Three visitors look at the cityscape from One World Observatory.
Pauline Frommer

Which New York City Skyscraper Observation Deck Is the Best?

There are some New York activities that visitors usually experience only a single time. Trying a genuine New York hot dog is one—there's a reason it's known locally as a "dirty water dog"—and, because of the cost, seeing the cityscape from one of Manhattan's observation decks is another. Entrance to each of the city's tip-top towers costs significantly more than most other attractions in the city (museums, tours) for an experience that lasts half as long. 

Happily, none of the decks disappoint. How could they when they allow visitors to see the miracle of New York's supercharged, always changing, magnificent skyline? But some views are indusputably better than others, either because of location or the deck's design and amenities.

So, without further ado, here's a ranking of all Manhattan's major observation decks, from least recommended to the one that towers above the rest. 

Pictured above: One World Observatory

A group looks through the windows of One World Observatory in Manhattan.
Pauline Frommer
5. One World Observatory

To the age-old question of whether bigger is truly better, One World Observatory answers "not necessarily." Yes, this is the tallest manmade viewpoint in the Western Hemisphere, with an observation area on the 104th floor of a building that reaches, thanks to the spire, 1,776 feet in height. But because the tower sits so near the bottom tip of Manhattan, the location can feel remote from the rest of the city and its other famous buildings, thus limiting views. Plus, this is the only one of the observation decks that is fully enclosed, which dampens the experience—there's something thrilling about feeling the rush of the wind at a great height, and you won't get that sensation here.

The Statue of Liberty as seen from One World Observatory in New York City
Pauline Frommer

Good for: views of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge; an impressive elevator ride showing a computer-generated history of Manhattan from before colonization through today

Biggest rip-off: Combination tickets. For an extra $14, ticket holders use the priority line—an unnecessary convenience since there's rarely a wait in the regular line—and get to use the Explorer iPad, an electronic tablet that's supposed to identify buildings, parks, neighborhoods, and other features when you point the device in certain directions. In reality it recognizes only a handful of structures, most of which are too far away to notice easily with the naked eye. Some properties have accompanying videos, often with historic footage, which sounds cooler than it is. The experience feels like watching mediocre TV instead of taking in the surrounding views and you're liable to turn the iPad off pretty quickly. 

Dining and drinking facilities onsite? Yes

For a full review, click here.
A view from Top of the Rock in Rockefeller Center, New York City
Pauline Frommer
4. Top of the Rock

The most old-fashioned of the Big Apple's observation decks, Rockefeller Center's Top of the Rock is set in the heart of bustling Midtown, so the views can't be beat. The vistas aren't blocked by glass—the wind will whip your hair and shutterbugs don't have to contend with glare and smudges when framing photos. (There's an indoor viewing area for chilly times of year.)

Top of the Rock's home base, Rockefeller Center, is one of the most beautiful addresses in New York. An informative pre-view section walks visitors through the fascinating history of the Art Deco complex, a city-within-the-city built at the height of the Great Depression. For the visitor who cares more about great views than bells and whistles, this is a good choice. Youngsters and those who want a bit more excitement would do well to choose a different deck.

A couple looks at the views from Top of the Rock in New York City
Pauline Frommer
Good for: views of Central Park, the Empire State Building, and Midtown Manhattan; a top photography site  

Biggest rip-off: Express and VIP passes. There's no need to pay extra to skip the lines or use faster elevators because long lines are rare and the regular elevator is plenty fast. Top of the Rock is one of the attractions included with a CityPass, which is usually worth getting since it includes five other top sites and if you see them all you can save a bundle. But one of the other sites is the Empire State Building and you probably won't won't want to visit two observation decks within 10 days.

Dining and drinking options onsite? No

For a full review, click here.

Guests at Edge, the sky deck at Hudson Yards
Pauline Frommer
3. Edge

For travelers who crave an adrenaline rush, Edge is the clear winner. After all, the Hudson Yards attraction is home to the City Climb experience, which takes participants up the outside of a skyscraper to its apex. It's the tallest exterior building climb in this hemisphere. For safety, climbers wear special equipment that attaches to a trolley while they ascend a series of stairs. Even with the tethering, this may well be the scariest and/or most thrilling attraction in all of New York. 

Of course, you don't have to scale the side of the skyscraper to enjoy the views. There's also a "sky deck" that juts out from the facade rather than sitting atop the building. Because of that unique construction, designers were able to create a viewing area within the floor—a triangular glass panel that looks down some 100 stories. Lie down for a vertiginous selfie.

As for the skyline views: They're quite nice, though a bit off to the side of the more exciting parts of Midtown.

The Climb attraction at Hudson Yards
The Edge

Good for: views of the Empire State Building and the George Washington Bridge; shots of adrenaline thanks to City Climb, a tour that allows visitors to scale the exterior of the building

Biggest rip-off: None—Edge is the least expensive (by a few bucks) of the city's observation decks.

Dining and drinking options onsite? The deck has a champagne bar with light bites. On the floor above perches an elegant (and expensive) restaurant called Peak.

For a full review, click here.

People playing with floating orbs at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
2. SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

If Edge is for adventurers, then this new-in-2021 deck is for Instagrammers, art lovers, and aficionados of mind-altering substances. That's not an insult. This is, without a doubt, the city's most surreal elevated attraction, with great heart-of-Midtown views and trippy visual effects including all-glass skyboxes suspended off the side of the building, palatial all-mirrored viewing rooms (pictured below), groovy dens of floating orbs (above), and much more. It's a hoot and a half.

The great room at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
Good for: views of the Chrysler Building (right next door), the Empire State Building, and the rest of Midtown; highly Instagrammable backdrops; dreamlike elements that should appeal to children and artsy types

Biggest rip-off: The only section not included in the entry costs is Ascent, an all-glass elevator that climbs the side of the building. It's not all that exciting, since there's a terrace directly below (you get scarier downward views in the included skyboxes), and the view isn't appreciably different four stories up. And $20 is too much for a three-minute experience.

Dining and drinking options onsite? A cocktail bar with light bites is helmed by famed restaurateur Danny Meyer. The bar is right next to the terrace, and you can take drinks outdoors. 

For a full review, click here.
A look at the Empire State Building from the exterior
Sam valladi/Flickr
1. The Empire State Building

Classic and classy, the Empire State Building is still the best of the city's observation decks after all these years. A lot has to do with the views, of course. The building is in the center of all the Manhattan action, and the outdoor areas, with their diamond-shaped metal safety fencing, don't have glass, making them tops for photography. The tower's curators also deserve kudos for creating a stirring, intelligent, and fun introduction to the building—its history, its place in pop culture, its big-name visitors—that unfolds as you journey to the summit. By the time you've gone through all the exhibits, you really feel like you're a part of the larger story of this iconic building, with mounting excitement culminating in that showstopping view.

A statue and video of King Kong menaces visitors at the Empire State Building.
Pauline Frommer
Good for: views of the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building, Bryant Park, and other Midtown sights

Biggest rip-off: While there is genuine excitement in seeing the much higher views from the 102nd floor (most visitors just go to the larger viewing deck on 86), it's a shame the add-on is so pricey. Is it really worth an extra $33? That said, you can save on the initial entry fee by getting the CityPass, which grants entry to six top attractions at a good overall savings.

Dining and drinking options onsite? There are several on the first floor but none at the top.

For a full review, click here.
The nighttime sky of New York City with the Empire State Building
Pauline Frommer
Which observation deck should you choose if the weather is bad? None of them. The point is to see as far as possible, and when it rains, your view wil probably be obscured by clouds.

But if you want to risk it or if you're ducking frigid air but not clouds, all of the decks have both indoor and outdoor viewing spaces, so you can look at the city in comfort even if it's windy.