The Top of the World
When in New York, you’re going to want to see it all…and you’ll likely want to see it all from above! There are four main observation decks in New York City. And all of them offer breathtaking and sweeping views of this beautiful city. But, at $40 a pop, it’s expensive and it takes up a lot of time that you could be spending exploring the parks, getting out on the water, enjoying the food, shopping, or soaking in culture and entertainment. Which one should you visit? Let us help you break it down and choose the right one for you!
In the time of COVID a lot of those “other options” aren’t available. So, when the observation decks opened, we were the first in line. It was a safe option for something to do, it allowed us to see the city from a myriad of different angles, and it provided us with a ton of history about this city and the buildings that help make the skyline so magical.
The Empire State Building
This is the OG New York tourist landmark. Originally built on the ground where Washington’s army retreated and resigned Kips Bay in the Revolutionary War, The Empire State Building is an architectural marvel, built in only 13 months between 1930 and 1931. As part of the “Race to the Sky” along with the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street, the Empire State Building won the title of the world’s tallest building; a title which it held for 40 years, longer than any other skyscraper in the industrialized age.
Why Should You Go?
This is the best choice for someone who loves the history of New York, architectural marvels, and old Hollywood glamour. The entry lobby is considered a historic landmark, the Art Deco design will leave you feeling old-world glamorous, and the entry museum is full of Hollywood remnants from King Kong and Sleepless in Seattle to An Affair to Remember and Elf. You will feel inspired by what dreams can accomplish with the live-action display of this building. And, the elevator ride will take you through the construction and put you right in the heart of the 1930s.
When you reach the 86th floor, you will be greeted by a large hall with 360 degree views. If the weather is nice, you can also go outside to explore the decks all around the building.
The Empire State Building is the best observation platform to have equal views of uptown and downtown. You are in the middle of everything! You will also have unparalleled views of the Chrysler Building, if that’s your thing. And, let’s be honest, I still swoon every time I see the Chrysler Building lit up at night.
ESB also has the biggest gift shop of any of the New York City Observation options.
This is a romantic destination. It is old world New York — full of optimism, hope, and lighthearted fun. It comes without the emotional baggage that some of the other buildings bring (yeah…I’m looking at you One World!).
Who Will You See?
From our experience, you will see couples recreating their own Sleepless in Seattle moments. You will see families. You will see tourists. The Empire State Building isn’t new and shiny in New York (1931 people!), so it’s more low key than some of the others on the list.
Why Would You Skip It?
If you’re adventuring to an observatory at night, it wouldn’t be my first choice. Part of the New York skyline IS the Empire State Building, especially with its nightly light show. If you’re on it, you don’t get to see it!
I would also plan to pass this one over if you are a photographer looking for the perfect shot. Due to the security bars, old art-deco windows, and general build, the 86th floor isn’t going to give you a great angle for photos.
Top of the Rock
The Rockefeller Center was never the “Top” of my list for New York destinations. NBC…Rockefeller rich guys…yada yada. I WAS SO WRONG! This has quickly become one of my favorite spots in New York City, and the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center is probably my personal favorite observation deck. Here’s why…
This project was started by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1928 to help and house the Metropolitan Opera. He leased the ground from Columbia University for 87 years at 3 million per year and started drawing up the plans. The total project would cost $250 million. AFTER all of this had been signed and the project was ready to break ground, the Metropolitan Opera withdrew their partnership.
Most smart businessmen would have walked away… But, Rockefeller pushed on. He proposed tenancy for upcoming broadcasting – RCA and NBC. These tenants would take over much of the space, but only provided $4.25 million per year, barely covering his own lease of the ground.
The market crash of 1929 took its toll on New York City. With many families now out of work and the market plummeting, again, most smart businessmen would have found a way out of this sinkhole.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. did exactly the opposite. He saw a need for a community project in New York. He saw a need for broadcast technology, for something big, for something beautiful and full of art, and for something to put New Yorkers back to work. So, he personally financed the completion of Rockefeller Center, employing more than 40,000 workers from various industries to assist with the project. He managed the construction himself as well personally choosing all of the art. His goal was to showcase “man’s development in spirit, science, industry and more” (New York City Art).
The amount of heart and soul that John D. Rockefeller, Jr. put into this project, and the amount of lives that he helped during this difficult time, is reason enough for me to love this building. But, let’s look at what keeps it great today.
Why Should You Go?
The entry museum guides you through the idea, the building, and the Rockefeller dream. It is heartfelt, inspiring, and hopeful. It will renew your sense of humanity, if you’re feeling the weight of 2020 on your shoulders.
The elevator experience is hosted by NBC. It’s promotional and not as exciting as the other options, but it does provide you with entertainment as you glide up 67 floors.
Upon arrival to the 67th floor, you are given the option for three different viewing decks. The 67th and 68th floor provide large indoor viewing areas and a large outdoor terrace. On the 70th floor, there is an unobstructed viewing platform unlike any other in the city. It provides the perfect place to take photos and see the city without glass, roofing, or fencing in the way.
This observation deck gives the best view of Central Park and the Empire State Building. The uptown views are unable to be beat, and you have a perfect sunset that looks over Hudson Yards and The Edge as well.
Who Will You See?
Photographers and tourists seemed to be the primary visitors during our venture to the Top of the Rock. And, it’s very easy to see why Photographers are drawn to this space. It’s the best place to have Central Park, The Chrysler Building, The Empire State Building, Hudson Yards, and One World all in one shot with unobstructed views.
Why Would You Skip It?
If your primary interest is seeing the downtown area, this isn’t the best place. The Rockefeller Center is near the park, so you’re relatively far north for midtown. Also, the best views are outdoor, so if the weather isn’t idyllic, this wouldn’t be the best (or most comfortable) view.
One World Observatory
This one is polarizing in New York. You wouldn’t think that an observation platform could spur a debate, but this one can. There are New Yorkers who won’t go to the Financial District after 9/11. They say that the area is sacred and that nothing should’ve been put in the Towers’ places. For those of us who have gone…who have visited the memorial…who have braved the “new” New York, I think I can safely say for all of us, that 9/11 is NOT forgotten. The memorial pays tribute to ALL lives that were lost from those in the towers, to those in the flights, to those who were on the street, to those first responders who were on the front lines when disaster struck.
The One World Observatory starts from that. It starts at Ground Zero. You don’t walk into the building without being reminded of what the Freedom Tower stands for and the lives that were lost to bring it to creation.
It doesn’t take the place of the Twin Towers, it doesn’t try to. Its job is to create a new beginning. And, it does that brilliantly by reminding you of the history and bringing you hope for tomorrow.
Why Would You Go?
The One World Observatory entrance plays into the history, not only our history, but also the history of the ground…The archeological backbone of the city. It starts in the basement – in the rock. It showcases how the building’s foundation is a fortress, standing strong. The SkyPod elevator brings a new experience in gliding up 102 flights while showing you the building of New York in video and photos from the 1700s to today.
But, perhaps the main reason you go to One World is to have your breath taken away. Literally…
I’ve been three times, and it stops me in my tracks every time. You come out on the 100th floor and watch a brief video about the workers and the dreams for the Freedom Tower, then, the projection panels part and you’re left with the most miraculous skyline in the United States. If it doesn’t move you…I don’t know if you’re human.
Your views at One World are completely indoor and take up the 100th and 101st floors. This would be a great stop if you’re wanting to sightsee, but it’s too cold or rainy for the others. This view is MUCH higher than Top of the Rock and The Empire State Building’s 86th floor.
You’ll have the best view of downtown, the Brooklyn Bridge, The Statue of Liberty, The 9/11 Memorial, the Twin Tower Ponds, and Oculus.
In my humble opinion, One World also has the coolest merchandise in their gift shop. It’s not as big as Empire State’s, but it’s modern and bold and impressive.
Overall, this is a place to truly “feel” New York City. You’ll see the entirety of the island from the southern tip, you’ll experience its pain, you’ll rejoice in its continual comebacks, and you’ll stand in awe of its legacy.
Who Will You See?
In my experiences, you get a mix of tourists, families, and those looking to have a good time. There is a bar located at the Observatory, so you can go up for drinks and a sunset. That means you’ll spot some locals, too. Influencers and photographers have better spots around the city. However, people are more dressed to impress than at The Empire State Building and Top of the Rock because it’s indoor and cocktails are often involved.
Why Would You Skip It?
Your views of uptown are not great at One World. You are at the southern tip of Manhattan, so if you want a 360 view of Manhattan, there are better options. There is no outdoor space, so your photos will always have glass behind them. And, if you don’t want to suffer from “feels” this isn’t the best choice. You WILL FEEL this one.
Edge at Hudson Yards
The newest addition to the NYC observation lineup is part sightseeing, part thrilling adventure. The Edge opened earlier this year and offers the United State’s highest outdoor platform. As if that weren’t thrilling enough (and let’s face it, we are a jaded bunch, so of course it’s not!), the glass walls are tilted out and portions of the floor are glass and, yes, see through!!!
Why Would You Go?
The Edge is part of the newest Manhattan addition at Hudson Yards, which also includes the very cool art/stairs piece “The Vessel.” This is all part of the “new” New York landscape. It is eco-conscious, green, sustainable, and futuristic. If you want to know how the city is focusing on energy, climate change, adaptability, and the future, go to Hudson Yards and check out Edge.
Also, if you’re a daring adventurer and the other more modest platforms bore you, check out Edge. I’m not particularly fearful of heights, but I do suffer from a little vertigo every now and then. The Edge had me spinning! You know it’s safe, but there’s something about those slanted glass walls and that glass floor that make you really question your safety and your sanity.
The Edge also boasts a bar and a stadium-style seating area that looks out over the platform and the city. It’s a great place to catch some good vibes, but don’t imbibe too much and walk out on that glass floor. That could get really trippy…literally…
Who Will You See?
It’s BRAND NEW…So, this may be specific to 2020, but the majority of people there were influencers and their wannabe iPhone photographers. The women’s bathroom had limited access to sinks because of ALL of the girls primping and fine-tuning their makeup. I’ve never seen so many located at the same place. It was also very amusing to watch them wait in line to go to the corner and take their hyper-sexualized photos on the glass floor and in the corner of the platform. It was the thing to do, so, of course, I didn’t do it. (Obviously…) 😂 The crowd is pretty young, they seem to be catering to Gen Z with the pastel tie-dye merchandise and the vibes.
Why Would You Skip It?
If you are afraid of heights at all – don’t go. I just don’t think you’d enjoy it. If you’re looking for a view of the Hudson and the sunset, I don’t think this is the best one. This has amazing views of the city, but since it’s facing eastward on the most western side of Manhattan, it’s not a great westward view. Lastly, if you’re looking for a slice of old New York, this isn’t it. It’s unapologetically forward-focused and not looking back.
All of these NYC landmarks offer something unique. If you have the opportunity to explore them all, DO IT! You won’t regret it. You’ll get a sense of how New York was built, how it’s been shaped through the decades, and how’s it’s forging its way through the 21st century. If you’d like to see them all, I’d recommend a City Pass. It will be the cheapest and most efficient way to tour the city.
TL;DR…I Feel You….Here’s the jest:
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Should I Come to New York in 2021?
YESSSS!!!! If you live in the U.S.A., then go get your vaccine and come visit! As of April 1, quarantine and testing will no longer be mandated. Quarantining for a few days is still recommended, but we are reaching the end of the formal testing, paperwork, and quarantines for domestic travelers! Huzzah!
***UPDATE*** On April 1, 2021 New York will no longer be requiring quarantines for domestic travel. International travelers will still be required to quarantine. All travelers will need to fill out a NYS traveler form upon arrival.
You’ve waited patiently, and New York is still here! Start planning your trips!
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Noah and Majhon