and cool Photo-Ops with King King and the famous Sky-Girders used to build the tower. The elevator Fires you up to the 80th Floor in 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, where you will be Blown AWAY! (Hopefully not literally!)
There is also the option to go up to the 102nd-floor observation deck. In the past, this was a pretty awful option. The deck was small with dirty and scratched windows that offered poor viewing. However, the deck has had a total makeover and is much improved. However, we still see it as a FOMO experience, something to do when you have to do everything. Overall you are not missing much by skipping it.
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.
Top Of The Rock – Review
- 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.
Really, as you step out into the cool New York Stratosphere the deck just takes your breath away. It still does for us even after all this time.
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.
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One World Observatory – Freedom Tower – Review
- Height: 100th Floor – 1,368 feet
- Cost*: $43: Adults – $41: Seniors 62+ – $37: Children 6-12
- Skip the Queue: – $53
- All-Inclusive Flex Package: – $63
- Location: World Trade Centre, Downtown. MAP
- Prominent Landmarks: Midtown Manhattan, Empire State, Statue of Liberty.
- Indoor or out: Indoor Only
*all prices include Taxes
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 a couple of 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 is just lacking compared to the others. 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.
The two big upsides are the bar and restaurant at the top and the incredible entry video. As you exit the elevator you are forced to watch a fairly dull presentation on the deck and the building. It is quite short, but lacks anything really interesting and is just a B-roll of the City…
…Then as the movie ends the entire wall lifts up, revealing the floor-to-ceiling view out over the City, it really is magical. And after exploring the deck and taking in the sights the bar is a really nice place to grab a drink and enjoy the amazing view, the cocktails are actually really good!
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 – Review
- 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 include 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!
The Edge’s arrival has been usurped a little by the Pandemic Delays allowing the Summit to open pretty much at the same time. But the Edge is still a really good deck.
Pros: Champagne Bar, Excellent New Perspective on New York, Stunning Vantage points perfect for Instagramable shots, Outdoors with angled glass, Nearly empty indoor deck with great views.
Cons: Busy Outdoor Deck, Queues for best spots, View partially obstructed by New Tower.
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NEW – Summit – One Vanderbilt – Review
- Height: 73rd Floor and up – 1,020 – 1,200 Feet
- Cost: Adults: $39 – Child $33 (5 and Under – Free) – Live Prices
- Cost + Ascent: Adults: $59 – Child $33 (5 and Under – Free) – Live Prices
- Sunset: + $10
- Location: One Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt Av, New York
- Prominent Landmarks: Empire State Building, Central Park, and Midtown Manhatten
- Indoor or out: Indoor
The Summit is the Latest Observation Deck to open up and is perched aloft the One Vanderbilt Building, the 4th tallest Building in New York. The Entire space has been designed to be the most striking and original observation deck in the world. Reflective Surfaces and gaping floor-to-ceiling windows transform the floors into an infinity room that feels straight out of the movie Inception.
This coupled with one of the best views of the City available makes this a formidable Deck. and with added attractions such as the Levitation “Pods” that jut out over the abyss, Ascent, a willy wonky style glass elevator that rises up to 1200ft, and a Cocktail Bar, Apres situated at one of the higher points of the deck it really is one of the most anticipated of New Yorks New attractions.
The Summit finally delivers a view that can rival the Top Of The Rock, and the main deck is a really insane infinity mirror art installation that really messes with your mind. Some extras are a little gimmicky but some really work. The Outdoor deck at the top, where the Apres Bar is located is the best deck of them all and you can take your time here and really enjoy the view.
The big downside for us was the utterly chaotic journey to the top. It was just queue after queue after queue, even when using the top-tier timed ticket!
Oh and Avoid the Levitation Glass Elevator, it’s a FOMO-based attraction that is not worth your time or money!
Pros: Absolutely Stunning view of the City, Incredible Deck with stunning infinity mirrors, Insane Instagram opportunities,
Cons: Disorganised, Oversold, Gimmicky, Sunset is $10 extra, and the One Way System is Frustrating, takes 2-3 hours to visit the whole deck!
<<< Read Our Full Review Here >>>
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! While the
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 and any budding Photographer should defiantly head here first. The view out over midtown and the Empire State is really just to die for, especially at sunset.
The Arrival of the Summit and The Edge has really changed the Narrative and we headed to New York feeling that these Decks would REALLY shake things up, but we found we still preferred the classics. In fact, the new decks really highlighted how much we love the oldies and allowed us to focus on what is SO good about them!
Best New York Observation Decks – Ranked
1 – Top Of The Rock
The View from the Rock is just the best view in the City, the slightly dull experience of navigating to the top is easily compensated for the sheer majesty of the view. Day, Night, or at Sunset the view from the rock is, almost unsurpassed and this just makes it our number one. The first lookout over the City is just Breathtaking!
2 – Empire State Building
The Classic and still our favorite, but favorite does not mean best, and the view is just not quite as scintillating as the Rock. It offers a stunning 360° view of the City and the extra height is definitely noticeable, allowing the views to be just a touch further reaching. The simple fact you are standing on the most iconic building in new york is both a blessing and a curse. The feeling and experience is a real bucket list one, but you obviously lose the building itself from the view. It is still a must-do, and as we said our favorite, tbh we have never visited New York without doing BOTH.
3 – One World Observatory
One World Observatory comes in a close third. We really love the deck and the more modern polished experience is great. The view is refreshing but a little less inspired than the top 2. The sheer height and huge windows do make the Observatory a really captivating experience and well worth visiting on your Downtown Day, We love the bar and restaurant too and it even makes our top New York Rooftop Bars List! Honestly, if the Deck were outdoors, we think it would be our number one pick.
4 – The Summit – One Vanderbilt
The Newest Deck in the city promises so much but we find it fails to deliver. It would help if they solved the madness downstairs but for us, the gimmicky side of it is not worth the time it takes to visit the deck. The only thing that saves the deck is the sheer brilliance of the view. It’s the first time a deck rivaled the Top of The Rock, but the best way to enjoy this view is the pretty small Apres Bar Terrace, which is quite small and uninspiring.
We know some LOVE this deck and the quirky aspects of it really shine for them. For us, it’s all about the view, and not getting an unobstructed view of the City just pulls it down for us.
5 – The Edge – Hudson Yards
Honestly, it’s a shame, as the Edge was nearly one of the best decks in the City, the perspective is completely different from the other decks and it could have had it all, but the position of One Manhatten West just ruins the view. It could have been so different, but there is just something missing from the Edge experience. Don’t get us wrong, it’s still a phenomenal Deck and well worth checking out, But the Competition is REALLY high! The Huson Yards Development has created a whole new part of the City to Visit and the whole experience is another must-do!
We actually don’t really like ranking them as they all have their charms and weaknesses, and we always think the best bet is to visit a few and decide for yourself. On our last visit, we hit ALL 5, and tbh that was too much, we were a bit fatigued by the last deck. But you should at least visit 2 or 3.
This can prove costly however but to remedy that we always use one of New York’s Attraction Passes That way you can visit a few and see which you like the best for yourself!
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. Allowing you to go up the Empire state building during the day, then return after 8 PM and you can go up again for free, Offering views of the City at both day and night. Plus, schedule your Top of the Rock visit for sunset and you really will have the skyscraper viewing nailed!
The CityPASS is $136 and covers $92 worth of observation 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. Although we still await the inclusion of Summit on any of the passes.
There are 4 pass’s available and it’s a bit confusing but well worth investing to maximize your trip and minimize your costs!
- New York CityPASS here – Empire State (day and night) + TOTR
- New York Pass here – Empire State + TOTR + Edge + One World
- New York Explorer Pass here – Empire State + TOTR + Edge + One World
- New York Sightseeing Pass – Empire State + TOTR + Edge + One World
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 York’s 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.
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.