It’s a New York truism that for the best views of Manhattan, you need to rise above the island or leave it entirely. Yes, the finest vistas of NYC are from sky-high perches within the city or from another borough entirely. For the ultimate list of where to go for outstanding skyline views, we’ve included a bit of everything — from the soaring 86th floor observation tower dubbed Top of the Rock to the breezy Brooklyn Bridge to a chartered helicopter that circles the island.
Top of the Rock
The Top of the Rock offers one distinct advantage over the Empire State Building: views of the Empire State Building. Thanks to this — and its three tiers of spacious 360-degree decks — the Top of the Rock Observation Deck has what many consider the finest panoramic vistas in all of New York City. The Top of the Rock crowns the famous GE Building, a 1933 art deco skyscraper that rises an impressive 850 feet, making it the 10th highest in New York City. The view includes most every major sight of New York City, from natural to manmade: the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal, the Hudson River, the East River and, on clear days, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Also, Rockefeller Center is closer to Central Park than the Empire State Building, and the view of the iconic park, ringed by skyscrapers, is among the best in the city. The observation deck has windows on the 67th and 69th floors, and is open-air at the 70th floor with only clear glass panels between you and the beautiful view. In other words, it’s ideal for snapping photos. The tour experience is bolstered by various videos and other visual effects, including the Summit Shuttle, the glass-topped elevators that zip to the top in less than a minute. A light show plays across the top of the elevator, through which you can see the elevator shaft hurtling by. 30 Rockefeller Plaza, 212-698-2000, get tickets!
Manhattan by Sail
Amidst all the skyscrapers and asphalt, it’s easy to forget that Manhattan is an island. A breezy cruise along its banks will soon remind you of this unassailable truth. Board the historic 82-foot Shearwater schooner and float around Manhattan’s harbor, taking in magnificent views of the Statue of Liberty, the forest of skyscrapers clustered at Manhattan’s tip, including the under construction One World Trade Center and the regal arch of the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance. Daytime vistas are memorable, but even more so at night, when the city lights up in dazzling color. Embark on a City Lights Sail to see the city twinkle after dark and the moon rise in the sky above Manhattan. North Cove Marina, near Battery Park City, Hudson River, 212-619-6900, get tickets to the Shearwater Daytime Sail (starting April 25) or the Shearwater City Lights Sail (starting June 5)
The View, New York Marriott Marquis
Though simultaneously eating and rotating isn’t always a good idea, here it is. New York’s only revolving rooftop restaurant and lounge makes a 360-degree turn every hour, nice and slow, so you can gaze out at the city from all angles — north, south, west and east — while tucking into crab cakes and grilled salmon. Topping the handsome Marriott Marquis, on the 48th floor, the appropriately named the View features elegant, linen-topped tables and a contemporary American menu. Look for shrimp cocktails and strip steak for dinner and lively Sunday brunches with eggs Benedict and free-flowing mimosas. Looking to romance a special someone? Head to the low-lit lounge and cozy up over cocktails as you gaze out at the bright lights, big city. 1535 Broadway, 212-704-8900, theviewnyc.com
From Manhattan, the view of the Statue of Liberty is at an angle. On Governors Island, it’s face-on. In fact, park officials say that the island is the closest point on land to the face of Lady Liberty (barring actually going there). A former Coast Guard base in the middle of New York harbor, Governors Island features a two-mile promenade and peaceful shoreline parks. Pedal the perimeter on the island’s for-rent bikes for sweeping vistas of lower Manhattan and New York Harbor as the occasional boat zips across the water, leaving a white froth in its wake. Another bonus is Governors Island’s formidable history: It’s one of the oldest European settlements in New York (the Dutch arrived in the early 17th century), with old chapels as well as Fort Jay and Castle Williams, fortified reminders of the island’s role as a military base used by British and American forces for more than two centuries. The island also has a robust arts program, with open-air sculpture gardens, summer concerts, theme days and other public art initiatives. Open daily, May 24–Sept. 28, accessible via the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan and the Pier 6 in Brooklyn, govisland.com
Empire State Building
Its reign as the tallest building in the world may be long over, but the Empire State is still the most iconic building in New York City. Rising over a quarter mile above Manhattan, the Empire State’s 86th- and 102nd-floor observatories feature panoramic views of New York City — and beyond. On a clear day, you can see all the way to New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. A tip: If you’d like to see the city under varying shades of light, come by just before sunset, when the sky slowly darkens and the urban sprawl begins to glow in lights of all colors. Also, to avoid the longest lines, come by when it opens, at 8am, or around mid-afternoon. Keep an eye out nightly for the building’s changing lights, which represent special holidays and events, from Valentine’s Day to the Super Bowl to a tribute to the American Cancer Society. 350 Fifth Ave., 212-736-3100, get tickets!
Brooklyn Bridge & Promenade
The great appeal of the Brooklyn Bridge is that the view is all around you: Look up to see the famous steel-cable suspension grid, look down at the water of the New York harbor and, as you amble away from Manhattan, turn back to see the skyline views expand as you get closer to Brooklyn. The scene just gets better once you arrive at the Brooklyn Promenade, where you can stroll the waterfront with lower Manhattan glinting in all its glory in the distance, framed by the Brooklyn Bridge. Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walk is accessed via Park Row near City Hall, nyc.gov
Fort Tryon Park
Rise above it all at Fort Tryon Park, which overlooks the mighty Hudson River and is one of the highest natural points in Manhattan. Few spots in the city offer such unobstructed views of the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge and of the New Jersey Palisades rising beyond. Fort Tryon is also proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. — son of the renowned co-designer of Central Park — is the man behind Fort Tryon. Olmstead tamed this once densely forested wedge of Manhattan, creating a genteel retreat with shaded promenades, wooded groves and walking paths. The park experience is further enhanced by the Cloisters Museum and Gardens,a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that includes five impeccably reconstructed European medieval cloisters. Northern Manhattan, Inwood and Washington Heights, nycgovparks.org/parks/forttryonpark
Long Island City, Queens
When it comes to views, Long Island City is the king of Queens. It sits across the East River from Manhattan, affording screensaver-worthy views of the Midtown skyline, punctuated by the signature Chrysler and Empire State buildings, with the 59th Street Bridge in the foreground. Artists in search of cheap work space have been migrating to this industrial Queens neighborhood for years, and now trendy hotels are doing the same. For a look at where Queens is headed (and a nice city vista), travel to the sleek Z NYC Hotel or Ravel Hotel, both of which maximize the views of the cityscape with floor-to-ceiling windows and breezy rooftop bars. Z Hotel NYC: 11-01 43rd Ave., Queens, zhotelny.com; Ravel Hotel: 8-08 Queens Plaza South, Queens, ravelhotel.com
Le Bain rooftop bar, The Standard
Toast Manhattan with a cocktail of the same name at this sexy rooftop bar. The views from the Standard are anything but. The hotel straddles the High Line, so the unique vistas take in both the elevated park and the Hudson River, with midtown Manhattan and New Jersey twinkling in the distance. The Standard is also a hipster playground, which is well evidenced by the rooftop bar, self-described as a “penthouse discotheque” with “world-famous DJs.” In the summer, the faux-grass-covered rooftop tempts the city’s bright young things with a plunge pool and a creperie, recreating a warm afternoon on the banks of the Seine. 848 Washington St., 212-645-4646, standardhotels.com
For the best views of all, take to the skies. The prices may be high, but you will be too after gazing out at the exhilarating views from a Liberty Helicopter. The Big Apple Tour — which lasts 12 to 15 minutes and costs $150 — is a greatest hits fly-over. You’ll see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the World Trade Center, and then chopper north, spying the Chrysler Building, the Empire State and the Woolworth along the way. Plus, keep an eye out for the USS Intrepid, the George Washington Bridge and the leafy green of Central Park. Up here, romance is in the air: There’s nothing like the setting of a birds-eye view of Manhattan to pop the question, and Liberty Helicopters offers several lovebird packages, including Aerial Engagements and Married Over Manhattan. Downtown Heliport, East River Piers, 212-967-6464 libertyhelicopter.com