If you are holidaying in New York and want to go up an observation deck, it isn’t an easy decision.
If you want something historic, Empire State, which is 90 years old, is your best bet. And if you want something new, you can opt for The Vessel welcomed its first tourist only in 2019.
However, if you want a modern observation deck experience and maximum bang for your buck, you must choose between Top of the Rock and One World Observatory.
1. One World & Top of the Rock
2. Location of observatories
3. Views from the deck
4. Cost of tickets
5. Elevator experience
6. Tools to explore NYC
7. Outdoors observation deck
8. Height of buildings
9. History of attractions
11. Protection barrier
12. Views of Central Park
13. Crowd to expect
14. Our recommendation
Visit One World Observatory and Top of the Rock
If time and money permits, we suggest you visit both the observatories.
Both Top of the Rock and One World Observatory are part of iconic buildings built in response to tragedies and inspired the Americans’ hope in difficult times.
The construction of Rockefeller Center, which has the Top of the Rock, started amidst the Great Depression of 1929, giving hope of better things to come.
One World Trade Center, which has One World Observatory, was America’s effort to rebound after the devastating Twin Tower attack in 2011.
Both the decks offer stunning New York City skyline views, and the experience is very different.
To save money, you can get the New York City Explorer Pass, which can get you 50% off on your Top of the Rock admission.
You must purchase the One World Observatory tickets separately.
Now we compare One World Observatory and Top of the Rock on numerous parameters.
Location of the buildings
Top of the Rock is an observatory on top of Rockefeller Center, while One World is an observatory on One World Trade Center.
Both buildings are in Manhattan, and One World Trade Center is approximately 8 kms (5 miles) from Rockefeller Center.
Top of the Rock is further north than the One World Observatory.
Because of the distance, the buildings offer reasonably different views of the New York skyline.
Rockefeller Center’s location
Top of the Rock is at the heart of Manhattan at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY.
30 Rockefeller Plaza is a skyscraper that forms the centerpiece of Rockefeller Center.
The main entrance to the building is on 50th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
One World Trade Center’s location
One World Trade Center is near the southernmost point of Manhattan, close to the Financial District and the water.
It is also known as One World, Freedom Tower, and One WTC.
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 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.
View from the Top of the Rock
From the Top of the Rock, visitors get a better view of the Empire State Building because the buildings are closer.
Since the observatory is North of Manhattan, it is closer to Central Park and offers better views of the green expanse.
Towards East and West, visitors see the water bodies East River and the Hudson, respectively.
Here are some of the landmarks visitors can see from Top of the Rock –
- Empire State Building
- Chrysler Building
- One World Trade Center
- Central Park
- Bank of America Tower
- Flatiron Building
One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the USA, is closer to Top of the Rock than to the Empire State Building.
From TOTR, one can’t see the Chrysler Building clearly.
Entry tickets at the observatories
One World Observatory offers two kinds of tickets, while Top of the Rock offers a single experience.
What is included in the ticket
Besides access to the observation decks, the entry tickets also get visitors access to all the exhibits.
One World’s standard ticket gives you access to all three floors of One World Observatory – Levels 100, 101, and 102.
If besides the observatories, you also want the Explorer iPad experience, you must opt for the Priority ticket.
The Top of the Rock ticket gets you access to the three indoor and outdoor observation decks on the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors.
Besides the decks, you can also access six educational exhibits and the interactive Beam Walk, where visitors can ‘walk’ on a construction beam 69 floors above Manhattan.
Cost of the entry tickets
Top of the Rock and One World Observatory have similarly priced entry tickets.
At Top of the Rock, an adult ticket (for visitors aged 13 to 61 years) costs $41.34, while the same ticket costs $41.37 at One World.
The Seniors ticket for visitors 62 years and above is the same at both attractions – it costs $39.20 per person.
At One World, kids below five years enter for free, and all kids between 6 and 12 must purchase their tickets priced at $34.84.
At Top of the Rock, all kids must pay the same price of $34.84 for their tickets.
Elevators at the attractions
Top of the Rock’s Sky shuttle elevator takes less than a minute to reach the observatory.
Images from the 1930s to the present day are projected on the glass ceiling, so remember to look up during the 260 meters (850 feet) climb.
Tourists who visit One World Trade Center are thrilled by its high-speed elevator as well because it 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.
Tools to explore New York
Tourists visiting One World Observatory 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 about excellent places to eat in the city.
Top of the Rock doesn’t have such fancy tools.
However, they have binoculars where you can zoom in to any part of New York if you toss two quarters.
There are three observatory floors at the Top of the Rock and the one on the 70th floor – an outdoor deck.
It offers an unobstructed view of the New York City skyline from every vantage point possible.
If you are a photographer, you will love the 70th floor deck at Top of the Rock.
At Empire State Building, the Main Deck on the 86th floor is an open-air observatory.
All the ESB ticket holders get access to this Main deck observatory. To go to the 102nd floor observatory, you must upgrade your ticket.
Height of both observatories
Top of the Rock is 244 meters (800 feet) above ground, making it the shorter of the two observatories.
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).
But the views from Top of the Rock’s observation deck aren’t anything less.
One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the United States and the sixth-tallest in the World.
History of the attraction
One World Trade Center is a more recent building than the almost century-old Rockefeller Center (and Empire State Building).
Top of the Rock, the observation deck on Rockefeller Center, first opened to the public in 1933 but was closed in 1986.
A new and improved Top of the Rock re-opened in 2005.
One World Trade Center got built in 2014 – almost ten years after Top of the Rock’s second coming.
One World Observatory started welcoming tourists the next year.
The Trade Center building stands in the same spot where Twin Towers stood before being destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Note: Right below this observation deck are two must-visit attractions: 9/11 Museum and the 9/11 Memorial. Here is a popular tour that includes all three – 9/11 Memorial + 9/11 Museum + One World Observatory.
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 photographs of the New York’s skyline.
If you also believe so, it is better to visit Top of the Rock because it is closer to the Empire State Building and offers better views of the building.
The Empire State is visible from One World Observatory as well, just that the views from TOTR are better.
Barriers affecting visitor experience
Both Top of the Rock and One World are very photograph-friendly destinations.
Top of the Rock’s observation deck has large, expansive glass as a barrier, and they don’t affect your photographs.
One World Trade Center’s observatory is also fully enclosed with floor to ceiling glass windows.
Views of Central Park
From One World Observatory, you cannot see Central Park clearly because many buildings block the view.
However, Top of the Rock offers excellent views of the greenery because it is only nine blocks away from Central Park.
Night visits to Top of the Rock feel a little incomplete because, with no lighting at Central Park, one doesn’t get to see its magnificence.
Crowd to expect
One World Trade Center Observatory and Top of the Rock get around 3 million visitors annually, most of whom visit during the peak summer months.
This means they are equally crowded all through the year.
To avoid the crowd, you can do two things – visit on weekdays and buy your tickets online in advance.
Both Top of the Rock and One World Observatory have their advantages and disadvantages.
What is best for you depends on what you expect from your visit to the top.
If seeing the Empire State Building in the New York skyline is essential, we recommend you visit Top of the Rock.
If you plan to visit during the sunset hours or at night, we recommend One World Observatory.
One of the most significant benefits of visiting Top of the Rock is its panoramic views of Central Park, but it is a dark patch of land at night.
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
She loves to travel, and when not on the move, she reads about popular destinations or talks to travelers on various forums. She is open-minded, eager, and personable and hence tends towards ‘cultural travels’ which involves the discovery of people and places. She doesn’t like to take photographs when on vacation for she believes in living the moment. Favorite Cities: London, New York, Paris, Rome, Barcelona