New York has many world-class observation decks, making it difficult for a visitor to choose – from where should they see the city’s skyline?
Four of our favorite observatories are – Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Trade Center, and The Vessel at Hudson Yards.
Of these, the Empire State Building is 90 years old, and The Vessel welcomed its first tourist only in 2019.
Visitors stuck between the classic and the modern end up choosing between Empire State Building or One World Observatory.
1. Empire State & One World
2. Location of observatories
3. Views from the deck
4. Cost of tickets
5. Elevator experience
6. Tools to explore NYC
7. Height of buildings
8. History of attractions
9. Flexibility of visit
11. Protection barrier
12. Views of Central Park
13. Crowd to expect
14. Our recommendation
Visit both the observatories
Both the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center are historically significant buildings.
Empire State Building has been around for almost a century and today represents everything that is New York.
Meanwhile, the World Trade Center building, which houses the One World Observatory, is the city’s attempt to keep memories of the September 11 attack alive.
When you visit One World Observatory, you can also explore the 9/11 Memorial and 9/11 Museum.
Both the decks offer stunning New York City skyline views, and the experiences are very different.
That is why, if time and money permits, we suggest you visit both the observatories.
Unfortunately, the New York City Explorer Pass doesn’t include access to One World Observatory.
However, you can visit both the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock with this one pass.
The NYC Sightseeing Pass is the only pass that includes free admission to One World Observatory.
All you have to do is walk up to One World Observatory, present your NYC Sightseeing Pass and walk-in for free.
Location of the buildings
Despite the reasonably different views from their observation decks, the two buildings are not very far from each other.
Both buildings are in Manhattan, and One World Trade Center is approximately 6.5 kms (4 miles) from the Empire State Building.
Empire State Building’s location
Empire State Building is in the heart of Manhattan, New York, right next to Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal, and NYC Macy’s.
Its exact location is 350, 5th Avenue, between 33rd and 34th Street.
The ESB is so large that it has its zip code – 10118.
Earlier, Empire State Building’s tourist entrance was on Fifth Avenue between 33rd Street and 34th Street, but now it’s on 20 West 34th Street.
One World Trade Center’s location
One World Trade Center, also known as One World, Freedom Tower, and One WTC, is near the southernmost point of Manhattan, close to the Financial District and the water.
It is at 285 Fulton Street, and the main entrance to the building is on West Street.
Views from the observatories
Two factors affect the city views from Empire State and One World observatories – the height difference of about 60 meters (200 feet) and their location.
The buildings are so close to each other that visitors can see one from the other.
View from the Empire State Building
The Main Deck of the Empire State offers excellent views of Central Park, the Hudson, and the East Rivers, Chrysler Building, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, etc.
View from One World Observatory
Since the World Trade Center is in the southern part of Manhattan near the water, visitors can see a lot of the Financial District.
The other landmarks visible from the One World Observatory are the Hudson and the East Rivers, Statue of Liberty, Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, the Flat Iron Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, parts of New Jersey.
Entry tickets at the observatories
Besides the observatories, both the New York attractions also offer interesting exhibits and experiences as part of general admission.
At both One World and Empire State Building, their most basic entry is known as the ‘Standard ticket.’
What is included in the ticket
Empire State Building’s standard ticket gets you-
- Access to the Main Observation Deck, a 360-degree, open-air on the 86th floor of the building
- Access to 12 other exhibits about Empire State Building
- A self-guided multimedia tour that helps visitors identify landmarks in the New York skyline
Access to the 102nd-floor observatory is not part of the General admission, but you can upgrade at the venue for $20 per person.
One World’s standard ticket gives you access to all three floors of One World Observatory – Levels 100, 101, and 102.
If you want the Explorer iPad experience, you must opt for the Priority ticket instead of the Standard.
Cost of the entry tickets
Empire State Building’s entry tickets tend to be costlier than the One World Observatory’s entry tickets.
At ESB, an adult ticket (for visitors aged 13 to 61 years) costs $45.73 while the same ticket costs only $41.37 at One World.
Seniors 62 years and above pay $43.55 at Empire State Building, while at One World, seniors only pay $39.20 for their entry.
At Empire State Building, kids below five years enter for free, while the ticket for children between 6 to 12 years costs $39.20.
At the One Trade Center’s observation deck, all kids between 6 and 12 must purchase their tickets priced at $34.84.
Elevators at the attractions
Tourists who visit One World Trade Center are thrilled by its high-speed elevator that uses time-lapse technology to showcase New York city’s transformation over the last 500 years.
The five high-speed elevators travel at 37 kms per hour (23 mph) and reach the 100th floor in 47 seconds.
They are the fastest elevators in the World.
At the Empire State Building, you change elevators a few times depending on your destination.
The first elevator takes visitors from the ground floor to the 80th-floor which houses a few exhibits, after which you take another elevator to the 86th floor observatory.
If you upgrade to the 102nd-floor observation deck, you take a third lift from the 86th floor to the 102-floor observatory.
Tools to explore New York
One World Observatory has some exciting tools to explore New York.
Tourists who visit with families and kids love spending time on One World’s Sky Portal.
It is a 4.2 meters (14 feet) wide circular glass disc on which visitors can stand and see unobstructed views of the streets 100 floors below.
If money isn’t a concern, you can also try One World’s Explorer iPad, which is included with the Priority ticket.
The Explorer iPad has two channels – Skyview Channel and Restaurant Channel.
The Skyview Channel takes you on a virtual tour of New York’s most iconic sites while the Restaurant Channel shares information on little known restaurants and their famous dishes.
The Empire State Building has an augmented reality experience called ‘The scenes of New York,’ on the 80th floor.
Visitors look inside the classic binocular viewfinders to see, move and hear sounds of New York City’s most notable locations, such as the Grand Central Terminal, Statue of Liberty, the High Line, Coney Island, etc.
Recommended Reading: What to see in Empire State Building
Height of the buildings
Empire State Building has two observation decks – the 86th-floor deck is at the height of 320 meters (1050 feet), and the 102th-floor deck is at 381 meters (1,250 feet).
One World Observatory has three levels at 100, 101, and 102, and the highest of them is at the height of 386.5 meters (1,268 feet).
That makes One World Trade Center the tallest building in the United States and the sixth-tallest in the World.
History of the attractions
While One World Trade Center got built in 2014 and the One World Observatory started welcoming tourists only in 2015, the Empire State Building has been an observation deck since 1931.
Even though the Empire State Building stopped being the tallest in 1973, it is still the World’s most famous building.
Over the years, thanks to numerous mentions in movies, books, TV shows, video games, etc., the Empire State has become a pop icon.
A lot of this history about the Empire State is depicted through the numerous exhibits.
Recommended Reading: Trivia about Empire State Building
Flexibility of the visit
There is one major difference in the way both the attractions issue their tickets.
While One World Observatory issues timed tickets, Empire State building’s tickets are flexible.
Visitors only have to select the date of their visit and land up at the attraction anytime during the day.
This provides a lot of flexibility to tourists who have a packed itinerary for the day because they can reach the Empire building whenever they can.
Update: After the Coronavirus scare, even the Empire State Building has started issuing timed tickets.
What do you want in your photographs?
Some tourists feel the Empire State is an integral part of the New York skyline and prefer to have it in their NYC skyline photographs.
Such tourists end up visiting either One World Observatory or Top of the Rock.
Did you know that once they projected 40 stunning wildlife photographs on the Empire State Building?
Barriers affecting visitor experience
The Empire State Building has a wire mesh installed on the short wall of the outdoors observatory on the 86th floor.
Some tourists find it a hindrance, while others place their lens in the small breaks between the wiring to snap decent photographs.
One World Trade Center’s observatory is fully enclosed with floor to ceiling glass windows.
Views of Central Park
Even though the Empire State Building is shorter, it offers far better views of Central Park because it is closer to New York’s green patch.
The 90-year old building is only 25 blocks from New York’s green patch.
From One World Observatory, you cannot see Central Park clearly because many buildings block the view.
Crowd to expect
Empire State Building gets 4 million visitors annually, while the One World Observatory gets only 3 million.
That means the taller of the two observatories is bound to be slightly less crowded.
However, if you visit during the summer, both the NYC attractions are going to be crowded.
The best time to visit the Empire State Building to avoid the crowd is 8 am to 10 am. One World Observatory also is relatively free as soon as they open.
If you want to avoid waiting in long lines, plan your visits on weekdays and buy the tickets online in advance.
Empire State Building or One World Observatory – which is better?
Both New York observatories have their own advantages and disadvantages.
The best observatory for you will depend on what you expect from your visit to the top.
If experience and the New York skyline is critical, we recommend you visit One World Observatory.
That’s the only way you can see New York’s skyline with the Empire State Building, the structure that has given the skyline its character for more than 90 years.
If you prefer the classic, historical experience, you must opt for the Empire State.
Besides the observatories on 86th and 102nd floors, the tourist attraction also offers many historical exhibits about the building.
If you plan to visit during the sunset hours, we recommend One World Observatory because it won’t be as crowded as the Empire State.
To see the New York skyline all lit up, visit Empire State. Empire State Building is better for night visits because it stays open till 2 am.
The observation decks at One World Trade Center close as early as 8.45 pm.
If you plan to add the 9/11 Museum and 9/11 Memorial to your itinerary, it is better to choose the One World Observatory because they are all close by, and you can explore them in a day.
Here is a popular tour that includes all three – 9/11 Memorial + 9/11 Museum + One World Observatory.
Whichever observatory you choose, please remember to:
- Buy your tickets online in advance. It helps you save money, and also avoid long queues at the venue
- Check the weather and ensure the day is clear before booking your tickets
- It is always colder at the observatory than how it felt at the ground. Always carry an extra layer along
He is a two-faced traveler, who enjoys both the hustle-bustle of an urban holiday and the serenity of a break from the rest of the World. During some of his vacations, he is a resort hopper, and on others, he barely spends time in his hotel. He loves to try mouth-watering local cuisines, especially non-vegetarian dishes. Favourite Cities: Amsterdam, Las Vegas, Dublin, Prague, Vienna