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Best Observation Decks In NYC Ranked With Pros And Cons

Best Observation Decks In NYC Ranked With Pros And Cons

The competition is fierce when it comes to crowing a winner in the battle of the best observation decks in New York City. There are 5 major NYC viewing platforms and each observation deck offers different experiences along with epic views.

But which observation deck should you visit during your time in NYC?

We have personally summited all 5 of New York City’s popular observation decks multiple times during different times of the day. So you can consider us experts when it comes to helping you find the best observation deck in the city for your needs.

Our goal is to use our personal experience at each location to help you make an informed decision about which observation deck is the best for you. We want you to have the best time possible in New York City.

Below is exactly what you can expect from this guide comparing the best observation decks in New York City:

  • Overview of each observation deck with quick facts, ticket options and how to get there
  • Pros and cons to visiting each New York City observation deck
  • Each observation deck ranked by height, price, newest built and best view
  • Our experience at each observation deck with insider tips
  • Which observation decks are included on each New York attractions pass

Now, let’s find the best observation deck in NYC!

*Please note this post may contain affiliate links. If you click on one, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! Read more in our disclosure policy.*

Table of Contents show

NYC Observation Deck Overview

A trip to New York City is not complete without seeing the famous NYC skyline from above. We recommend you consider visiting at least one observation deck if this is your first time to New York City.

If you are a returning visitor to NYC, use this guide to figure out which observation deck you should visit next.

There are currently 5 major observation decks in New York City:

  • Edge at Hudson Yards
  • Empire State Building
  • One World Observatory
  • SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
  • Top of the Rock

But there are two additional NYC viewing platforms we want to briefly discuss.

Statue of Liberty Crown

If you plan to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, your general admission ticket will grant you access to the pedestal. But did you know you can also visit the crown of the Statue of Liberty by purchasing an extra ticket?

The viewing platform in the crown is unique because you will climb an additional 270ft inside this iconic statue. From the top, there are 25 different windows rewarding you with views of Manhattan from across the Hudson River.

Unfortunately, the Statue of Liberty crown was closed for several years during the pandemic, but it has recently reopened for tourists. Visit the NPS website for more information about prices and official reopening plans.

Close up view of Chrysler Building
Street view of the Chrysler Building

Chrysler Building Observation Deck

The Chrysler Building is an easily recognizable art deco skyscraper found on the east side of Manhattan. When it was completed in 1930, it held the title as the world’s tallest building until the Empire Building surpassed this record just a year later in 1931.

But in 2020, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved plans for a new observation deck in the Chrysler Building from the 61st floor. You can see the plans and news article here.

While this observation deck has not been completed yet, it is certainly one to keep on your radar.

Visitors taking photos at Edge observation deck
Visitors enjoying the outdoor sky deck at Edge

Edge Observation Deck In NYC

Edge at Hudson Yards is one of the newer observation decks in New York City. Opened in 2020, this is the highest outdoor sky deck sitting 1,131ft above Manhattan.

Quick Facts About Edge NYC

The sky deck at Edge is located on the 100th floor and features a large triangular open air viewing platform. You can also opt for the City Climb experience which we will discuss later in this guide.

Location: West side of Midtown Manhattan

Address: 30 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001

Click here for the Google Maps location.

Hours of Operation: 10:00am – 10:00pm daily

Height of Observation Deck: Sky deck on 100th floor (1,131ft or 345m), City Climb (1,271ft or 387)

Exhibits: Informational displays about sustainability and history of Edge plus light display

Elevator Experience: 4th to 100th floor in 52 seconds

New York Attraction Pass: New York C3 Pass, NY Sightseeing Pass, Go City New York, New York Pass

Woman looking out through glass panels at Edge
Kristen soaking up the sunset views at Edge

Ticket Options For Edge NYC

You will need a ticket to visit Edge and sunset is the best time to visit this observation deck.

There are four tickets types you can purchase at Edge. But keep in mind you will pay $10 more for a sunset time slot unless booking the flex pass option.

  • General Admission – Includes access to the outdoor sky deck and free digital souvenir photo. Online tickets begin at $38 for adults and $33 for children (6-12) for day time tickets.
  • Flex Pass – Includes general admission with flexible arrival any time of the day. Online tickets begin at $58 for adults and $53 for children (6-12).
  • Champagne Admission – Includes general admission plus a glass of champagne. Adults 21+ only and online tickets begin at $55 for adults.
  • Premium Admission – Includes champagne admission plus personalized photo book. Adults 21+ only and online tickets begin at $73 for adults.

Compare ticket prices on the official Edge website or Get Your Guide to find the best price for your needs.

Edge observation deck from the street
View of glass floor on Edge observation deck from the street

How To Get To Edge NYC

Edge at Hudson yards is located inside the shops at Hudson Yards. In order to reach the entrance for Edge observation deck, you must enter Hudson Yards on the ground floor.

Once inside, take the elevator (or escalator) to the 4th floor. From here, follow the signs directing you to Edge Observation Deck.

If using the subway to get to Edge, take the 7 line subway to 34th street. The entrance to Hudson Yards is just a few minutes walk after exciting the subway platform.

You can also walk the High Line (beginning on the corner of Gansevoort St and Washington St in the Meatpacking District), which ends at the Vessel and Hudson Yards Shops.

Or you can take an Uber, Lyft to taxi directly to Hudson Yards.

Visitors hanging over the Edge at City Climb
City climbers at Edge

Best Photos And Experiences At Edge

Edge at Hudson Yards is unique because the sky deck on the 100th floor is currently New York City’s highest outdoor view platform.

From Edge sky deck, this is what you can see:

  • Hudson River
  • New Jersey
  • Midtown and Lower Manhattan
  • Empire State Building and Chrysler Building (with partially obstructed views)

But there are a few experiences at Edge also worth mentioning. These are the best things to do at Edge:

  • Photo at the Eastern Point (best photo spot)
  • Look through the glass floor down to streets of Manhattan
  • Take in the views from the Skyline Steps
  • Eat at Peak Restaurant on the 101st floor
  • Sip a cocktail in the Champagne Bar
  • City Climb experience
Visitors on Edge observation deck in New York City
Visitors taking photos on Edge at night

Pros To Visiting Edge At Hudson Yards

There are many reasons to visit Edge at Hudson Yards. This is why you should visit Edge:

  • Highest outdoor sky deck in the west hemisphere
  • The view is beautiful from Edge (especially at sunset)
  • The entire experience felt clean, finessed and polished
  • Most interesting and unique design with both indoor and outdoor viewing platforms
  • Sweeping views of Midtown and Lower Manhattan along with the Hudson River and New Jersey
  • One of the most “Instagrammable” and best observation decks for photography
  • It is possible to get unobstructed photos without glass panels on the staircase steps
  • Tie for cheapest observation deck in NYC with One World Observatory (if not visiting during sunset)
  • City climb experience offers the highest point you can visit in New York City
Woman and man standing on glass floor of Edge observation deck
Mark and Kristen standing on the glass floor of Edge

Cons To Visiting Edge At Hudson Yards

But there are also a few cons to visiting Edge at Hudson Yards. This is what we didn’t like about Edge:

  • Crowds will be a common source of frustration, particularly when trying to get the highly sought after photo in the eastern point
  • Snacks, champagne and other cocktails are overpriced for what you get
  • Timed entry tickets for sunset tickets can sell out extremely quickly
  • Many landmarks are partially obstructed or far away, especially the Empire State Building which is not in direct line of sight from Edge
  • The glass panels on the deck can severely limit image quality if you are going for that perfect instagram photo

Further Reading: Complete guide to visiting Edge at Hudson Yards in New York City

Empire State Building with One World Trade Center
The iconic Empire State Building

Empire State Building Observation Deck

The Empire State Building is easily the most recognizable and famous building in New York City. At the time of completion in 1931, it officially became the tallest building in the world.

Today, the Empire State Building (ESB) now ranks as the 4th tallest building in New York City, but it certainly rivals other observation decks in the city just by history, reputation and fame alone.

Quick Facts About The Empire State Building

At the Empire State Building, there are two observation decks you can visit. One deck is on the 86th floor and the other deck is located on the 102nd floor, but costs an additional fee.

Location: Midtown Manhattan

Address: 20 W 34th St., New York, NY 10001

Click here for the Google Maps location.

Hours of Operation: 10:00am – 12:00am daily

Height of Observation Deck: 86th floor (1,050ft or 320m), 102nd floor (1,250ft or 381m)

Exhibits: Two complete floors of exhibits on 2nd and 80th floor

Elevator Experience: 2nd to 80th floor in less than a minute and basic ride from 80th to 86th floor

New York Attraction Pass: New York CityPASS, NY Sightseeing Pass, Go City New York, New York Pass

The New York CityPASS truly shines at this observation deck because this pass allows you to visit the Empire State Building both during the day and at night on the same day without an extra cost.

Onsite ticket machines for the Empire State Building observation deck
Ticket machines at the Empire State Building

Ticket Options For The Empire State Building Observation Deck

There are two main ticket options for the Empire State Building.

  • Main Deck: 86th Floor Observatory – Includes access to the open-air observatory on the 86th floor. Online tickets begin at $44 for adults and $38 for children (6-12) for day time tickets.
  • Top Deck: 102nd and 86th Floor Observatories – Includes access to both the open-air observatory on the 86th floor and the the 102nd floor offer views up to 80 miles. Online tickets begin at $77 for adults and $71 for children (6-12) for day time tickets.

Compare ticket prices on the official Empire State Building website or Get Your Guide to find the best price for your needs.

Macy's store front with Empire State Building in the background
Macy’s storefront with the Empire State Building in background

How To Get To The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is located at the heart of Manhattan on 34th St and 5th Ave.

Head southwest through Manhattan, passing Times Square and Bryant Park as far as W 34th Street to find New York City’s historic landmark and centerpiece.

The enormous Empire State Building is squashed tightly between 34th and 33rd streets / 5th and 6th avenues.

Access to the building entrance is on W 34th Street, half way between 5th and 6th avenues. Make sure to look up when you arrive and take in the looming views of the Empire State Building from the street.

Manhattan view from a NYC observation deck
Manhattan skyline lit up at night

Best Photos And Experiences At The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is unique because this was New York City’s first observation deck.

We can also tell you from experience the exhibits at the Empire State Building are the best out of all New York City’s observation decks.

From the Empire State Building, this is what you can see:

  • Chrysler Building, Times Square and Top of the Rock
  • East River and Brooklyn
  • One World Observatory, Flatiron Building and Lower Manhattan
  • Hudson River, Hudson Yards and Edge

If you are interesting in learning about the history of New York as well as this iconic structure, this is certainly the observation deck for you.

These are the exhibits at the Empire State Building spread out amongst the 2nd and 80th floors:

  • The Site in the 1920’s
  • Construction
  • Opening Day
  • Modern Marvel
  • Otis Elevators
  • Urban Campus
  • World’s Most Famous Building
  • Kong
  • Celebrity
Empire State Building 86th floor observation deck
86th floor observation deck at the Empire State Building

Pros To Visiting The Empire State Building

There are many reasons to visit the ESB. This is why you should visit the Empire State Building:

  • The oldest and original NYC observation deck
  • Exhibits on 2nd and 80th floor are the best out of all 5 observation decks in NYC
  • Both indoor and outdoor viewing spaces
  • Stunning 360 degree Manhattan street views
  • Ability to take photos with unobstructed views on the 86th floor (have to put phone or camera through metal mesh fencing)
Lower Manhattan view from the Empire State Building observation deck
Lower Manhattan view from the top of the Empire State Building

Cons To Visiting The Empire State Building

But there are also a few cons to visiting the ESB. This is what we didn’t like about the Empire State Building:

  • Crowds at any given time can be large
  • Glass windows on 102nd floor are not great for photos due to reflections
  • No view of the Empire State Building because you are at the top of it
  • Underwhelming elevator experience 
  • Most expensive NYC observation deck and extra fee for 102nd floor

Further Reading: Complete guide to visiting the Empire State Building in New York City

Iconic view of the Brooklyn Bridge and One World Trade Center
Lower Manhattan with the Brooklyn Bridge and One World Trade Center

One World Observatory Observation Deck

The One World Trade Center was completed in 2012 as a tribute of remembrance to those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

The One World Observatory observation deck sits on top of One World Trade Center which was built on the original site of 6 World Trade Center.

This building is more than just an observation deck because it resembles strength and resilience for the people of NYC as well as the United States of America.

Quick Facts About One World Observatory

At the time of completion, One World Trade Center surpassed the Empire State Building as the tallest structure in New York City.

The One World Trade Center has 94 floors with One World Observatory located on the 100th, 101st and 102nd floors featuring a panoramic 360 degree view.

Location: Lower Manhattan

Address: 117 West St, New York, NY 10006

Click here for the Google Maps location.

Hours of Operation: 9:00am – 9:00pm, daily.

Height of Observation Deck: 102nd floor (1,268ft or 386m)

Exhibits: Horizon Grid featuring Voices and the Foundations Room

Elevator Experience: Fastest elevator in the world

New York Attraction Pass: NY Sightseeing Pass, Go City New York, New York Pass

Admission tickets for One World Observatory at One World Trade Center
Standard experience tickets for One World Observatory

Ticket Options For One World Observatory

There are four main ticket options and unlike many other of the NYC observation decks, there is no additional fee to visit during sunset.

  • Standard Experience – General admission. Online tickets begin at $38 for adults and $32 for children (6-12).
  • Combination Experience – General Admission + Priority Lane + One World Explorer Digital Skyline Guide. Online tickets begin at $48 for adults and $42 for children (6-12).
  • All Inclusive Experience – General Admission + Priority Lane + One World Explorer Digital Skyline Guide + Flexible Arrival + $15 to shop and drink. Online tickets begin at $58 for adults and $52 for children (6-12).
  • VIP Tour Experience – General Admission + 60 minute guided tour + Escorted entry + $15 to shop and drink. Online tickets begin at $68 for adults and $62 for children (6-12).

Compare ticket prices on the official One World Observatory or Get Your Guide to find the best price for your needs.

Travel Tip: Get Your Guide tends to be the cheapest option for One World Observatory.

One World Observatory from the street
Street view looking up at One World Observatory

How To Get To One World Observatory

The One World Observatory observation deck is located inside the One World Trade Center at the corner of West and Vesey Streets in lower Manhattan.

The use of public transportation is highly recommended to visit One World Observatory because there is no on site parking and on-street parking is extremely limited.

The closest subway stop is the World Trade Center station along the E line.

Aerial view of Lower Manhattan with One World Trade Center
Aerial view of One World Trade Center and Lower Manhattan

Best Photos And Experiences At One World Observatory

One World Observatory is unique because it is the tallest building in the western hemisphere. It is also the only observation deck in the city located in Lower Manhattan.

From One World Observatory, this is what you can see:

  • Empire State Building
  • Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island
  • Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridge
  • New York State and New Jersey
  • Memorial pools in tribute to 9/11 directly below

But there are a few experiences at One World Observatory worth mentioning. These are the best things to do at One World Observatory:

  • See Forever Theater
  • Sky Portal
  • One World Explorer
  • City Pulse
  • One Dine Restaurant
Cloud day in Manhattan and Brooklyn with clouds in the skyline
Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge from One World Observatory

Pros To Visiting One World Observatory

There are many reasons to visit One World Observatory. This is why you should visit One World Observatory:

  • Best elevator ride out of all 5 NYC observation decks
  • Best views of the State of Liberty, Governor’s Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridge
  • Decent views of Hudson River and New Jersey (but Edge is better)
  • Highest observation deck in NYC
  • Only observation deck in Lower Manhattan
  • History of this building demonstrates resilience and strength
  • Modern day high tech experience 
Obstructed view of Oculus and the Memorial Pools from 9/11
Glare in windows from One World Observatory

Cons To Visiting One World Observatory

But there are also a few cons to visiting One World Observatory. This is what we didn’t like about One World Observatory:

  • No outdoor viewing platform and all indoor views have glass panels so photos will have glare
  • Food and drinks are extremely expensive
  • Only a few exhibits to experience (far more at other observation decks)
  • Empire State Building is far away so the view is not great
  • Popular observation deck so you may experience long wait times

Further Reading: Complete guide to visiting One World Observatory at the One World Trade Center

Empire State Building view at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
Empire State Building view from SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

SUMMIT One Observation Deck

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is New York City’s newest observation deck. Completed in 2021, this deck also features the ascent elevator, which has the largest glass floor elevators in the world.

Quick Facts About SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

The SUMMIT observation deck is located between the 91st and 93rd floors of One Vanderbilt. The 91st and 92nd floors are completely enclosed while the 93rd floor showcases an outdoor viewing platform.

Location: Midtown Manhattan

Address: 5 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017

Click here for the Google Maps location.

Hours of Operation:  9:00am – 12:00pm everyday except Tuesday

Height of Observation Deck: 91st – 93rd floor, Ascent elevator (1,210ft or 269m)

Exhibits: Many interactive art installations (see more details below)

Elevator Experience: Ascent (extra cost) features largest glass floor elevators in the world

New York Attraction Pass: None

Woman taking a photo laying down at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
Kristen snapping a photo in the reflective mirrors at Transcendence I

Ticket Options For SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

There are three main ticket options with both day, sunset and evening price categories. You will pay about $10 more for a sunset or night time visit time.

  • SUMMIT Experience – General Admission. Online tickets begin at $39 for adults and $33 for children (6-12) for day time tickets.
  • SUMMIT Ascent – General Admission + Ascent glass elevator. Online tickets begin at $59 for adults and $53 for children (6-12) for day time tickets.
  • Ultimate SUMMIT – General Admission + Ascent glass elevator + a SUMMIT signature cocktail. Online tickets begin at $73 for adults and $67 for children (6-12) for day time tickets.

New York City residents also receive a small discount on SUMMIT observation deck tickets.

Compare ticket prices on the official SUMMIT One Vanderbilt website or Get Your Guide to find the best price for your needs.

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt and other Manhattan sky scrappers lit up at night
Night view of SUMMIT One Vanderbilt with surrounding Manhattan skyscrapers

How To Get To SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

There are two ways to enter One Vanderbilt.

You can enter through 45 East 42nd St between Madison and Vanderbilt Ave. Look for the black SUMMIT One Vanderbilt signs, take the escalator down and follow the arrows pointing you to the “observation deck.” This is how we entered the SUMMIT observation deck.

The second entrance can be found directly inside Grand Central Terminal on the main concourse level. Once inside Grand Central Station, look southwest for the “ticket machines, subway and 42nd St” sign and take this passage.

You then want to continue to the “subway shuttle passage” and “Vanderbilt Ave 42nd & 43rd St” signs which will lead you to the basement of One Vanderbilt. From here, look for the black SUMMIT One Vanderbilt signs and follow the arrows for “observation deck.”

Woman holding silver balloons at a NYC observation deck
Kristen enjoying the Affinity exhibit

Best Photos And Experiences At SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is more than just an observation deck, it is an entire experience. The reflective art installations provide views you won’t get anywhere else in the city.

From SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, this is what you can see:

  • Chrysler Building and the borough of Brooklyn and Queens
  • Empire State Building, Lower Manhattan and One World Observatory
  • Edge at Hudson Yards, the Hudson River and New Jersey

If you are interested in photography and unique perspective views of New York City, this is a great observation deck for you to visit because of the exhibits.

These are the exhibits at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt:

  • Transcendence I (floor 91)
  • Reflect (floor 91)
  • Affinity (floor 91)
  • Transcendence II (floor 92)
  • Levitation (floor 92)
  • Unity (floor 92)
  • Après (floor 93)
  • SUMMIT Terrace (floor 93)
  • Ascent (elevator ride from 93-105)
Man taking a photo at one of the best observation decks in New York City
Mark getting creative with the camera at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

Pros To Visiting SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

There are many reasons to visit SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. This is why you should visit SUMMIT One Vanderbilt:

  • The newest observation deck in NYC
  • Best view of the Chrysler Building 
  • Amazing art installations with stunning reflective properties
  • Excellent close up view of the Empire State Building (but not the best)
  • The modern design is extremely sleek, clean and sophisticated
  • Both outdoor and indoor viewing platforms
  • Staff were extremely helpful and funny at times
Crowd of people waiting at a NYC observation deck
Large crowds waiting for sunset

Cons To Visiting SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

But there are also a few cons to visiting SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. This is what we didn’t like about SUMMIT One Vanderbilt:

  • Overcrowding is a problem, particularly at sunset
  • This is an extremely photogenic observation deck with many people taking photos from every single direction which can be overwhelming 
  • The elevator ride “Ascent” costs an extra $20
  • All 3 floors have glass panels which makes it difficult to take photos with good image quality
  • Compared to other NYC observation decks, the elevator experience was just okay
  • Snacks and drinks are extremely overpriced

Further Reading: Complete guide to visiting SUMMIT One Vanderbilt observation deck in New York City

Top of the Rock observation deck in New York City
Top of the Rock observation deck

Top Of The Rock Observation Deck

The Top of the Rock observation deck is located at the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

This Rockefeller building is one of the 14 original art deco structures within the Rockefeller Center complex. These buildings were commissioned in the 1930s by the Rockefeller family between 5th and 6th Avenue.

Quick Facts About Top Of The Rock

The Top of the Rock observation deck can be found at the top 3 floors featuring a panoramic 360-degree unobstructed view from the 70th floor.

Location: Upper Midtown Manhattan

Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112

Click here for the Google Maps location.

Hours of Operation: 9:00am-11:00pm, daily

Height of Observation Deck: 67th floor (820ft or 250m) and 70th floor (850ft or 259m)

Exhibits: Mezzanine exhibit and optional 4 small films in theater

Elevator Experience: 850 feet in 42 seconds plus a light show

New York Attraction Pass: New York CityPASS, NY Sightseeing Pass, Go City New York, New York Pass

Top of the Rock entrance tickets with Empire State Building view
General admission tickets for Top of the Rock

Ticket Options For Top Of The Rock

There are three main ticket options, but if you choose to visit during the sunset slot, you will pay $10 more for your ticket.

  • General Admission – Online tickets begin at $40 for adults and $34 for children (6-12) for day time tickets.
  • Express Pass – General Admission + Immediate entry to viewing decks + Priority elevator access and 20% discount at gift shop. Online tickets begin at $75.
  • VIP Tour – General Admission + Skip the line + Exclusive tour of the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza and Rainbow Room. Online tickets begin at $110.

Compare ticket prices on the official Top of the Rock website or Get Your Guide to find the best price for your needs.

Red carpet entrance to Top of the Rock observation deck
Red carpet entrance at Top of the Rock

How To Get To Top Of The Rock

If you are looking at a map of Manhattan, 30 Rockefeller Center is between Times Square and Central Park.

Top of the Rock is in Rockefeller Plaza on 5th and 6th Avenue or 49th and 50th Street. You will most likely recognize the prominent building from the street before heading to the entrance.

Access to the building entrance is on W 50th Street, closer to 6th avenue and opposite Radio City. Look for a bright red carpet with “Top of the Rock” in huge letters.

Top of the Rock 69th floor and Edge observation deck in NYC
69th floor open viewing platform from Top of the Rock

Best Photos And Experiences At Top Of The Rock

Top of the Rock is a unique observation deck because it was one of the two originals. The views from Top of the Rock are exceptional with a close view of the Empire State Building as well as Central Park.

From Top of the Rock, this is what you can see:

  • Central Park
  • Chrysler Building and Brooklyn
  • Empire State Building, One World Observatory, Midtown and Lower Manhattan
  • Hudson Yards, the Hudson River and Edge

Each of the three floors at Top of the Rock have both indoor and outdoor viewing platforms. The top 70th floor is where this observation shines because you are rewarded with unobstructed and 360 degree views of Manhattan.

Be sure to visit the 67th, 69th and 70th floors of Top of the Rock observation deck.

Sunset over Manhattan with Empire State Building and Edge
Sunset from Top of the Rock

Pros To Visiting Top Of The Rock

There are many reasons to visit Top of the Rock. This is why you should visit Top of the Rock:

  • Up close and best unobstructed view of the Empire State Building
  • Only observation deck with great views of Central Park
  • View includes every other observation deck in one direction
  • Educational and interesting exhibits about the history of Top of the Rock
  • Both indoor and outdoor viewing spaces on multiple levels
  • Unique ability to take photos over New York with no glass panels on the 70th floor
  • Reasonably priced observation deck for what you get
Woman enjoying the view of Central Park from a NYC observation deck
Kristen looking out at Central Park

Cons To Visiting Top Of The Rock

But there are also a few cons to visiting Top of the Rock. This is what we didn’t like about Top of the Rock:

  • Lowest elevation observation deck in NYC
  • Crowds can be large at sunset
  • No cafe, cocktail bar or restaurant available
  • Outside viewing platforms can be extremely windy and cold 
  • Not as many frills as other NYC observation decks
  • Difficult to see lower Manhattan landmarks
  • Lacks history, height and thrill

Further Reading: Complete guide to visiting Top of the Rock observation deck.

Sunset behind Edge at Hudson Yards
Sunset over Edge at Hudson Yards

Best Time To Visit NYC Observation Decks

The best time to visit any observation deck in New York City is about an hour before sunset. But unfortunately, this is also the most popular time to visit.

So if you want to avoid the crowds, reserve one of the first time slots of the day (usually around 9 or 10am) or wait several hours until the sun has fully set.

We have visited various observation decks in New York City at all times of the day. From our experience, we can tell you there are pros and cons to each time of day.

If your schedule allows and to get the most out of your experience, reserve a time slot about an hour before sunset. But then wait at the top of the observation deck for the sun to fully set.

All 5 of NYC’s observation decks do not have a time limit to how long you can remain at the top. This is how you can take advantage of seeing the NYC skyline during the day, at sunset and at night on the same day.

Season

The summer months of June, July and August are peak visiting times for tourism in New York City and this is when observations decks are busiest.

To avoid the peak, either visit New York City in Winter or plan your trip in an off season month such as visiting NYC in April.

Map Of NYC Observation Decks

Here’s a link to our interactive Google Map for the best NYC observation decks.

Click or touch the map to open in a new window, zoom in and out, scroll around and familiarize yourself with the area. Alternatively, you can click any observation deck you are interested in via the left column.

You will find icons at the exact location for each NYC observation deck mentioned in this guide.

Best NYC Observation decks compared in a chart
Detailed chart comparing each NYC observation deck

Summary Of The Best NYC Observation Decks

There are many variables when it comes to selecting the best observation deck in New York City. The answer is not a one size fits all type of situation.

So we are going to break down each NYC Observation deck by specific category.

  • Highest observation deck in NYC
  • Cheapest observation deck in NYC
  • Newest observation deck in NYC
  • Best NYC observation deck view
Best NYC observation decks compared by height on a graph
NYC observation decks ranked by height

Highest Observation Deck In NYC

The highest observation deck in NYC is One World Observatory at One World Trade Center.

Below we have listed each New York City observation deck ranked by height.

These are the highest points you can reach at each observation deck. But the asterisk (*) means you will have to pay more than the general admission or basic ticket price to reach that height.

  1. One World Observatory: 102nd floor (1,268ft or 386m)
  2. Empire State Building: 102nd floor (1,250ft or 381m) *
  3. SUMMIT One Vanderbilt: Ascent elevator (1,210ft or 269m) *
  4. Edge at Hudson Yards: 100th floor (1,131ft or 345m)
  5. Top of the Rock: 70th floor (850ft or 260m)

Keep in mind the City Climb experience at Edge, which is technically not an ‘observation deck’ because it is classified as an experience, will allow you to reach the highest point in New York City at 1,271 ft (387m).

This is an additional 3ft more than the One World Observatory and you will be suspended outside of the building. But the City Climb experience costs a whopping $185 per person.

One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan
One World Trade Center and the Brooklyn Bridge

Cheapest Observation Deck in NYC

There is a tie for the cheapest observation deck in NYC: One World Observatory and Edge at Hudson Yards.

But the official winner for the cheapest NYC observation deck is One World Observatory because there is no extra $10 fee for the popular sunset time slot. However, there is a $5 processing fee if booked on the official One World Observatory website.

Below we have listed each New York City observation deck ranked by price from cheapest to most expensive.

These first lot of prices includes only the basic general admission ticket, but the second lot of prices includes most expensive add ons for each observation deck.

Please also keep in mind the asterisk (*) means you will have to pay an additional $10 if visiting that observation deck at the peak sunset time slot.

  1. One World Observatory: $38
  2. Edge at Hudson Yards: $38 *
  3. Top of the Rock: $40 *
  4. SUMMIT One Vanderbilt: $39 *
  5. Empire State Building: $44 – 86th floor *

The most expensive NYC observation decks ranked for most expensive add ons include:

  • City Climb Edge: $185
  • Top of the Rock VIP Tour: $110 – 70th floor
  • Empire State Building: $77 – 102nd floor
  • Ultimate SUMMIT One Vanderbilt: $73 – ascent elevator
  • One World Observatory VIP Tour: $68 – 102nd floor

Newest Observation Deck in NYC

The newest observation deck in New York City is SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.

Below we have listed the 5 NYC observation decks in order of age from youngest to oldest.

  1. SUMMIT One Vanderbilt: 2021
  2. Edge at Hudson Yards: 2020
  3. One World Observatory: 2014
  4. Top of the Rock: 1933
  5. Empire State Building: 1931
Affinity room at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt observation deck in NYC
Mark and Kristen in the affinity room at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

Best NYC Observation Deck View

This last criteria is sure to spark some debate because everyone is bound to have different opinions about the best views in New York City.

Best view for photographers: Top of the Rock

Unobstructed views from the 70th floor giving you the ability to take great photos with no glare.

Best view for Influencers: SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

With sensory overload in almost every room, there is no such thing as a bad photo at this observation deck.

Best view of Lower Manhattan: One World Observatory

If you would like to see the Brooklyn Bridge and the State of Liberty, this is the observation deck for you.

Best view for sunset: Top of the Rock (completely unobstructed)

With a location on the east side of Manhattan, you will experience sunset with a view of One World Observatory, the Empire State Building, Edge and SUMMIT One Vanderbilt as the sun sets to the west.

Our Experience At Each NYC Observation Deck

Now that we have covered the basic categories for the best NYC observation decks, we believe there are a few other factors you need to consider.

Best NYC observation deck elevator experience: One World Observatory

There is no competition when it comes to the One World Observatory elevator experience.

Not only will you ascend to the 102nd floor in 47 seconds, making this the fastest elevator in the world, but the short film played inside the elevator showcases 300 years of history in NYC.

Best NYC observation deck for exhibits: Empire State Building

Of course, the oldest and most iconic observation deck in NYC also has the best exhibits. While the views from the Empire State Building are stunning, we believe the exhibits are the best part on the 2nd and 80th floor.

If you are interested in learning about the history of New York City, this is the observation deck for you.

Best NYC observation deck location: Top of the Rock

All 5 of New York City’s observation decks are located in Manhattan. Four of the observation decks are in Midtown while just one is located in Lower Manhattan.

We believe Top of the Rock has the best view of the other NYC observation decks as well as the only location on this list to have a clear view of Central Park.

Woman leaning on glass at Top of the Rock observation deck in New York City
Kristen looking out at the Empire State Building from Top of the Rock

Our Favorite New York City Observation Deck

Top of the Rock is our favorite observation deck in New York City.

While Top of the Rock is not the most impressive building when standing on the streets of Manhattan, we personally think this observation deck has the best views in all of New York City.

As professional photographers, we love the unobstructed views on the 70th floor and the extremely close view of the iconic Empire State Building.

A general admission ticket to Top of the Rock gives you access to all three floors and you can revisit any floor you visit. Overall, this is the best observation deck in NYC if you want a no frills experience with amazing views.

However, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt comes as a close second for us because this observation deck is an extremely photogenic place.

But it is difficult to take photos at SUMMIT due to all the people and the large glass windows. However, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Which NYC Observation Deck Should You Visit?

If this is your first time to New York City, we would recommend you visit two observation decks.

1). Choose one of the originals: Empire State Building or Top of the Rock

2). Next, choose one of the modern options: One World Observatory, Edge at Hudson Yards or SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

Comparison of the four New York City attraction passes
Four popular New York City attraction passes

New York City Attraction Passes

All of the New York City observation decks are included on New York City attractions passes with the exception of SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.

We visited many of these observation decks with New York attraction passes so we can speak directly from experience.

You should consider purchasing one of these New York passes if you plan to visit more than one NYC observation decks along with many top attractions in New York City.

4 Major New York Attractions Passes

Here are the 4 NY attractions pass competitors:

  • New York CityPASS (or C3 Pass)
  • NY Sightseeing Pass
  • Go City New York Pass
  • New York Pass

If this is your first time in NYC, we would recommend the New York CityPASS or the New York Sightseeing Pass.

These two NYC passes offer different ways of bulk saving on attractions. CityPASS is best for fewer top attractions, whereas Sightseeing Pass is better if you want to see loads of things in New York.

The New York CityPASS has an exclusive option allowing you two separate entries to Empire State Building, one during the day and one the same night.

You can read our reviews of each pass here:

If you are a returning visitor to NYC and want to go up more observation decks, we would recommend the New York Sightseeing Pass or a Go City New York Pass.

These two passes offer more observation deck options compared to the CityPASS.

The New York Pass is run by Go City and is essentially the same pass.

Confused by which pass is best? Read our detailed comparison of the New York attractions passes to help decide which pass you should purchase for your visit to the Big Apple.

New York Attractions Passes For Each Observation Deck

Below you can find the observation decks participating on each New York pass:

  • Edge at Hudson Yards: New York C3 Pass, NY Sightseeing Pass, Go City New York, New York Pass
  • Empire State Building: New York CityPASS, NY Sightseeing Pass, Go City New York, New York Pass
  • One World Observatory: NY Sightseeing Pass, Go City New York, New York Pass
  • SUMMIT One Vanderbilt: No New York City passes available
  • Top of the Rock: New York CityPASS, NY Sightseeing Pass, Go City New York, New York Pass

Attractions – Here’s our complete roundup of the very best things to do in New York City for all visitors covering free, cheap and iconic attractions.

Itinerary – Our popular 4 days in New York City itinerary helps thousands of visitors plan the perfect visit to New York every year.

Photography – Our guide to the best photography spots in New York City includes over 60 famous photo locations around the city.

Hotels – Here’s our comprehensive guide on exactly where to stay in New York City based on the six popular NYC neighborhoods.

Winter – Are you planning a trip to New York in December, January or February? There are 10 important things you need to know about visiting New York City in Winter.

Best Of New York City

Pizza – Sampling famous New York pizza is unmissable on any trip to the big apple, here’s our popular guide to where you can find the very best pizza in NYC.

Bagels – Bagels are the only thing you should be eating for breakfast in New York! Here’s our roundup of where to find the best bagels in NYC.

Museums – With over 100 museums in NYC it can be hard to narrow down which ones you should visit, here’s our version of the 10 best museums in New York City.

New York Attraction Pass – With so many popular NYC attraction passes how do you choose? In this guide, we give you a detailed comparison for each New York pass.

Want more New York content? Head over to our New York travel guides to explore the Finger Lakes, Adirondacks and the best of NYC.

We hope this guide explaining the best NYC observation decks helps with planning your visit to New York City!

Please let us know if you have any questions about any NYC observation decks or New York City in the comment below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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