My Personal Ranking of NYC Observation Decks
Now that we’ve lived here for several months, I’ve gotten to visit a few more observation decks when friends or family are in town and I wanted to have one place to refer to when someone asks, “so what’s the best place for city views???” Ultimately, I think they’re all pretty incredible and definitely something to put on your list of things to do because it really helps you see just how BIG the city is.
#1 - Summit One Vanderbilt - Best Overall Experience
This Observation Deck is more like an immersive experience than just a viewing platform. They have really captivating digital visuals as you prepare to step into the main viewing area, and then you enter into its completely mirrored room with views across the entire city. You’re going to see ALL of the major landmarks from here - Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Central Park, Rockefeller Center - you name it! They have a separate room full of reflective balloons that you can play with, which would be especially fun for little ones! It’s also indoors, so you don’t have to worry about it being overly windy or cold. This may be the best overall for pictures for that reason.
Con: I don’t know if this was just because of the day/time we visited, but there was a massive security line and wait before you ever got to the observation deck. Then, because there are so many different rooms to visit - you could easily spend 3 hours there. 1 waiting, 2 in the actual observatory. For that reason, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it if you already have a jam-packed agenda of other sights to see.
#2 - The Empire State Building - Best Historical Background / Most Iconic
Maybe this is the sentimentalist in me - but this one just feels special. I kept telling myself “I’m in THE Empire State Building.” The second you enter, you’re aware that you’re setting foot in the most iconic building in New York City. They have a great “lead up” to the main views with a mini museum setup, full of historical insight on New York and the building itself. They don’t have a ton of glass surrounding it, so you’re going to have the clearest (un-smudged) views. They have fencing around it for safety, of course, but you can look through the spaces.
Bonus Points: This is also the backdrop for a major Gossip Girl moment, IYKYK.
Con: Because you’re IN the Empire State Building, you’re not going to have it in the skyline view of any of your pictures.
#3 - The Edge - Most “Thrilling”/ Most Impacted by the Weather
This one has frameless glass panels all around, angled to where you kind of feel like you’re looking “over the edge.” They also have a small section where the floor is made out of glass so you can look directly down 100 stories and into the city streets (low key, terrifying).
Con: We happened to go on an extremely windy day and because you’re so high up, it was BRUTAL. I couldn’t walk anywhere without my hair slapping me in the face. It was hard to see through my hair and impossible to get a decent picture. The majority of this deck juts out from the building and doesn’t have any ceiling coverage, so I feel like its most exposed to the elements - much more than the others.
Honorable Mention: Top of the Rock - only unranked because I haven’t been to this one in 6 years and I don't remember as many details as I do for the others. But it shares some of that “iconic” feeling with the Empire State Building because Rockefeller Center itself is amazing. It has the best views of the Empire State Building too.