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Which NYC Observation Deck is Best?

Reviewed by Local Tour Guides

Updated: November 15, 2023

This post compares the observation decks in NYC to help you choose which one is best for you.

The 5 are the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Trade Center, Summit One Vanderbilt, and The Edge (Hudson Yards).

There's no simple answer to which one is best because a lot depends on your budget, your interests, how much time you have, etc.

We do not rank them, rather we do our best to illustrate for whom each deck is best suited.

We are a group of local NYC tour guides and we are asked our opinions on observation decks on just about every tour we lead.

All of us regularly bring groups to these decks and have experienced the good, the bad, and the unexpected with all five of them.

It's also a popular question in our NYC Travel Tips Facebook group. We share some of our members' tips in the previous travelers' picks section.

And, in this post, we also demonstrate how you can get discounts on all 5, so you don’t have to pay full price.

So, without further ado, let's get to it.

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.


TOP OF THE ROCK

One of the best things about Top of the Rock is that you get an unobstructed view of the Empire State Building.

Visitors get what is perhaps the best skyline view as it includes the other observation decks.

You also have a relatively unobstructed view of Central Park, a view not available from the other decks.

The central location of 30 Rockefeller Plaza 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.

And, in the video below, Katie, a tour guide with us, Free Tours by Foot NYC, details tips on discount tickets, the best times to go, and other tips to help you plan your visit.

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.

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 tourist 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-star 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.

Top of the Rock is also the overwhelming choice of members of our NYC Travel Tips Facebook Group.

Check out our blog post for a more in-depth look at the Top of the Rock observation deck.


ONE WORLD OBSERVATORY

One World Observatory is the tallest of the 5 observation decks.

In fact, it is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere!

Thanks to its location in Lower Manhattan, it offers views of the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and New York Harbor.

Guests get a unique 360-degree view of the city, including a great view of the Empire State Building, making for an amazing photo op.

Tickets for One World Observatory are timed, ensuring that you’ll probably never experience an unreasonable crowd size.

General admission to this attraction is included for free with both the New York Sightseeing Pass and the New York Sightseeing Flex Pass

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.

One World Observatory has one of the best observation decks for photography, but note that, unlike Top of the Rock and Edge, it is not an open-air deck.

Not only are the views fantastic, but they also allow visitors to bring DSLR cameras inside, something that some of the other observation decks do not permit.

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 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.


THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING

This is the oldest observation desk, but it’s one of the most iconic landmarks in New York.

There are two viewing platforms: the more popular and cheaper 86th Floor and the more expensive but somewhat less crowded 102nd Floor.

On a clear day, you can see five states from the observation decks. That's impressive!

In this video, Katie provides all of the information you need to visit the Empire State Building, including how to get discounts and free tickets, which observatory to choose, and how to avoid long lines

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 New York Sightseeing Pass, the Explorer Pass, the CityPass, and the Big Apple Pass.

See more ticket options here.

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.


EDGE OBSERVATION DECK

This is one of the newest observation decks in New York City, and it's located at Hudson Yards on the west side of Midtown Manhattan.

The deck itself extends out from the building and allows for a relatively unobscured view of the city.

In this video, Katie provides all of the information you need to visit The Edge, including how to get discounts and free tickets, which observatory to choose, and how to avoid long lines.

One of the nicer features included with this sky deck is the glass floor under the deck.

You don't have to walk over it if doing so makes you squeamish, but it's a good way to see the city streets below from over 1,000 feet above NYC!

In addition to these factors, Edge is also one of the only observation decks in the city to offer views of almost all the others, including the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, and SUMMIT.

Since Edge is located so close to the Hudson, it offers some of the best views of the Statue of Liberty.

You can also see Central Park quite well, and eagle-eyed visitors should even be able to spot locations in New Jersey!

Edge is included with both the New York Sightseeing Pass and the New York Flex Pass, both of which also include access to One World Observatory, the Empire State Building, and Top of the Rock.

  • Ticket Prices including tax: $41.73/Adults | $34.48/Children | $39.92/Seniors
  • Kids 5 and under get in for free
  • Discount available for members of the military
  • Additional discounts available for ticket holders
  • Purchase tickets or learn more.

All ticket holders are eligible for additional discounts at restaurants and shops in and around Hudson Yards, including a free chocolate bar at Li-Lac Chocolates and a free brownie at Bouchon Bakery!

There is one thing that Edge has that none of the observation decks have: the option to climb up it!

The City Climb experience is substantially more expensive than a regular ticket - and it's not for the faint of heart.

If having a drink way up high is more your kind of adventure, Edge has a rooftop bar.


Reviews of Edge Observation Deck

Since this is a fairly new attraction in New York City and many people haven't had the chance to visit, the reviews don't really tell us a lot about Edge just yet.

That being said, as of June 2021, most visitors enjoyed their experience at this sky deck.

There are a few negative reviews, but not much that indicates a common issue.

The most common complaint was about the crowds, and since it is a new attraction, there's really nothing they can do about all the people who want to see what makes this observation deck different from the rest.

Some reviewers who have been to all the other viewing decks in the city indicated that Edge offers the best view of them all. Others felt that One World Observatory was better.

Whatever the case might be, it's clear that those who liked Edge felt it was one of the better viewing experiences in New York City.


SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

As of October 2021, this is officially the newest observation deck in New York City and is located in Midtown Manhattan, next to Grand Central Terminal.

Much like other options on our list, this attraction is over 1,000 feet high.

This attraction approaches the idea of an observatory a bit differently with a series of immersive art installations integrated into the experience.

For daredevils, there is Levitation, a series of glass boxes that jut out from the building 1,063 feet (324 meters) above Madison Avenue.

As a matter of fact, there are so many reflective surfaces at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt that they actually recommend you bring sunglasses to protect your eyes from any glare you might experience!

The Air art installation offers panoramic views of Manhattan.

The SUMMIT Ascent experience is amazing. This is the elevator ride to the highest point of the building, over 1,200 feet in the sky -- in a glass elevator!

This elevator is located on the outside edge of SUMMIT One, giving you the chance to see as much of the city as possible while rising to the top!

Since they only recently opened up for business, there aren't currently any tourist passes offering admission to SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.

However, they do offer a discount for current and retired members of the military.

  • Tickets including tax: $52.27/Adults | $45.73/Youth (6-12)
  • Kids 5 and under get in for free
  • Military discount available
  • Purchase tickets or learn more.

Reviews of SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

This observation deck is still fairly new, so there aren't a lot of reviews for it yet.

That said, SUMMIT One currently enjoys a nearly perfect score on Trip Advisor, and most visitors enjoyed their experience.

As with competitors, one of the main issues guests seem to have is in regard to crowd control, and that tends to be an issue with any big new attraction.

Several visitors have indicated that the view at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is among the best in the city, and others went further in saying that they spent 3 hours here and didn't get bored.

Regardless of whether or not this attraction is better than the others, you can learn more about it and prepare to visit with our post on SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Tickets and Tips.


Previous Travelers' Picks

A great resource to find tips from real people is to pick the brains of members of our NYC Travel Tips Facebook group.

There are dozens of posts where members ask questions, give recommendations, or simply help people understand what's available.

Our group is made up of locals, like our tour guides, expats, regular visitors, as well as newbies.

You don't need to be a member to search for and read these posts and recommendations.

It's very easy to get answers. Just watch this video below.

About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo, Washington.org, and more.
Updated: November 15th, 2023
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