Julie United States Leave a Comment

Viewing New York City from its tallest buildings is one of the city’s best experiences. There is something thrilling about looking out across Manhattan and peering down at the people and bright yellow taxis far below.

Visiting the observation decks in Manhattan can be an expensive and time consuming process. You may not want to shell out hundreds of dollars for aerial views over New York City or spend valuable hours waiting in line.

Currently, there are four observation decks in Manhattan: the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory, and the Edge. Each observation deck offers a different view, and a different experience. If you want to narrow down the list to just one or two, we have lots of great information to share with you.

In this guide, we cover the best observation decks in NYC, share photos from each of them, and rank them by height, cost, and view.

Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is the oldest observation deck of the bunch. Not only is it one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in New York City, but the Empire State Building is one of the world’s most famous buildings. A visit here is not just about the view…it’s also about the history of New York City and a visit to one of the world’s most iconic landmarks.

Quick Facts about the Empire State Building

Location: Midtown Manhattan
Year Opened: 1931
Observation Deck Height: 86th Floor (1,050 feet, 320 meters); 102nd Floor (1,250 feet, 381 meters)
Price: Tickets start at $42 and can go as high as $400
Cool Fact: The Empire State Building held the record for tallest building in the world for 40 years, until the World Trade Center was completed in 1970.

The history of the Empire State Building dates back to the booming 1920’s, when skyscrapers were being added to Manhattan’s skyline at an incredible rate. It only took 20 months to build the Empire State Building, and it was actually finished ahead of schedule and below budget.

For 40 years, it towered over Manhattan, until the World Trade Center was completed.

The Empire State Building has been attracting visitors for decades. With its central location in Midtown Manhattan, not only is it easy to get to, but it offers spectacular 360° views of New York City.

In addition to attracting visitors, the Empire State Building has been featured in numerous movies. The list is long but the most popular films include Sleepless in Seattle, King Kong, An Affair to Remember, Elf, Independence Day, and Superman II.

How to Get to the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is located in midtown Manhattan between 5th and 6th Avenues. The entrance to visit the observation deck is on 34th street, between 5th and 6th Avenue. The main entrance to the Empire State Building is on 5th Avenue, but this entrance is used for businesses that are located in the building.

Subway Stations:

  • 34th Street – Herald Square: This is the closest subway station. From here it is a 3-minute walk to the Empire State Building.
  • 34th Street – Penn Station: 5-minute walk to the Empire State Building
  • Grand Central Terminal: 10-minute walk to the Empire State Building

Empire State Building Ticket Options

The Empire State Building has two observation decks: the outdoor observation deck on the 86th floor and the indoor observation deck on the 102nd floor. All tickets include the 86th floor observation deck; you just have to decide if you want to shell out the extra money for the 102nd floor.

  • 86th Floor Tickets: prices start at $42 for adults, $36 for children, and $40 for seniors
  • 86th + 102nd Floor Tickets: prices start at $75 for adults, $69 for children, and $73 for seniors

In addition to these base tickets listed above, there are several unique ticket options to add to your Empire State Building experience.

  • AM/PM Experience: visit the Empire State Building twice in one day, both during the daytime and at night. Prices start at $61
  • Sunrise on the 86th Floor: Prices start at $115
  • Express Pass Tickets: bypass all the lines to enter the Empire State Building. Tickets start at $78 for the 86th floor and $111 for the 86th and 102nd floors.

There are also guided tours and behind the scenes tours if you want to dive deeper into the history of the Empire State Building. These have a hefty price tag. Learn more on the official website.

Tickets can be purchased online or at the Empire State Building.

The Empire State Building is included in the New York City CityPASS, the GO Explorer Pass, the New York Pass, and the New York Sightseeing Pass.

Hours of Operation

The Empire State Building is open 365 days per year. Hours vary by season. Get updates on the official website.

What to Expect on Your Visit

From the visitor entrance of the Empire State Building, you will pass through security and then ride an elevator to the 80th floor. After walking through a series of exhibits that teach you about the history of the Empire State Building, you will take a second elevator to the 86th floor.

The 86th floor is the location of the outdoor observation deck. From here, you have the option to continue up to the 102nd floor.

The View from the Empire State Building

Since the Empire State Building is located in Midtown Manhattan, you have a view of many of NYC’s iconic landmarks (except the Empire State Building, since you are standing on it).

From here, you can see the Chrysler Building, One Vanderbilt, Hudson Yards and the Edge, Lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center, and Brooklyn and the East River.

View from the 86th Floor (1,050 feet, 320 meters)

This outdoor observation deck wraps around the perimeter of the Empire State Building. As you walk around the observation deck, you get 360° views of New York City. The photos below were taken June 2021.

Manhattan 2021

Looking north from the Empire State Building. In this photo you can see the Chrysler Building, One Vanderbilt, Top of the Rock, and Central Park (way off in the distance).

 

East Manhattan

Looking east from the Empire State Building towards Brooklyn and the East River.

 Manhattan View

Looking south towards Lower Manhattan.

 

Hudson Yards 2021

Looking west to Hudson Yards, the Hudson River, and New Jersey. Can you see the Edge?

 

Empire State Building Outdoor Deck best observation decks in NYC

The outdoor observation deck on the Empire State Building. The telescopes where covered during our visit because of COVID-19.

View from the 102nd Floor (1,250 feet, 381 meters)

The 102nd floor is tiny. This small, circular room has floor to ceiling windows where you get to see more 360° views of NYC. From here, you can also look down on the 86th floor and see down to the city streets far below.

Empire State Building 102 floor

102 Floor Empire State Building

Is the 102nd floor worth it?

Probably not. Tickets for the 102nd floor are almost twice price of the 86th floor, but the view is not twice as good. You are shooting through glass and the extra height doesn’t provide much of a difference from what you just saw from the 86th floor.

In my opinion, your money would be better spent on the AM/PM ticket, where you get to visit the Empire State Building twice in one day (and it’s still cheaper than tickets for the 102nd floor) or putting your money towards visiting a second observation deck in NYC.

Reasons Why You Should Visit the Empire State Building

  • NYC’s most famous building
  • Great location in NYC
  • 360° views of Manhattan
  • You do not have to take photos through glass on the 86th floor
  • Option to go higher and visit the 102nd floor

Reasons Why This May Not Be the Best Observation Deck in NYC

  • You cannot take a photo of the Empire State Building
  • Has one of the longest wait times
  • It is one of the most expensive observation decks

Is the Empire State Building Worth It?

We love the Empire State Building. Since I have been coming to NYC as a child, I have probably visited the Empire State Building at least five times. The experience, and the view, never gets old. Viewing Manhattan from the Empire State Building is an essential experience to have in NYC, whether this is your first visit or your 10th visit.

Top of the Rock

The Top of the Rock is often overlooked by many visitors. The uber famous Empire State Building and One World Observatory make the list of best observation decks in NYC by many first-time visitors to Manhattan. However, the views from the Top of the Rock are incredible (and dare I say our favorite viewpoint in Manhattan).

If you are looking for one of the best views of NYC, without ticking the boxes for highest observation deck or most iconic building, Top of the Rock is definitely a place to put on your NYC to-do list.

Quick Facts about Top of the Rock

Location: Midtown Manhattan
Year Opened: 1933; the observation deck opened in 2005
Observation Deck Height: 850 feet (67, 69, and 70th floors)
Price: Tickets start at $38
Cool Fact: At Top of the Rock, take in the view from a grand total of 3 observation decks

How to Get to Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock is located in Rockefeller Center. From here, it is a quick walk to Times’ Square, Central Park, the Museum of Modern Art, and Fifth Avenue.

The closest subway station is 47-50 Streets – Rockefeller Center. 5 Avenue-53 Street Station and 49 Street Subway Station are also nearby.

The entrance into Top of the Rock is located on West 50th Street between Avenue of the Americas and Rockefeller Plaza.

Ticket Options for Top of the Rock

  • General Admission: Adults $38, child $32, senior $36
  • VIP Access (expedited security screeing and priority elevator to save you time waiting in lines): $75

Sunset tickets cost an additional $10.

Top of the Rock is included on the NYC CityPASS, the Sightseeing Pass, the New York Pass, and the NYC Explorer Pass.

Purchase your tickets online in advance and check ticket prices on the official website.

Hours of Operation

10 am to 10 pm, seven days a week. The last elevator ride up to Top of the Rock is at 9:10 pm. Hours may change later in 2021 so I recommend getting updated hours before your visit.

What to Expect on Your Visit

After going through security, you will walk through the Mezzanine Exhibit, which teaches you the history of Top of the Rock. An elevator whisks you to the 67th floor in just 42 seconds.

The Top of the Rock has three observation decks. Floor 67 has an indoor observation deck with views of the Empire State Building. Floor 69 has an outdoor deck with glass walls and 270° views of NYC. The 70th floor offers 360° views of Manhattan and there are no glass walls. All three levels are included on the General Admission ticket.

View from Top of the Rock

In our opinion, the Top of the Rock is one of the best observation decks in NYC. From here, you get unparalleled views of both the Empire State Building and Central Park. On the 70th floor, you can capture these views on your camera or smartphone without shooting through a pane of glass. And since the Top of the Rock is located in Midtown, it is located close to several of Manhattan’s must-see sights.

The photos below were taken February 2018.

Top of the Rock Observation Deck

Observation deck on the 69th floor.

 

Top of the Rock 2018

Top of the Rock in Winter

Looking north towards Central Park. This photo was taken in February 2018.

 

Best View of NYC

Looking south from the 70th floor.

Reasons Why You Should Visit Top of the Rock

  • Best View of the Empire State Building
  • Best View of Central Park
  • Open outdoor sky deck so you can take photos without shooting through panes of glass
  • One of the cheapest observation decks in NYC
  • Lower crowds than other observation decks in NYC

Reasons Why This May Not Be the Best Observation Deck in NYC

  • It is the lowest observation deck on the list
  • Lacks the history, fame, height, and thrill factor of other observation decks on this list

Is Top of the Rock Worth It?

Absolutely. If you want a spectacular view of NYC, this is the best observation deck in New York City. It may not be the most famous, the highest, or the most thrilling, but the view is unbeatable, in our opinion.

One World Observatory

One World Observatory is the observation deck on One World Trade Center. One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It opened on November 3, 2014 and One World Observatory opened to the public in May 2015.

From One World Observatory, you get to view New York City from the highest observation deck in Manhattan. The entire visit is state of the art, from the high-tech elevator ride to the time-lapse video at the Forever Theater to the digital guides that teach you more about NYC.

Quick Facts about One World Observatory

Location: Lower Manhattan
Year Opened: 2015
Observation Deck Height: 102nd floor, 1,268 feet
Price: tickets start at $43
Cool Fact: One World Observatory is located in One World Trade Center. At 1,776 feet, this is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the 6th tallest building in the world.

How to Get to One World Observatory

One World Observatory is located in Lower Manhattan.

The Oculus, also referred to as the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, is one of the busiest subway stations in New York City. 12 subway lines and the PATH converge here. From the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, it is a short walk to One World Trade Center.

Ticket Options for One World Observatory

  • General Admission: Tickets start at $43
  • Combination (general admission plus a priority lane for entering and exiting the observation deck): Tickets start at $53
  • All-Inclusive (general admission, priority lane, flexible arrival, and use of the One World Explorer digital guide): Tickets start at $63

One World Observatory is included on the GO Explorer Pass, the Sightseeing Pass, and the New York Pass.

Hours of Operation

One World Observatory is open 5 to 6 days a week. They are operating with reduced hours due to COVID-19, but this could change later in 2021. Get updated hours here.

What to Expect on Your Visit

After going through security, you are whisked up to the 102nd floor on the world’s most exciting elevator ride. All four walls of the elevator are digital screens that show a time-lapse transformation of NYC from settlement by the Dutch in the 1600’s to what it is today.

Before entering the One World Observatory viewing area, visitors are shown into the See Forever Theater, where a second time-lapse video about life in New York is shown.

From the observation deck, you will look out over Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and New Jersey.

See Forever best observation decks in NYC

View from One World Observatory

Here are photos taken late-morning in July 2015. We had a hazy day as you will see in our photos.

Inside One World Observatory best observation decks in NYC

View from One World best observation decks in NYC

Looking south towards  Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty.

 Lower Manhattan best observation decks in NYC

Another view of Lower Manhattan.

 

North from One World best observation decks in NYC

Looking north towards Midtown Manhattan.

 

View of Brooklyn Bridge best observation decks in NYC

Looking east towards Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Reasons Why You Should Visit One World Observatory

  • To visit NYC’s highest observation deck
  • To visit one of the world’s tallest buildings
  • For great views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty
  • If you like a high-tech experience

Reasons Why This May Not Be the Best Observation Deck in NYC

  • The most expensive observation deck in NYC
  • No outdoor observation deck option
  • Located in Lower Manhattan so it lacks the iconic views you get from Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building
  • The observation deck is indoors so you will be taking photographs through glass windows

Is One World Observatory Worth It?

All four of us loved this visit. We have visited a lot of the world’s tallest buildings and the show that One World Observatory puts on is fantastic. The views alone are worth the trip, but the elevator ride, the introduction video, the friendly staff, and the other little touches makes this visit a great experience.

If you want to take in the view from one of the world’s tallest buildings or if you have plans to visit the 9/11 Memorial, then a visit to One World Observatory is worth it. However, I think it’s better to visit the Empire State Building (an essential experience for first-timers) or Top of the Rock (if you simply want an awesome view of New York City).

The Edge

The Edge is the newest addition to the Manhattan observation decks. Hovering 100 floors above the city streets, this sky deck offers jaw-dropping views over Manhattan. Adding to the thrill is the glass floor, where you can peer down to the city streets far below.

Quick Facts about the Edge

Location: Hudson Yards
Year Opened: 2020
Observation Deck Height: 100th floor (1,131 feet, 345 meters)
Price: tickets start at $36
Cool Fact: This is the only observation deck that has a glass floor.

How to Get to the Edge

The Edge is located in sleek and shiny Hudson Yards. Enter The Shops at Hudson Yards and take the elevator to the 4th floor. There will be signs directing you to the Edge.

The closest subway station is 34th Street – Hudson Yards on train 7. From here it is a 2-minute walk to The Shops at Hudson Yards. You can also get here by taxi, by Uber, or by walking the High Line, which ends right next to The Shed and The Shops at Hudson Yards.

Ticket Options for the Edge

There are three ticket options for visiting the Edge.

  • General Admission: These tickets get you admission onto the Edge without any perks. Online tickets start at $36 for adults, $31 for children, and $34 for seniors.
  • Champagne Admission: This is a general admission ticket plus a glass of champagne. Tickets start at $53 for adults and $51 for seniors.
  • Premium Admission: This is a general admission ticket, plus a glass of champagne and a souvenir photo book. Online tickets start at $71 for adults, $31 for children, and $69 for seniors.

There is an additional $10 fee per ticket for sunset. If you purchase your tickets on site at the Edge, tickets are $2 more than the online prices.

At the time that I am writing this, there are no fast pass or skip-the-line tickets.

The Edge is also included on the C3 NYC City Pass, the GO Explorer Pass, the New York Sightseeing Pass, and the New York Pass.

For updated pricing and to book your tickets online, click here to visit the official Edge website.

Hours of Operation

8 am to midnight daily. Get updated hours on the official website.

What to Expect on Your Visit

To enter the Edge, you will show your tickets and proceed through security. As you walk to the elevator, you will pass state-of-the-art digital displays about Hudson Yards. On the quick elevator ride to the 100th floor, a short animated movie plays on floor to ceiling computer screens.

Once on the 100th floor, you can visit the Champagne bar, step out onto the sky deck, and walk upstairs to the 101st floor, where you will have 360° views of New York and New Jersey.

How to Visit the Edge

Indoor observation deck on the 101st floor.

View from the Edge

The Edge has both an indoor observation deck (on the 100th and the 101st floors) as well as the sky deck on the 100th floor. These photos were taken June 2021.

The Edge

iPhone panorama taken from the Skyline Steps.

 

Best Manhattan Views

The Edge at Night

The Edge at night

 

Edge View

Looking east from the indoor observation deck on the 101st floor.

Reasons Why You Should Visit the Edge

  • The sky deck is NYC’s most thrilling observation deck
  • Stand on the glass-paneled floor for views of Manhattan’s city streets
  • Less crowded than the Empire State Building and One World Observatory
  • Cheapest entry fee

Reasons Why This May Not Be the Best Observation Deck in NYC

  • Views are not as good as those from the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock
  • If the sky deck closes for weather related reasons, you will be stuck inside where the views aren’t as good. The whole reason to visit the Edge is to stand on the sky deck.

Is the Edge Worth It?

If you want a thrilling view of New York City, like the idea of standing on a glass-paneled floor, or want to visit the city’s newest observation deck, then the Edge is worth it. Watch the weather forecast before booking your tickets and just be aware that the sky deck can close if thunderstorms, high winds, or other adverse conditions are expected.

Best Observation Decks in NYC: Ranked

Here we rank the observation decks based on height, cost, and view, and then we share with you our recommendations on which one(s) you should visit.

Observation Decks in NYC: Ranked by Height

Here are all four observation decks, from the highest to the lowest.

  • One World Observatory: 102nd floor (1,268 feet, 386 meters)
  • Empire State Building: 102nd Floor (1,250 feet, 381 meters)
  • The Edge: 100th floor (1,131 feet, 345 meters)
  • Empire State Building: 86th floor (1,050 feet, 320 meters)
  • Top of the Rock: 67, 69, and 70th floors (850 feet, 260 meters)

Observation Decks in NYC: Ranked by Price

Here are all four observation decks ranked by starting ticket price, from the cheapest to the most expensive.

  • The Edge: $36
  • Top of the Rock: $38
  • Empire State Building (86th floor): $42
  • One World Observatory: $43

Observation Decks in NYC: Ranked by View

#1 Top of the Rock. In our opinion, the Top of the Rock is the winner for the best view. From here, you get an awesome view of the Empire State Building, Central Park, and most of Manhattan.

#2 Empire State Building. Second place goes to the Empire State Building. Its central location, open air observation deck on the 86th floor, and history make this one of New York City’s best all-around experiences.

#3 The Edge. There is something very cool about standing on a platform that hovers 100 floors above the city streets. Add in the glass-paneled floor and this becomes Manhattan’s most thrilling view. The Edge would be higher on the list, but from the sky deck you can only see a portion of the Empire State Building, since it is blocked by another building in Hudson Yards.

#4 One World Observatory. Out of the four observation decks, I think that One World Observatory has the least exciting view. You can only look out through glass windows and since it is located on Lower Manhattan, it lacks the iconic views you get from Midtown.

Best Observation Decks in NYC photo

Top of the Rock

Which Observation Deck Should You Visit?

If you only have the time or money for one observation deck in NYC, we recommend the Empire State Building. The view plus the experience of visiting one of the world’s most famous buildings is a must-do in New York City.

If you simply want a great view, visit Top of the Rock. This is our favorite viewpoint in Manhattan.

If you are checking off visits to the world’s tallest buildings, put One World Observatory #1 on your list.

And if you are looking for a thrill, or want to visit the cheapest observation deck on the list, go to the Edge.

The Summit at One Vanderbilt

In late 2021, New York City is going to gain another observation deck.

Called the Summit, this observation deck is located at One Vanderbilt, one of NYC’s newest skyscrapers. This building is the 4th tallest building in New York City and the tallest in Midtown Manhattan. The observation deck features glass sky boxes that jut out over Manhattan.

Learn more here.

As you plan your trip and just before your visit, get updated hours and pricing, and book your tickets in advance, on the official websites.

The Edge 2021

The Edge

Tips to Have the Best Experience

Purchase your tickets online in advance. This saves you a long wait in the ticket line.

Even with a time slot reservation, you still might have to wait in line. Each observation deck requires you to go through a security screening, similar to the pre-flight security check before boarding an airplane. Lines can be long to get through security, especially at midday and near sunset. Some observation decks offer fast track tickets which allow you to bypass this line.

In general, sunset is the most sought after time to visit the observation decks in NYC. Tickets for these time slots can sell out in advance and some sights charge an additional fee for the sunset time slot.

If you want to avoid the crowds, visit the observation decks in the morning, before lunch.

Outdoor observation decks can close if the weather is bad (thunderstorms, high winds, etc.). Most sights will not offer a refund but they will reschedule your visit for a future date and time.

If you want to save money, consider purchasing a city pass. There are four passes to choose from and most of them include visits to each of the NYC observation decks.

If tickets are sold out for your visit, check Get Your Guide because they may have entry tickets or guided tours for the date of your visit.

 

More Information about New York City

ITINERARY: 5 Days in New York City: The Ultimate Itinerary
THE VESSEL:  How to Visit the Vessel: Photos, Tips & FAQ’s
THE EDGE: How to Visit the Edge: Photos, Tips & Is It Worth It?
ONE WORLD OBSERVATORY: How to Visit One World Observatory
WHERE TO STAY: Where to Stay in New York City: Best Hotels & Neighborhoods for Your Visit
BROOKLYN: One Perfect Day in Brooklyn, New York


If you have any questions about the best observation decks in NYC, or if you would like to share your favorite observation deck, let us know in the comment section below.

You Might Also Like:

 

Best Views New York City Empire State Building

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, we get paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *