One of the top activities on every New York City itinerary is to see NYC from above from one of the city’s many observation decks.
Skyline views of Manhattan are an indispensable part of sightseeing in New York. But which of these observation towers offers the best views of Manhattan’s skyscrapers and surroundings?
I just got back from a trip to NYC in June 2021 where I visited three of these four observation decks in NYC (the fourth, I visited on a prior trip in 2017), so my knowledge is fresh, firsthand, and fully honest.
As someone who lived in NYC for nearly a decade from 2007-2016, I adore this city and I am constantly striving to steer people away from the biggest mistakes tourists make in NYC (and I mean actual mistakes like posing with a terrifying Elmo in Times Square, and not silly things like calling it ‘the Big Apple’ — who even cares?)
I paid out of pocket for these experiences and am sharing my 100% truthful opinions with you.
I consider myself an ex-New Yorker, and New Yorkers are known for their honesty above all else. I’ve channeled that honesty throughout this piece, letting you know what to prioritize and what to skip.
I hope this guide will help you find which observation deck is best in NYC, for your personal travel style and desires!
The Best Observation Decks in NYC: Quick Comparison
|Buildings (Ranked by Preference)||Highest Observation Deck||Cost||Best View Of|
|#1: Top of the Rock||70th floor||$41||Central Park; Empire State Building|
|#2: One World Observatory||102nd floor||$41 ($52 skip all lines)||Statue of Liberty; Brooklyn Bridge|
|#3: The Edge||100th floor||$41||East River; New Jersey|
|#4: The Empire State Building||86th floor; 102nd floor (extra cost)||$46 ($85 skip all lines); more for 102nd floor||Chrysler Building; Flatiron Building|
The 4 Observation Decks in New York City: Pros & Cons of Each
Top of the Rock (Upper Midtown)
Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112
Hours: 10 AM to 10 PM daily
Height of Observation Deck: 70th floor
Tickets: Buy online here from $41
Available with Passes? Yes, CityPass and New York Pass.
With the lowest height of any of the decks on this list, you’d think that Top of the Rock with its 70th floor deck would rank the lowest on my list of observation decks in NYC… but the opposite is true!
Top of the Rock is actually my favorite viewpoint in New York City, and while it may not be the tallest (hello, One World) or the edgiest (hello, Edge), it offers the best all-around views of the city.
Central Park? Check!
Top of the Rock’s position on 50th Street means that Central Park starts just 9 blocks away, and the views from the northern side of Top of the Rock over all of Central Park are simply breathtaking.
The vastness and lushness of Central Park is unparalleled elsewhere in the city, and from Top of the Rock, you can see it all in a way that none of the other observation decks can even approximate.
While you can see a sliver of Central Park from both the Edge and the Empire State Building, it’s such a small fraction of it that it’s not really worth noting, whereas this is a major feature of Top of the Rock.
Another advantage Top of the Rock has is that it offers the best view of the Empire State Building than all the other observation decks.
The view of the Empire State Building is basically head-on from 15 blocks away, and being on the 70th floor is plenty high to really get the perspective you need on it. It doesn’t get much better than this!
Compare that to the partially obstructed view of the Empire State Building from the Edge, the far-away (though admittedly higher!) view from One World Observatory, and the lack of a view from inside of the Empire State because, well, you’re inside it, and Top of the Rock is the clear winner in this category.
Where the Top of the Rock Observation Deck falls short are in two main areas: its height, as the shortest tower on this list, but also in its user experience.
I originally visited Top of the Rock in 2017 with a CityPass, and the experience was a nightmare.
Perhaps it has improved since then, and while I visited the other 3 observation towers in NYC on this list in 2021, I did not revisit the Top of the Rock on this last trip, so I have to base it off of my 2017 experience and my experience using a CityPass.
If you use a CityPass, you have to go in person to the Top of the Rock and wait in a long line to exchange it for an actual timed-entry voucher.
This can sometimes be incongruous with other things you want to do on your trip, especially since you may not be able to exchange it for entry at that moment, but rather for a later time in the day or perhaps even the following day!
This may not be a big deal if your hotel is located near Rockefeller Center, but if it’s not, it can be a real pain and is not worth the savings that a CityPass grants.
However, I admit that a large part of why I found the process of going to the Top of the Rock painful was because of using a CityPass.
You can actually just book your tickets directly with the Top of the Rock Observation Deck through an authorized ticket seller like GetYourGuide and the experience would, presumably, be a lot nicer!
This is the tactic I took with my other observation decks I visited this year (2021) and entry was fast, easy, and painless in all instances, as all I had to do was show my mobile voucher and show up at the time I booked — no need to wait in a long line to buy my ticket, exchange a voucher for a timed-entry ticket, etc.
– Best view of the Empire State Building
– Best view of Central Park
– Least crowded
– Reasonably priced
– Lowest observation deck in NYC
– Worst customer-facing service (confusing organization and ticketing, rude staff)
– Not as iconic of a building as One World Trade Center or the Empire State Building
– Not as many views of Lower Manhattan landmarks
The One World Observatory (Downtown)
Address: One World Trade Center (285 Fulton St, New York, NY 10007)
Hours: 9 AM to 10 PM daily
Height of Observation Deck: 102nd floor
Tickets: Buy online here from $41 to $52 for skip-the-line tickets
Available with Passes? Yes, New York Pass only (no CityPass).
If you want to visit a building for its history, One World Observatory is it.
Built atop the ashes of the Twin Towers, One World Trade Center is a phoenix that symbolizes New Yorkers’ indomitable spirit. Even in the face of the worst tragedy imaginable, New Yorkers rebuild.
That was true on September 11 of 2001, and it’s true after March and April of 2020, when New York City was one of the hardest-hit places in the world at the early stages of the pandemic.
I visited the One World Observatory this year in 2021, and the experience was quite powerful, especially put into the context of New York City in 2021 as it rebuilds in a different way after the pandemic changed the social and economic fabric of the city immensely.
Up there on the 102nd floor, admiring the 360-degree views of the city skyline, I knew that New York will always rebuild, no matter how hard it gets knocked down.
And One World Trade Center is proof of that.
The tallest building in the United States, the spire at One World Trade Center makes the building 1,776 feet tall — purposely designed to match the year of America’s Declaration of Independence.
It was especially remarkable for me to experience One World Observatory for myself. I went to grad school just a few blocks away at Pace University, obtaining my Masters of Science in Teaching.
From 2011-2013, every time I went to class, I checked on the progress of the construction of One World Trade Center, little by little. It was finally finished in 2014.
While I didn’t go to the top of One World Observatory until after I moved out of New York City (nor any of the observation decks, in fact — locals always avoid the touristy things!), coming this year in 2021 felt like a cool homecoming in a way I never expected!
Of all the observation tower experiences, I think One World Observatory does the full-on immersive experience the best.
The elevator ride video is incredible, showing 500 years of New York City history condensed into a one-minute elevator ride as you soar up 100+ floors, immersive and surrounding you in 360 degrees.
Once you reach the top, there’s another video, which admittedly felt a little cheesy… but once the video finished, and the screen lifted to show the city landscape behind it, even I — a jaded former New Yorker — was floored. The reveal was incredible!
One major downside I will say about One World, though, is that the entire experience is indoors.
While that means it’s nice in inclement weather, it also means that it can be hard to take photographs through the glass.
I found that to not be a huge problem during the day, although I did get some glare, which you can see in some of the corners of the photos.
At night, I would imagine photos would not quite turn out nearly as well due to the glares of light on the glass!
– Coolest elevator ride experience with epic visual storytelling
– The immense history of the building itself and the show of strength and resilience it signals
– Best views of Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; only view of Governors Island
– Best views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge
– Good views of Hudson River, East River, and New Jersey (though the Edge’s are better)
– One of the most popular observation decks with long wait times, especially without skip-the-line tickets
– No open-air section; all indoors with windows which can make photography difficult, especially at night
– Not as great of a view of the Empire State Building (far away)
– No view of Central Park
The Edge (Hudson Yards / Midtown East)
Address: 30 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10112
Hours: 8 AM to midnight daily
Height of Observation Deck: 100th floor
Tickets: Buy online here from $41
Available with Passes? Yes, New York Pass only (no CityPass).
The Edge is the newest observation deck in New York City, and it’s got all the buzz (and amazing views to back up the talk).
From the 100th floor observatory, you can see incredible views in both the interior area and the open-air sky deck — the tallest outdoor observation deck in the entire Western Hemisphere, which is pretty freaking cool!
The outdoor sky deck is also quite amazing. It has a partial glass floor which has cut-away views 100 stories below you!
Sitting on the glass floor for an epic photo is not for the faint of heart! I have pretty much no fear of heights, and even I was feeling a twinge of vertigo on the glass floor.
As the tallest building by a long shot in the Hudson Yards area, which is on the far west side of Manhattan, you’ll get a different perspective of the Manhattan skyscrapers than you would from being in the middle of the concrete jungle.
This means both good and bad things!
For one, you get a great view of the Hudson River and New Jersey and Midtown Manhattan. You can see One World Trade Center pretty prominently, and the Statue of Liberty is faintly visible.
But you also miss the East Side of the city, such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge, which are visible on other observation towers.
Some other important buildings in the New York skyline are also partly obscured.
For example, the Empire State Building — easily one of the most iconic buildings that you want a photo of — is hard to get a straight-on photo of, as most views are partially obstructed by other buildings.
You can get a better view from the interior area, near the gift shop, but it’s not quite as exciting as getting to see it from the sky deck, plus the window does add a bit of glare or cast on the photo.
There’s also some construction going on, which does interrupt some of the shots, but I imagine that will change as time goes on.
– The newest observation deck in NYC
– The highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere
– Most unique design blending open-air and interior spaces
– Fun elevator ride experience with great visuals
– Best photo spots and most “Instagrammable” of the four observation decks on this list.
– Disorganized set-up and difficult to find the entrance (located on 4th story of a mall)
– One of the most crowded due to its newness and ‘edge’ factor!
– Timed tickets must be bought way in advance at peak hours like sunset
– Several iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building are partially obstructed or not visible
The Empire State Building (Lower Midtown)
Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112
Hours: 10 AM to 10 PM daily
Height of Observation Deck: 80th floor, 86th floor, and 102nd floor (for an additional, extortionate price!)
Tickets: Buy online here from $46 to $85 for skip-all-lines (strongly recommended)
Available with Passes? Yes, both CityPass and New York Pass, though no skip-the-line capabilities are available.
The beautiful Art Deco Empire State Building is one of my favorite buildings in all of New York. I may be clichéd, but it’s true.
That said…. it’s not my favorite observation deck, and I rank it 4th out of the four on this list. Hear me out!
I lived in New York City for nine years and far and away, I’m obsessed with the Empire State Building and I view it as the emblem of the city.
But herein lies the problem with visiting the Empire State Observatory Deck… you just can’t see the Empire State itself from it!
While that seems very self-explanatory and not at all something you should be surprised by, I must admit, there is something disappointing about seeing panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline without its most iconic building of all!
Plus, it’s squarely in the middle range of the observation decks in terms of height… unless you pay a premium of the Top of the Empire State Building ticket, which brings you to the (teeny-tiny) 102nd floor.
That’s a barely appreciable difference from The Edge and no different from One World Observatory, and on both of those, you have far more room to move around and explore different angles.
– The oldest observation deck in New York City and the most classic
– Skip-the-line tickets allow you to zip through which makes it a far more pleasant experience
– Best view of the Chrysler Building
– Interior is gorgeous and the Art Deco beauty is unmatched
– Skip all lines capability is fantastic; no waiting at all if you choose this option!
– Most underwhelming elevator ride experience (slow, broken into two parts, no interesting graphics like One World Observatory or The Edge)
– No view of the Empire State Building itself!
– Most expensive, especially for the skip all lines pass
– Often very crowded if you don’t have the skip-the-line privilege
Should I Get a CityPass or New York Pass?
Honestly? It is a mixed bag, and I lean towards no unless you plan to see more than two observation decks in NYC plus a good amount of other attractions.
While an attraction pass used wisely can definitely save you money, it can sometimes come at the expense of time and convenience.
However, used wisely, it can also be a great money saver, especially for families buying multiple tickets where the costs quickly add up.
For CityPass, Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building are both on their included attractions. The Edge and One World Observatory are not.
Personally, I’ve used a CityPass to see the Top of the Rock, and I’ve never used a New York Pass.
However, I can say that my CityPass experience was not fantastic, and so even though I chose to see three observation decks during my week in New York in June 2021, I opted to pay individually for skip-the-line tickets rather than buy a pass.
Why? When I used CityPass, I found that the process of exchanging my CityPass voucher for a Top of the Rock timed-entry ticket was really stressful and confusing, with lots of lines, zero organization, and really unfriendly employees directing people around.
I actually almost missed my opportunity to use it and go to the Top of the Rock, since I didn’t know that it was possible I wouldn’t get in on the same day.
Luckily, I stopped by earlier in my trip and was able to reschedule other activities around it, since once I exchanged my ticket, it was for the following day.
After having that experience, I soured a bit on CityPass and the idea of attraction passes in New York in general.
However, a lot of people — especially families working with a tight budget — may still value the discount that CityPass offers, which can be quite high!
If you visit all 6 attractions, the discount in total off all the attractions is 40%; however, if you’re not visiting all of the included attractions, that discount will reduce.
Here’s what’s included on the CityPass. There are 3 attractions that are standard for every CityPass: the Empire State Building, Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For the other 3, you have a choice between two attractions for each remaining choice. You can not mix or match between this; you must pick between the two.
You can also choose between the Guggenheim OR Top of the Rock; the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR a harbor cruise; and either the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum OR the 9/11 Museum.
On the other hand, the New York Pass includes all four observation decks on this list, which is definitely a pro of it over the CityPass if you’ve got observation deck fever!
The New York Pass includes a whopping 100+ attractions as opposed to CityPass’s 6. This is another huge advantage of the New York Pass.
However, CityPass can be used over 9 days, whereas you pay per day for the New York Pass, which can be more expensive.
If you marathon your sightseeing, the New York Pass may be a good deal cheaper, since there is no limit on the number of attractions on the list you can visit in a day.
However, like the CityPass, certain attractions require an advance reservation, such as the Empire State Building.
Others require you to show up in person to receive the next available time slot (such as One World Observatory). This can often not be for hours and hours, or perhaps the next day.
This means that you may not be able to get in when you first arrive, and so you’ll need to factor in flexibility and alternative plans.
It depends on what matters more for you: saving money or saving time.
With places like the Empire State Building, where waits exceed 2+ hours at times, I strongly suggest skip-the-line tickets.
Many attractions also offer the option for timed-entry tickets, where you can easily book a time slot.
It’s hard for me to say definitively what is better for you, but feel free to check out the offerings, make some decisions about your New York itinerary, and pick the pass that’s right for you — or book a la carte.
Other Buildings in NYC with Great Views
This post enumerated all the different true observation decks in New York City. But there are a number of other places in NYC where you can get an epic view – some even for free!
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a great rooftop open seasonally between April and October. Admission to the rooftop is included in the $25 admission fee to the museum.
The roof is not that tall — around 6 stories or so — but the view over Central Park means that you get an impressive view of the Manhattan skyline. It’s also an Uptown view, which none of these observation decks can boast.
Another great place to see the Manhattan skyline is from the Statue of Liberty! The ferries to and from the Statue of Liberty offer incredible Lower Manhattan views.
This is also just an essential part of any NYC sightseeing experience, so it’s a great two-for-one activity.
Another favorite is from the TimeOut Market in DUMBO in Brooklyn, which offers incredible Lower Manhattan and East River views, plus great views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, and Williamsburg Bridge.
Future Observation Decks Planned
Slated for opening in the fall of 2021, Summit One Vanderbilt is being built above Grand Central Station.
It will offer views from 93 stories up with cool features like glass elevators and outdoor spaces with lots of greenery. Here’s a little preview of what’s to come!
Its tentative opening date is October 21, 2021, as per an article released this May. Hopefully, it’ll meet its targets!
There are also plans for a rehaul of the Chrysler Building, the Art Deco masterpiece, but it’s without a set opening date thus far.
There will be a public observation tower on the 61st floor, so lower than Top of the Rock, but in a more impressive and historic building.