Visiting the Observation Decks in New York City

New York City is best known for its impressive city skyline, Manhattan skyline is one of the densest and the most beautiful skylines in the world.

Walking on the streets in Manhattan is not a good way to enjoy the view of the skyline, as the buildings nearest to you will block the other buildings which form into skyline. People typically go to the other boroughs like Queens, Brooklyn, or Jersey City to see the skyline of Manhattan. Is there a way to see it within the Manhattan island? Apparently the only measure is to getting to some higher points so that the views will not be blocked, to achieve that the typical way is to go to an observation deck, some owners of the skyscrapers open a few uppermost floors to the public for a small amount of admission fee, which can be a great resource of income for them, when Empire State Building was first opened in 1930s, its income generated from the tourism and observation was far more than the rental income.
The skyline views seen from observation deck is more spectacular and explicit, since even being looked from other boroughs, still a large number of inner and lower buildings are blocked by the outer and higher ones. From those observation decks at high altitudes, you can see almost every buildings in the city.
Let's take a look at these observation decks in Manhattan.

Observatories currently existing in New York City:

Empire State Building Observation deck

Perhaps the most renowned observation deck in New York city is on the Empire State Building, this is mainly because of the Empire State Building's significant height and its iconic shape, and also for it has been featured countless times in numerous films.

An aerial view of the observation deck on Empire State Building
An aerial view of the observation deck on Empire State Building

Empire State Building has two separated observation decks, the main deck is on the 86th floor of the building, with an altitude of 320m or 1050 feet above street level, it is an open-air viewing platform, one of the advantages of open-air viewing platform is that visitors can feel the cool and fresh air at such a high altitude, and also see the views of the city more clearly with no dirt on the glass that obscure the sights.
From this observation deck you can see downtown skyline to the south, and hundreds of skyscrapers in Midtown and the a small portion of Central Park.

The skyline of Lower Manhattan looked from the observation deck on Empire State Building
The skyline of Lower Manhattan looked from the observation deck on Empire State Building
Midtown skyscrapers seen from the observation deck on Empire State Building
Midtown skyscrapers seen from the observation deck on Empire State Building

As of 2017 the standard admission cost 34 dollars, with the exceptions of the children and seniors to whom the price is set a bit lower. The operating time of the observatory is from 8:00 in the morning to 2:00 after midnight.

The other smaller deck is at 102nd floor,  this observation deck is an indoor viewing platform, and much smaller than the one on 86th floor, to access there you need pay an extra fee at 20 Dollars, since it is 50m or 160 feet higher, in fact only 50m higher can't make a significant difference on the views.

Inside the second observation deck on the 102nd floor of Empire State Building
Inside the second observation deck on the 102nd floor of Empire State Building

In fact there's another viewing platform right above this one at 103rd floor with an altitude of 373m or 1224 feet off the ground, this is an annular platform that very narrow, hence it is only opened to celebrities, hundreds of celebrities have visited there, the photos of them can be found on the official site of the Empire State Building.

The highest observation deck of Empire State Building at the 103rd floor
The highest observation deck of Empire State Building at the 103rd floor

Top of The Rock--30 Rockefeller Plaza Observation deck

The other observation deck in Midtown is on the roof of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, named Top of the Rock. It is also an open-air observation deck as shown below.

Aerial view of Top of the Rock
Aerial view of Top of the Rock
A closeup of Top of The Rock
A closeup of Top of The Rock
A glance at Top of The Rock
A glance at Top of The Rock

Standing at 259 meters or 850 feet, 30 Rockefeller Plaza is a bit shorter and not as iconic as Empire State Building, but it provides one of the best positions in the city to enjoy the stunning view of Empire State Building, which cannot be enjoyed from the observation deck on Empire State Building itself.

30 Rockefeller Plaza
30 Rockefeller Plaza
The night view of Empire State Building seen from Top of the Rock
The night view of Empire State Building seen from Top of the Rock

Aside from this, the views of Central Park is more clear and explicit as the building situated much closer to it than Empire State Building, in fact the views of hundreds of skyscrapers in Midtown is also more explicit looked from there, as 30 Rockefeller Plaza is situated in the vicinity of the center point of Midtown while Empire State Building stands at the southern boundary of Midtown.

Central Park seen from Top of the Rock
Central Park seen from Top of the Rock
Tons of skyscrapers in Midtown can be clearly seen on Top of the Rock
Tons of skyscrapers in Midtown can be clearly seen on Top of the Rock

Same with Empire State Building, the price of a standard ticket cost 34 Dollars, the price varies based on the age of the visitor. Top of The Rock is open 8 AM to midnight everyday.

One World Observatory--One world trade center Observation deck

One world trade center is the main tower of the rebuilt world trade center complex. Just like the original South Tower of world trade center, the new tower also features an observation deck named One World Observatory, the observation deck on One World Trade Center is the newest one in the city.

Looking down at One World Trade Center
Looking down at One World Trade Center
Inside the observatory of One World Trade Center
Inside the observatory of One World Trade Center
Inside the One World Observatory
Inside the One World Observatory

The observatory is not on the rooftop of the building as the one on the original South Tower was, One World Observatory is set at the 100th to 102nd floor of the building while the rooftop is occupied by the mechanical parts of the antenna of the tower, for this reason not only is the observatory lower than the original one, also be enclosed by the curtain wall, which blocks the fresh air and winds, and if you take a photo from there, the dirt and reflection on the glass will also be mixed into your pictures (Top of the Rock also has glass wall installed along the edge of the platform for security, but not as thick as One World Observatory's and easier to clean).

However it still worth to visit as the tower is the tallest building in the city and the views from there is unique, or even more stunning, although from there you can't see Central Park which can be seen from the other two observatories, from One World Observatory you can see the estuary of Hudson River and New York Harbour, where Statue of Liberty and the Governor Island located, and it's also a good position to see Verrazano Bridge which connects Staten Island and Brooklyn. To the east and north you can see Brooklyn Bridge and a few of new iconic buildings like the 8 Spruce Street and 56 Leonard, and the view of the skyline of Midtown in the distance is no short of spectacular.

New York habour seen from One World Trade Center Observation deck
New York Habour seen from One World Trade Center Observation deck
Skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan and New York Habour seen from One World Trade Center Observation deck
Skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan and New York Harbour seen from One World Trade Center Observation deck
East River, Brooklyn Bridge, 8 Spruce Street, 30 Park Place seen from One World Trade Center Observation deck
Midtown skyline in the distance seen from One World Trade Center Observation deck
Midtown skyline in the distance seen from One World Trade Center Observation deck

The price of the ticket to access the One World Observatory is same as other two observatories, the operating time is from 9 AM to midnight.

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Not satisfied with all of three observatory listed above? The good news is the new ones are coming.

Upcoming observatories in New York City:

One of the upcoming observatories for New York City is the Observation deck on 30 Hudson Yards, this tallest building in Hudson Yards is currently under construction and set to be complete in 2019, the building is designed to have a cantilevered open-air viewing platform hovering at a height of 1100 feet, this will make it the highest open-air observation deck in New York City.

A render of the observation deck on 30 Hudson Yards
A render of the observation deck on 30 Hudson Yards

Another supertall skyscraper being built in Midtown New York will also contains an observation deck, this building is known as One Vanderbilt, and best known for its distinctive location, which is right beside the renowned Grand Central Station. The observation deck will be set at one of the upper floors with a height of 1020 feet.

A render of One Vanderbilt
A render of One Vanderbilt

Aside from the observatories on skyscrapers, there will be another great place to enjoy the Manhattan skyline, that is the under construction ferris wheel on Staten Island, nicknamed New York Eye, designed to be 192m tall, the ferris wheel was aimed to be built as the tallest ferris wheel in the world when it was first proposed, but in the later Dubai also announced to build a tallest ferris wheel which will be 18m taller, so New York Eye will become the second tallest ferris wheel in the world.

This ferris wheel is so large that a single ride will last 38 minutes, it will have 36 pods, and each pod could hold up to 40 visitors. It is estimated that the New York Eye will attract 3.5 million visitors every year, this number is same with Empire State Building. The completion date was set to be in 2018, however according to current speed of the construction the completion will be set back to 2019 or 2020.

The future New York ferris wheel on Staten Island
The future New York ferris wheel on Staten Island

In New York City Observation deck is not the only way to enjoy the bird's-eye view of the city, if you can afford it you can try the helicopter tour, the helicopter will take you around the several landmarks in New York City, the drawback is the price is much higher than observation deck, and it will only fly no longer than 15 minutes while you can stay as long as you wish on an observation deck.

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