Find your best New York City view: Comparing 5 iconic observation decks

Dec 14, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

A city with as much depth as New York is best viewed from above. At least, that’s my advice.

Whether you’re visiting the Big Apple for the first time or are a local looking for a fresh perspective, the city’s skyscrapers are the perfect place to get your bearings. Of course, there are incredible views all over the city that don’t require a ticket (though you might need to buy a beverage or food for access).

One of the best deals in New York City is a view with a drink at a rooftop hotel bar (head to Brooklyn, such as the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, for unbeatable Manhattan views). But when it comes to “official” viewpoints, New York City has those in spades. And though there’s nothing wrong with the classics — the Empire State Building, the observation deck atop Rockefeller Plaza — new, more thrilling views crop up with dizzying frequency.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Since moving to New York in 2013, I’ve visited all the major observation decks (and climbed to the top of many other tall buildings and structures in the city). Here’s what you need to know to find the right view for you.

Edge New York

(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

This cantilevered observation deck juts out from the 100th story of a skyscraper in New York city’s newest neighborhood, Hudson Yards. It’s said to be the tallest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere.

In November, Edge launched another superlative activity for travelers who prefer more adrenaline with their sightseeing: City Climb, which claims to be the highest open-air building ascent in the world. You might not be able to free solo the 1,200-foot skyscraper, but you can climb along its trapezoidal summit and lean out over the side to look across New York City and the Hudson River. Don’t worry: You’ll be wearing a safety harness the whole time.

While you’re in Hudson Yards, you can check out the Thomas Heatherwick and Heatherwick Studio-designed public sculpture, The Vessel (though you can’t currently climb it), or pick up the High Line for an elevated stroll along the West Side.

The details: You can climb to more than 1,200 feet if you participate in City Climb ($185). The observation deck is about 1,130 feet high and costs $36 per adult when purchased online in advance. If you opt for the City Climb package, you might just have the most thrilling New York City observation deck experience money can buy.

Empire State Building

Photo courtesy of Empire State Building.

The view from the Empire State Building might be iconic, but the landmark art deco skyscraper isn’t resting on its laurels either. In 2019, a brand-new space opened on the 80th floor — as did a new observation deck on the 102nd story with floor-to-ceiling windows. And, of course, there’s the main 86th-floor open-air deck that wraps around the Empire State Building’s spire. is the biggest open-air observatory in New York. It wraps around the building’s spire and gives visitors 360-degree views of the city.

Beyond the history (the instantly recognizable viewfinders, a replica of the building’s original Otis mast elevator), the Empire State Building also wins out for best early-morning and nighttime views. Early risers can now visit the 86th floor to see the sun rise on Saturday mornings (with a cup of Starbucks coffee in hand), and can currently stay as late as 11 p.m., when the city is awash in twinkling lights, not unlike its own cosmic nebula.

(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

The details: The 102nd-floor observation deck is at a height of 1,250 feet. Tickets for the main deck start at $42 for adults, while tickets that include access to the 102nd floor start at $75 per adult. To be one of 100 people catching the sunrise from the Empire State Building, expect to spend $125. For a quintessential New York City observation deck view, the Empire State Building can’t be beat

One World Observatory

(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

Visiting the One World Observatory atop the World Trade Center can be at once a breathtaking and deeply emotional experience. Since opening in 2015, the observation deck — which spans the 100th, 101st and 102nd floors — has welcomed millions of visitors around the globe.

The impressive view of New York City and beyond from the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere should be preceded by a visit to the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum, which encompasses the two footprints of the original World Trade Center towers and extends far below to the museum, which is built into the bedrock from which the World Trade Center site first rose.

A view from One World Observatory. (Photo by John Walton/PA Images/Getty Images)

The details: General admission to the One World Observatory — which, at its highest point, delivers knockout views from nearly 1,270 feet in the air — starts at $43. It’s the highest viewpoint on the list. Tickets to the museum can be purchased from $26 for adults.

Summit One Vanderbilt

(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

New York City’s newest observation deck is part skyscraper, part immersive art experience. Towering over Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan, Summit One Vanderbilt features an outdoor terrace; a two-story mirrored installation by Kenzo Digital, CEO and artist at Kenzo Digital Immersive; twin glass elevators that slide along the outside of the building; and transparent “sky boxes” called Levitation that leave you suspended you over Madison Avenue. During a visit to Summit One Vanderbilt, you’ll also see a floor installation by Yayoi Kusama and you can grab a bite at a lounge by hospitality mogul and restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events.

It’s a space created by some of the biggest names in design, art, hospitality and architecture to deliver a simultaneously iconic and utterly phantasmagoric New York City experience.

(Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

The details: Riding an exterior glass elevator to the highest point of Summit (1,200 feet) brings the price of an adult ticket to Summit One Vanderbilt from $39 for adults to $59. It’s the newest — and most unusual — observation deck experience on the list.

Top of the Rock

The Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

You won’t find any glass glares impeding your views when you visit the 70th-floor outdoor observation deck, Top of the Rock, at Rockefeller Plaza. Ideal for architecture buffs (hello, art deco accents) and travelers who want the Empire State Building featured in their photos, a visit to this classic observation point is a great way to spend a balmy spring or summer day in the city.

Be sure to stop and recreate the famous “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” photograph with a replica steel beam and, afterward, grab a drink at Bar SixtyFive or splurge on dinner at the Rainbow Room for a completely glamorous New York City night.

View of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock. (Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy)

The details: The view from the 70th floor is roughly 800 feet above the ground, making it the lowest observation deck on the list. General admission for adults starts at $40.

Bottom line

You could argue that some of the best views of New York City are free: The crowded tip of Manhattan as seen from the Staten Island Ferry, or strolling along the Jersey City waterfront. Or that for the price of a single beverage, you can enjoy the vista while comfortably seated at a hotel bar with a beverage of your choice. And if money is no object, a helicopter ride over Manhattan can prove to be a particularly impressive way to snag aerial views of New York City

But it’s impossible to compare a photo-worthy view to the experience of ascending to one of the city’s most iconic skyscrapers to look out across the inexorable motion of daily life in New York City.

Featured photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.