Selecting the best observation platform to visit when in New York is a very tall order indeed (pun intended), with five titanic towers to choose from. These, for the uninitiated, are the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Edge, Summit One Vanderbilt and the One World Observatory. Each of these has its own unique quirks and views, but perhaps the greatest contrast in experience is to be found between hit-tech newbie Summit One and Art Deco OG the Empire State Building. We pitched these two skyscraping icons against one another to find out which one should top your Big Apple bucket list. Dive into our Summit One vs Empire State Building comparison to find out…
Empire State Building
Name: This one requires no introduction… the Empire State Building is up there with the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal and Sagrada Familia as one of the planet’s most famous structures.
Age: Construction of the Empire State Building began in March 1930 and was, quite remarkably, completed just 14 months later in April 1931.
Empire State Building in a Nutshell: Surely the most iconic Art Deco edifice on the planet, the Empire State Building was the world’s tallest building for over four decades, until topped by the World Trade Center’s North Tower in 1970. This monolithic Manhattan masterpiece has starred in hundreds of movies and TV shows over the last century, including King Kong (obvs), plus Tom and Jerry, Independence Day, Friends, The Smurfs and, well, the list goes on and on. Its observation platform on the 102nd floor is still one of the highest (and most visited) in the city, nearly a century after that monster gorilla first took the al fresco route to the summit.
Empire State Building: Vital Statistics
- Height: 1,454 feet (443 meters) to the tip of the tower on the roof. The top-floor observation platform is 1,224 feet (373 meters) up.
- Number of floors: 102.
- Elevators: 73.
What’s the Empire State Building Experience Like?
You’ll get some of the best views of the Chrysler and Flatiron buildings from up here. In fact, arguably the only downside is that the awesome views don’t include… the Empire State Building itself. Console yourself by papping some of the Big Apple’s other landmarks, including Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge and the One World Trade Center (to name just a few). The 86th floor is where you’ll likely want to spend the most time, thanks to its open-air platform and unparalleled photo opportunities, but it would be remiss not to go all the way to the top while you’re here. Be aware though that the platform on the 102nd floor is fully enclosed, a bit smaller, and has a tendency to get quite busy.
Fascinating Empire State Building Fact of the Day
The narrow tower that rises a further 200 feet above the Empire State Building’s roof was originally designed as a mooring point for zeppelin airships, once considered the future of international air travel.
Empire State Building Fast Facts
- Opening hours: 9AM-10PM Monday-Thursday; 9AM-midnight Friday-Sunday. The last elevator ascends 50 minutes before closing. Check out our blog on the best times to visit the Empire State Building here.
- Tickets: general admission to the Empire State Building's 86th-floor observatory is included with a New York Pass. Alternatively, you’ll find various ticket options, including premium champagne packages and access to the 102nd floor, on the Empire State Building website.
- Closest transport links: the nearest metro stations are Herald Square and Penn Station, or arrive in style at the awesome Grand Central and make the 10-minute walk from there.
But how does the Empire State Building compare to SUMMIT One Vanderbilt? Let’s find out…
Name: Officially SUMMIT One Vanderbilt to hammer home (IN ALL CAPS) that the platform is at the very top of the One Vanderbilt building in Midtown. Mere mortals tend to style it Summit One Valderbilt. Or Summit One for brevity.
Age: Summit One opened in October 2021, making it (at time of writing) the newest observation platform in town. Fittingly, the building that hosts the immersive, space-age Summit One experience is a soaring futuristic wedge of steel, glass and terracotta tiles.
Summit One in a Nutshell: It’s testament to Summit One’s desire to add something new and unique to the observation platform scene that the resulting experience is somewhat tricky to summarize. There are the views of course: great, sweeping panoramas over Manhattan’s iconic skyline and beyond. But what makes Summit One really stand out are the dreamlike immersive experiences and cool art installations within; all clouds, mirrors and optical illusions that will – if the PR blurb is to be believed – help you ‘escape the boundaries of perception’.
Summit One: Vital Statistics
- Height: One Vanderbilt is the fourth tallest building in New York (disclaimer: at time of writing), standing 1,401 feet (427 meters) high. SUMMIT One Vanderbilt’s observation platforms hover a knee-weakening 1,100 feet (336 meters) above Madison Avenue.
- Number of floors: 93.
- Elevators: 42.
- Visitors: Summit One welcomed a whopping 1.4 million visitors in its first year.
What’s the Summit One Vanderbilt Experience Like?
This one isn’t just about the views. A standard ticket also includes access to Summit One’s trippy journey through mirrored rooms, floating silver orbs and clouds bearing your own face. Transcendence sets the scene with reflective surfaces that repeat the Manhattan skyline, the clouds and, well, you, to infinity. Enter a dreamlike state as you pass through Unity and Affinity before experiencing the ultimate thrill in Levitation, a series of perspex boxes that protrude from the building and seem to float above the city streets, affording heart-stopping views of Madison Avenue 1,063 feet below. You’ll also bag some of the best snaps of the Empire State Building and Lower Manhattan from up here in the clouds. Requiring an additional ticket, Ascent takes thrill seekers higher still aboard (and we can’t stress this terrifying detail enough) glass-bottomed elevators that rise a further 120 feet into the sky.
Fascinating Summit One Fact of the Day
Ok, it’s hardly a crowded field, but the great glass elevators that rise 120 feet above the Summit One terrace are the largest of their kind in the world.
Summit One Fast Facts
- Opening hours: 9AM-midnight, year round. Last entry is at 10PM.
- Tickets: there are several booking options available on the Summit One website.
- Closest transport links: the entrance to Summit One Vanderbilt is located on the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal.
Summit One Vanderbilt vs Empire State Building: Which Should You Visit?
Apart from the fact that these both boast observation platforms some 1,000 feet (and then some) up in the sky. Summit One and the Empire State Building are really quite different prospects. Visitors who crave old school New Yoik vibes should definitely plump for the Empire State Building’s selfie-tastic Art Deco lines and angles. Indeed, this century-old stalwart is worth visiting for the bragging rights alone. If, however, you fancy something a little different, it has to be the hypnotic futurism of Summit One’s immersive zones and its gravity defying glass platforms that permit fearless visitors to gaze straight down to the street far below.