Early skyscrapers introduced New Yorkers to the novelty and thrill of being hundreds and thousands of feet in the air. Most of New York’s Art Deco skyscrapers, like the Chrysler Building, 70 Pine, and the Chanin Building, featured observation decks where visitors could experience new heights for the very first time. Today, while many of those original observation decks have closed and the experience of ascending 70 or more stories may be a mundane daily experience, the thrill of seeing the city from high above the ground hasn’t worn off. New super tall towers are adding observation decks that look down upon New York City’s landmarks, and some old observation decks are opening up again. We’ve highlighted the best observation decks that offer amazing views of New York City and unique climbing experiences!
1. Edge at Hudson Yards – Most Foot-Tingling
Recently reopened, Edge at Hudson Yards is the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere. The knee-shaking platform extends out 80 feet feet from the 100th floor of 30 Hudson Yards, 1,100 feet above the Manhattan streets below. Angled glass barriers ring the 7,500 square foot space providing an uninterrupted view of the city from the Hudson to the East River and down to Lower Manhattan.
If the extreme height and stunning views alone don’t provide enough of a thrill for you, place yourself on the glass-bottomed portion of the deck. Here you can look down and see the goings-on of New York City happening directly below your feet, 100 stories down. You can experience Edge for yourself on Untapped New York’s upcoming tour of Hudson Yards. Led by our Cheif Experience Officer Justin Rivers, this tour will illustrate the evolution of the area from an industrial rail yard to the largest real estate development in the world. After you’ve learned about the history and architecture of the site, you will ascend to Edge and see it all from above.
2. Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center – Most Art Deco
Photograph Courtesy of Tishman Speyer
Rockefeller Center is one of the most iconic sites of New York City and offers some of the best views atop its observation deck, Top of the Rock. Though the Top of the Rock as New Yorkers know it today only opened in 2005, the tradition of visitors climbing to the 70th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza dates back to 1935 when the observation deck first opened. At that time, the available deck space was only 190 feet, compared to today’s 9,500-square-feet. Early 20th century guests lounged on Adirondack chairs in a setting designed to invoke the atmosphere of a luxury ocean liner deck. There was an outdoor refreshment bar that served sliced egg and tomato sandwiches, pie, and frosted malts, tour guides to answer all your questions, and souvenirs to buy like ashtrays, lighters, compacts, and tiepins.
The deck closed in 1986 and reopened in 2005 after major renovations. Today, visitors will experience fascinating exhibitions about Rockefeller Center’s construction and breathtaking views of the city’s skyline on the expansive rooftop deck, 850 feet in the air. Now through October 12th, Top of the Rock is offering free admission to kids 12 years old and younger with the purchase of an adult ticket. You can make our reservations online here!
3. The Empire State Building – Most Iconic
Views from the 86th floor observatory
Over the past four years, the observation decks at the Empire State Building have undergone a $165 million renovation. A new museum, the “Observatory Experience,” has been added to the lobby to entertain visitors while waiting in line. The museum features hands-on exhibitions that explore the history of different parts of the famous building. On the redesigned 80th floor, the landing spot for those continuing on to the 86th and 102nd-floor observatories, visitors can enjoy six new exhibitions, including an augmented reality experience that lets you explore famous landmarks such as Grand Central Terminal, Statue of Liberty, United Nations, the High Line, and Coney Island.
The open-air observation deck on the 86th floor wraps around the Empire State Building‘s legendary spire, providing 360-degree views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and beyond. You can even see parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Delaware if the skies are very clear! The indoor observation deck on the 102nd floor now has floor to ceiling windows and Art Deco decor. You can purchase tickets online to experience every level.
4. One World Observatory – Most High Tech
City Pulse Ring. Photo courtesy One World Observatory
One World Observatory offers some of the best views of New York City. The experience, which ends at the top of the tower, starts at its very bottom. As you make your way to the elevators you will walk through a recreation of the Manhattan schist bedrock that makes up One World Trade Center’s foundation. The original rocks date back 450 million years. Once inside the Sky Pod elevators, guests are treated to a journey through 500 years of history as the story of New York visually unfolds on enveloping LED screens over the course of the 46-second ride.
Once you have arrived at the observation level there are many ways you can explore the view. The One World Explorer iPad guide lets you chose a landmark and learn more information. Tour guides at the City Pulse Ring will answer any question you may have. At 1,250 feet above ground, you gain a whole new perspective of the city.
5. Riverside Church – Most Historic
For the first time in twenty years, visitors were allowed inside the Riverside Church bell tower in December 2020. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus pandemic has forced the tours to temporarily pause once more, but when the tower is open once again visitors will have an experience like no other. After taking an elevator up twenty floors, guests walk up 145 stairs through the bell tower to reach the top. As you climb the metal staircases you weave your way through 74 massive bells of varying sizes. The small ones are just ten pounds and the largest is 20-tons! You will also get a peek at the carillon, the instrument used by the carillonneur to play the bells. The bells ring every fifteen minutes.
The walk through the bell tower alone makes the price of admission worth it, but once you get to the top of the tower you step outside for views that stretch from the George Washington Bridge to One World Trade Center in the distance. On the east side, you can see Yankee Stadium and Randalls Island. You’ll also get a unique view of Grant’s tomb from above. Tours of the bell tower are currently paused due to the Coronavirus. Once tours resume, you can purchase tickets on the church’s website.
6. The Vessel – Most Unique Design
Before Edge opened in March 2019, Hudson Yards offered another way to see the city, from the top of Vessel. The eye-catching structure is a climbable staircase sculpture designed by British architect Thomas Heatherwick. Within its beehive-like shape, Vessel contains 2,500 steps, 154 interconnected flights of stairs, and 80 landings. Vessel’s 600-ton steel structure topped out at 150 feet tall in 2017.
Though Vessel may not have the most impressive height, it offers views you can’t get anywhere else. Once you reach the top with tired legs you are rewarded with views of the Hudson River, New Jersey shoreline, and the last remaining uncovered rail yards (a site that may not be around for much longer). What really makes the view special though is looking down into the sculpture itself and watching people walk along its interconnected stairways and platforms. There is also a funicular elevator for handicapped and mobility-challenged access. Vessel is free and open to the public daily from 11 AM to 7 PM, weather permitting. Tickets can be booked up to two weeks in advance on the Hudson Yards website or you can get same-day tickets by booking at 9 AM each morning or calling to speak with a Vessel Ambassador.
7. Harlem Watchtower – Most Community Oriented
Restoration of the Harlem Fire Watchtower began in 2015. Built between 1855 and 1857, the cast-iron tower is the last of thirteen such historic structures that were once scattered around Manhattan. The 5,000-pound bell housed within alerted all of northern Manhattan of fires — three bells for Yorkville, four bells for Bloomingdale, five bells for Harlem, six bells for Manhattanville, and so on.
To properly restore the 47-foot-tell tower, it was dismantled piece by piece and stored in Queens. After four years it was reassembled and re-erected at the highest point of the Acropolis in Marcus Garvey Park (formerly Mount Morris Park) in October 2019. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, Urban Park Rangers led tours to the top of the watchtower and you could even ring the bell! Tours will resume this fall though no dates have been confirmed just yet. The watchtower is closed for access at all other times.
8. Jefferson Market Library – Most Exclusive
Photo courtesy NYPL
The Jefferson Market Library offers one of the most unique observation deck experiences. This New York City landmark was designed by noted architects Frederick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux (who also assisted in the design of Central Park). Its original purpose was to serve as a courthouse with an adjoining prison and market. Since 1967, it has been the home of the New York Public Library Jefferson Market Library branch.
The library’s observation deck encircles its iconic clocktower. After a climb up 149 steps, guests are treated to a special view of Greenwich Village and beyond. Untapped New York Insiders have had the pleasure of making the climb multiple times! When the library’s giant spider used as a Halloween decoration isn’t in use, it’s stored up there. The library will be under renovation through early 2021, so it is unclear at this point when the clocktower will reopen. We anxiously await the day!
9. One Vanderbilt – Newest
The View from atop One Vanderbilt
The Summit, an indoor/outdoor observation deck opening at One Vanderbilt in 2021, reaches an elevation of over 1,000-feet. The 71,938-square-foot space will feature two step-out and glass floor ledges that hover over Madison Avenue. The attraction, designed by internationally famed architecture and design office Snøhetta, will also boast an infinity room with 40-foot-high ceilings and an outdoor terrace with food and beverage options. Visitors will also be able to take part in an immersive experience created by Kenzo Digital.
Join Untapped New York to experience Edge on our upcoming tour of Hudson Yards. Led by our Cheif Experience Officer Justin Rivers, this tour will illustrate the evolution of the area from an industrial rail yard to the largest real estate development in the world. After you’ve learned about the history and architecture of the site, you will ascend to Edge and see it all from above.