New York is synonymous with tall buildings and one of the most popular activities is a trip up one of New York’s behemoths to 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 I could do just one activity in New York it would be an observation deck…but which New York Observation Deck is the best?
New York has 3 possible options for very high observation decks. All 3 offer a very different experience and different views. So it is not simply a case of picking a winner. You need to weigh up the options and choose the best New York Observation Deck for YOU.
Empire State Building
- Height: 86th Floor and 102nd Floor
- Cost: Adults: $37-39 Seniors (62+): $35-37 Children (6-12): $31-33 102nd Floor : $20 Extra
- Location: Midtown, 5th Avenue 34th Street MAP
- Prominent Landmarks: Downtown Manhattan, Chrysler Building.
- Indoor or out: Both
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 other options are comparable. It’s the actual experience of going up a huge skyscraper that is IMO a New York Must do. The Empire has a lot going for it against the others though. 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 my favorite New York building. The layout of the deck is excellent giving a full 360-degree view of the city as you walk around the deck. 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 lift 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. I personally don’t see the value but its 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.
Top Of The Rock
- Height: 70th Floor
- Cost: Adults: $34 Seniors (62+): $32 Children (6-12):$28 for Sun and Stars +$15
- Location: Rockefeller center Midtown MAP
- Prominent Landmarks: Central Park, Empire State, Downtown Manhattan,
- Indoor or out: Both
The Less obvious choice of the 3 and least well known. The top of Rock puts you on top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. And actually on top of the building, unlike the other 2 decks. The viewing area is quite low compared to the others but it still gives you a very high feeling and there is nothing around that’s higher, apart from the empire state, Which is what is so appealing about the TOTR you get fantastic views of the Empire State.
It 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. Choose the Top Of The Rock however and you will be able to get your own Empire state building photo.
The views over Central Park are also excellent. The relief of the park against the building is very visually striking. In our opinion, the Top of the Rock probably has the BEST view of the 3! 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 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 its 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. 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 a long way off. Poorer overall experience.
One World Observatory – Freedom Tower
- Height: 100th Floor
- Cost: $34 Adults $32 Seniors 62+ $28 Children 6-12
- Location: World Trade Centre, Downtown. MAP
- Prominent Landmarks: Midtown Manhattan, Empire State, Statue of Liberty.
- Indoor or out: Indoor Only
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 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 (right) reflections and marks on the glass can show. It is in our opinion the lesser view of the 3 and the lack of outdoor area makes this lowest on our list. Of course, if you have done the other 2 before and want a different experience its perfect. Or maybe the thought of standing on the outside of mega skyscraper towering over the streets below fills you with dread. Then the indoor area would provide the stunning views without as much inducing so much vertigo.
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 disappointing of 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.
So Which ONE Should I choose?
It really is a hard question, and I would suggest trying 2 or all 3, But if you have to choose only one, if it’s your first time to New York I 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?” The best views are found on the Top of the Rock However, any budding Photographer should defiantly head here first.
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.
Some of the BEST aerial views of the City we have enjoyed have not actually been from 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!
One option is to purchase a City 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, sometimes, 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!
There are 3 pass’s available and it’s a bit confusing:
You can read all about the New York CityPASS here
And you can read all about the New York Pass here
Finally, you can read all about the New York Explorer Pass here
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. Its 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 question 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?