The New York skyline is one of the most recognizable city sights in the world, and one we all want to see when visiting the Big Apple. But just where can you see it at its glittering best? To help, I’ve collected ten of my favourite skyline-viewing spots so you can see the New York skyline in all its glory on your visit to the city!
1. TOP OF THE ROCK
The view south across Manhattan, seen from the open-air rooftop of the Rockefeller Center, is hands-down one of my favourite views in the world. There’s the Empire State Building centre stage, One World Trade to its right, dominating downtown Manhattan, and even the Statue of Liberty herself, guarding the harbour entrance, a welcome to all who arrive by sea.
At 70 floors high, you can see the city spread before you in its entirety – not just downtown, but north over the green heart of Central Park, and out across the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. It may not be as high as the Empire State Building, but the advantage here is that you can see the Empire State Building. Head up just before sunset for the sight of Manhattan twinkling magically at golden hour.
Where? Rockefeller Center, 50th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.
How much? $30 for adults, $24 for children, $28 for seniors.
2. THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE
The Brooklyn Bridge, which claimed the title of longest suspension bridge in the world when it was constructed in 1883, is worth seeing in its own right – but a walk across it from Brooklyn rewards you with wonderful views of Lower Manhattan, the East River, and the harbour.
My route of choice is to take the subway to DUMBO and have a poke around the independent stores, and then take in the view from the water’s edge at Brooklyn Bridge Park before climbing up to the bridge itself. (Don’t forget to grab an ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, underneath the bridge – you won’t regret it!)
Where? Take the F train to York Street, or the A/C train to High Street in Brooklyn. Entrance to the bridge is at Cadman Plaza East and Prospect Street.
How much? Free!
3. NEW JERSEY
Mention New Jersey to certain New Yorkers and you’ll be met with pity and scorn. Ignore the snobbery – they’re missing out on stellar views of one of the world’s most recognisable skylines.
From Jersey City, One World Trade Center looks close enough to touch; admiring Midtown from one of Hoboken’s lawn-covered piers is not to be missed; and the soaring expanse of the city viewed from the Weehawken cliff top is nothing short of breathtaking. Pro tip: head to Pier 13 in Hoboken during the summer months for sangria, fairy lights, and beach chairs lounging right across the river from the Empire State Building.
Where? Anywhere by the water in Jersey City, Hoboken, or Weehawken.
How much? From Manhattan, it’s only the cost of a quick ferry ride, Path train, or bus.
4. A MANHATTAN SIGHTSEEING CRUISE
There’s something thrilling about drinking in the view of the city from the water. Not only can you appreciate it from all angles, but viewing it from below (rather than above), gives you a better idea of the sheer magnitude of the place. Besides, there are few better ‘only-in-New-York’ moments than sailing up to Lady Liberty at sunset!
Where? The East River, the Hudson River, and New York Harbour.
How much? Free on the Staten Island Ferry, a few dollars on the commuter ferries, and more on a dedicated cruise from the likes of Circle Line Cruises ($36) or Hornblower Cruises ($25-$85).
5. ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER
While the smudged glass and window panels do detract slightly from the viewing experience, there’s no denying that the sight of the New York skyline from the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere is something special. The selling point is that you can “See Forever” from One World Observatory, and they’re not exaggerating – you really do get a bird’s eye view of the entire region, and a close-up of the Financial District and the Brooklyn Bridge.
One World Trade Center is a poignant place to visit too, as you can’t stand there above the city without remembering why the building you’re in was constructed in the first place. Prepare for some emotional moments when you hand over your ticket: the first-hand video accounts of those who helped build the tower, and what it means to them as New Yorkers, are incredibly moving.
Where? 285 Fulton Street, Lower Manhattan.
How much? $32. Plan ahead by checking the weather forecast and booking your ticket for a specific time frame so you’re not disappointed if that day’s tickets sell out.
6. A ROOFTOP BAR (OR TWO!)
While the ubiquitous New York City rooftop bar comes into its own in the summer, many of the most popular are open year round, featuring retractable ceilings or clusters of space heaters. When it comes to the New York skyline, you couldn’t ask for a better backdrop for cocktails and good conversation.
I’ve braved freezing temperatures to attend a Christmas party atop 230 Fifth (which sits right in front of the Empire State Building); indulged in literary cocktails at Bookmarks Rooftop bar on my birthday; and, as a 21-year-old new to the city, spent many a summer Saturday evening on the Gansevoort Hotel rooftop. The Ides in Williamsburg is the latest trendy spot to sip a craft beer or local cocktail, but I was a bit disappointed with the view (and the service – but sssh, you didn’t hear it from me!). Other popular options that are on my to-do list include Pod, The Roof, and Eataly.
Where? There are rooftop bars in every neighbourhood – take your pick!
How much? The price of a drink, which in New York is probably going to be at least $10 (unless you stumble across a happy hour, of course).
7. CENTRAL PARK
If you want to escape the concrete jungle without forgetting you’re in New York, then stroll around the lower half of Central Park, where you can relax surrounded by lakes, trees, and unusually brave squirrels, while also appreciating the skyline.
You’ll spot the famous Plaza Hotel and Essex House, as well as the latest controversial additions to the line-up, One 57 and 432 Park Avenue. In winter, this is where to head for that classic festive image of merry skaters gliding around on the ice under the watch of the city above.
Where? To start in the south east corner of the park, head for 59th Street and 5th Avenue.
How much? Absolutely free. Central Park is pretty much a free garden for space-starved New Yorkers.
8. THE HIGH LINE
This elevated railroad-turned-park gives a truly unique view of the city. While it’s no longer the ‘hidden gem’ it once was (it’s crowded with tourists every day of the week, and for good reason), the High Line remains one of my favourite places to see New York in a different light.
At eye-level with windows, balconies, and mini rooftop gardens, you’re afforded a fun glimpse into the lives and characters of different neighbourhoods, from the Meatpacking District up to Chelsea and Midtown West.
Where? The High Line starts at Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District and ends at 34th Street and 12th Avenue, with multiple access points along the route.
How much? Free! Save some cash for the mini food vendors that pop up in summer, selling gelato, ice pops, and even tacos.
9. THE ROOSEVELT ISLAND TRAM
A swipe of your Metro card on the Upper East Side will give you an experience to remember, thanks to the tram (or cable car, as Brits call it) that swings commuters to and fro between Manhattan and the miniscule Roosevelt Island in the East River. You’ll watch as cars and cabs zip through the streets far below, get a close-up of the Queensboro Bridge, and see the city stretch south along the river.
The views from the southern tip of the island are lovely too, featuring the Chrysler Building, the United Nations, and the Pepsi Cola sign on Long Island City (an indicator of the fact that this was the home of Pepsi’s bottling plant). Spend time exploring the island while you’re here – it has a fascinating history, as I learned on my first visit a few years ago.
Where? Hop onto the tram at 60th Street and 2nd Avenue.
How much? At $2.75, it’s only the cost of a Metro Card swipe.
10. A HELICOPTER TOUR
The only glimpse I’ve had of New York City from the air is from an American Airlines flight that left from La Guardia Airport, and my nose was pressed up against the window as if I was a toddler on their first flight. It was truly beautiful, and I kept looking as the city slowly got smaller and smaller in the distance.
So while I’ve never taken one of those touristy helicopter rides over New York, I’d love to splash out on it for a special occasion sometime in the future. Take a look at C’est Christine’s review of it for an idea of what to expect – it looks like a whole lot of fun!
Where? Some tours take you over the Statue of Liberty, while others show you the whole of Manhattan.
How much? Anything from $150 upwards, so this is definitely one to save for a special occasion!