Are you planning a city trip to New York? Then you are probably going to admire the famous skyline of the Big Apple. For spectacular views and an unforgettable experience, you can visit some of the tallest skyscrapers in the city. In this blog I made an overview with the 5 best observatories in New York.
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The famous skyline of NYC
I can be very short and sweet about this. To me, the New York City skyline is the most impressive I’ve seen so far. What makes this so special for me, is the mix between the different architectural styles. You can spot beautiful Art Deco buildings such as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, but also ultra modern complexes such as the skyscrapers of Hudson Yards and not to mention One World Trade Center. And yet all these different buildings form one breathtaking whole: the New York City skyline!
Get more out of your trip with a citycard
New York City is an immense city. And if you’re only there for a few days, you want to see and experience as much as possible. Therefore it’s best to prepare your city trip to the Big Apple very well.
If you want to visit many sights, I recommend that you take a look at a New York city card. This allows you to visit some of New York’s highlights but also a couple of New York’s hidden gems, at a cheaper rate. There are different types of city cards. Below you will find an overview. The best thing is that you check them all out and choose the city card that best suits your needs.
The impressive observatories with the most spectacular views of New York also come with a price. If you want to visit some of them, a city card is definitely worth considering.
We opted for a Sightseeing Flex Pass with which we could visit no less than 7 sights. The advantage was that we not only saved money, but that we didn’t have to book any sights in advance with this city card. This way we could decide for ourselves during our trip when we wanted to visit which attraction. (With the exception of Summit One Vanderbilt, but I’ll get to that later.) And this is of course very useful when you want to visit a skyscraper, because you never know what the weather will be if you book it in advance. And the point of visiting a obervatory is to be able fully enjoy the view. When the weather is bad, this a little bit more difficult.
The 5 best observatories in NYC
Empire State building
We’ll start with the oldest observatory which is also one of the most impressive landmarks in the US: ‘The Empire State Building’. This beautiful Art Deco building opened its doors in 1931. During this period, one skyscraper after another appeared on the New York City skyline.
The Empire State Building was the first building to have more than 100 floors, 102 to be exact. It was the tallest building in the city for a long time. Until The North Tower, one of the Twin Towers, took over. After the horrific attacks of 9/11, the Empire State Building was crowned the tallest building in New York City again. This until One World Trade Center opened its doors in 2014.
Today the gigantic building serves as office space. Reputable companies such as Linkedin and Shutterstock are located here, among others. Besides that it is also a real tourist attraction because of its world-famous observatory outdoor platform where you can enjoy a 360 degree panoramic view of the city.
What can you expect of a visit to the Empire State Building.
And there I was on 5th Avenue between all the luxury shops, staring at this impressive Art Deco building. While I was about to grab my smartphone to capture this moment, without taking my eyes off the Empire State Building, I stumbled over a curbstone. Suddenly I was on my knees on the asphalt . I was even bleeding a little. So this was the effect the Empire State Building had on me.
First we made a little pit stop at the pharmacy to then go queuing at the entrance of the Empire State Building. Since about 4 million visitors come here every year, everything is organized down to the last detail and queueing went quite smoothly. When we arrived at the lobby we were asked to book a time slot. We hadn’t done this yet as we had a Sightseeing Flex Pass. Fortunately this didn’t take long. Then we continued on to a checkpoint where our backpacks were checked. And when our tickets were scanned, we could start our visit.
The first stop is on the second floor. It’s an interactive museum where we could experience the evolution of the building, including a tribute to its film history. Because this stunning skyscraper is a favorite filming location of many filmmakers. I think the most famous film where the Empire State Building has a leading rol is King kong. This museum not only contains valuable facts, but also many nice photo spots. We took our time here to fully absorb the story of this beautiful building.
Then we took the elevator to the 80th floor. During our ride up, the ceiling transformed into a screen. We suddenly found ourselves in the 1930s, during the construction of this iconic monument.
Arriving on the 80th floor, we could already catch a glimpse of the beautiful view from the gigantic windows, but the icing on the cake was definitely the outdoor deck of the 86th floor. Yes, there where Tom Hanks falls head over heels with the beautiful Meg Ryan in the film Sleepless in Seattle. From here we had a great view of Lower Manhattan and New York’s most famous sights such as Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, One World Trade Center, …
The only disadvantage was that we could not admire this building itself as part of the skyline. And a skyline without the Empire State Building felt a bit strange.
We could also take the elevator to floor 102. But if you’re planning to so you’ll need another ticket that is slightly more expensive. Then you end up in a small tower at the top of the building where you can admire the same view, only from a little higher and from the inside behind glass. We didn’t do this because the view from the outside deck of the 86th floor was already spectacular enough.
Practical facts for a visit to the Empire State building
The Empire State Building is located in Lower Manhattan, at 34th Street and 5th Avenue. The observatory is open 365 days a year from 8 am to 2 am. But you should definitely check the website for the public opening hours on the day you want to visit. Because especially in the mornings and evenings time slots are reserved for visitors with a special ticket.
The best time to visit the Empire State Building is when it just opens. Then it is a little less busy. The most beautiful time is of course at sunset, but then it can get so crowded that you can’t really enjoy the moment. After dark you can see the top of the tower sparkle in colorful neon lighting. And the view of New York City at night is just gorgeous!
Prices vary according to the ticket you choose. General admission to the 86th floor will cost you USD 44. If you would like to go to the top on floor 102, you will pay no less than USD 77. You can also choose from many other tickets such as one for sunrise, one for a late night visit or one including an extra tour. These all vary in price.
Top of The Rock
Rockefeller Center opened its doors two years after the Empire State Building. Like the gigantic Empire State building, the Rockefeller Center is also built in the beautiful Art Deco style. The Rockefeller center has 70 floors to be exact. So it’s a little less higher than the Empire State Building, but also a real icon in New York City.
Every year during the Christmas period the large New York City Christmas tree, with accompanying skating rink, is placed on the square in front of the Rockefeller Center. A tradition that started in 1931 with the construction of this building. And by the way, an absolute must do when you are in New York City during the Christmas period.
The Rockefeller center is a complex of several commercial buildings such as the Radio City Music hall with a super photogenic facade. And the Comcast building where Top of The Rock is located on the top floor.
Top of The Rock is the obervatory that opens onto the roof of the building and offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the once again fantastic New York City skyline with icons such as the Empire State Building and Central Park.
What can you expect from a visit to Top of The Rock
We were there on a beautiful spring day in May. The square in front of Rockefeller Center, where during winter season an ice rink is, had now been replaced by a roller rink. The most experienced roller skaters showed their tricks to groovy tunes. For others it went a little less smoothly. But the point is that everyone was just having fun. The music, the pleasant vibe, the people and the beautiful weather created a cozy atmosphere.
As we descended the steps of Rockefeller Square, we paused on the terrace. We bought something to drink and eat inside the Rockefeller center. This was also the entrance we needed to get to the starting point of Top of The Rock. We easily found our way because it was marked inside the shopping centre.
Unlike the other observatories, there was almost no other animation here. We validated our ticket, waited in line, went through a checkpoint, had our photo taken and finally arrived at the elevator. While waiting we could admire the various legendary Rockefeller Christmas trees.
Arriving at the 68th floor, we made our way outside to see the view. And let me say what Top Of The Rock lacks in animation, it makes up for with the fantastic view. From the roof we could admire the iconic skyline in all its glory with highlights such as the Empire State Building, Chrysler building, Statue of Liberty, One World Trade Center but also Central Park. Of all the skyscrapers in New York, Top of The rock is definitely one of my favorites because of the open-air view. Plus, it’s one of the best places to take pictures with the skyline in the background, without any fencing in between.
Practical facts for a visit to Top of The Rock
The Rockefeller Center entrance to get to Top of The Rock is located on 50th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue. Top of The Rock is open daily from 9 am to 11 pm. The last time you can take the elevator is at 10.10 PM.
During the day you can go to Top of The Rock for 40 USD. There is no time limit on your visit. So you can stay as long as you want. And that is super handy if you want to do an extensive photo shoot.
The most coveted hour to visit the observatory is, of course, sunset. And they know that at Top of The Rock too. At this time, the price for a ticket will therefore be increased by USD 10. So you’ll pay USD 50 for general admission during these hours. Here too you can opt for other tickets such as an express pass or VIP tour at slightly more expensive rates.
One World Observatory
In the heart of the financial district is New York’s tallest skyscraper, One World Trade Center. The name refers to 1 WTC, better known as the North Tower, which was part of the World Trade Center that was destroyed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That’s why the new tower is also known as the Freedom Tower.
In 2012, One World Trade Center overthrew the Empire State Building as the tallest skyscraper in New York. You’ll find this impressive giant at Ground Zero Memorial, but you can see it sparkle at the sky from all over New York City.
Today One World Trade Center is home to some major corporations such as Condé Nast. But the top floor, called One World Observatory, is also open to visitors. There you can enjoy a phenomenal 360 degree view over the Big Apple.
What can you expect from a visit to One World Observatory
When I walked into this immense building, I couldn’t help but think about the horrific events that happened here on 9/11 in 2001. I had some mixed feelings. On the one hand, enthusiasm because I was going to visit the highest skyscraper in New York, but on the other hand a kind of sadness for all the victims of this terrible attack.
After our Flex Sightseeing pass was scanned, we went through the control post. My tripod was unfortunately not allowed to go up. By the way, this was the first observatory that we visited, so the other days I left my tripod wisely at the hotel.
The highlight of our visit was definitely the elevator that took us to the 102nd floor in just 47 seconds. Not because it was that fast, but because during the ride we could see the entire evolution of 500 years of New York City on the walls of the elevator. And as a history nerd, I really loved this. This elevator also has some special effects in store during the ride down. But I’m not going to spill all the tea.
Once we arrived at the highest point, we were shown a movie with some of New York’s highlights. But the real highlight came when the screens suddenly disappeared and we were face to face with the skyline of the Big Apple.
For the observatory we had to take the stairs to go two more floors down. From there we had a 360 degree view of the Big Apple and so much more. Very impressive was that we were really high above the city and we could see so far. I thought it was a shame that we could only admire the view from the inside. Also there weren’t many opportunities to take really good pictures. But I tried my best.
There is normally also a show on this floor where someone tells more about the history of the city and why it was built this way. Unfortunately no one was there when we were there.
One World Observatory is definitely worth a visit even for the amazing elevator ride alone, but personally I liked this observatory the least of all 5. But I’m totally biased because of the photography thing.
Practical facts for a visit to One World Observatory
You simply can’t miss One World Trade Center. The entrance to visit One World Observatory is on West Street. Daily from 9 am and 9 pm you can go to the top to enjoy the spectacular view. Opening hours can change depending on the season, so be sure to check the site before planning your visit.
General admission to admire the panoramic view from One World Observatory will cost you USD 43. Of course you can choose from different types of tickets that offer more options such as a priority ticket so you don’t have to queue, a ticket with an extra drink at the bar, one with a VIP tour, … The price then depends which ticket you choose.
There is also a restaurant on floor 101. If you would like to have lunch or dinner with an impressive view, it is best to book a spot in advance.
One of the newest observatories in New York City is The Edge. The Edge is located in the modern skyscraper 30 Husdon Yards where a shopping center is based. Hudson Yards is actually a new urban building project in which sustainability is key. You will also find The Vessel and The High Line in this neighbourhood.
This modern skyscraper opened its doors in 2019 and quickly became very popular due to its unique observatory in the shape of a triangle named The Edge. Located on the 100th floor of the building, this is also the highest outdoor view point in New York. Yes, even higher than the Empire State Building.
What can you expect from a visit to The Edge
So The Edge is located in the 30 Hudson Yards building. This is not clearly indicated from the outside, so we didn’t really know where to go. After the advice of a friendly New Yorker we learned that we had to go inside the shopping center to the 4th floor. In the shopping center itself, the entrance of The Edge is indicated. Eventually we found the entrance with a little delay.
After our the tickets were scanned and our backpacks checked, we could leave for the elevator. Before reaching the elevator, we made our way through some hallways where we learned about the Hudson Yards sustainable building project through audiovisual tools.
In the elevator we could admire the construction of the city. A bit like in the elevator of One World Observatory, but in a different way.
Arriving at the observation deck we could see the view from both the inside and the outside. The Edge is located on the west side of Manhattan, which means that, unlike the other skyscrapers, we saw the city from a new perspective.
Our attention was immediately drawn to the outdoor zone of The Edge. The Edge is unique because it is an angular platform suspended from the skyscraper. Hence the name: The Edge. So there is no building below the outdoor zone. Some bits of the floor have been replaced with glass which allowed me to see literally 100 floors down. This is a bit scary for people with a fear of heights. Also, the glass walls of the observation deck tilt out a bit, giving me the feeling that I could lean over the city.
The unique shapes and the use of these different materials ensure that this is a very original photo spot. And that is why it is my favorite viewpoint.
Practical facts to visit The Edge.
In the meantime, you already know where to find The Edge. The observatory is open daily from 8 am to midnight. Tickets vary in price depending on whether you buy them online or on the spot. Online you pay USD 38 for general admission and on the spot it is USD 40. When booking online, you must reserve a day and time slot. During sunset here also the price is increased by USD 10.
If you go for a flexx pass, you can go to the viewpoint at any time of your reserved day. But then you also pay a little more. You have a few different ticket options, each with their own rates. The most special thing you can do here is actually climb the top of The Edge! This is highly recommended for the adventurers among us.
Summit One Vanderbilt
Summit One Vanderbilt is the newest and most popular observatory in New York City. It didn’t open until 2021 and is located on the top 3 floors of the 4th tallest skyscraper in the Big Apple. The building itself serves as office space.
Located in Midtown next Grand Terminal Station, it’s no surprise that from the observation deck you have a top view of some icons such as the Chrysler building and the Empire State building. You are actually right in the middle of them.
Besides that, Summit One Vanderbilt has much more to offer. Here you can experience the definitive art installation Air, designed by Kenzo Digital. Where your role of a visitor who observes will ttransform into a visitor who participates through the different phases and special effects with mirrors, shapes, sound and light.
The entrance to Summit One Vanderbilt can be reached through Grand Central Terminal Station or the large building next door, between Vanderbilt and Madison Avenue.
What can you expect from a visit to Summit One Vanderbilt
We arrived at the entrance of Summit One Vanderbilt about half an hour before our reserved timeslot. But we were kindly requested to come back half an hour later. The reserved time slots are definitely strictly observed. When we returned, it was already quite busy. We scanned our tickets, received a wristband with QR code to check in, had a photo taken, watched an introductory video and were asked to put protective plastic covers over our shoes and bring our sunglasses.
On the way to the elevator we were already amazed by the special audiovisual effects. The elevator with very bright flashes of light and mirror effects was also a real experience in itself. Arriving on the top floors, we went from one surprise to the next. Three levels full of special effects with mirrors, reflections, giant balls, images and colors.
It was such an amazing experience that sometimes I kind of forgot that it’s also an observatory where I could enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of New York City.
The only disadvantage was that it was very busy. We went of course during sunset which is the most coveted time of the day. I don’t know how it is at other times and whether it is less busy or not. But because this concept is so original and unique, I wanted to take a lot of photos. Unfortunately that was very hard with all these people around.
When we got to the top floor with a rooftop terrace, it was already dark. This was actually the only view point from which we saw New York City at night, lit up with all kinds of colorful lights. And that was really so beautiful to see.
We could also opt to go even higher with a glass elevator. That elevator stays 3 minutes at the highest point so that you have a good view of the skyline. We didn’t do this because Summit One Vanderbilt is already a spectacular experience in itself. And we also visited several observatories in New York, so I think 3 minutes in the a glass elevator would not really be a great added value.
Practical facts to visit Summit One Vanderbilt
Summit One Vanderbilt is a popular sight and therefore attracts many visitors every day. To make sure you can visit this observatory on the day and time you prefer during your trip, it is best to book your ticket a while in advance. Since we wanted to visit Summit Vanderbilt One on my mom’s birthday during sunset, we reserved our tickets about 2 months in advance. This activity was not one of the 7 sights we visited with our Sightseeing Flex pass.
The opening hours vary, so it’s best to check before your visit! You can visit the observatory from Sunday to Thursday from 9 am to 10.30 pm. And on Friday and Saturday Summit One Vanderbilt closes at midnight. . Please note that you have to take the last lift at least an hour before closing. Be sure to read all the rules on the website first, because you won’t get in with heels and it’s best not to wear a dress because of the reflection of the floor.
There are 3 types of tickets with of course different prices, including the general admission for 38 USD, one with the option to go up with the glass elevator for 59 USD and then another with a cocktail on rooftop terrace for 73 USD. There is also a difference in rates during the day and evening. In the evening, the prices increase by USD 10.
The best time to visit Summit One Vanderbilt is one hour before sunset. Then you get the best of both worlds. This way you can admire the skyline in daylight as well as enjoy the enchanting, illuminated Manhattan in the evening.
So, those were the 5 best observatories in New York. I hope my experiences and tips can help you decide which skyscrapers you absolutely want to visit when traveling to the Big Apple.
From which observatories in New York would you like to admire the skyline? Let me know below in the comments.
If you are planning a city trip to New York City, then definitely read my beginner’s guide to New York City with everything you need to know to have an unforgetable trip in The Big Apple and my overview of 15 gorgeous boutique hotels where to stay when visiting New York.
Wanna visit more of the United States? Then check my travel guides below:
- The ultimate Deep Road trip
- How to spend the perfect day in Miami
- What to expect from an airboat tour in the Everglades
- The most beautiful beaches in Sanibel
- How to plan a 3 days city trip in New Orleans
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I shoot with full-frame system camera: Nikon Z6II. I have a few lenses, but these 3 are my absolute favorites when traveling:
- All-round lens: NIKKOR Z 24-70 mm f/2.8. (I shoot almost everything with this. Are you just starting to shoot? Then I would recommend this lens)
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