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This post compares the observation decks at the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock and One World Trade Center (the Freedom Tower) to help you choose which one is best for you. We also demonstrate how you can get discounts to all 3, so you don’t have to pay full price.
VISITING THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING
Today the Empire State Building welcomes more than 3.8 million visitors each year. About 3,400 workers mostly European immigrants and Mohawk ironworkers from the Montreal area finished the construction in less than 14 months.
When the Empire State building with its 1250 feet (381 m) was completed in 1931 it stood the tallest building for 40 years, surpassing the Chrysler Building, as well as 40 Wall Street Building in height, once the spike was added to the final structure.
Money Saving TIPS:
There are two viewing platforms: the more popular and cheaper one is on the 86th Floor and the more private and expensive one is on the 102nd Floor. When you enter the lobby from 5th Avenue, take a moment to take in the beautiful Art Deco design made from imported marble from Germany, France, Belgium, and Italy. If you already purchased your tickets, you can take the elevator up right away. If you have not, take the escalator on your right side up to the ticket booths. Once you got the tickets you will walk through some featured exhibitions and then take up the first elevators to the 80th Floor. The elevator ride will take 60 seconds. To avoid standing in line for the second elevator again, you might have the option to walk up the 6 flights of stairs and get your little workout.
You can purchase your tickets online to avoid standing extra time in line. These options will provide you more discounts for other NYC sights as well. You will encounter many street sales agents when you approach the entrance to the Empire State Building, just bear in mind that many are not employed by the Empire State Building Observatory and that you can purchase your tickets inside the Empire State Building.
Cost for Main Deck:
Entry to the Empire State Building is included for free with CityPASS, the Sightseeing Pass, the Explorer Pass, and the New York Pass. These are tourist passes that can save you lots of money if you are planning on visiting listed attractions. Check out our blog post on which (if any) NYC tourist pass to purchase.
Additional ticket types available.
Read our post on the Empire State Building for more details and insider tips!
VISITING TOP OF THE ROCK
Top of the Rock is located 850 feet above street level and has been offering stunning panoramas of the city since 1933. This beautiful Art-Deco complex was built in the 1930’s by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. He originally acquired the land because he had promised to build a new opera house for the Metropolitan Opera Company, who was looking to move further uptown. Rockefeller took out a 27-year lease on the property in 1928 (with the option for three, 21-year extensions.)
Money Saving TIPS:
Top of the Rock is open every day from 8 am until midnight. The last elevator goes up at 11 pm. TIP: Because your entry is timed, try to go a little before sunset. That way you can get day and night views on one trip!
The closest subway is the B, D, F and M trains to 47-50 St, Rockefeller Center. The main entrance to Top of the Rock is on 50th Street in between 5th and 6th Avenues. Please use our Google map for directions to Rockefeller Center.
Tickets can be purchased online at full price by visiting www.topoftherocknyc.com
Read our full post on the Top of the Rock for more details and insider tips!
ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER OBSERVATORY – (THE FREEDOM TOWER)
One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the 4th tallest building in the world, is now welcoming visitors. Click here for our full review of the Freedom Tower observatory.
The main observatory on the 100th floor allows guests to have an incredible, 360-degree view of the city. For many, however, the highlight is the Sky Portal. This 14-foot wide disc shows real-time video footage of the streets directly below the observatory.
Hours: Open 7 days a week. Summer hours are 9am-midnight; after Labor Day, the hours are 9am-8pm. Last tickets sold 45 minutes before closing.
Getting There: Located at 285 Fulton Street. Guests enter from West Street. Nearest subway is the N and R trains to Cortlandt St, 2 and 3 trains to Park Pl, and 4 and 5 trains to Fulton St.
Click here for our full review of the Freedom Tower observatory.
CitySights NYC Tours offers a deal that gives you tickets to One World Observatory (plus)
NOTE: There is a $3/ticket surcharge for same day tickets.
One World Trade Center Observatory also offers Priority Admission, Day Flex, and Weekend Flex tickets which enable expedited entry or flexible admission times. Costs for these premium tickets range between $54-$90 per person.
Click here for our full review of the Freedom Tower observatory.
WHICH IS THE BEST NEW YORK CITY OBSERVATORY?
The debate about whether to visit the Top of the Rock, Empire State Building or One World Observatory really comes down to what type of traveler you are. For many first time visitors to New York, it is impossible to leave the city without going to the top of the Empire State Building. However, while the Empire State Building is a classic tourist experience, the other sites can offer some advantages.
Top of the Rock
For one, Top of the Rock allows you to enjoy a view of the Empire State Building set against the Manhattan skyline — something that is obviously missed when standing atop the Empire State Building. You also have a relatively unobstructed view of Central Park, a view not available with the other decks.
Additionally, you purchase tickets for a specific time slot at Top of the Rock. This keeps the crowds a reasonable size and cuts down on a lot of time spent waiting in line. It also makes it a little easier to plan the rest of your day so that you can get the most out of your sightseeing experience! The observation deck is indoor/outdoor, so it’s a good choice for pretty much any time of year. If you are on a tight schedule or hate waiting in line, Top of the Rock may be a better choice for you.
Reviews of Top of the Rock
This attraction has received a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor. Most people who visit this observation deck report that they were impressed with their experience. Thousands of positive reviews came from couples and families, suggesting that this may be a good option for small groups. The highest ratings were often provided during the summer months, but Top of the Rock also receives a lot of praise during the winter as well. A majority of guests agree that this is a great location to take your kids on a trip to New York City!
One World Observatory
One World Observatory, on the other hand, allows guests a unique 360-degree view of the city. It is also the tallest of the three and offers the most impressive technological features. However, because it is the newest, crowds are likely to be worse at this location. The One World Trade Observatory is best for guests who have already visited Manhattan many times and are looking for a new experience, or for visitors who are intrigued by the impressive LED technology and who would like more of an “experience” than just an incredible view.
Reviews of One World Observatory
Although this observation deck is also highly rated, it’s worth noting that a lot of their ratings were provided during the warmer months of the year. Some reviews indicate that long lines might keep you waiting outside in the cold, so you may want to consider another alternative if you’re visiting New York during the winter. Families and couples report that this is an excellent way to discover the Empire State Building and the rest of the Big Apple. Many customers were also impressed that the One World Observatory is located so close to the 9/11 Memorial.
The Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is arguably the most iconic piece of architecture in New York City. Everyone who visits the Big Apple should see this modern marvel at least once. If you’ve been to NYC many times but have never visited the Empire State Building, then now might be a perfect time! If it’s your first (and possibly only) visit to Manhattan, then you should consider going to this classic site. It’s a bit more expensive than other attractions, but always a solid choice.
Reviews of the Empire State Building
Much like the observation decks that give you a great view of this historic building, you’ll find that this attraction is also highly rated. Visiting the top of this skyscraper will provide you with one of the best views of the entire city. It’s worth noting that most reviews are written during the warmer months, indicating that this might be a more inviting experience during the spring or summer. Given that they have an outdoor observation deck, it stands to reason that it probably gets pretty cold during the winter. There may be a few audiences that won’t appreciate a visit to the Empire State Building, but most visitors have a wonderful and memorable time.
+++Think about making Top of the Rock and/or the Empire State Building a part of your trip to New York City! You can plan your time slot alongside taking of our Midtown Manhattan Tours or Manhattan Night Tours!+++