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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.
TIP: If you are considering a discount tourist attractions pass, keep in mind the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock are included for free on all passes. Read our post to determine whether a pass is right for you.
The following sections will provide details about the most popular observation decks in New York City, comparing the pros and cons of each location to help you make a decision about which observatory to visit.
Each attraction is included on at least one tourist pass and some are also offered through combo packages. After making each comparison, we will include links to more information about all of these landmarks with tips to avoid large crowds, security requirements, how to get there – and more.
One of the best things about Top of the Rock is that you can 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.
The central location of Rockefeller Center makes it the perfect spot to get a good view of several notable landmarks.
In addition to the view, there are also a lot of different exhibits and attractions on display at Top of the Rock. There are several discounts available and you can also take tours of sites such as NBC Studios, Radio City Music Hall and more.
For many visitors, being able to purchase tickets for specific time slots at Top of the Rock is very helpful. This keeps the crowds at a reasonable size and cuts down on a lot of time spent waiting in line without charging you anything extra. Timed tickets are also available at One World Observatory.
This opportunity 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, however it may reduce your flexibility to change plans on the go.
You can also purchase Top of the Rock tickets with flexible dates, allowing you to choose whether to go up at your chosen time or to change your date to arrive based on weather conditions and other factors.
The drawback in this instance is that you will need to request a time based on what is available, which might not be immediate.
Another nice advantage is that tickets purchased through Get Your Guide can be canceled with a full refund up to 24 hours before use.
You can also get free admission with every discount pass in New York.
Some reviewers take issue with the ticket prices, but this is not a very common concern. Other than this complaint, most people agree that Top of the Rock is worth the trip.
The observation deck is indoor/outdoor, so it’s a good choice for pretty much any time of year. Most people who visit this observatory report that they were impressed with their experience and this attraction averages a 4 ½ out of 5-stars rating on TripAdvisor.
One World is only inside and the Empire State Building is only outside unless you pay extra to reach its highest deck.
If you are on a tight schedule or hate waiting in line, or you would like the option of being inside or outside, then Top of the Rock may be the best choice for you.
One World Observatory allows guests a unique 360-degree view of the city. It is also the tallest of the three observation decks and offers the most impressive technological features. Additionally, thanks to its location in Lower Manhattan, the Freedom Tower also offers some of the best views of the Statue of Liberty and the harbor.
However, because it is the newest, crowds can get a bit larger at this location. That said, tickets for One World Observatory are timed, ensuring that you’ll probably never experience an unreasonable crowd size.
Admission for this attraction is included for free with both the New York Sightseeing Pass and the New York Sightseeing Flex Pass. Another flex pass called the Freestyle Pass also includes tickets to this location.
Although you can purchase tickets upon arrival, chances are that you won’t be able to enter immediately. In addition to waiting in a ticket line, you may also need to wait for the next available time on their timed tickets.
Thankfully, if you get your tickets ahead of time, you can bypass the ticket line and enter whenever you want.
The Freedom Tower has one of the best observation decks for photography. Not only are the views fantastic, but they also allow visitors to bring DSLR cameras inside.
Although commercial photographers are not allowed inside, guests with an interest in taking photos can use the best technology to get a perfect shot of the major landmarks in NYC.
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 purchasing skip-the-line tickets to avoid this issue.
That being said, this location has an overall rating of 4 ½ out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor. Many customers were also impressed that the One World Observatory is located so close to the 9/11 Memorial. Many people combine their trip to the Freedom Tower with a tour of the area. Some say this observatory is too expensive, but a majority of visitors appreciate the opportunity to get a good look at New York City.
This may be one of the older buildings on our list, but it’s also one of the most iconic landmarks in New York. Many people like to visit the Empire State Building simply because of its history. 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.
In addition to the observation decks, there are also exhibits focusing on both the history of the Empire State Building and efforts to make the building more environmentally friendly. These exhibits aren’t as high-tech or impressive as some of the attractions you’ll find at Top of the Rock or One World Observatory, but they do provide a lot of useful information and many visitors appreciate the additional features.
Due to its popularity, you can expect longer lines at this location. Several discounts and combo packages are available, so you might want to consider purchasing tickets ahead of time to avoid waiting in line for too long. In particular, this attraction is included on the New York Pass, the Explorer Pass, the CityPass, and the Big Apple Pass.
The history of this landmark is one of its biggest draws, but guests also appreciate the fact that it is centrally located. Visitors have very little trouble seeing some of the most popular sites in New York City. In addition to the view, there are also some pretty nice exhibits on display at the Empire State Building.
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. They also have an indoor observation deck, but you’ll have to pay a higher price for access to this floor. 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.