The Freedom Tower looming over Manhattan
One World Observatory

Touring One World Observatory in Downtown New York City

Can you put a price tag on a view? At One World Observatory they have, and it’s $34 (slightly more than the Empire State Building). That’s more than the entry fee to any of the Big Apple’s famed museums and nearly twice as much as you’ll pay for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island. But many would argue (myself included) that the skyline of the city of New York is as much a work of art as any of the Metropolitan Museum’s Vermeers or the Picassos at the Museum of Modern Art.
A man looks out the window of the One World Observation Deck
Pauline Frommer
A man looks through the 30-foot tall windows of the observation deck
The One World Trade Center comes with far more chills and thrills, one of which is, admittedly, a morbid one. This 1776-foot-tall skyscraper was built on the same acre of land where NYC’s twice-attacked World Trade Center once stood, arguably an area that remains a target today. Because of that One World Trade Centerhas not yet been able to fill its office space (in a city where office space is at a premium). Visitors, I’m guessing, will enjoy the "should-I-or-shouldn’t-I?" chill of booking a trip to the top.
Through the doors of the lobby of One World Observatory you can see airline-style security machines
One World Observatory
The lobby of the One World Observatory
To make sure that the site is as safe as possible, visitors pass through airport-style security. They then enter a room with a massive screen on which is projected a map of the world. If you're from somewhere other than the United States, as you enter the room you'll see your country lit up. On another screen, there will be a greeting in your native tongue atop a photograph of the New York City neighborhood in which your former countrymen settled (so for Chinese visitors, there will be a photo of Chinatown, for Korean visitors a photo of Little Korea, and so on.).
Video images of the workers who built the Freedom Tower
Pauline Frommer
A video wall in the lobby
Next, visitors enter what I’ll call the "corridor of pride". On one side are flat screen monitors on which videos of the men and women who built the tower—electricians, construction workers, transit authority officials—are projected. They discuss how honored they felt to be part of the project and their personal relation to it. Touchingly, one of the construction workers did the same job on this building that his father did on the original World Trade Center buildings.
Below the Freedom Tower is a corridor cut into the granite schist that underlies most of Manhattan island
One World Observatory
The path into the bedrock
The video wall is followed by a purposefully rough-hewn corridor that was cut through the granite schist underlying the building. Testimonials, written in light, are projected on the stone attesting to its qualities and to the sturdiness of the building above. ("5.4 million cubic feet of concrete make this the strongest building ever constructed," reads one.) It's an open question whether this is meant to reassure visitors, or—like the quiet, slow climb up, up, up a rollercoaster before it plunges downward—hype up tensions before the elevator ride.
A shot of the elevator doors at the One World Observatory
One World Observatory
The elevators
That ride is a highlight of the visit. The elevator shoots from the first floor to the 102nd in just 47 seconds, making this one of the fastest elevators on earth.
A computer rendered photo of early New York City
Pauline Frommer
Video screens on the interior of one of the elevators
When the doors of the elevator close, move so you face inward. The three walls are meant to look like windows and "through" them are projected a visual history of New York City in computer-generated images. The one shown here is a rendering of the city in the 18th century. Be sure to look to the right: the Twin Towers flash by, a sad blip in this 500-year-timeline.
Videos of a street scene engage the crowd at the One World Observatory
Pauline Frommer
A crowd watches videos of New York City
Once on the 102nd floor, visitors are treated to more videos of NYC before, oddly, they go down two stories for the actual Observatory, with its 360-degree view. Though you’re still high up, I think going down rather than up is a miscalculation on the part of Legends, the concessionaire. Though its likely just a psychological quirk, there's something disappointing about descending when you've paid to see the view from the highest point in the western hemisphere.
You can have lunch with a view at the One World Observatory
One World Observatory
The dining room at One World Observatory
I should note that between the video floor and the Observatory proper are three dining options: a fine dining restaurant (pictured), a grill where you can sit for a more casual meal, and a deli-like area for snacks to carry with you.
A guide leads visitors on a video trip through New York City
Pauline Frommer
The CityPulse exhibit
Nothing disappoints in the view, of course, which stretches for miles on a good day, taking in the Statue of Liberty, the stumpy forest of towers in midtown (including a small-from-here Empire State Building), New Jersey, and the waters that encircle the Isle of Manhattan. "Ambassadors" in bright blue shirts wander through to explain what you’re seeing, sometimes with the help of the massive “Citypulse” (pictured), a 15-foot-tall ring of video screens with flashing texr, photos, interactive maps, and live tweets about what to do in the Big Apple. As the guide moves his arms, the pictures on the panels shift. Frankly, the video screens seems like an unnecessary frill that competes with the stunning views, though kids should enjoy them.
A video panel that guests can walk on
Pauline Frommer
A street view panel gives visitors the illusion they can see straight down
The final whiz-bang element of the Observatory (and a big hit with the little ones) is a circular floor panel with video screens that show live images taken from the spire of the tower. As you can see, visitors can walk on the screen, which gives the illlusion that you're looking down 100 stories to the ground below.
A video of a family looking at New York City from the One World Observatory at the Freedom Tower
Pauline Frommer
If You Go
One World Observatory's address is 1 World Trade Center, but the actual entrance is at West Street on the corner of Vesey Street (not far from the entrance to the 9/11 Memorial). For subway directions, hours and more click here.