NYC Observation Decks: One World Observatory vs. Empire State Building vs. Top of the Rock

By Casey Makovich

Visiting one of New York City's iconic observation decks is a must-do lifetime adventure.
There’s an endless amount of fun things to do and historical landmarks to see, but a visit to an observation deck (or two, or three...) is one of the most memorable things you can do on your trip to NYC. Plus, it's a great way to 'see' everything there is to see in NYC. New York City is home to 3 of the best observation decks in the world: the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock and One World Observatory. We've put together a comparison of New York's most popular observation decks so you can get an idea for what the difference is between the Empire State Building vs Top of the Rock vs One World Observatory so you can decide which one suits what you want to do and see best.

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1. The One World Observatory

The One World Observatory is an icon of the city skyline with its amazing spire. Travelers can take one of its 70 elevators up to three observation decks in under 50 seconds; it's an elevator ride that feels like a launch. The views: One World Trade Center is located on the south-western side of the Manhattan peninsula (close to the tip of the peninsula), so you'll get close views of the Hudson River, New Jersey, and Manhattan. You can see Ground Zero, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and the Financial District. You'll be able to see the Empire State Building (though your view will be farther than from Top of the Rock) and Top of the Rock (though you might need to reference a skyline map to pick it out from its surrounding buildings!). All around, it has views that stretch from Westchester and Rockland counties to New Jersey, Brooklyn, and Long Island in addition to the mighty metropolis of NYC. Then, step into the Main Observatory and view high-definition footage of Manhattan’s streets. Enjoy some artisanal cocktails the bar One Mix and indulge in some culinary delights at One Dine. The structure and its observatory decks are a rebirth of downtown Manhattan after the tragedy of 9/11. Experience the city's rebirth. Admission: One World Observatory tickets are sold separately from The New York Pass.

2. The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building (ESB) shows 360-degree views of the city. At night, this international icon displays dazzling light shows to celebrate various occasions, which are often synchronized to music. In addition to its 86th-floor observatory, there's the Top Deck. You can see up to 80 miles away and get a full picture of the city. The views: the Empire State Building is located right in the middle of Manhattan, so from its top Observation Deck, you’ll get one-of-a-kind vistas of the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and the brilliant city streets below. You'll also be able to see New York City's other popular observation decks; the view from ESB of One World Observatory is much closer than the view you get of it from Top of the Rock, and similarly, the view from ESB of Rockefeller Center is much closer than the view you get of it from One World Observatory. Be sure to check out the Dare to Dream exhibit, which pays tribute to the builders and architects who helped create this historic landmark. There are period photographs, mementos, architectural sketches, and more. If you plan your visit to the Empire State Building around meal time, consider dining at its STATE Grill and Bar for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In exceptional Art Deco design, it showcases New York State’s winemakers, brewers, and farmers.
Admission: Empire State Building tickets are included with the New York Pass.

3. Top of the Rock

The Top of the Rock is a must-do on any tourist's bucket list. The Top of the Rock Observation deck is nestled in the heart of Rockefeller Center. Ascend 70 floors up and take in a sweeping view from three indoor and outdoor viewing decks.There are indoor viewing areas on the 69th and 67th floors Rockefeller Center is chockful of beautiful architecture, culture, and rich history. Take it in with a guided tour through its gardens and significant buildings.
The views: the Top of the Rock is located just south of Central Park, right in Times Square, so you'll get the best views of Central Park when compared to other observation decks. In the other direction, you'll be able to see the Empire State Building framed by the sprawling city, the Bank of America Building, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, and more. From Top of the Rock, the view of the Empire State Building is closer than the view of the Empire State Building from One World Observatory.
After you pass the Swarovski chandelier in the lobby, there are artifacts and photos outlining the history of Rockefeller Center and an open-air deck on the 70th floor. Compared to the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock is less claustrophobic.

Admission: Top of the Rock tickets are included with The New York Pass.

The Biggest Differences Between the Top New York City Observation Decks

Each observation deck experience provides an educational and informative experience on your way up to the observation deck complete with exhibitions and displays. The locations: where each building is situated will impact your views from each of the observation decks. See the image above for a better idea of where each observation deck is relative to the others. The exhibits: One World Observatory, being the most recently built, features a more modern design and feel and its exhibits explore the development of downtown Manhattan and the impact of 9/11 and how the One World Observatory building came to be. Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building both offer a classic and nostalgic New York City experience that highlight the history of the city with a particular emphasis on the American dream and the eventual prosperity post-Great Depression era. The views: the biggest difference between One World Observatory vs Empire State Building vs Top of the Rock is the view you'll get at the top. Of course, whichever observatory deck you choose to visit, you won't see that building in the skyline.
  • One World Observatory (southern-most building): views of the Hudson River and the city skyline looking north from the southern tip of Manhattan
  • Empire State Building (middle building): views from the middle of Manhattan with One World Observatory visible to the south and Rockefeller Center visible to the north
  • Top of the Rock (northern-most building): views of Central Park to the north and views of the Empire State Building and One World Observatory to the south

Popular Things to Do Nearby

In addition to these 3 observation decks (One World Observatory, the Empire State Building, and Top of the Rock) there are other great sites and activities worth checking out while in NYC.

Central Park

This world-famous park is 36 acres of beautiful streams, waterfalls, rocks and winding trails. It’s ideal for strolling and a wonderful sight from each of the observation decks.Take a romantic paddle around the lake or even a Venetian Gondola ride at Loeb Boathouse. Savor some great fare like crab cakes at the Central Park Boathouse Restaurant. Monkey around at the Central Park Zoo. There’s even pot-bellied pigs, penguins and sea lions. You never have to wait for the carnival to come to town in NYC.In the summer, head to Victorian Gardens for an all-American day of juggler performances, cart rides, and funnel cake. In the winter, hit the ice for some ice-skating.

The Statue of Liberty

You can take a ferry over to the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island. Visit the crown and see panoramic views of Brooklyn. This colossal copper statue was designed by artist Frederic Bartholdi. It’s the symbol of freedom.The Liberty Island Museum is located in the lobby of its pedestal and chronicles the history of freedom. At the pedestal, you can great views of New Jersey, New York, and the New York Harbor.Getting in: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum tickets are included with The New York Pass.

The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the city’s noblest landmarks. It stretches over Brooklyn, Manhattan and the East River and delivers amazing views. Take a walk across its promenade above the roadway and feel the city’s vibe. It only takes about 40 minutes.Getting in: the Brooklyn Bridge is free and open to the public. Brooklyn Bridge Walking Tour tickets and Bike Rentals you can use to bike across the Brooklyn Bridge are included with The New York Pass.

Grand Central Terminal

The Grand Central Terminal is the world’s largest railway station and a magnificent public space. It’s modeled after an ancient Roman bath and features glimmering chandeliers, an amazing concourse, and a robin’s egg-blue ceiling displaying the constellations.Getting in: Grand Central Terminal is free and open to the public.

The American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History is the largest natural history museum on the globe and without a doubt impressive. It stretches four city blocks and showcases 45 exhibition halls with over 30 million artifacts from outer space, the sea, and the land. Don’t miss it. Getting in: American Museum of Natural History tickets are included with The New York Pass.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Roam the labyrinthine corridors of the colossal Metropolitan Museum of Art where you view more than 2 million works of art showcasing 5,000 years of history.Its Egyptian collection features stone sarcophagi inscribed with hieroglyphics and pages from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.Other highlights include the American Wing with collections of American Arts. There are also stunning Islamic galleries with metalwork and ceramics. Its roof garden serves up fabulous views of Central Park and the city skyline.Getting in: The Metropolitan Museum of Art tickets can be purchased online.

The High Line

Just years ago, the High Line was a railroad track carrying freight trains. Today, it's a railway-turned-beautiful city retreat situated high above the busy city streets.Take a stroll along the path and check out the park's many features, including picnic tables, seating, curving walkways, and well-manicured gardens while you take in the unique views of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline.
Getting in: admission to the High Line is free and open to the public.

Remember to Save on Observation Decks and New York Attraction Admissions

New York City's top 3 observatory decks are at the top of many tourists itineraries. They're all popular attractions, but how can you manage to afford the admission price at each? New York Pass grants you free admission to two of these Observation decks, with Empire State Building tickets and Top of the Rock tickets, plus, admission to over 90 additional attractions in NYC. Get a New York Pass and start saving on admission to top attractions during your trip. For more information get the New York Pass here.

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Attraction of the Week - Highlights of Midtown Architectural Tour

[caption id="attachment_1095" align="alignright" width="6155"] Midtown Manhattan Skyline[/caption] [spacer height="20px"] Get acquainted with some of the landmarks that are synonymous with New York City, such as Grand Central Terminal or the Chrysler building with the Highlights of Midtown Architectural Tour. This walking tour takes participants through Midtown Manhattan and allows them to view some of the remarkable and iconic structures that were built here in the 20th century. These are some of the sights highlighted in the Midtown tour: Times Square When you come to New York, you're probably expecting everything to be like Times Square. This area has been a tourist favorite forever and why wouldn't it be? There's always something happening and the lights are always bright. Grand Central Terminal Easily one of the most famous train terminals in the world. People around the globe know of New York's busy midtown travel hub. Once home to art galleries and musical performances, Grand Central is still as busy as ever as New Yorkers and visitors commute through, visit the Grand Central Market or simply come to admire the beautiful architecture and the mesmerizing Astronomical Ceiling on the main concourse. United Nations Headquarters The elegant Midtown East complex designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer is home to the organization known as the UN. Needless to say, some very important discussions take place in the UN building and its right here in New York! New York Public Library This historic structure came to be in 1895 and still today is the second largest public library in the entire country. The New York Public Library is a staple in the city's literature, education and technology. New York's Theater District Home to the vibrant scene of Broadway shows and theater performances in New York. The Theater district extends from West 40th to West 54th street and is usually jam packed for new showings with the biggest stars. Chrysler Building Towering over midtown, the 1928 structure of the Chrysler Building is just waiting to be captured in your photos. For 11 months before the construction of the Empire State Building, this iconinc art deco skyscraper was the tallest building in the world. Daily News Building Another 1920's landmark is the skyscraper located at 220 East 42nd street. The name comes from the Daily News TV broadcast that was once hosted inside of the building. Along the Highlights of Midtown Architectural Tour, you will learn about these landmarks and a whole lot more. Midtown Manhattan is the area most densely populated with landmarks and tourist attractions, ranging from historical buildings to modern attractions in Times Square. Check out some of the other walking tours available in the New York Pass.
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Top Things to do in NYC this Spring

With Spring time right around the corner, New York City is buzzing with great activities for the entire family. Get an early start on planning your trip so you know all the places to go with your New York Pass. Hopefully the weather will steadily get better and better, so you can enjoy New York City outdoors, on two feet. [spacer height="20px"] St. Patrick's Day Parade [caption id="attachment_1063" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] St. Patrick's Day Parade in NYC | Photo by Shannon Stapleton for Reuters[/caption] March 17 Nobody knows how to properly celebrate quite like the Irish. St. Paddy’s Day has a long tradition in New York City, due to its large Irish population and a long history of Irish immigration. This year, St. Patrick’s day falls on Friday, March 17 and kicks off with a big parade, which starts at 11am on 44th St and 5th Avenue. The whole day will be laden with celebrations and merriment, while people all over the city dress in green. The parade will end at 5pm at the American Irish Historical Society at East 80th St. After the parade, sip on some quality stout at some of the best Irish bars in NYC. [spacer height="20px"] South Bronx Renaissance Walking Tour [caption id="attachment_1070" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] South Bronx Renaissance Walking Tour[/caption] Opens March 1 As weather finally starts getting better, it's time to get out there and experience New York City as intended, on foot. Inside Out Tours offers a variety of informative tours in some of New York's most interesting neighborhoods. South Bronx is the epicenter of New York City counterculture, and this tour takes you on a walk through its renaissance and rebirth from the derilict neighborhood to the birthplace of hip hop and street art. The South Bronx Renaissance Tour, along with other Inside Out Tours starts up again on March 1st, at 10am on Fridays. [spacer height="20px"] Coney Island Luna Park [caption id="attachment_737" align="aligncenter" width="2048"] Luna Park at Coney Island[/caption] Opens April 8 The legendary Luna Park in Coney Island opening on April 8th after a seemingly endless Winter hiatus. The Luna Park welcomes visitors of all ages to its adrenaline-boosting thrill rides, as well as abundant kiddie rides. Try the Steeplechase, a New York Pass team favorite, for shockingly fast acceleration that will bring tears to your eyes. Coney Island is also home to one of New York City's most popular beaches, and the famous Nathan's Hot Dogs. With the New York Pass, you get a free unlimited 4 hour wristband. [spacer height="20px"] Bike Around Central Park [caption id="attachment_1092" align="alignright" width="1500"] Central Park from Belvedere Castle | Photo by Marley White via nycgo.com[/caption] Year round Biking in the Winter is not great. It's worth waiting for warmer weather and better road conditions to get out and rent a bike to ride around Central Park. There are three different bike routes of varying lengths, depending on how athletic you're feeling. Choose from routes that are 6.1 miles, 5.2 miles or 1.7 miles, for the ultimate way to explore this gigantic urban oasis. With the New York Pass, you have multiple bike rental options. Choose from Central Park Sightseeing Bike Tours and Rentals, Central Park Bike Rentals and Tours or Blazing Saddles to find the bikes that best fit your needs, from cruisers, state-of-the-art hybrid bikes, to children's bikes and tandem bicycles. If you'd prefer having a tour guide with you, you can also take a guided bike tour of Central Park. [spacer height="20px"] The High Line Tour [caption id="attachment_1067" align="aligncenter" width="1042"] The High Line | Photo by Liz Ligon[/caption] Open year-round Even though the High Line is accessible year-round, the beauty of this suspended park starts shining through in the spring. The local flora blooms with all different colors and the lush green grass provides an inviting atmosphere. Look down and see the busy streets of Manhattan as you walk along the High Line tour. Learn how the meatpacking district's factories and slaughterhouses came to be what it is today. Tour is available for free with the New York Pass. [spacer height="20px"] Clipper City Tall Ship Cruise [caption id="attachment_1066" align="aligncenter" width="2111"] Clipper City Tall Ship[/caption] Starting April 22 The ice is finally melting and the river will be clear for sailing on April 22nd, which is when the Clipper City Tall Ship sets sail again for the season. Get your camera ready and sail the New York Harbor aboard this replica of a classic 1800s sail boat, offering unparalleled views of Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Downtown Manhattan. The boat is equipped with a full bar and helpful staff. If you're more into Gatsby-Era sailboats, take the Shearwater Classic Schooner for a chic sailing experience. [spacer height="20px"] Mummies Exhibit at American Museum of Natural History [caption id="attachment_1075" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Mummies exhibit at American Museum of Natural History[/caption] Opens March 20 For thousands of years, peoples around the world practiced mummification as a way of preserving and honoring their dead. Mummies brings you face to face with some of these ancient individuals and reveals how scientists are using modern technology to glean stunning details about them and their cultures. American Museum of Natural History is one of New York City's most revered centers for knowledge. Spend the perfect afternoon with your kids walking through this magnificent space, right next to Central Park. [spacer height="20px"] Smorgasburg 2017 [caption id="attachment_1081" align="aligncenter" width="1001"] Raindrop Cake, popular desert at Smorgasburg | Photo by Tim Ireland[/caption] Starting April 1 No Summer in New York is complete without making a trip to Smorgasburg. This seasonal food flea market takes place at East River State Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Each year Smorgasburg reunites New Yorkers with tons of local tastes and introduces them to new dishes from around the world. Make sure to visit Smorgasburg to experience Brooklyn's favorite summer pastime, while munching on insta-worthy classic and novelty foods. For many more exciting springtime activities for all weather conditions, check out the New York Pass and everything it has to offer. Over 90 attractions in New York City for one price, no need to put limits on your next New York City trip.
Go City Expert
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St Patrick's Day 2020: What's On In NYC?

That's right, folks. It's that time of year again. Time to fetch the garish green coat and comically large top hat from the back of the wardrobe. Time to tell yourself that you have at least a little bit of Irish in you. Don't we all, after all? Yes, it's St Patrick's Day. Again. It only feels like yesterday that we were all doing this merry jig. Yet, here we are. 2020. The future is now. Surely St. Patrick, the man himself, would adore the annual debauchery? After all, he was a man of the cloth. So, if you're in New York for St Paddy's, well, you're in luck. Not only is it the greatest city on earth, but it also celebrates the big day like no other. Are you wondering what to do this year? Perhaps worried you'll miss out on all the best entertainment the city has on offer? Well, turn that frown upside down. Research can be mildly irritating. You know that. We know that. That's why we did it all for you. Here are all the wild and wonderful things we found. Read on, for the very best NYC events on St Patrick's Day 2020. Featuring: New York's timeless paradeThe best Irish foodDrinks that will have you seeing greenAnd coffee to keep you goingSt Patrick's Day Parade 5th Avenue No list would be complete without the obvious, so let's start there. Now in its 254th year, New York's St Patrick's Day Parade predates American Independence from the villainous redcoats. Thousands of people attend the streetside shindig every year, so if you're visiting from another land, why not check it out? If you're thinking of going, here's what you need to know. When is NYC's St Patrick's Day Parade in 2020? Tuesday, March 17. The very day of St Patrick's celebrations. Festivities kick off at 11 am, and the parade ends at 5 pm. Where is the parade? Starting on 44th Street, the parade then heads up Fifth Avenue. Eventually, it passes St Patrick's Cathedral, and finally ends at East 80th Street, which is the home of the American Irish Historical Society. What an appropriate place to end the parade! What to see at the parade Green. Lots of green. Parade floats, marching bands, and more shamrocks than you can shake a green stick at. Also, a lot of people. There are always big crowds for the parade. Tips for attending the parade Get there early if you want a decent spot. Also, if you move, you're going to lose your space. You'll have a small army of keen, green celebrators right behind you. Avoid driving anywhere near the thing. A road-based event plus a megaton of people equals closed roads, traffic diversions, and plenty of sad, sad drivers. Instead, look to get public transport from wherever you're staying. Or, if you're lucky, simply walk there. In the spirit of the celebrations, St Paddy's can be pretty lively. Many a Guinness and other assorted beverages will likely be imbibed by parade-goers. Bear that in mind if you're bringing your kids.Go get an authentic Irish meal While Ireland might be most famous for their potatoes, Irish cuisine has so much more going for it. And, as New York has stacks of Irish heritage, you'll find a wealth of dining opportunities in the city. So make the most of St Patrick's Day, and go try some. Here are our picks for the best Irish restaurants in town. Lillie’s Victorian Establishment Union Square & Times Square The first thing you'll notice when walking into Lillie's is its lavish decor. Walls adorned with framed pictures and paintings. Period ceiling paneling. Stained glass displays. The whole nine yards. The next thing you'll notice is its delicious menu. There's Chicken Pot Pie, Shepherd's Pie, or Blackened Salmon if you want to warm up. Or, if you're looking for something a little lighter, get Lillie's Cucumber Sandwich with some smoked salmon. Then, wash it all down with a refreshing cocktail, including an entire section dedicated to Old Fashioneds. Nice. Cronin and Phelan’s Astoria Don't let their decidedly Nineties website fool you. Cronin and Phelan's is one of the best Irish spots in New York. Their menu is dripping with twists on Emerald Isle classics too. There's the Reuben Sandwich, which marries corned beef with Russian dressing, sauerkraut and swiss cheese. Broiled fillet of Scrod - that's a small fish to you and me - with Dijon sauce and potatoes. And Irish Nachos, an unusual meeting of cultures that includes Irish bacon, Dubliner cheese, and chips. Sign us up! Molly’s Manhattan Molly's talks a big game, professing to be the 'most authentic Irish bar in New York City'. But as soon as you step inside, it's clear they know what they're talking about. The Tudor-inspired interior is filled with finely crafted wood, Gaelic artwork, and enough personality to fill twenty bars. And their menu? It's something else. Along with classic American cuisine like burgers, wings, and potato skins, they also have an entire section dedicated to Irish delights. Shepherd's Pie, Irish Lamb Stew, Sausage and mashed potatoes, pot pie, corned beef and cabbage. The list goes on. Molly's is simply an unmissable experience if you want authentic Irish cuisine. ...and then get an authentic Irish drink Multiple venues What better way to celebrate St Patrick's Day than with a cool, refreshing Irish beverage. There's a large contingent of Irish pubs across New York that will be even more lively on March 17. On the Upper East Side you've got Doc Watson's, which attests to having the best pint of Guinness this side of the Atlantic. Not only do they have bands playing all day over St Paddy's, but they're only a few minutes from the parade. So if you're going to one, you've no excuse not to go the other. Or you could try McFadden's in Midtown. Every year they hold a pre-parade celebration where you can get unlimited beer and mimosas from 8 am - 12 pm, as well as all you can eat at the breakfast buffet for $35. An absolute steal. You can even head stop by after the parade, as St Patrick's celebrations go on until 4 am. Just book the following day off. No one needs to see you all bleary-eyed, fumbling through spreadsheets the following day. Alternatively, if you're looking to add a little variety, and a few more steps, to your session, why not check out a Spirits on Foot beer, spirits, and wine pub crawl? Alongside Irish offerings, you'll also stop by watering holes in different parts of the city. Plus, you'll learn a little more about New York's cultural cauldron too. And get authentic coffee You may well need one of these the morning after. If you're feeling brave, or simply crave a little hair of the dog, why not start the following day with a gut-warming Irish coffee? Dead Rabbit, in the Financial District, does a mean Irish coffee, mixing Clontarf Irish whiskey, choice beans, and a healthy drizzle of demerara syrup. Or, pick up a Classic Irish Coffee at Ryan's Daughter: coffee, whiskey, and sugar, all topped off a spoonful of cream. Sublime. However, if the hangover is too severe and you're looking for something a little less flammable, why not check out some of our favorite hidden coffee houses? And that's all you need to make St Patrick's Day 2020 one to remember. Or forget, if you have a few too many whiskeys. Are you celebrating St Patrick's Day in NYC this year? Let us know what you're looking forward to doing in the comments below.
Dom Bewley

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