Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, or One World Trade Center Observatory?

This post compares the observation decks at the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock and One World Trade Center (the Freedom Tower).  All three offer incredible views of New York and an unforgettable experience.  However, few traveling to the city have the luxury of being able to visit all.  In order to help aid in your decision, we’ve put together a list of the pros and cons of each site as well as providing discount opportunities when available.  Ultimately, choosing between them can be tough — but we promise that all are so fantastic that you can’t go wrong!  For more itinerary ideas, check out our Definitive Guide to Things to Do in NYC.


TIPs:

  • CitySights offers a good deal: Tickets to the Empire State Building, 2 days of hop-on, hop-off bus service, including a night tour, Brooklyn and Bronx tours, a hop-on, hop-off ferry ticket + 2 museums for $63/adult and $54/child when you use code FREETOURS15. We also listed other bus company packages available in each respective section.
  • If you are considering a discount tourist attractions pass, keep in mind the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock are included for free on all passes.  Read our post to determine whether a pass is right for you.

Empire State BuildingEmpire State Building

Top of the Rock

One World Trade Center (a.k.a. the Freedom Tower)

Which is the best New York City Observation Deck?

 

Visiting Empire State Building

Today the Empire State Building welcomes more than 3.8 million visitors each year. About 3,400 workers mostly European immigrants and Mohawk iron workers from the Montreal area finished the construction in less than 14 months. When the Empire State building with its 1250 feet (381 m) was completed in 1931 it stood the tallest building for 40 years, surpassing the Chrysler Building, as well as 40 Wall Street Building in height, once the spike was added to the final structure.

Money Saving TIPS: 

  • Entry to the Empire State Building is included for free with CityPASS, the Explorer Pass, and the New York Pass. These are tourist passes that can save you lots of money if you are planning on visiting listed attractions. Check out our blog post on which NYC tourist pass to purchase.
  • CitySight NYC Tours offers a deal to the Empire State Building or One World Observatory (plus)
    • 48 hours of hop-on, hop-off bus, that includes all of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx
    • + a night tour.
    • + a hop-on, hop-off boat cruise
    • + free entry to the Museum of the City of NYC or the New York Historical Society
    • $67/Adult, $59/Child
    • Ultimately, you would be getting the Empire State Building tickets at 50% off.
    • Must use code FREETOURS15 to get the discount.
    • more information
  • Military Discount – Although not published, Empire State Building offers a great military discount (at least as of April 2016).  The price for military tickets is $15/adult/child with valid military ID.  Each member of the military can bring an additional 3 people, who can also enjoy the discount.
  • AAA – Triple A members get $3 off tickets.  Must present valid AAA card when purchasing.

There are two viewing platforms: the more popular and cheaper one is on the 86th Floor and the more private and expensive one is on the 102nd Floor. When you enter the lobby from 5th Avenue, take a moment to take in the beautiful Art Deco design made from imported marble from Germany, France, Belgium, and Italy. If you already purchased your tickets, you can take the elevator up right away. If you have not, take the escalator on your right side up to the ticket booths. Once you got the tickets you will walk through some featured exhibitions and then take up the first elevators to the 80th Floor. The elevator ride will take 60 seconds. To avoid standing in line for the second elevator again, you might have the option to walk up the 6 flights of stairs and get your little workout.

 

You can purchase your tickets online to avoid standing extra time in line.  These options will provide you more discounts for other NYC sights as well.  You will encounter many street sales agents when you approach the entrance to the Empire State Building, just bear in mind that many are not employed by the Empire State Building Observatory and that you can purchase your tickets inside the Empire State Building.

  • Hours: Open between 8am-2am. Twilight is a popular time of the day to come up and see the city, which means waiting times are a bit longer. To avoid the crowds come between 8am-11am.

Cost for Main Deck:

  • $34 Adults
  • $31 Seniors 62+
  • $27 Children 6-12
  • children under 6 free
  • Get 10% off each ticket with CitySights.  You must use promo code SAVE10.
  • Get 15% or 25% off if you combine your Empire State Building ticket with one or two other attraction.
  • $3 off for all military with valid ID.
  • Free for dressed military.

Entry to the Empire State Building is included for free with CityPASS, the Explorer Pass, and the New York Pass. These are tourist passes that can save you lots of money if you are planning on visiting listed attractions. Check out our blog post on which NYC tourist pass to purchase.

Additional ticket types available, but you need to click here to purchase directly from their website.

Read our post on the Empire State Building for more details and insider tips! 

 


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Visiting Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock is located 850 feet above street level and has been offering stunning panoramas of the city since 1933. This beautiful Art-Deco complex was built in the 1930’s by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  He originally acquired the land because he had promised to build a new opera house for the Metropolitan Opera Company, who was looking to move further uptown.  Rockefeller took out a 27-year lease on the property in 1928 (with the option for three, 21-year extensions.) 

 

 

Money Saving TIPS: 

  • Gray Line, a hop-on, hop-off bus company offers combo tickets that include Top of the Rock.

After the stock market crash of 1929, the Metropolitan Opera started to stall, wanting to hold out for a better lease.  Rockefeller decided to commence building the complex without them.  He then began what would become the most expensive private building project ever undertaken in modern times.  Over 40,000 people were employed during the construction, which was completed in 1939.  The complex today encompasses 22 acres and has more than 8,000,000 square feet of interior space. 

Today it is a favorite spot to visit for visitors, particularly at the holidays.  Rockefeller hosts the famous annual Christmas tree, which ranges in size from 60 to 100 feet tall from year to year and is covered with over 30,000 LED lights!  The tree is positioned in front of the central feature of Rockefeller Center: the GE Building.  The GE Building is located at 30 Rockefeller Center, or “30 Rock.”

  • Hours:  Top of the Rock is open every day from 8 am until midnight.  The last elevator goes up at 11 pm. TIP: Because your entry is timed, try to go a little before sunset.  That way you can get day and night views in one trip!
  • Getting there: The closest subway is the B, D, F and M trains to 47-50 St, Rockefeller Center.  Other trains nearby are the 1 train at 50th Street and the N, Q and R trains at 49th Street.  The main entrance to Top of the Rock is on 50th Street in between 5th and 6th Avenues.  Please use our Google map for directions to Rockefeller Center.
  • Cost: 
    • $34 – Adults – 
    • $32 – Seniors ( 62+ years of age)
    • $28 – Children (age 6-12)
    • Children (under 6): FREE
    • Save 10-15% off retail tickets to Top of the Rock with Trusted Tours with the code NYTO5. 
    • Tickets are included free with all the major tourist discount passes.
    • Gray Line, a hop-on, hop-off bus company offers combo tickets that include Top of the Rock.

Tickets can be purchased online at full price by visiting www.topoftherocknyc.com

Read our full post on the Top of the Rock for more details and insider tips! 

 


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Visiting One World Trade Center Observatory – (the Freedom Tower)

One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the 4th tallest building in the world, is now welcoming visitors. Upon arrival, guests enter into the Welcome Center and then make their way through the “Voices” program, which is told by the men and women who built the building. Then, guests travel up to the 102nd floor in one of the sky pod elevators. During the 60 second ride, guests are shown how Manhattan has evolved from the year 1600 to today.

The main observatory on the 100th floor allows guests to have an incredible, 360-degree view of the city. For many, however, the highlight is the Sky Portal. This 14-foot wide disc shows real-time video footage of the streets directly below the observatory.

 

 

Hours: Open 7 days a week. Summer hours are 9am-midnight; after Labor Day, the hours are 9am-8pm. Last tickets sold 45 minutes before closing.

Getting There: Located at 285 Fulton Street. Guests enter from West Street. Nearest subway is the N and R trains to Cortlandt St, 2 and 3 trains to Park Pl, and 4 and 5 trains to Fulton St.

Cost:

CitySights NYC Tours offers a deal that gives you tickets to One World Observatory (plus)

  • 48 hours of hop-on, hop-off bus, that includes all of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx + a night tour.
  • + a hop-on, hop-off boat cruise
  • + free entry to the Museum of the City of NYC or the New York Historical Society
  • $79/Adult, $69/Child
  • Ultimately, you would be getting the Observatory tickets at 50% off.
  • more information

NOTE: There is a $3/ticket surcharge for same day tickets.

One World Trade Center Observatory also offers Priority Admission, Day Flex, and Weekend Flex tickets which enable expedited entry or flexible admission times. Cost for these premium tickets range between $54-$90 per person.

Tickets can be purchased at full price online by visiting the One World Observatory website.

 


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Which is the best New York City Observation Deck?

The debate about whether to visit the Top of the Rock, Empire State Building or One World Observatory really comes down to what type of traveler you are. For many first time visitors to New York, it is impossible to leave the city without going to the top of the Empire State Building. However, while the Empire State Building is a classic tourist experience, the other sites can offer some advantages.

Top of the Rock

For one, Top of the Rock allows you to enjoy a view of the Empire State Building set against the Manhattan skyline — something that is obviously missed when standing atop the Empire State Building. In addition, you purchase tickets for a specific time slot at Top of the Rock. This keeps the crowds a reasonable size and cuts down on a lot of time spent waiting in line. It also makes it a little easier to plan the rest of your day so that you can get the most out of your sightseeing experience! The observation deck is indoor/outdoor, so it’s a good choice for pretty much any time of year. If you are on a tight schedule or hate waiting in line, Top of the Rock may be a better choice for you.

Reviews of Top of the Rock

This attraction has received a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor. Most people who visit this observation deck report that they were impressed with their experience. Thousands of positive reviews came from couples and families, suggesting that this may be a good option for small groups. The highest ratings were often provided during the summer months, but Top of the Rock also receives a lot of praise during the winter as well. A majority of guests agree that this is a great location to take your kids during a trip to New York City!


One World Observatory

One World Observatory, on the other hand, allows guests a unique 360-degree view of the city. It is also the tallest of the three and offers the most impressive technological features. However, because it is the newest, crowds are likely to be worse at this location. The One World Trade Observatory is best for guests who have already visited Manhattan many times and are looking for a new experience, or for visitors who are intrigued by the impressive LED technology and who would like more of an “experience” than just an incredible view.

Reviews of One World Observatory

Although this observation deck is also highly rated, it’s worth noting that a lot of their ratings were provided during the warmer months of the year. Some reviews indicate that long lines might keep you waiting outside in the cold, so you may want to consider another alternative if you’re visiting New York during the winter. Families and couples report that this is an excellent way to discover the Empire State Building and the rest of the Big Apple. Many customers were also impressed that the One World Observatory is located so close to the 9/11 Memorial.

 


The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is arguably the most iconic piece of architecture in New York City. Everyone who visits the Big Apple should see this modern marvel at least once. If you’ve been to NYC many times but have never visited the Empire State Building, then now might be a perfect time! If it’s your first (and possibly only) visit to Manhattan, then you should consider going to this classic site. It’s a bit more expensive than other attractions, but always a solid choice.

Reviews of the Empire State Building

Much like the observation decks that give you a great view of this historic building, you’ll find that this attraction is also highly rated. Visiting the top of this skyscraper will provide you with one of the best views in the entire city. It’s worth noting that most reviews are written during the warmer months, indicating that this might be a more inviting experience during the spring or summer. Given that they have an outdoor observation deck, it stands to reason that it probably gets pretty cold during the winter. There may be a few audiences that won’t appreciate a visit to the Empire State Building, but most visitors have a wonderful and memorable time.

 

+++Think about making Top of the Rock and/or the Empire State Building a part of your trip to New York City!  You can plan your time slot alongside taking of our Midtown Manhattan Tours or Manhattan Night Tours!+++

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