Until recently, the Empire State Building was considered the best skyscraper in New York from which to view the city’s iconic skyline.
That changed in 2014 when One World Trade Center, or the Freedom Tower, opened in Manhattan’s financial district. The 1,776-foot tall tower immediately became the city’s tallest skyscraper.
With an observatory designed for breathtaking views, it also supplanted the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center as the place to see New York.
These photos, taken on a trip to all three popular skyscrapers, are proof-positive that there’s a new top tourist attraction in town.
Let’s start off with Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan. At 850 feet tall and 70 stories, it’s the shortest of the three. This is the viewing platform on the 67th floor — outside with big glass panels to look through.
This is the Empire State Building’s viewing platform. The building is 1,454 feet tall and 102 stories. This platform, on the 86th floor, is surrounded by cross-hatched fencing. That means you have peer through to get a clear view.
There’s a second viewing platform on the 102nd floor, but it’s indoors and cramped with small windows. The view isn’t much better than that of the 86th.
Finally, One World Trade Center. At 1,776 feet tall and 104 stories, it’s the tallest of the three buildings. The observatory, which takes up the 100th, 101st, and 102nd floors, is big and open with huge windows from which to take in the view.
The best view from Rockefeller is this shot of the Empire State Building. It’s awe-inspiring to be so close to the iconic building, but this is as good as it gets. Everything outside the frame is not nearly as interesting.
The Empire State Building’s best view is this shot of everything below 34th Street. It’s cool, but it’s hard to get a perspective of all of Manhattan because you’re smack in the middle of the island.
And here’s One World Trade Center’s best view. In one shot, you can see the skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan as well as the island’s full width from the West Side Highway to the Lower East Side.
There are a few problems with the view from Rockefeller Center. Because you are in midtown and only on the 70th floor, your view of many skyscrapers, like the Chrysler Building, is obstructed.
And the second-best view from Rockefeller — of Central Park — is ugly thanks to the construction of the Central Park Tower on 57th Street. It won’t be any better when it’s finished. The tower will be 1,550 feet tall.
The additional views from the Empire State Building are great thanks to the building’s height, but again you lose something by being in the middle of midtown’s sprawl.
You can get a clear view of the Chrysler Building, but among the other skyscrapers it’s hard to get perspective.
One benefit that can’t be topped? The vertigo-induced view looking down into the city’s bustling avenues right below.
I will also give points to the Empire State Building because it’s the easiest from which to spot my apartment building in the East Village.
But the 360-degree view from One World Trade Center can’t be topped. You can see Brooklyn and get a good view of its Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges.
And you’re closest to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. You can barely, if at all, see the Statue of Liberty from the other two buildings.
Here’s a panorama from the Empire State Building. Pretty incredible.
But Manhattan just looks endless from One World Trade.
Here’s where they all are: