Skyscrapers are a dime a dozen here, so which one is the best observatory in NYC to take pictures from? It feels like there is quite literally a competition for which building has the best experience and views. Each year a new attraction is popping up. There are the classics like the Empire State Building, and the newest kids on the block are The Edge at Hudson Yards and Summit One. Even the Chrysler Building is getting in on the game!
Most of these epic photo spots are located in Midtown Manhattan, but there’s also One World Observatory in Fidi, and the forgotten Crown of Lady Liberty. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, if you’re looking to see NYC’s beautiful vistas from a high-rise vantage point, these are great to check out. Just be ready to be near big crowds of people crawling everywhere!
Address: 20 W 34th St
Kicking off the list is the embodiment of the Big Apple. Even though I’ve been in the city for over 10 years at this point, I didn’t go up this popular tourist attraction until late 2021. Going through security is like airport-TSA level, and if you’re bringing any photography accessories like tripods, make sure it’s not a collapsible one, otherwise they’ll confiscate it until you leave.
The main deck is on the 86th floor and has both an indoor and outdoor observatory area. To the west you’ll get a full view of Hudson Yards, east shows an uninterrupted view of 1 Vanderbilt and Chrysler Building, and south can see lower Manhattan and One WTC as well as Exchange Place in Jersey City. There’s an additional indoor deck on the 102nd floor which is newly renovated, but much smaller.
Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza
If you watch the show “30 Rock” you’ll know that it’s based on this building. The whole block was purchased by John D. Rockefeller, which is why the observatory is called “Top of the Rock“. To the west you’ll get a full view of iconic Midtown West skyscrapers, and south has similar views from Empire State Building, but with ESB in it too.
Pro tip to avoid the entry fee: grab a drink at Bar Sixtyfive. This bar is part of the famous Rainbow Room, a few floors below Top of the Rock. They allow patrons to walk around the outside terrace in 15 minute intervals so you get the same view without the ticket price tag. If you buy a drink (or two) though at least you’re getting something in return for your money’s worth!
Address: 30 Hudson Yards
I remember vividly the construction of Hudson Yards being built when I would take the ferry to commute to my office job in Weehawken. I basically watched NYC’s “little Dubai” grow up (quite literally). Since it’s completion, the Edge famously opened up in March 2020, only to be shut down a couple of days after due to the shelter-in-place during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has since re-opened, with crowds seemingly bursting at the seams.
Out of the observatories I’ve visited, The Edge was the most disappointing because the surface area of the outdoor section is pretty small, and only covers one side of the building so you don’t get a 360 view like the other observatories. This also impacts the crowd size which makes it feel tighter than the rest because everyone wants to be outside.
Address: 1 Vanderbilt Ave
Opened in 2021, Summit One is the newest and shiniest (literally, bring sunglasses) observatory among the skyline. Located in the brand new commercial tower, One Vanderbilt, it’s in a super convenient location that’s reachable from Grand Central Terminal.
Experience wise, this takes the cake compared to the rest. It was designed by Kenzo Digital, who wanted it to be an immersive and interactive space. To be honest, I only went when I got a special invite to photograph the sunrise with a bunch of other NYC photographers. For the ticket price, the reels and Tik Tok’s showing how crowded it can be was enough to steer me clear of it.
If you do go, make sure to enjoy every inch of it! The experience starts with Ascent, their exterior glass-floor elevators, and once you walk out you enter a room full of mirrors and unobstructed views of the Chrysler Building (east) and Empire State Building (south).
Address: 285 Fulton Street
This is the one observatory that I have yet to go to, so I can’t speak to any experience there. This was another building that I watched grow from the ground up over the years since 9/11. It’s on my list of places to visit since I’m curious what the south to north view looks like, but since it’s completely indoors and far away, I’m not in a hurry.
Address: 405 Lexington Ave
Even though the Chrysler Building is one of NYC’s most famous, it currently does not have an observation deck. Back in 1945 there was one, called Celestial, but was closed down in the 1970s. Soon that will change though, and NYC will have another attraction in its tally. The deck is proposed to modify the 61st & 62nd floor which is 10 floors lower than where the Celestial was. No announcement yet when it will be open to the public.
If you’re ready to take pictures from these observatories, check out what camera gear you may want to bring up to each of them!
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