Table of Contents
- How to Choose Between The Best New York Observation Decks
- Empire State vs Top of the Rock vs One World Observatory
- Empire State Building
- Rockefeller Center/Top of the Rock
- One World Trade Center
- ‘Free’ Observation Decks in NYC
- The Vessel at Hudson Yards
- The Edge
- The DL
- The Skylark
- Ink 48 Hotel’s Rooftop in Hell’s Kitchen
- Westlight, Williamsburg
- NYC Helicopter Ride
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If you have never joyfully belted out Alicia Keys’ song while screaming louder at “Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” you haven’t truly lived. Visiting New York City is a dream come true for many people from around the world because we have all grown up seeing it in Hollywood movies. For some, The Statue of Liberty is more iconic than any landmark in their own countries. Undoubtedly, you cannot limit yourself to ground level because the view from observation decks in New York is to die for.
Even if you are afraid of heights, the fear melts away because of how beautiful the city is from above. There is a reason why King Kong went through so much trouble just to climb up the Empire State Building. All he wanted was to enjoy the best view in the world. It’s not fair to fault him on that.
Seeing the Big Apple from a New York observation deck is like getting a soaring bald eagle’s view into what makes America so great. Those twinkling bright lights when the sun goes down is enough to satisfy all your concrete jungle cravings.
Yes, you might feel considerably hungry and cranky while waiting in lines for long hours just to reach these highs. It is worth preparing your mind, body, and soul for the experience beforehand.
Unless you splurge for some royalty passes that are probably only sold exclusively to The Kardashians, a trip to the top requires preparation in advance, and a few hours just to get that perfect shot for Instagram.
If you are a time and budget-savvy traveler, you might not be able to visit all these locations in one trip.
However, we have narrowed down the best observation decks in New York to help you pick the one worth prioritizing if you are only in the city for a day or two. We’ve also considered the line skips which will help you pack more of top New Year attractions in.
So let’s take a look at what the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, One World Observatory, The Vessel, The DL, The Skylark and many more have to offer.
» Don’t miss our jam-packed 4 days in New York itinerary
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 history at a museum?
View of Central Park from Top of the Rock Observatory
Empire State vs Top of the Rock vs One World Observatory
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 Time’s Square.
This New York observation deck is for all the 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?
Fast forward the below video to 5:19, warning, there are spoilers throughout if you are new to the whirlwind of a show that Gossip Girl is.
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.
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 crazy.
Around 9am, it was flooded with visitors, and people were told that this was nothing compared to how hectic it gets later in the day.
The 102nd floor has been refurbished and it has become the latest rage since it is the highest observation point in the building.
Your journey to this 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 which 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 featured the Empire State Building in them.
This is entertaining because you get to see a lot of everybody’s favorite 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 member of staff to guide everyone to another elevator enclosed in glass.
This will finally take you to the newly renovated 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 of room to move around and take lots of photos.
Since this floor was recently renovated, 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.
Views from 78th floor Empire State Building
Empire State Building Opening Times
The 102nd-floor observation deck is open from 8am to 2am daily, so 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.
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 Top Deck 102nd floor are $67, while the Main Deck 86th floor and 2nd-floor museum tickets cost $42 for adults.
With the 102nd floor ticket, you get access to the 86th and 2nd-floor museum.
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.
To save money, you can buy the AM/PM Experience for the 86th floor for under $60.
This lets you enjoy the expansive views during the day and then again at night when the entire city lights up.
The sunset experience tickets are expensive at over $100.
For a much more cost-effective deal, you should consider the Empire State Building General & Skip-the-Line tickets with GetYourGuide, which cost only $45.
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, and all the binoculars on deck.
If you are not planning to visit the 102nd floor and want to spend less time stuck in lines, this is a good deal.
Your ticket is valid for one month which means you don’t have to book a specific date.
You can add on the Top Deck on the day at the Empire State Building, availability permitting.
Wheelchair access, service dogs allowed.
Families are permitted to use collapsible strollers.
Empire State Building Address
20 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001, United States
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 at 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.
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.
The 70th floor has no glass panelling which is great for photographers.
However, tripods or professional photography kit are not permitted.
You can get ticket combinations to see the city during both day and nighttime.
There is a separate entrance with a sign outside saying “Top of the Rock” to let you know where to enter for the observation deck.
You have the option to buy tickets in the lobby, or members of staff will scan them directly from your phone or a printout.
In the afternoon, there were a fair amount of people, but the line was consistently moving, so you did not feel stuck.
The only time the line stopped moving for a few minutes was in front of a green screen, where everybody gets to sit down and get their picture taken by a professional photographer.
After you get the photo taken, they will hand you a little card with a code on it.
This needs to be exchanged at the gift shop to buy the printed photo where they put a beautiful background.
Most tourists avoid purchasing this photo, but it is worth it because one of the background options is inspired by the famous 1932 “Lunch atop a skyscraper” photo, featuring the construction workers sitting on a beam above the city. The one the TV show Friends copied.
It is very cool buying this photo because instead of those men, it will be you and your friends sitting on that beam with arms wide open and the glorious Central Park right behind you.
It will make a lot of people jealous back home.
Unlike the Empire State Building, there is no museum on this floor.
You will just wait for your turn towards the elevator while watching a short video about the history of this building.
It only takes a few moments in the elevator before you are at 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. 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 the one hand, 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 to collect your photo.
Top of the Rock is wheelchair accessible and service dogs are allowed.
Families are permitted to use collapsible strollers.
Views from Top of the Rock
Top of the Rock Opening Times
Top of the Rock is open daily from 8am to 12:30am, so you can capture city views during both daytime and nighttime.
Since the lines are not painful, 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.
Top of the Rock Tickets
The best pass to buy is the New York Top of the Rock Observation Deck: Flexible Ticket for only $42.
This includes a visit to levels 68, 69, and 70.
You can schedule the ticket to visit any time during the day, or even book a sunset slot which the official site adds $10 to do.
This is a flexible ticket so you are not restricted by a date or time slot which makes itinerary building easier.
Can’t make the day or hour you had in mind? No stress, there’s no charge if you need to reschedule a visit or switch dates within the month.
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.
Wheelchair access, service dogs allowed.
Top of the Rock Address:
30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112, United States
Top of the Rock binoculars
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, 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 no 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 most extended lines are usually at the Empire State Building because that 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 Opening Hours
One World Trade Center Observatory is open from 8am to 10pm daily, but the timings change according to the season.
Sometimes, it is only open from 9am to 9pm, or 8am to 9pm.
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 $38.
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 high speed of 28mph, enter the Forever Theater, and enjoy a two-hour City Pulse Multimedia Presentation.
Wheelchair access, service dogs allowed.
One World Trade Center Address
285 Fulton St, New York, NY 10007, United States
If you want a little more than just observation decks in New York City, there are also plenty of incredible rooftop bars to enjoy expansive views while sipping on cocktails and munching some delicious food.
Here are a few favorites that are worth visiting.
‘Free’ Observation Decks in NYC
The Vessel at Hudson Yards
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.
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 DL is a great bar to enjoy downing cocktails with friends while listening to pop, house, and R&B music with a lot of popular DJ’s 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.
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The Skylark 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 crazy 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 Ave, New York, NY 10036).
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.
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, Brooklyn).
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 one instead.
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Pin to your NYC planning board for later
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.
Everyone says that New York has the best pizza, especially when you bite into a slice while standing several feet above the ground, surrounded by all the shimmering city lights. If you haven’t booked your trip yet, what else are you waiting for?
About the Author
Shipra has recently fallen in love with NYC and cannot wait to go back again because 4 days in New York were not long enough. She is still trying to get tickets to see Hamilton and hopes for the best. Read more of Shipra’s content on Two Scots Abroad: Chicago, Boston and Dubai.
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