Get Elevated in The City with the Most Iconic Skyline in the World
By Christopher Ludgate
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
The views of New York City have this undeniable power to enchant the eye of the beholder in many special ways.
The city that never sleeps has one of the most recognizable skylines in the world.
From iconic to new to reinvented, the city’s best observatories offer up glimpses of its continuous evolution and incarnations, evoking all kinds of familiar stories in its sprawling playground where dreams are made.
These elevated views are what allow us in the most encompassing way to appreciate this place best; that commanding view, the big picture.
After all, NYC has a starring role in the stories of every tourist …or even if you’re from here. And for a moment, gazing out from the top, it’s satisfying to just put the phone away and stay in the present, amazed, embracing it all.
There, in a New York minute: you might just gain a whole new perspective of yourself or the world.
The Big Picture
This city always has a way of out-doing itself, and like it or not, it is always changing. Like never before, New York offers some truly thrilling offerings with vantage points at almost any time of day, in any season. CityPASS is always a good ticket to get started on the journey.
From The Edge to One World Observatory, or top deck on the ferries on the Harbor, over to Top of the Rock, or the Summit among those newer matchstick buildings, there are many ways to see the city from on high. Not least of these is the iconic Empire State Building Observatory right in the heart of it all. All you have to do is get there and you’ll get all those movie-moment feels.
The Empire State Building: A Beacon Revamped
You might have missed her 90th birthday invitation while certain things went down around the globe the past couple of years, but The Empire State Building is now indeed a nonagenarian. And she is more gorgeous and engaging than ever. Those new shiny big guys around town don’t outshine her.
She has style and she has grace. And she embodies a monumental history claimed by only a handful of local landmarks with her Art-Deco façade and tall slender core that now offers up an interactive time-capsule like it never had before.
While the competition for who can erect the biggest building endures (like it or not), the stewards of this veritable beacon (ESB, as shorthand branding dubs it) have kept substance and authenticity a priority in her revamping, completely reinventing the experience for visitors.
And with the $165 million invested, you bet they want to keep us entertained as we make our way up to the new Observatory. A variety of new specialized informative guided tours behind-the-scenes are also available.
Once I entered the new digs through the new dedicated visitor’s entrance on 34th Street, I escalated up to the 10,000 sq. ft. museum on the 2nd floor and was instantly drawn into the reimagined guest experience. It was an alluring celebration of the city’s most iconic symbol.
In a showcase of immersive high-tech audio/visual exhibits that integrate history and nostalgia an unexpectedly lively display came to life. Endearing and fascinating stories abound in every direction spanning from the 1920s to 2020s.
Dazzlingly displayed replicas and artifacts like the original elevator switches come alive in one corner and a sprawling retrospect of ESB’s pop culture celebrity status splashed across movie screens in another.
Interactive glimpses into old New York’s heyday along with engaging in-depth looks into the actual build of the icon were exhibited in the beautifully lit user-friendly space.
It’s a great urban campus to introduce kids to NYC’s history, too, before they become inevitably distracted by the sparkling panoramic skyline that waits at the top.
While heading up to the 80th floor where multi-medium art galleries and signature libations welcomed me is where you’ll get the first glimpses of notable pockets of the city. It was easy to spend some time here admiring the NY skyline, not being herded or rushed like the old days visiting.
Oh, and inside those little Art-Deco elevators it’s a lively display as the construction comes together story by story featuring the extraordinary laborers who built it. So do look up!
Pop-up to the Top
Partnering with New York City businesses, ESB has begun featuring rotating pop-ups on the redesigned and a bit more ambient and swanky 86th-floor observatory as an added attraction. The ESB Hazy IPA by Craft & Carry in collaboration with Brooklyn’s Five Boroughs Brewing “offers a tropical traffic jam of flavor. Flaked oats balance heavy Amarillo and Citra hop additions — bumper-to-bumper deliciousness.”
And a sweet treat from Greenwich Village confectioner, Cookie DŌ (yep, it’s every cookie you ever loved, in dough form) provided some mood enhancers on my way to the top and a souvenir with a sugar-high.
I hadn’t been all the way to the 102nd floor at ESB in forever. I don’t even remember when, but this was undoubtedly more memorable with a much better flow.
And yes, the difference from the 86th floor to the Top Deck on the 102nd is significant in scenery surrounded by its smooth modern elegance.
The intimate space was subtly lit, and the shiny black floor glowed with a deep calming blue. The 360° view of the nighttime sky was crystal clear, fortunately.
You could just fall in love with New York all over again. Speaking of which, I have heard the space hosted a wedding or two. Personally, if I had a sleeping bag, I would have loved camping out for the night.
The windows stretch from top to bottom and admittedly, my palms got a bit sweaty. Still, there was a calm vibe and feeling of being in – I don’t know – a spaceship? With only a handful of people at capacity, I welcomed the tranquility of it; unique compared to most of the other observatories.
You might remember the Skyline ride in the 1990s at the Empire State Building, way before its renovation, of course. Tech has certainly come a long way since then, as has New York City. It seems rudimentary in retrospect, but it was fun at the time.
A new spectacular simulation of flying on your own jetpack around some of the most beautiful scenes of New York can be found at the recently opened RiseNYC on West 45th St.
Imagine your feet dangling just above the tips of the Manhattan Bridge, turbo blasting through subway tunnels, ascending high above the Hudson and on to some breathtaking views –this was one of the best rushes I’ve had in a while on the new theatrical thrill ride that has just opened its doors.
Various unexpected sensory surprises were in store, enhancing the ride-along into this super-high resolution, 21st-century joyride. No virtual goggles are necessary. And social media does not really translate the experience, in my opinion.
I have to admit, I went in knowing next to nothing about the experience at all when I was invited for a preview. The experience begins with a labyrinth of galleries celebrating many facets of New York City through the decades while bringing New York-centric entertainment that’s part of the zeitgeist. But be prepared, the ride at the end of the more leisurely museum will likely shift your adrenaline into high gear.
Twenty-first Century Heights
Perhaps it’s poetic or maybe it’s just ironic that this trifecta of shiny new observatories is a reflection of futuristic ideas. Even old New York was new, once.
And, after all, the thrill of the journey to these rooftops is the stirring up of reverie made up of nostalgia and the excitement to really “be a part of it” to quote Mr. Sinatra’s New York anthem. That’s the allure. But the sunsets, those lights! And the lady in the harbor… I gush, but I am a proud New Yorker, so deal with it.
I can’t help but imagine the boat-fulls pulling into Ellis, Angel, or Liberty Islands in the 19th-Century and the Lower East Side tenements and precious remains from back in the day. Standing at the floor-to-ceiling windows on the 102nd floor of One World Observatory (or OWO in today’s lingo), I tend to favor any given directional point indicated on the marble floors of the 360° layout depending on the hour.
On the main floor, the 100th, you can explore highlights of the five boroughs with multimedia kiosks to help get your bearings or explore the spots you might not get to this time around.
I’ve been up there too many times to count and those sunsets always stun me. It’s a mesmerizingly beautiful scene. The water shimmers and the silhouettes become a whole new movie scene. If you plan your trip right, you can really make the most of it, and what better way than with a sunset dinner and some bubbly …even better, a perfect Manhattan at cozy ONE Dine on floor 101?
After my own personal ambivalence about the glitzy monochrome of Hudson Yards, I have to say heading up to The Edge, the newest tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, on a clear sunny day, I felt the future! Or maybe I’ve seen the new Batman movie trailer too many times.
Now that’s some new heights, and in the open-air …nothing less than spectacular. A brand new way to see my beloved concrete jungle below and the curvature of the earth, so it seemed — as I was levitating — even if it did give me some butterflies.
Next up on the horizon – because there is always something new here in Gotham – Summit One. Debuting during CoVid chaos in 2021, the 1,401 ft tower is getting lots of buzz for its colorful spire reaching into the clouds from the heart of Manhattan, with mirrors, mirrors everywhere, they say …and a bit of levity.