NYC - The Official Guide

Guide to NYC Observatories

Lakshmee Lachhman-Persad
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The New York City skyline is famous across the globe, familiar to many from its myriad appearances in movies and on TV. With architectural styles ranging from the ornate and historic to the sleekly modern, the City’s buildings have long been one of NYC’s most potent draws—and visiting an observatory is one of the most thrilling ways to take in the view.

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The City has four such attractions, each with its own history, design and vantage points. They’re located in different Manhattan neighborhoods and can serve as the centerpiece to any number of sightseeing itineraries. The Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory and Edge at Hudson Yards offer visitors and locals a rush of adrenaline, plenty of photo ops and the chance to create memories with the world’s most impressive skyline as your backdrop. Read on for details and accessibility information, and then plan your visit—and be sure to snap plenty of pictures once you reach your sky-high destination.

Observation Deck at Empire State Building, Midtown, Manhattan, NYC Photo: Julienne Schaer

Empire State Building Observatory

Since its opening in 1931, the Empire State Building has come to stand for NYC’s signature qualities of innovation and ambition. Today, you can step into the stunning lobby and be transported back in time: the interior details reference the art deco era and staff is dressed in period garb. Before accessing the observation decks, visitors are immersed in a series of exhibits that explain the building’s history and significance to pop culture. These inspired, digitally enhanced offerings include a simulation of the original Otis elevators and the opportunity to pose inside King Kong’s giant hand. On the 80th floor, you’ll find the building’s classic viewfinders, original artwork and more; head up from there to the 86th floor for breathtaking 360-degree views of New York City and beyond. For an additional fee, reserve tickets to ride a new-generation Otis elevator up to the 102nd floor, where you’ll have the opportunity to view the inside of the tower’s mast. From the glass-enclosed observatory, take in impressive views of the skyline 1,250 feet above street level. There is an extensive gift shop.

Instagrammable Moment

Take a photo inside King Kong’s hand, and with the view overlooking downtown Manhattan as your backdrop.

Accessibility Tips

• The observatory is accessible via elevators and ramps.
• Accessible restrooms with changing tables are located on the 2nd, 80th and 86th floors.
• The outdoor viewing area is wheelchair accessible; however, a portion of it is compact.
• Lowered viewing walls and binoculars make experiencing the view accessible for all.
• There is no seating area available.
• Guide dogs are welcome.
• Outdoor areas are heated during colder months.
• Strollers are allowed but must be folded when using the elevator and escalator
• Audio tours in multiple languages are available to download from their app

Photo: Elizabeth Bick

Top of the Rock

The Rockefeller Center observation deck, atop the historic 30 Rock building, offers spectacular views of Midtown landmarks, including the Empire State Building and Central Park. Opened to the public in 1933, the attraction takes its design inspiration from the grand ocean liners of the early 20th century, and its fixtures are appropriately luxurious. Start your journey in the atrium with a view of the three-story-high Swarovski crystal Joie Chandelier. On the mezzanine level, see historic photos and artifacts from Rockefeller Center’s past. Look out for Beam Walk, an interactive experience that lets you follow in the footsteps of the photo subjects in “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper”—a shot of construction workers eating a midday meal on a steel beam high above the City. The final stop before heading upstairs is at the theater, which shows three rotating short films. Whatever time of year you visit, we recommend the watching the one about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, which explains the tradition and notable moments in its history (such as remaining unlit during World War II). Enjoy your ride up in the Sky Shuttle—ascending 850 feet in less than a minute—and be sure to look up for the time capsule photo show on the elevator’s ceiling. Once you’re upstairs, choose from indoor and outdoor spaces on 67th, 69th and 70th floors to soak in breathtaking views. Gift shops can be found on the concourse level and on the 69th floor.  

Instagrammable Moment

The classic Midtown skyline shot featuring the Empire State Building can be taken from either the 69th or 70th floor.

Accessibility Tips

• The observatory’s three floors are accessible via elevators.
• There is a large indoor seating area and benches for outdoor seating.
• Accessible restrooms with changing tables are available on the mezzanine level and 66th floor.
• Strollers are allowed but must be folded when using the elevator and escalator.
• Guide dogs are welcome.
• Printed transcripts are available upon request for all short films played during the Top of the Rock experience; inquire with the staff on the theater level.
• Rockefeller Center offers an informative app. Use its viewfinding feature to learn about the City’s architecture, historic and cultural landmarks, neighborhoods and more; its wayfinding feature can help you discover shops, restaurants and artworks around the neighborhood. The app also highlights accessible routes for wheelchairs and strollers.

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One World Observatory view, Lower Manhattan, NYC One World Observatory. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

One World Observatory

Piercing the Lower Manhattan skyline is One World Trade Center, shimmering home to One World Observatory. The building holds the record as the tallest in the United States and is the focal point of this revitalized neighborhood. Built following the devastating loss of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, One World Trade symbolizes NYC’s signature resilience and invincible spirit. Access to the observatory inside comes via 47-second elevator ride up to the 102nd floor; a time-lapse video, shown on the interior walls of the elevators, displays a rendering of the past 500 years of Lower Manhattan’s development. The attraction offers plenty of digital-savvy tools for exploration. City Pulse, for instance, is an installation of two 14-foot rings built from overlapping LCD screens that connects guests with close-up views of landmarks and neighborhoods and offers personalized recommendations. The observatory spans the 100th to 102nd floors; the Discovery Level on the 100th is the most spacious and offers 360-degree views of iconic buildings, bridges, surrounding waterways and panoramic views of the City and beyond. The observatory has a casual café, restaurant and bar, as well as a gift shop.

Instagrammable Moment

Take photos with the City’s bridges and Statue of Liberty as a backdrop.

Accessibility Tips

• The observatory’s three floors are accessible via elevators, and there are ramps that can be used in lieu of steps within each floor.
• There are a few seats within the viewing area available to visitors.
• There is are accessible restrooms with changing tables.
• Guide dogs are welcome.
• Strollers are allowed but must be folded when using the elevator and escalator.
• Braille materials are available for some exhibits. To access them, inquire at guest services.    

Accessible NYC, Edge in Hudson Yards, Manhattan, NYC Edge. Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

Edge

One of the skyline’s newest additions is this triangular observation deck, over 1,100 feet up in the air, that juts out over the westside Hudson Yards neighborhood. Thanks in part to its open-air viewing platform, Edge has already become one the City’s popular vantage points. Near its fourth-floor entrance in 30 Hudson Yards, the attraction offers a series of multimedia displays about the neighborhood’s clean-energy initiatives and groundbreaking engineering above a working railyard. During the 52-second elevator ride up into the clouds—and on an overcast day, that description can be interpreted literally—visitors are entertained with a video of the neighborhood’s construction. Even with two floors to enjoy and a spacious indoor observatory, many make a beeline to the outdoor deck for the attraction’s showstoppers. The Glass Floor allows views of the buzzing city beneath the platform, while the Eastern Point, with its cantilevered glass walls, allows one guest at a time to lean out to take in the sights. Edge offers expansive views of downtown and New York Harbor, including the Statue of Liberty, all the way up to the George Washington Bridge. A restaurant, bar and gift shop are on hand.

Instagrammable Moment

Don’t miss the small platform at the top of the Skyline Stairs, which allows for sweeping views of downtown Manhattan, plus the Glass Floor and the Eastern Point (and the guests brave enough to seek them out).

Accessilibity Tips

• The observatory’s two floors are accessible via elevators.
• An accessible family restroom with a changing table is available.
• Strollers are allowed but must be folded when using the elevator and escalator.
• Guide dogs are welcome.
• In the winter, floors are heated.
• Seating is allowed on the Skyline Stairs.
• An assistive listening and handheld captioning device is available throughout the digital portion of the experience. The attraction recommends you bring your own headphones or induction loop for the device, which has a standard headphone jack. This service is available from the box office on the fourth floor on a first-come, first-served basis.

General Information to Know Before You Go

• Each observatory requires a reserved timed ticket for entry. Purchase yours online ahead of time to avoid lines.
• Temperature checks are in place, masks are mandatory and guests are required to maintain physical distance of 6 feet apart.  
• There are security checkpoints and several entry lines at each location with no seating option available.
• Observatories tend to be busier during weekends and at sunset.
• Dress appropriately: it tends to be colder at the top of the open-air observatories.


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