What are the main differences between the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center?

Both observation decks are located in major cultural attractions in New York City, and both have much to offer curious travelers, whether you’re interested in art, architecture, history, or just great aerial views of NYC.

They are also both located in Manhattan but offer different views and different visiting experiences. We’ve put together a list of the basic differences and similarities between the two attractions, arranged by:

  • What’s included with general admission
  • Location
  • Scenic views of New York
  • Building history
  • Tips for visiting

Thinking about Visiting the Empire State Building or One World Trade Center?

World Trade Center Memorial Tickets | New York Explorer Pass

With a pass by Go City, you will save on admission to the Empire State Building and admission to One World Observatory plus your choice of other popular New York attractions.

Another fun alternative is the Top of the Rock, which also provides stunning aerial views of the city and is also available on the pass.

Check out our post comparing the Top of the Rock and One World Trade Center for more information on how they stack up.

What’s Included with General Admission

Both attractions include admission to the observation deck itself, as well as special exhibition areas within the building. To help you compare the two, here is a summary of what general admission includes for both.

Empire State Building General Admission

Empire State Building, New York City
  • Access to the Main Deck, an 86th-floor open deck observation space. This place has been the setting for a whole bunch of movies and television shows, so you’ll likely recognize the space.
  • Multimedia exhibits including the Sustainability Exhibit and the Dare to Dream Exhibit. The Sustainability Exhibit highlights the Empire State Building’s efforts to reduce their carbon footprint be decreasing energy usage and carbon emissions by significant amounts, and decreasing their energy costs. This is an important must-see exhibit for anyone interested in green building, or environmental issues in general. The Dare to Dream Exhibit is a fascinating collection of historical documents, photographs, architectural drawings, and more, which all tell the story of how this iconic building was conceived, designed, and constructed in the early twentieth century.
  • The famous Art Deco Lobby, which is one of the very few building interiors in New York to be officially designated as a historic landmark. Restored to its full glory in 2009, this stunning lobby features gorgeous ceiling murals (complete with 24-carat gold leaf) and a 3-D image of the building itself on the wall above the Fifth Avenue front desk.
  • The new Visitor’s Center, located on the second floor of the building. Here is where you can introduce yourself to the attraction and learn more about the layout, as well as process your admission.
  • An elevator ride that proceeds from the 2nd floor to the 86th in less than a minute.

One World Observatory General Admission

one world
  • Access to the building foundation exhibit (on the first floor), which allows you to walk through the bedrock the building is constructed upon.
  • A SkyPod Elevator ride with a digital time-lapse that highlights 5 centuries of New York City’s evolving landscape.
  • SEE FOREVER THEATER™, an audio-visual experience that explores NYC’s skyline
  • Admission to the main observatory on the 100th floor, which offers panoramic, 360-degree views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and more.
  • Observatory: Sky Portal, which is a clear glass floor that allows you to look 100 stories below your feet to the city beneath you. Not for the faint of heart!


Where the Empire State Building is compared to One World Trade Center 

Both buildings are found in Manhattan, but are approximately four miles apart from one another.

Empire State Building: Located in Midtown Manhattan by Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal, and the iconic NYC department store Macy’s.

One World Trade Center Observatory: Located near the southernmost point of Manhattan, this is close to the Financial District and the waterfront.

Comparing the Scenic Views

While these two observation decks aren’t very far apart in the grand scheme of things, they do offer distinct views and unique perspectives.

In the southern part of Manhattan near the water, One World Observatory has excellent views of the Financial District below, the Hudson River and East River, and northeastern New Jersey (including Lady Liberty).

The Empire State Building, on the other hand, offers stunning views of Midtown Manhattan, the Chrysler Building, as far north as Central Park, and as far south as the Statue of Liberty.

One World Trade Center is completely enclosed, while the Empire State Building has both open-air and enclosed observation decks. Keep in mind that both buildings offer skyline views that include the other building.

View from the Empire State Building

View from the Empire State Building looking south (at One World Trade Center) 

The Main Deck of the Empire State Building is on the 86th floor, providing stellar views of Central Park, the Hudson and the East Rivers, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty, as well as the wealth of attractions in Midtown Manhattan below. Of course, from the Empire State Building, you can see One World Trade Center.

View from the One World Observatory

one world

The observation deck is found on the 100th floor of the One World Trade Center, and offers amazing views of the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, the Flat Iron Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, other buildings in the One World Trade Center complex and in the Financial District, and plenty of buildings below from the glass-bottomed viewing deck. And from One World Observatory, you can see the Empire State Building.

Building History

The Empire State Building

Empire State 1

Begun in 1930 and officially open to the world in 1931, the Empire State Building is coming up on a century old. The architecture firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates were responsible for the design and construction of the building and the lights were first illuminated by a button pushed by President Hoover all the way in Washington, DC.

It was built as a monument to American industrial progress, and was deemed one of the seven greatest architectural achievements in the United States by 1955. The lobby (now restored to its original beauty) was a model of Art Deco architecture and represents some truly impressive artistic contributions to the building.

Today the building is home to a variety of commercial enterprises (including restaurants that are well-worth your time and money to visit – even just for a cocktail or two), as well as the observation deck and historical exhibits. It is located on Fifth Avenue.

One World Observatory

One World Observatory

With the completion of its construction in 2013, One World Trade Center is significantly newer than the Empire State Building. It is currently the second-tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth-tallest in the entire world.

This observation deck was created as part of the reconstruction efforts in the wake of the tragic devastation of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Today the building also serves as a primarily commercial site, although it also houses historic exhibits and the observation deck itself.

Tips for Visiting The Empire State Building and One World Observatory

 Tips for Visiting the Empire State Building

  • If possible, plan to visit the Empire State Building early in the morning to avoid elevator lines. Weekdays may also be less busy, too, although not in the summer.
  • Give yourself at least an hour to see the exhibits and the observation deck itself – not counting time through the security line.
  • After you check on the second floor, go straight to the Sustainability Exhibit.
  • Download the FREE app before your visit to make the most of your trip, available for most devices.
  • Skip the ticket office line with your pass and get to the top faster.
  • Pack a camera or smart phone for photos, and plan to take advantage of the binoculars while you’re up there.
  • Dress in layers, as the observation deck on the 86th floor is open-air, and it will be colder at the top than at street level.
  • If you want to snap photos of the sunset over the city, be sure to get there well in advance – the lines will be longer this time of day.
  • For more tips, check out our in-depth guide to visiting the Empire State Building

 Tips for Visiting One World Observatory

  • To help avoid crowds, try to visit One World Observatory early in the morning or during weekdays.
  • Security is very thorough, so be prepared to submit to TSA-style screening.
  • Be sure to bring a camera or binoculars to see the best views; keep in mind that cloudy days will limit your visibility, especially because you’re so close to the water.
  • While you’re in the area, consider a visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum which honours the 3,000 lives lost on September 11, 2001.
  • Again, if you want to get sunset photos be sure to arrive well in advance of the hour before sunset.
  • On your way out, check out the Oculus, part of the transit hub connecting the New York City subway and the NJ PATH trains.

In Summary (The Biggest Differences)

Each of these attractions is incredibly popular with tourists, but both offer different views and cultural perspectives.

The Empire State Building is a historic structure – perhaps one of the most famous buildings in the world – and boasts an incredible history stretching back to the mid-twentieth century.

One World Observatory is much newer but has a history of its own because of its ties to the terror attacks of 9/11. The Empire State Building offers views from further up in Manhattan, so you’ll see more things like Central Park and the famous museums than you could from the One World Observatory.

Conversely, the One World Observatory is near the southernmost tip of Manhattan, so you’ll see more of the water and New Jersey and Brooklyn, and the Statue of Liberty is closer.

Visit the Empire State Building and Save on Admission

Don’t forget – the pass for New York with Go City® is your smart choice for saving and flexibility when it comes to your NYC adventures. You’ll get admission to the Empire State Building and admission to One World Observatory, plus tickets to your choice of other top attractions in the city. 

These includethe Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Ferry, the Top of the Rock, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, multiple bus tours, and many more.

With the Explorer Pass, you can make big savings on combined admission vs. paying at the gate – what’s not to love?

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Sign up and save an extra 5% today.