Everyone always debates between going up the Rockefeller Center‘s Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building to see the best views of New York City. My advice? Go to the One World Trade Observatory (Freedom Tower) instead.
Isaac and I travel a lot and one of the highlights of any trip that we take is going up the highest point. Nothing beats seeing a place you’ve been exploring from a new vantage point and we always try to schedule our trip around sunset to experience the city going from day to night.
Although we still haven’t seen the view from the Empire State Building, we’re confident that nothing will beat One World Trade and here are the reasons why:
1. The Waterfront
One World Trade offers a unique view of New York’s spectacular waterfront. While you can see both the Hudson and East rivers shimmering in the distance from Top of the Rock, One World is right on the water. You can both rivers clearly merging into the Upper Bay and watch the sunset over New Jersey.
2. Brooklyn Bridge
New York’s most iconic bridge, the first steel-wire suspension bridge ever constructed and finished by a woman is one of the highlights of the city. One World offers a beautiful view of not only the Brooklyn Bridge but also the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. Seeing the bridges light up at dusk was magical and not possible from Top of the Rock.
3. No Obstructing Construction
Construction is not an issue at night because the lights of the city drown out the many cranes. However, on our last visit to Top of the Rock during the day, the view was quite obstructed by construction – we couldn’t really see Central Park because at least three buildings are coming up in front of the park. On the other side, right next the Empire State Building, surprise, surprise, there’s more construction!
Since One World Trade is so much taller than all of the buildings surrounding it so there’s no cranes in view. The construction happening uptown is too far to interfere. Unfortunately you can’t see Central Park from the One World observatory at all, but the Top of the Rock isn’t a good place to see it anymore either.
4. Picturesque Skyline
Both One World Trade and Top of the Rock offer great opportunities for photos. On our visit to Top of the Rock we saw a couple getting their wedding photos taken. There are a few big differences between the views. Top of the Rock offers the best possible close-up shot of the Empire State Building and you can even take a selfie with it.
From the One World Trade observatory, you can see Empire State but from a distance. You can take beautiful shots of the entire city with Empire State, Top of the Rock and all of the other iconic sky scrapers all lined up in the distance. Seeing the entire city like that was spectacular, but you couldn’t make out any of the buildings clearly in a selfie. Enjoying a great view should be a bigger priority than the perfect selfie, but to each their own…
5. Floor-Length Windows
When you’re standing up against the floor-length windows in the One World Trade tower, you can see all the way down and feel like you’re flying above the city. With so many people touching the glass and leaning their greasy foreheads against the windows (like I did) create unsightly smudges and reflections that interfere with the view and with photos. But having windows also makes it weatherproof, which gets me to #6….
6. Weatherproof Views
Top of the Rock is outside which is great on a breezy sunny day, but I’ve been there twice in the middle of winter which was less pleasant. Sure, there’s something to be said about the crisp night air, but if it’s raining a lot or if there’s a storm, the observatory is closed. You can visit One World Trade whenever you want and enjoy a (slightly too strongly) air-conditioned space.
7. Tallest Observatory Deck
Size doesn’t matter, but when it comes to views, height makes a difference. One World Trade is significantly taller than Top of the Rock and was actually the tallest building in the USA (if you count the height of the antenna). As I previously mentioned, it’s height puts it over ugly construction on nearby buildings and it just makes it more excited to be as high off the ground as possible.
8. The WOW Factor
This might be an unfair category since the Top of the Rock was built almost a hundred years ago and opened to the public in 1933… but I can’t not mention the cool extras that the One World Trade Center offered that made the experience more special. The elevator that took us up took only 45 seconds and shows us a video of New York as it changed (and grew) in the past 300+ years. It was unexpected and beautiful!
Next we were waiting in line watching yet another movie about the building. It wasn’t boring but staring at screens gets old when you’re itching to see the real thing. The video ended with the screens lifting to reveal our first glance of the bay from (almost) the top of the building! Everyone was so genuinely surprised that we wowed and clapped. Sorry for spoiling the surprise…
The two buildings offer completely different view of the city. If you can only do one, I’d say go to One World Trade. If you get the chance to do both, it’s definitely worth going to Top of the Rock too. They charge you extra for going around sunset so if you do both, go to Top of the Rock during the day and then do One World Trade for sunset to save a few dollars. Or get the New York Sightseeing Pass and save a lot of money on visiting various attractions in New York.
Both buildings have a fascinating history – if you do One World Trade I’d recommend visiting the 9/11 Memorial first to truly appreciate what a symbol of hope the Freedom Tower was in the light of the terrible attack on the Twin Towers. It’s a somber experience that made sure to emphasize the One World Trade Center’s part in New York’s healing process.