People flock to NYC every year in search of the most magnificent views of the world-famous skyline. There’s even a long-running debate around where to get the best bird’s-eye view. The contenders: the One World Observatory, the Empire State Building, and the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center. Each vantage point comes with its own pros and cons, depending on your particular interests and limits. Read on to decide which of the iconic skyscrapers is right for you.
NYC skyline
Journey to the top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and admire the incredible views over the city.

If you’re all about height 

In terms of sheer size, the One World Observatory definitely comes out on top. At a dizzying 1,776 feet, it’s the tallest building not just in the United States, but in the western hemisphere. Fun fact: the building’s height is a purposeful reference to the year 1776 when the US gained independence from Great Britain. Before 2006, the Empire State Building was the reigning champion. Standing at almost 1,500 feet, this classic structure was enormous back when it was built in 1931.

Top of the Rock at night
Flexible-date tickets make seeing skyscrapers on your schedule a breeze.

If you’re here for the icons

It might feel a little ironic (Alexa, play Alanis Morissette), but to see one icon, you have to visit one first. For the best views of the historic Empire State Building itself, climb almost 850 feet to reach the Top of the Rock. Here, you can also see the rest of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Worried about buying a ticket on a cloudy day and missing out on the view? This flexible-date ticket lets you use it within a month of purchase, which means you can choose the perfect day to see the city from above. These tickets can also be exchanged for a timed entry ticket to help you make the most of your day (and avoid waiting in line).

Vice versa, you can spot Rockefeller Plaza best from the top of the Empire State Building. But that’s not all. You’ll also see Times Square, the Hudson River, and the One World Trade Center. Guarantee a hassle-free experience with skip-the-line Empire State Building tickets. They’re the best way to put you in a New York state of mind.

One World Observatory Sky Portal
Skip the One World Observatory if you’re afraid of heights. The floor of the Sky Portal is see-through!

If you want to take the widest panoramic selfie possible

You can get the widest Insta-worthy panoramas at the One World Observatory. Most people cluster for shots of the Manhattan Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge, but there are equally great views of the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island on the other side. If you’re committed to getting photographing the popular side, plan on coming early (between 8 AM and 11 AM) during the week to avoid the crowds. 

The Top of the Rock is another good spot for photo ops because it has unobstructed views on its 67th and 69th floors. Plus, the open-air roof deck on the 70th floor is ideal for wide shots. You’re bound to find a picturesque scene at one of its three viewing areas

NBC Studios at Rockefeller Center
Stop for an iconic picture in front of Rockefeller Center before heading to the top.

If you want to walk the red carpet

So much more than just an Art Deco icon, Rockefeller Center is also home to NBC Studios. Head here if posing at the red carpet entrance is up your alley. Film and TV buffs will recognize the building and its interior from the silver screen (“Home Alone 2”) and their computer screen (“30 Rock”). After you’re done voguing downstairs, swing by the photo exhibit to learn about J.D. Rockefeller’s life and the building’s history.

King Kong exhibit at the Empire State Building
Swing by the King Kong exhibition on your visit to the Empire State Building.

If you’re into art

There are lots of exhibitions and galleries worth exploring at all three of these iconic towers. The Empire State Building has several going at any one time. A crowd favorite is a 1930s-style office featuring King Kong’s giant hand coming through the wall. For classic collections, visit Rockefeller Center’s art deco motifs and sculptures.

Drinks at the View Restaurant at the One World Trade Center
Enjoy an exclusive experience at the View Restaurant.

If you’re looking for the best elevator ride of your life

It might be worthwhile to climb the One World Trade Center just for the see-through “sky pods.” These unconventional elevators carry you to the observatory from underground in just under 47 seconds. If you want to indulge in some bubbles with the view, we wouldn’t blame you. 

Empire State Building exhibitions
Explore decades of American history as you scale the Empire State Building.

If you’re a history buff

The Empire State Building represents one of the most iconic examples of early American capitalism and prowess. It’s been featured in tons of movies, songs, and shows. There’s no building in the city that can transport you back to the past as quickly as the Empire State Building. After you’ve seen the city from the top, stop by the second floor to learn about the site in the 1920s, the building’s construction, and more.

Rockefeller Center street view
After you soak up the views of NYC, visit the interactive beam walk exhibit to see what building the landmark was like.

If you think you can balance on steel beams

Pretend you’re a construction worker walking 69 floors above ground at the Top of the Rock. The interactive beam walk exhibit shows tons of photos of construction workers eating their lunches while balancing on these narrow beams high above the ground. Experience this at one of the various exhibits at the observation deck at Top of the Rock.

Photograph of NYC at sunset
Check out our 48-hour itinerary to discover the best things to do in NYC.

If you can’t decide

We’re not about to make you choose. If you have to see them all, we’ll help you get tickets to all three iconic observation decks and still have time to see the rest of the city. Get waved through long lines and big crowds at the Empire State Building and enjoy an exclusive tour of the Top of the Rock at your leisure. You’ll also save money and time booking a trip up to the One World Observatory in advance. At the end of your trip, you can compare the views and go out on a high note.

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