If I Had to Choose… Ranking NYC's Skyscraper Observatories
by Adam Guy
This is like picking a favorite child. Each of New York’s five sky-high observatories has its own special qualities. One’s a good speller. One can dance well. One does their chores more than the others. Ok, so it’s not quite like that, but there is no right answer to which of the skyscraper observatories is the best. I like them all for different reasons. Your reasons for liking one versus another might be different than mine.
But I'm going to share which observatories I prefer and why. I’m considering experience here, not price or value, in this list. Here goes… my ranking in reverse order:
5. One World Trade Center
“But it’s the tallest, Adam. Fifth? Really?” Half of the view is of New Jersey. Not that Jersey is awful, but it’s not what you go up that high to see. You want to see Manhattan and Brooklyn. With One World Trade Center located at the south end of the island, you can only see so much of it.
The elevator ride up IS special for sure, probably the best of them. Being indoors is helpful in the cold of winter and heat of summer. And I know one of the tour guides up there. Ask for Emma. She’s great! (Visit One World Trade Center)
4. Edge NYC
It's new. It’s shiny. It offers a side view of the city. But more than anything is the “daredevil-ish-ness” (I invent words) of climbing onto a platform that hovers 100 stories above the city. And looking straight down. Bonus is The Climb, an even more treacherous experience climbing stairs on the outside of the building. Downside to this observation deck is that it is the smallest of the lot, which matters, especially when it’s crowded. The lines get long and you have to jostle for views. (Visit Edge)
3. Empire State Building
It’s the classic, original Empire State Building, so how could it not be first? Look, I love the art deco style and the nostalgia and the history so much. But a few things prevent it from getting the top spot in my book. First, they are constantly selling to you, even forcing you to take photos (at least they did to me). And the price to get up to the 102nd floor is a $30 leap or so from the 86th floor. C’mon, $30 for a bit more of a view? Second, it can be narrow up on the observation deck. A crowded Empire State Building saps some of the enjoyment. All that said… it’s the Empire State Building. It’s magical just to be near it, on it, inside it, around it… I go up at least once a year just to say hi. (Visit ESB)
2. Summit One Vanderbilt
Summit One is the newest observation deck of the bunch and a place I always recommend to my visitors. Seemingly built with social media in mind, the observation deck is both indoors and outdoors, has great 360 degree views of the city, and is on multiple floors. The mirrored floor alone is spectacular with its floor-to-ceiling windows.
There’s a silly yet fun room with silver balloons. And Summit One Vanderbilt is BIG, which helps on crowded days. The topper for me… the best views are in the bathrooms! Just trust me on this. Of all the observation decks, this feels the most teen/kid friendly, too. (Visit Summit One)
1. Top of the Rock
There’s just something about being at the very top of a skyscraper… Even though that top is only 70 stories, compared to other observatories that get up to 30 stories higher, you get to stand at the very top of 30 Rockefeller Center. The indoor space is lovely. The outdoor areas are massive. But what stands out to me the most… the views.
You are dead center of the city with incredible views of the Empire State Building and Central Park. You can’t really see the financial district or Statue of Liberty, but even from the Empire State Building, those seem distant. This experience at Top of the Rock feels as if you are among the buildings versus above them all, which speaks to me. No special tricks or gimmicks to this one. All it needs is what it has in abundance: classic beauty and unparalleled views. (Visit Top of the Rock)
Disagree with me? I’m ok with that. In fact, occasionally this order may switch around in my head. I’ll long for a ride up the Empire State Building or dare myself to consider “the Climb” at Edge. For now, I’m fine with this order. Note: NONE of them are fun when the weather is very cloudy. Find a museum or swanky bar for those days.
More observation decks are on the way to the city. For years, the Chrysler Building has discussed creating one. No word yet. Even the tower at One Times Square, which is not very tall, has discussed a perch from near the New Year’s Eve Ball for public viewing (and a steep fee.) I bet in 10 years, this list will rank eight observatories instead of five.
Want to debate this in person? Book a private neighborhood walking tour with me! I Know A Guy NYC Tours provides private full and half day tours for families and small groups. See what others have experienced with me on TripAdvisor.
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© All photos by Adam Guy