Best NYC Observation Deck: SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
More than just an observation deck, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is an immersive, multi-sensory art experience with breathtaking views over Manhattan.
Located on the top four floors of the new One Vanderbilt skyscraper next to Grand Central Station, the over 6,000 square meter (65,000 square foot) space, which opened October 21, 2021, has the best and closest views of the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building compared to any other observation deck in the city. The Empire State Building, which is only 8 blocks away from Summit One Vanderbilt, so the view and photo opportunities are incredible.
The SUMMIT journey starts on the ground.Underground actually, as the entrance is a level below the footpath. Instructions on how to find the entrance are here.
It’s quite a process lining up (even for timed tickets), going through security, putting on the special booties over shoes and scanning your face to connect with your wrist band for photo opportunities.
The elevator up to the 91st floor is cramped, but full of digital effects to start the immersive experience.
The 91st floor opens to Air, designed by Kenzo Digital, and the first within the installation, called Transcendence, a large mirrored space where visitors can enjoy being part of the skyline views in the mirrors surrounding them on all sides. New York is infinite in this space.
It’s hard to visit this space and get great photos with the mirrors due to the large number of people inside the space at all times. We booked the first time slot of the day and it was still completely packed and impossible to get a photo without a zillion other New Yorkers in it.
The best and easiest photos to get without your neighbour in them are by the windows overlooking the city. We visited on a dreary rainy day which wasn’t ideal for the view, however still managed to get some decent photos with the city’s famous landmarks in them.
Transcendence is continued on the next floor, where balconies overlook this space.
The next installation is Clouds (2019) by Yayoi Kusama, the artist behind the famous mirrored infinity rooms. The stainless-steel “clouds” fill the floor and encourage visitors to see new reflections and angles, meant to reinforce the feeling of infinity and perpetuity.
The most popular room follows, filled with floating silver orbs. The room is like a giant, shiny adult ball pit. The walls and floor are mirrored which can be fun to create effects in photos, but also makes it hard to get a shot without one of the many other visitors in them. For your best shot with no one else in the frame, try to head to a corner and angle the camera so as to avoid reflections from the wall that include the rest of the room.
We missed the instructions to scan our wristbands at the Unity section and didn’t realize our faces would merge with the clouds on the screen if we did. There was a lack of information and signage about this section, we just thought it was a pretty digital screen and nothing more.
Back to the view outside, a unique way to see the skyline is in Ascent, advertised as the world’s largest external glass-bottomed elevator that goes up to 1,200 feet above ground level on the outside of the building. It’s an extra $20 to go for a ride in the elevator.
Après lounge and café is at this end stage of the experience, featuring drinks and light snacks.
The final experience is Levitation, two all-glass sky boxes extend outside the building 1,063 feet over the bustling Madison Avenue. Visitors have a very limited amount of time in in the skyboxes which helpfully makes the line go fast but also makes it quite full of pressure to snap the perfect shot vs enjoy the experience of jutting out over the edge of the building.
There is a mounted camera that will take photos of your group that you can download for an additional fee. You can take your own photos however, just be quick about it before your time runs out.
Tips for visiting SUMMIT: One Vanderbilt:
Bring sunglasses. The reflective materials used throughout SUMMIT create a bright environment, especially at times of full sunlight. We visited on a very dreary day and didn’t need them, however if it was sunny I think they would be a necessity.
Dress wisely. SUMMIT features many reflective floors and recommend pants, shorts, or tights. If you wear a dress or skirt, make sure to wear shorts underneath.
Wear comfortable, non-marking shoes. Stiletto heels, work boots, cleats and certain other footwear that can damage flooring are not permitted.
Book well in advance. The experience is very popular and books out particularly in busy holiday seasons.
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
45 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017
Entrance located on the Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal
Hours: Wed-Mon 9am-12am. Tuesday closed.
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