Getting the Most Out of a Visit to NYC's New SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Observation Deck
Novelist Edith Wharton once wrote, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
In the case of New York City’s newest observation deck, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, the city is the candle, but oh, what a lovely light this many-mirrored space is giving off!
Unlike the many other observation decks in the city, this one doesn’t rely solely on the view to dazzle. Instead it takes the vista and fractures it, intimately connecting the viewer with the view and packing in a dose of vertigo-inducing chills. It’s a marvelous, highly interactive, complex new attraction.
The block-wide, 65,000-square-foot, four-story space was designed by artist Kenzo Digital. Its highest viewing point is 1,200 feet above the sidewalk, making it the tallest observation site in Midtown Manhattan (taller than the Empire State Building but lower than One World Observatory, which is elsewhere, in the Financial District).
If you want to get the most out of a visit, I have some advice:
Because there are mirrors in the floor, the building recommends wearing "pants, shorts, or tights" to protect your privacy. Unless you’re an influencer (pictured) or you're fine with showing the world everything, you may want to avoid skirts and dresses. There is one "privacy path" with nonreflective surfaces available to those who show up in clothing that can be "upskirted," but you won't be able to explore the entire space if you follow that route.
Because the windows are engineered to let in 98% of the outside light (according to staff), parts of the space can get glaringly bright during the day. You’ll be handed disposable sunglasses when you get off the elevator, which is fine for most guests. But if you’re a glasses wearer, like me, you’ll find the handouts aren’t very stable when worn over specs. If you need to wear prescription lenses to see well, bring your own sunglasses.
Like all of New York City’s viewpoints, the farther you can see, the more there is to enjoy. So if the city is socked in with clouds, or if you don’t want your photographs to be rain-streaked (like mine, here), it might be better to reschedule your visit to a clearer day.
Whatever the weather, be sure to get a snapshot of Manhattan’s most beautiful tower, the Chrysler Building. Because of its proximity, SUMMIT has the best views in the city of that Art Deco icon.
And you will take photos. Unlike many attractions where a camera becomes a barrier between you and the experience, here, it's a big part of the fun to find interesting subjects to frame or to capture the surprise vistas that are created by reflections.
Point your lens in adventurous directions. Aim straight up, or down at your feet, or through one of the circular holes cut between the main floor and the balcony (pictured above). It’s nigh impossible to take a bad photograph here.
With floor-to-ceiling windows, the washrooms have some of the best views in the place—and better views than any other john I’ve been in.
Cameras have been installed everywhere—some of them are positioned from heights and vantage points you couldn’t reach—and you can buy the unique shots they take of you. But even if you don’t purchase one of their images, you're guaranteed to get a jaw-dropping selfie when you step into one of the glass boxes that hang off the side of the building.
Do what I didn't do in this shot: Fix your hair! I can guarantee that the city backdrop shaves off 10 pounds—truly! This is one of the best photos taken of me in years, despite the ponytail.
After dark, a special light show (pictuted above) kicks in, and the photos you take will look completely different from the ones you would take in the daylight.
A part of the experience that costs extra are glass elevators (pictured above) that ascend the outside of the building to the highest viewing point and then hang out up there for three minutes.
Before I tried it, I thought that would be the spine-tingling highlight of my day.
It wasn't—despite costing an extra $20. The elevator isn’t from the ground floor, but instead simply rises four stories from a terrace. Being inside isn't much different from standing in the glass boxes you can already take photos in for free, and the view from four floors higher certainly isn’t 20 bucks better because you'll already be so far above the streets, you won't be able to tell a difference.
Après is the attraction's cocktail lounge experience, and it is run by one of New York City’s top restaurateurs, Danny Meyer. So the tipples are top-notch, and there’s good food to soak up the alcohol.
You can also take your drinks outside to see what is dubbed the world’s “highest urban alpine meadow” (that's a stretch) or to linger in front of a faux fireplace (pictured above) with "flames" generated by light and water vapor. Don’t get too tipsy, though—later, you’ll exit through two gift shops (of course), and bombed buying is never a good idea.
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is across the street from the storied Grand Central Station. In fact, you can access the deck's entrance through the main floor of Grand Central (just go east and look for the signs). So while you're in the neighborhood, build in some time to explore the terminal (click here for our advice on what to see and do).
Visiting SUMMIT One Vanderbilt (SummitOV.com) requires timed ticket reservations. Street-level access is located at 45 East 42nd St., between Vanderbilt and Madison avenues. The nearest subway lines are the 4, 5, 6, 7, and S at Grand Central.