Want to get some height? Here are 3 must-see skyscrapers in New York 😊
It has to be said, New York has no shortage of the tallest buildings.
If you're planning a trip to New York, you ABSOLUTELY need to add a visit to one of the city's observatories to your agenda. To help you decide which skyscraper or observatory to choose according to your wishes, I explain all about them in this article 😊
Here you will find useful information as well as a quick overview of each skyscraper in New York.
This will help you choose between the three New York observation platforms.If you're not sure which to choose between the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock and New York's tallest observatory, the One World Observatory– this is the perfect article for you!
WHY VISIT THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING?
Simply because this skyscraper is considered one of the most famous buildings in the world. It became especially famous after the cult movie "King Kong" where the famous giant gorilla climbs the highest tower in the world (at that time!)
If a visit to this New York building as a whole is a must for any trip, it is mainly because the tower has a rich history. Its construction began in 1930 and was completed in just 13 months!
Can you imagine what a feat that was for the time?
Secondly, its architecture is another of the Empire State Building's major interests: the building is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside! It has a unique Art Deco design and is now the most photographed building in the world.
To restore its original splendour, the building has recently been renovated. The atrium with its huge ceiling fresco (which had been covered for a long time), beautiful stars glittering on the ceilings and in the corridors – everything has been restored to its original beauty.
If you want to go there and enjoy the view, I advise you to get your tickets as soon as possible. By taking them in advance, you will be sure to be able to go on the day of your choice. On top of that, you will benefit from a "no-queue" ticket, which will save you time on site 😉
WHERE IS THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING?
Don't worry, you can't miss it! The Empire State Building (ESB) is located in the heart of Manhattan, at the corner of 34th Street and 5th Avenue. The main entrance is at 20 West 3rd Street.
Address: 20 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001
how to get there ?
The best way to get there is to take the underground on lines 1, 2, 3 or A, C, E and get off at the "34th Street — Penn Station" station. It is a 5 minute walk to the ESB.
Other stations are in the vicinity of the building (5-10 minute walk):
- "34th Street — Herald Square” Station with the N, Q, R, W or A, C, E lines; and
- "Grand Central Terminal” with lines 4, 5, 6 or 7
You can also come by car, but it is not recommended: there aren’t really any parking spaces close to the building.
A wheelchair and ramp access has been installed for people with reduced mobility, and families can bring pushchairs for their children.
What are the EMpire State Building's opening ?
The Empire State Building is open every day of the year from 8 am to 2 am. The last lift goes up at 1:15 am.
You can visit in all weather conditions (except in case of extreme danger, of course).
when is the best time to go up there ?
To avoid the crowds, it is best to visit in the morning between 8 am and 10 am, or between 12 am and 1 am. Alternatively, you can use a New York pass to avoid the crowds and reserve your time slot.
Since the US Bicentennial celebration, the top of the skyscraper is lit up at night (it was lit up in red, white and blue on that day!). Before, the lighting was done via spotlights, but since 2012, an LED system (16 million different colours) has been installed. You can even find out what colour the building will be during your stay in New York by consulting the lighting calendar.
And unlike in other skyscrapers, the access price to one of the ESB platforms is the same no matter what time slot you select. Therefore, you can go at the end of the day to enjoy the sunset and admire the view at night without having to pay more than you would for a visit during the day.
The view from the Empire State Building
You can choose between two observation decks. There is one on the 86th floor and one on the 102nd floor.
- 86th level: the main platform
This is an open-air platform giving a 360° view of NY. It goes all around the building. You will be able to see Manhattan but also Brooklyn, Queens and even New Jersey if the weather is good.
To make the most of your visit and see the smallest details in the distance or at the foot of the building, you can use the platform’s binoculars (for free!). This platform is accessible to people with reduced mobility: there are lowered observation points made especially for them, so that they can enjoy the best view from the ESB.
- 102nd floor: the upper platform
There is an all-glass lift that takes you up to the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building (16 floors higher).
On this floor, you can enjoy a 360° view of all of New York's iconic landmarks and see up to 130 km away through huge windows (weather permitting of course!).
The Empire State Building's exhibitions
When you buy your tickets for the observatories, you can gain access to a number of exhibitions. They are located on the 2nd and 80th floors.
Here are some of them:
- "The ESB in the 1920s”: You will see the evolution of the building's construction and of NY’s streets from the late 1920s to the present.
- "Construction": The staging will put you in the middle of the ESB construction site. You will see the various trades working, and hear all the machines’ noise. You will also be able to take a photo with 4 bronze workers statues or take pictures of the skyscraper’s copper models.
- "Opening Day”: You’ll find yourself on the ESB’s opening day, with a newspaper vendor.
- "Urban Campus”: See the building as those who worked there saw it at the time.
- "Modern Marvel”: Find out why the ESB is a model of sustainability and energy efficiency.
- "Otis Lifts": An exhibition about the original lifts and the actual lifts – those using new technology. The simulation is just amazing to experience!
- "King Kong": A lovely setting where you can get into the mechanical hands of a huge, grumpy gorilla.
- "Celebrity”: Visit the gallery of photos and memories of famous people who loved the ESB.
You'll also love the large theatre where you'll see on giant screens the place of ESB in American pop culture (ads, movies, comics, games, ...).
Tickets for the Empire STATE BUILDING
To save time during your stay in New York, I advise you to buy your tickets online as early as possible. Why? Simply because if you decide to go spontaneously, there may not be any slot left for you or you may have to wait a long time before finally going up... And losing a few hours during a trip to New York is a real shame.
There are several possible options to visit this skyscraper:
the classic entrance with access to the 86th floor observation deck (about 39€ or £32)
the day and night entrance. This ticket allows you to go twice on the same day, so you can go once during the day and return in the evening to see New York by night (about 57€ or £48)
the sunrise entrance, to see the sunrise over New York. It makes for a great experience but the price is much higher, at around 107€ (£90) (depending on the exchange rate)
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO AT THE ESB?
You can shop at shops like Walgreens, but don't forget to visit the ESB souvenir shop: the Empire State Building Store. There you will find all sorts of items such as t-shirts, mugs, stuffed animals...
You can also enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at the STATE Grill & Bar (typical New York cuisine). Unless you would rather try Tacombi's delicious Mexican food…
There are also fast food outlets on the ground floor (Chipotle, Starbucks, Juice Press, Chop't or Sushi-teria.)
What else you need to know about the ESB New York's must-see Skyscraper
- Tickets are only valid on the day selected at the time of booking;
- They are non-refundable;
- You can benefit from reduced rates thanks to the Citypass. This tourist pass even gives you the right to return on the evening of your visit, after dark. It's a pretty cool way to get two views of New York (one during the day and one at night);
- Wi-Fi access is free throughout the building.
- The Empire State Building is 380 metres high – 443 metres with its spire and antenna;
- It has 1,872 steps to the 102nd floor. 73 Otis lifts serve it;
- Since 1978, a race has been held every year to climb the more than 1,500 steps to the 86th floor: the ESB Run-Up (ESBRU);
- More than 4 million people from all over the world visit it every year. Its fifty millionth visitor was in 1976;
- Lightning strikes the antenna about 25 times a year;
- In 1981, the ESB was listed as a Landmark and in 1986 it became a National Historic Landmark.
Why visit the Top of the Rock?
First of all, because the building – designed by John D. Rockefeller and in the Art Deco style – was the largest private building in the country at the time of its inauguration (1933). Secondly, it has an observation deck at the top. Today, this skyscraper is an important part of American culture.
The GE Building’s observatory (formerly the Comcast Building) offers one of the most beautiful views of New York City.
Visiting this observatory can be more interesting because there are generally less people than at the Empire State Building, and it’s from there that you can take pictures of one of the city’s icons that you cannot see from the ESB’s observation platforms: the Empire State Building itself! It goes without saying that the view from this observation deck is different.
The icing on the cake is that you will also have a view of Central Park.
Where is the Top of the Rock ?
The Top of the Rock Observation Deck is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, in Rockefeller Center’s tallest building.
Address: Top of the Rock, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, NY, New York 10112
The entrance is on 50th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues (on the side of the building).
You can get there by underground: take the B, D, F, M lines and get off at the "47th–50th Street Rockefeller Center" station.
What are the opening hours ?
Normally, the Top of the Rock Observatory is open daily from 8 am to midnight (the last lift goes up at 11 pm).
These hours change on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.
Temporarily, following the development of Covid-19, here are the new hours: from 10 am to 10 pm, with the last entrance at 9:10 pm.
For safety reasons (mainly during bad weather), some parts of the observation deck may be closed.
There is no time limit: you can stay as long as you like.
Most people stay for about 1 hour. Please note that it takes at least 20 minutes to get through the security system and the exhibition.
When is the best time to go up there ?
A sunset visit will be an unforgettable and magical moment. To enjoy it, you will need to go up well before said sunset (at least an hour). But don't expect to be up there alone 😊 Others will have had the same idea as you!
At night, you'll see all the lights of New York shining: it makes for a very magical sight! And remember that you'll also be able to see the Empire State Building’s illuminations.
The best thing is to do both a day tour and a night tour. This will allow you to see two very different spectacles.Tip: If you want to take nice pictures, go in the morning: you'll be able to take great shots of the Empire State Building then, and more importantly, there will be a lot less people!
THE DIFFERENT OBSERVATION PLATFORMS
The highest observation deck is on the 70th floor of the building. You can see Central Park, the Empire State Building, Times Square, the Chrysler Building, the Hudson River and Grand Central Terminal.
On a clear day you can even see Brooklyn.
Top of the Rock has three terraces on three levels:
- 67th floor
- 69th floor
- On the 70th floor (260 metres high) which is accessed by a small, not very visible staircase
On the 3rd terrace, there is no glass or grill to alter the 360° panoramic view.
So the feeling is totally different on this skyscraper! 😉
Glass lifts will take you to the roof in less than a minute. Their ceiling features breathtaking laser lighting and an exhibition with photos illustrating the fascinating history of the skyscraper.
The different types of tickets
You can buy a ticket on site, once you get there. However, it is unlikely that you will be able to get on immediately (Top of the Rock is becoming increasingly popular). You may be lucky enough to get in on the day you came (though after waiting a long time) but you may also be told to come back a few days later.
So my advice is the same here: consider booking your visit before or at the beginning of your stay in NY!
By booking online, you will be able to choose a specific time slot which will allow you to go up quickly (in less than half an hour). All you will have to do is collect your tickets directly from the ticket machines.
To book your tickets and define your time slot, nothing could be easier – click here:
Note that the entrance to the Top of the Rock is included in all New York passes such as the New York City Pass or the Explorer Pass. You will save precious time thanks to the ‘no-queue’ ticket, and you will save money on the other visits you plan to make in NY.
What else you can do at The Top Of The Rock ?
Top of the Rock is located in the centre of a huge complex (Rockefeller Center and Rockefeller Plaza) of 19 buildings that includes many shops, offices (NBC studios, Radio City Musical...), attractions and various restaurants.
The best thing to do is to go there in winter to enjoy the Rockefeller Center Christmas season (from early December to early January). You will see the ice rink, which is normally located on the terrace of a café, as well as the huge and famous Christmas tree 😊
What else you need to know about the Top Of The Rock
- Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Top of the Rock every year.
- Download the Top of The Rock free app, available on IOS and Android devices. It allows you to enjoy a guided tour of the site. You'll be provided with individual headphones, with optimum connection and audio clarity.
- Tickets purchased online are valid for one year from the date of purchase and can be changed.
- Top of the Rock and the Rockefeller Center Tour are wheelchair accessible. Lifts are available on all floors and up to the 70th floor observation deck.
- For the visually impaired, service dogs are permitted. Printed transcripts of all short films are also available.
- Pushchairs are allowed, as long as they are foldable.
- Large tripods are not allowed.
Don’t miss the reproduction of the famous photograph "Walk on the Truss", where workers are having lunch while sitting calmly on a truss above the void.
Why visit the One World Observatory ?
Simply because the One World Observatory (OWO) is located at the top of the highest skyscraper in New York, and is the newest observatory in the city!
More importantly, you will visit a mythical and magnificent tower: the One World Trade Center!
This tower is indeed located on the site where the Twin Towers fell – destroyed during the horrible attack of 11 September 2001.
Moreover, this observation deck offers a completely different view than the other two observatories: from it, you can see NY’s most emblematic places, and even beyond the city limits, in 360°.
There are different tickets available to get to the top of this skyscraper. You can either take a classic entrance, or a combined entrance with Ground Zero, the 9/11 Museum or the Statue of Liberty. If you want to visit all the monuments around, the combined ticket will be a very good compromise for it will simplify your visits all while saving you money (the overall amount paid for the combined ticket will be cheaper than if you bought each ticket separately) 😉
Where is the One World Observatory Located ?
The main entrance is in midtown Manhattan, at 285 Fulton St. at the corner of West and Vesey Streets.
Address: One World, Trade Center, 117 West Street, New York, New York 10007.
The best way to get there is to take the New York underground and take the following lines:
- R or W to get off at Cortlandt Street Station
- A or C for Chambers St.
- E for "World Trade Center" station or
- 2, 3, 4 or 5 to get off at "Fulton St."
More information on the official website.
What are the opening hours ?
The OWO is open every day of the year.
The opening hours are as follows:
May to June 2022
From 10 am to 7 pm
From 10 am to 8 pm
From 9 am to 9 pm
Times are adjusted on public holidays: 1 January, 4 July, 11 September, Thanksgiving and Black Friday, 24 & 25 and 31 December
The last lift goes up 45 minutes before closing time.
When is teh best time to go up there ?
The best time is midday when the sun is at its zenith: you can take great photos without backlighting. It's the tallest skyscraper in New York, so you're bound to see the sun!
In the morning, you can also take beautiful shots of the Statue of Liberty and New Jersey. In the afternoon, you can photograph all of Manhattan, Queens and northern Brooklyn.
If you can, consider going up an hour before dark to enjoy the sunset over the city and the ensuing light show.
You can stay as long as you like – but people usually stay for an hour.
The observation platforms of this skyscrapers
The One World Observatory is composed of 3 platforms located on the 100th, 101st and 102nd floors.
Once inside the building, head to the escalator to get to level -1. You will present your ticket and go through the security system.
A huge screen, the Global Welcome Center, will inform you of the observatory’s main statistics (number of visitors since the beginning, their country of origin...). Then, you will go to the Voices room to watch a film about the construction of the skyscraper (with anecdotes from the workers...). Then, you will follow a corridor – the Foundations gallery, where you will learn interesting facts about the tower.
Then head to the lifts – the Sky Pods. The ascent is impressive (47 seconds): it is fast and you will see on the walls (entirely covered with LED screens) a video showing the evolution of the urban landscape of New York City from 1524 to 2015. A real journey through time!
You will arrive directly on the 102nd floor, in the See Forever Theater. You will have to wait in line for a few minutes until the theatre fills up. Another film about NY will be shown, and then.... Surprise! The screen will fade away for a superb view of the New York skyline. You can take your time to enjoy it.
You can then go down to the 101st floor, where you can purchase some snacks (restaurants, snack bar...) and enter the souvenir shop.
Finally, on the 100th floor, you will find two rather interesting interactive rooms about the latest technologies used in the observatory. But this is also where you will find another attraction of the OWO: the Sky Portal. On this glass-floored platform (beware of vertigo!), you will be able to see the streets of New York come to life under your feet.
Note that there are two main spaces: one to the north, and one to the south with a lecturer who will explain a lot of things with a high-tech TV system.
But first of all, make the most of the observatory and its bay windows that go around the whole skyscraper!
The different tickets for this skyscrapers
Here again, no way around it! You really should book your ticket for the One World Observatory, or you will not be able to get in on the day you decide to come.
When booking your ticket you will be given a specific time to visit. Don’t be late! This way, you can avoid the queues at the entrance. All you have to do is show your ticket when you arrive.
To buy your tickets, go directly to this site:
There are other types of tickets that will allow you to enjoy many "Premium Experiences" such as the possibility to propose to your significant other...
Please note that admission to the OWO is included in the New York Sightseeing Flex Pass and the New York City FreeStyle Pass.
You can also decide to dine at ONE Dine and do some shopping at the observatory gift shop.
What else you need to know about the one World Observatory
- It is the tallest tower in North America: 546 m high (the antenna measures 129 m). It has 104 floors and 73 lifts (5 of which are dedicated to the OWO). This skyscraper is GIGANTIC!
- It cost about 3.9 billion dollars to build.
Practical information :
- You will have to go through security: expect between 15 to 20 minutes.
- There are no lockers, and you can only take a small bag with you.
- The observatory is accessible to people with reduced mobility.
- Foldable pushchairs are allowed.
- Tripods are not allowed.
Of course, at the end of your visit, don’t forget to go to the monuments built in memory of the victims of the attacks – namely the Memorial and the 9/11 Museum.