The New York skyline is one of the most iconic in the world. It’s had a supporting role in many films, and featured in countless postcards and holiday snaps. Want to know where to go for the best view? We’ve rounded up the top vantage points in the city.
Skyscrapers dominate the New York skyline. The first wave of these decidedly modern buildings starting appearing the late 1800s. Since then, they’ve continued to soar higher and higher. The observatories atop these high-rise behemoths let you appreciate the full scale of this sprawling metropolis. While many of New York’s original observation decks – like those at the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building and Woolworth Building – are now closed to the public, Manhattan has three that continue to draw scores of visitors every day.
Empire State Building
The most famous of all New York skyscrapers, the Empire State Building first opened its doors in 1931. Its main observation deck, on the 86th floor, is still the highest open-air observatory in the city. Wrapping around the entire building, it offers 360-degree views of Manhattan and beyond. With the help of the high-powered binoculars, you’ll be able to see Central Park, the Hudson River, the East River, Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, and more. For an extra $19, you can whizz up a further 16 storeys to the newly-renovated 102nd Floor Observation Deck. Although smaller and enclosed, the floor-to-ceiling windows allow for even more spectacular panoramic views of the New York skyline.
Top of the Rock
Located in Rockefeller Plaza – the tallest skyscraper at Rockefeller Center – Top of the Rock offers one thing the Empire State Building’s observation decks can’t: views of the Empire State Building. And that, arguably, makes Top of the Rock the better choice. After taking a moment to admire the immense Swarovski chandelier that hangs in the lobby, board the Sky Shuttle and ascend 850 feet in less than a minute. The three-story observatory provides unobstructed views from both indoor and outdoor viewing areas. The open-air roof deck on the 70th floor is perfect for photos because there are no glass or metal enclosures. What’s more, Top of the Rock tickets are timed, so you won’t have to queue for hours to get those New York skyline views.
One World Observatory
When the One World Observatory opened at One World Trade Center in 2015, it was New York’s first new observation deck for 40 years. Occupying the 100th, 101st and 102nd floor of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the observatory includes three eateries – One Café; a bar and grill called One Mix; and the upmarket One Dining. But it’s the ride to the top here that gives One World Observatory an edge over the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock. The Sky Pod elevator walls are covered in LCD panels, and for the duration of the 47-second journey they show the incredible evolution of the New York skyline over the past five centuries.
If you like your views of the New York skyline with a side of culture, take your pick between two of the city’s best museums. The views from these rooftop terraces are almost as impressive as the artworks you’ll find inside.
The Cantor Roof Garden Bar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Open from April to October, this seasonal bar atop one of the world’s greatest museums is a beautiful, tranquil spot. Besides a contemporary art installation – which changes annually – it comes complete with uninterrupted views of Central Park and the classic buildings that surround it. The menu features cocktails, beer, wine, soft drinks, and light bites. You should go early on a weekday if you want to avoid the crowds, but our recommendation would be to time your visit to coincide with the sunset happy hour.
Studio Cafe at the Whitney Museum of American Art
In 2015, the Whitney Museum relocated from the Upper East Side to a new home in the Meatpacking District. While the main reason to visit remains its unrivalled collection of modern and contemporary American art, the top-floor Studio Café is also a pretty big draw. During the warmer months, there’s access to an outdoor terrace which provides sweeping views of the High Line and Hudson River. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine or a leisurely lunch after a few hours ogling some art.
When people talk about the New York skyline, they’re generally referring to the Manhattan skyline. After all, that’s where you’ll find a lot of New York’s most famous buildings. To enjoy some of the best views available, you’ll need to leave the borough and hop across the river to Brooklyn.
Whether it’s your first trip to the Big Apple or your hundredth, a stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge should definitely be on your hit list. Completed in 1883, it’s one of the oldest and most beautiful bridges in the US – it’s both a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It’s only just over a mile long, but you should allow a decent amount of time to walk or cycle across because you’ll want to stop every so often to take in the views of the city and New York Harbour. Looking back towards Manhattan, you can see all the way from the southern tip up past Midtown. Facing the other way, you’ll see part of the Brooklyn skyline, from Brooklyn Heights to Williamsburg, plus the Manhattan Bridge.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
For that iconic shot of the New York skyline with Brooklyn Bridge in the frame, head to Brooklyn Bridge Park. This sustainable park on the East River shoreline spans 1.3 miles, from Colombia Heights to Dumbo. The scenery’s lovely all along the waterfront, but the best views are from Pebble Beach and the Main Street Playground. Brooklyn Bridge Park’s a great place to while away a sunny afternoon. The recently-revamped piers house a variety of food vendors, and in the summer months there are book readings and outdoor film screenings. The view at night, when the skyline and bridge are all lit up, is particularly impressive.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Brooklyn Heights Promenade – also called the Esplanade – is one of the most romantic spots in the city. Lined with towering trees and grand town houses, the pedestrian walkway is part of Brooklyn’s first Historic Preservation District. And it’s all set against a backdrop of the East River, Lower Manhattan and Staten Island. Besides being popular with joggers and rollerbladers, the charming promenade is dotted with benches. So you can also just sit and relax, and take in the view.
Find out what else to see and do in Brooklyn, besides admiring the view.
Characterised by its coastal position, where the Hudson River meets the Atlantic Ocean, New York is a city surrounded by water. And a trip out on one of its waterways is not only an enjoyable experience in its own right, it’s also a great way to see the New York skyline.
Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It runs between South Ferry in Lower Manhattan – fairly close to Battery Park – and the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island, and is completely free of charge. Besides offering cinematic views of Downtown Manhattan, the 25-minute voyage passes by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Avoid the weekday service between 6-9:30am and 3:30-8pm though. This is rush hour and the boats will be packed with commuters travelling to or from work.
East River Ferry
This is both a practical way to get around the city and an inexpensive sightseeing trip. The route lasts 48 minutes from start to finish and costs just $2.75. That’s an absolute bargain – especially by New York standards! The service connects the Financial District and Midtown Manhattan with four neighbourhoods in Brooklyn and Queens: Dumbo, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Long Island City. Besides being great value for money, the East River Ferry provides a more expansive view of the New York skyline than any other option on this list. Boarding at East 34th Street, you’ll spot Midtown Manhattan icons like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building; the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges; Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park; the old warehouses that line the Brooklyn waterfront; and the Statue of Liberty, standing proud in New York Harbour.
Governors Island Ferry
Open annually from May 1st to October 31st, Governors Island is a former military base turned seasonal playground. Much of the island’s 172 acres is covered by parkland, making it a popular spot for bike rides and picnics. The Governors Island Ferry departs every day from Downtown Manhattan, and there’s an additional weekend service from Brooklyn Bridge Park. The journey only lasts seven minutes, but it provides fantastic views of Manhattan, New Jersey, and Brooklyn. You’ll discover further vantage points once you reach Governors Island. Our favourite is Outlook Hill, which rises 70 feet above sea level.