9 Best Places with Breathtaking Views in New York City

Laurence Norah is one half of the travel blogging couple Laurence and Jessica Norah, who run three websites to help you travel the world and take better photos doing so. Find out more

New York is a city that can be appreciated from multiple angles. In this guide, we’re going to share with you some of our favorite places to get a great view in New York City

This will primarily focus on Manhattan as this is where many visitors to the city will focus their time, although we have included a few locations in some other boroughs for those of you looking to venture further afield.

Table of Contents

Manhattan Skyline from Brooklyn Bridge Park

Manhattan Skyline, NYC
Manhattan Skyline (Photo by Laurence Norah)

One of our favorite locations to get a free view in New York City is Brooklyn Bridge Park. This is found just over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, and can easily be reached on foot from Manhattan, via bicycle, or by ferry. 

The view from Brooklyn Bridge Park looks across the East River with the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan directly in front of you. It’s a particularly good place to watch the sunset in New York as the sun sets behind the downtown skyscrapers, but the view from here is good all day.

Empire State Building

View from Empire State Building, NYC
View from Empire State Building (photo by Laurence Norah)

New York City is home to many iconic buildings, but perhaps the most iconic of them all is the Empire State Building. This 102-story building in midtown Manhattan was for a long time the tallest building in the world, and is still today one of the most recognizable buildings in the world.

Going up the Empire State Building is usually at the top of many visitors’ to-do lists when in the city, and for good reason. As well as enjoying epic views from one of the three observation decks, there are also a number of exhibits you’ll pass through on your way to the top. Here you’ll learn all about the construction of the building, its present-day use, its role in popular culture, and more.

Of course, while the exhibits are excellent, the views are what really draw people. Our favorite floor is the 86th floor where you’ll find the outdoor observatory. From here, you can go to every side of the building to get incredible views of both uptown Manhattan and Central Park, as well as to downtown Manhattan, and even the other boroughs. On a clear day, you can see for miles and miles!

There are a number of options for tickets for the Empire State Building, including the most popular standard entry ticket, the AM/PM ticket, the sunrise experience ticket and the VIP guided tour. It’s also included on many of New York’s more popular city passes, such as the New York Pass and the New York Sightseeing Pass.

Rockefeller Center

View from Rockefeller Center, NYC
View from Rockefeller Center (photo by Laurence Norah)

Whilst we love going to the top of the Empire State Building, there is another great option in Midtown Manhattan for city views that puts the Empire State Building in perfect frame: Top of the Rock, a viewing platform at the top of the Rockefeller Centre.

The Rockefeller Center actually consists of 19 buildings, including popular attractions like the Radio City Music Hall, the Rockefeller Plaza, and a large underground shopping concourse. However, for the best view, you’ll be heading to the Top of the Rock observation deck which is found at the top of the 30 Rockefeller Plaza building.

As well as the Empire State Building, you’ll have an incredible view of Central Park and the rest of Midtown Manhattan. Being open top, it also feels a bit more like you’re really standing on top of the city!

You can buy tickets for the Top of the Rock Observation deck here, and they are also included on the New York Pass and the New York Sightseeing Pass.

The Edge

If you like your views of the city to include an adrenaline rush, then the 100-story-high Edge Observation Deck on the western side of Midtown Manhattan should be on your itinerary.

The Edge can be found at 30 Hudson Yards, and the observation deck is unique for the city because it juts out over the street below. The glass walls are also angled outwards, so you can feel like you’re leaning over the edge. There’s also a rather thrilling glass floor, for those of you brave enough to walk over “nothing”, 100 stories above street level.

Of course, the views are also fantastic. You can see straight down the Hudson River from this location, and you get excellent views of Midtown Manhattan as well as the rest of the island and the surrounding boroughs.

Tickets for the Edge can be purchased here.

One World Trade Centre

One World Trade Center, NYC
One World Trade Center (photo by Laurence Norah)

If you want to get a great view of downtown Manhattan, visit One World Trade Center, also known as the Freedom Tower. Built to replace the fallen Twin Towers, this is the tallest building in the city and the whole Western Hemisphere at 1,776 feet.  On the 102nd floor, the One World Observatory gives spectacular 360-degree views of Lower Manhattan and across the Hudson River to Jersey City. There’s also a virtual glass floor experience, known as the Sky Portal, which uses high-definition cameras to project real time images underneath the floor, giving the impression of walking on a glass floor high above the city streets.

Tickets for the One World Observatory are available here. You can also get combination tickets which include other attractions and tours, like this one.

This area of Manhattan is home to a number of attractions that are well worth a visit when you leave One World Trade Center, from the poignant September 11 Memorial and Museum to bustling Wall Street. This area is also where you can take a cruise to visit the Statue of Liberty.

Helicopter Ride

Helicopter view, NYC
Helicopter view

Going up very tall buildings is of course one way to get an amazing view of New York, but their biggest disadvantage is their stationary position. Of course, you can visit multiple locations to get lots of different views, but another option would be to take a helicopter ride over the city. These rides are available for various durations, and will give you a real bird’s-eye view from angles that even One World Trade Center can’t provide. A helicopter ride is also a lot of fun, and definitely a unique way to get a great view of the city!

There are multiple helicopter tours to choose from in New York, from longer private flights, like this, through to shorter, more cost-effective trips, like this.

Boat Cruise

NYC Boat Cruise
NYC Boat Cruise

If a helicopter ride is a little out of budget, or just not interesting to you, then consider taking a boat cruise. These will give you another view of the city that you can’t get elsewhere. There are a number of companies that offer sightseeing boat cruises, including some options that include a meal.

However, we actually found that our favorite views of the city were from either the trip to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty, or from on board the relatively inexpensive city ferry service. These both offered excellent city views, particularly of the downtown skyline. 

As you are likely to be visiting the Statue of Liberty, treating the boat ride over as a sightseeing cruise will save you some money. The ferry, on the other hand, is an excellent way to get around some of the main sights of the city and get plenty of fresh air while doing so.

Queens Museum

Queens Museum
Queens Museum (photo by Laurence Norah)

This one is a bit off the wall, and a destination that not a lot of visitors to New York make it to as it’s a bit off the main beaten path. The Queens Museum is found in Flushing Meadows in the borough of Queens. It’s easy to reach by public transport from Manhattan, and is well worth the visit in our opinion.

We’re including it in our guide to the best views in New York because the museum has an incredible permanent exhibition titled “Panorama of the City of New York”. Originally created for the 1963 World’s Fair, this is a 9,335 square foot model of the entire city and includes every building constructed before 1992 in all five boroughs.

You can walk all around the installation and get an incredible sense of the scale of the city. You can even watch tiny planes taking off and landing at the model of LaGuardia Airport!

Gantry Plaza State Park

Another excellent free option that is popular with locals is the Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens. This is found on the east side of the East River, directly opposite Midtown Manhattan, and is a great place to come for excellent views of the skyline.

It’s easy to get here by ferry or subway, and as well as the lovely views of the skyline you’ll also find art installations, regular live music performances and lots of recreational opportunities.

Laurence Norah is one half of the travel blogging couple Laurence and Jessica Norah, who run three websites to help you travel the world and take better photos doing so. Laurence loves New York City and has visited many times over the years. One of his favorite views is from the rooftop of the Empire State building. Check out his guide to visiting the Empire State Building for his insights into visiting, as well as
his guide to spending 2 days in New York.

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