What’s the difference between Top of the Rock vs One World Observatory (formerly known as the "Freedom Tower")? They're both historic and cultural icons that stand out in the New York City skyline, offer sky-high views of NYC's landscape from their observation decks, and are both located in Manhattan; but each building offers a different experience when visiting their respective observation decks. We’ve put together a list of the key similarities and differences between the two attractions broken down by:

  • What’s Included with General Admission
  • Location
  • Scenic Views of New York
  • Building History
  • Tips for Visiting

Top of the Rock vs One World Trade Observatory Photo on left original by Sharat Ganapati has been modified for this blog post (Flickr: GE Building - Rockefeller Plaza) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thinking about visiting Empire State Building or One World Observatory?

Save up to 50% on admission to Top of the Rock plus your choice of other top New York attractions with the New York City Explorer Pass! Please note, tickets to One World Observatory are separately ticketed and not available as part of the New York City Explorer Pass. Another great observatory for amazing city views is the Empire State Building (also available on the Explorer pass). Check out our post on comparing the Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building.

What’s Included with General Admission:

Both observation decks feature special exhibits and experiences as part of general admission, here’s a summary of what each experience includes:

Top of the Rock General Admission:

For the best views, head to the Top of the Rock one hour before sunset (the golden hour)

  • Mezzanine exhibit highlighting the history of Rockefeller Center, including photos and artifacts that explore the life of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the building's construction, and the creation of Top of the Rock, a short video presentation about NBC's history and ties to Rockefeller Center, and the interactive Beam Walk exhibit that simulates what it was like for construction workers walking on the construction beams 69 floors above Manhattan
  • Sky shuttle elevator ride that ascends 850 feet in less than a minute bringing visitors right to the top with an entertaining light show along the way
  • Access to three floors of indoor and outdoor observation decks on the 67th floor (includes the Radiance Wall and gift shop), 69th floor (featuring the breezeway, is entirely outdoors), and 70th floor (the open-air roof deck completely outdoors and free of a glass structure)

One World Observatory General Admission:

  • Access to the first floor/building foundation exhibit where you can walk through the Manhattan bedrock that the building it built on
  • Sky Pod Elevator ride with a virtual time-lapse that illustrates 500 years of New York City's ever-changing landscape
  • SEE FOREVER THEATER™, an audio-visual experience that explores NYC's skyline
  • Admission to the main observatory on the 100th floor with 360-degree views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and the surrounding waters
  • Observatory: Sky Portal, a clear glass floor that provides views of the city streets 100 stories below foot

Location:

Compare-Top-of-Rock-One-World-Observatory-Location Both buildings are located in Manhattan near other popular attractions, but the two buildings are about 4 miles apart. Top of the Rock: Top of the Rock is located in Mid-Manhattan closer to Central Park and Times Square. One World Observatory: One World Observatory is located near the southern point of Manhattan, in the Financial District and close to the water.

Comparing the Scenic Views:

Though only 4 miles apart, the views from the two buildings are very different. Closer to the southern point of Manhattan, One World Observatory has views of the Financial District's surrounding buildings, the Statue of Liberty, and the water. Alternatively, Top of the Rock offers great views of Midtown Manhattan's surrounding buildings, Central Park (you can't see it from One World Observatory at all), and Times Square. Both observatories offer stunning views of the Empire State Building (from Top of the Rock you can see it while looking south, from One World Observatory you can see while looking north). While One World Observatory is completely enclosed, the Top of the Rock offers both enclosed and open-air viewing decks.

View from the Top of the Rock:

The observation deck at Top of the Rock is 800-feet above ground. What you'll see from the Top of the Rock:
  • Empire State Building (looking south), Chrysler Building (partially obscured), One World Trade Center, Central Park, Bank of America Tower, Flatiron Building, Brooklyn Bridge, surrounding buildings in Midtown Manhattan, and more.

View from the One World Observatory:

One-World-Observatory-View-of-Empire-State-Building Photo by Nathania Johnson (Flickr: The view from One World Observatory) [CC 2.0]
 The observation deck at One World Observatory is higher than Top of the Rock's at 1250-feet above ground. What you'll see from One World Observatory:
  • Empire State Building (looking north), Chrysler Building, Grand Central, Flat Iron Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Guggenheim Museum, Rockefeller Center (partially obstructed), Trump World Tower, other buildings in the World Trade Center complex, Statue of Liberty, surrounding buildings in the Financial District, and more.
  • The observation deck is high enough that you can see the curvature of the earth
  • The streets below from a glass-bottomed viewing deck

Building History:

Even though One World Observatory is almost a century younger than Rockefeller Center, they were both built in response to tragedy and stand as symbols of American resilience, hope, and prosperity.

Top of the Rock:

Completed in 1933, the building is one of the most recognized skyscrapers in New York and embodies the architectural style of its time with lots of classic Art Deco details. The building was commissioned by John D. Rockefeller and construction began and continued during the Great Depression, sealing the building's status as an icon of American prosperity and hope in times of economic downturn and despair. 30 Rockefeller Plaza is the official address of the Center's tallest building, also known as '30 Rock,' and is the location of the show 30 Rock, starring Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, and Jack McBrayer, among others.

One World Trade Center:

Completed in 2013, One World Trade Center is the second-tallest building the Western Hemisphere, and the sixth-tallest building in the world. The building of the World Trade Centers was part of the WTC reconstruction and site materialization response to the devastating terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Tips for Visiting the One World Observatory and Top of the Rock:

Top of the Rock Tips:

  • Plan to visit Top of the Rock early in the morning and/or on a weekday to avoid the largest crowds
  • Plan to spend at least 1 hour visiting the Top of the Rock and take your time at the exhibits, once you pass through,  you cannot go back to the exhibits
  • Entry tickets are timed, bring your pass to Top of the Rock in the morning to reserve a timed ticket for later in the day for the best chances of going up during your ideal time
  • If you want to catch the sunset, plan to get to the top well before (one hour before sunset offers the best lighting for photos).
  • Download the FREE Top of the Rock app for a skyline guide that identifies what buildings you’re looking at and has audio tours you can listen to
  • Bring layers to wear and remember, it's likely colder and windier at the top
  • Pack a camera and binoculars to capture the best views
  • Check out our post for even more Top of the Rock tips for visiting

One World Observatory Tips:

  • To avoid the largest crowds, plan to visit One World Observatory early in the morning--weekday visits tend to be less busy, too.
  • Be prepared to pass through TSA-style security to keep lines moving at a quick pace
  • Check the forecast before you go, a low visibility day will affect your views
  • Check the time of sunset before you go if you want to be at the top for the "golden hour" before sunset
  • Consider renting a One World Explorer iPad (+$15 if purchased in advance) to enhance your visit with software that identifies buildings and landmarks in your viewing screen with supplemental information about each
  • Bring a camera and binoculars to capture the best views
  • While in the area, visit the 9/11 Tribute Museum: Gallery Admission & Walking Tour (and save on admission with a New York City Explorer Pass) located right outside One World Trade Center in the original location of the Twin Towers.
  • On exiting, visit the new Oculus structure at the World Trade Center transportation hub serving as a connection between the New Jersy PATH trains and NYC's metro

In Summary (the Biggest Differences):

Both attractions offer a unique experience and are extremely popular, but the biggest differences are the views from the observation decks (from Top of the Rock you get a close up of Midtown Manhattan and can see the Financial District in the distance. From One World Observatory you get a close up of the Financial District and can see Midtown Manhattan in the distance). Top of the Rock offers both indoor and outdoor viewing opportunities while One World Observatory is indoor only.

Visit Top of the Rock & Save on Admission

Remember, the New York City Explorer Pass® is the best choice for maximum savings and flexibility, which includes Top of the Rock tickets, plus admission to your choice of other top attractions, like the Empire State Building, Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus Tour, Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Immigration Museum – Ferry Ticket, The MoMa, The Met, 9/11 Tribute Center & Walking Tour, and lots more. Save up to 50% on top museums, tours, and activities vs. paying at the gate. Visit multiple New York City attractions for one low price. Enjoy! New York City Explorer Pass

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