The Views From the Top: How They Measure Up

While there are plenty of private observatories at rooftop bars across the boroughs, Manhattan offers three public decks with distinct views and experiences: Top of the Rock, One World Observatory and, of course, the Empire State Building’s observation deck. The Edge, a wedge-shaped deck cantilevered from a Hudson Yards skyscraper, will soon join them. (One Vanderbilt, a commercial supertall topping out at 1,401 feet, and still under construction along Vanderbilt Avenue across from Grand Central Station, also plans a deck.) Here’s how the views compare.

Midtown Manhattan

For one of the best views of the Empire State Building, head to Top of the Rock, which opened in 1933 at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, a masterpiece that rose — as the Empire State did — to demonstrate the triumph of capitalism over the depredations of the Depression. It was designed by an architectural consortium of extraordinary talent led by Raymond Hood.

The 55,000-square-foot observation deck is more spacious than the Empire State’s and its three levels offer a variety of vantages and multifloor people-watching. Vistas open dramatically through Midtown’s tallest spires, including intimate views of the new crop of billionaire towers.

The elegant entry point is a tall cylindrical lobby with a curving stair that wraps around a contemporary chandelier. Visitors rarely pause to look at the tired historical photos or the grainy videos that are supposed to ease the elevator wait. I arrived at the 67th floor 25 minutes after entering.

Open from 8 a.m. to midnight;; $32 to $75.

Midtown Manhattan (Opening SPRING 2020)

Projecting 65 feet from the side of 30 Hudson Yards, a supertall on Midtown’s Far West Side, the wedge-shaped Edge will remind visitors of its vertiginous position with an acrophobia-inducing glass window in the deck 1,100 feet above 10th Avenue. Instead of a railing, visitors will find an outwardly tilting nine-foot-high glass wall, also best kept at a distance by those who fear heights.

The deck is still being completed, but its most expansive views look south, where the Hudson River’s many moods can be appreciated as it flows between the towers of the financial district and those of Jersey City. Midtown, viewed diagonally rather than straight on, takes on a dynamic topographic form. A stepped terrace perfect for basking in both sun and the view rises a full floor.

An interactive experience is promised to ease the wait for the 96-floor elevator ride.

Opening spring 2020;; hours and prices not yet available.

At the 102nd floor of One World Trade Center, the observatory lacks an outdoor terrace, which reduces the immediacy of the experience. The Hudson River rolling out to sea at your feet impressively compensates, with its restlessly crisscrossing oil barges, ferries and vintage sailboats. Jazz Age towers rise in thrilling cliffs along the narrow Financial District streets, though much is obscured by the rusting rooftop plumbing of their dull successors.

The busy bi-level entry is ungenerous and blandly businesslike. My trip to the view entailed a slow but thorough security scan; a few exhibits that fail to sell the virtues of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architecture; a generic video promoting New York City sites that ends with a brief unveiling of the urban panorama; and an unavoidable pitch to rent an iPad guide to local landmarks. (Wandering ambassadors were well-informed and free.) Elapsed time: 35 minutes.

Open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.;; $35 to $65.

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