Last summer, we took my 18-year-old niece to New York City for the first time. Having been a former New Yorker, I had a pretty solid hit list of attractions mapped out for her including the Staten Island Ferry, the High Line and, of course, Central Park. But there was something new that had popped up right in the heart of town: a massive new observation tower less than a year old at the time. But before I booked, I wondered: Is the SUMMIT NYC worth it?
So you don’t have to scroll all the way down to answer, I’ll spoil the post here: Yes. Yes, the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt in New York City is very much worth it. Here’s what the experience was like for us so you can see if it’s right for you.
Observation towers in New York City
There’s no shortage of observation towers in New York City. You’ve got the classics like the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, but you’ve also got a whole host of newcomers like One World Trade Center, the Edge at Hudson Yards and the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, which is the tallest skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan.
Here’s the thing: If you’ve been up one, you’ve been up them all, so you really only need to pick one for your time in New York. I did thorough research before deciding which one to take Kiva to during our long weekend in New York City. I scoured online reviews and photos and settled on SUMMIT as it truly looked like a experience for a first-timer to New York, not to mention this NYC veteran.
The SUMMIT at One Vanderbilt spans the 91st through 93rd floor around 1,100 feet above Manhattan. I love the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock, but the SUMMIT blew both of those experiences away. Plus! You get to see both of them—and the Chrysler Building, Central Park and more—from the top of One Vanderbilt, which really adds to the overall experience.
What to expect at the Summit One Vanderbilt
First, you need to book tickets to Summit One Vanderbilt at least a few weeks in advance as this is a popular attraction that often sells out, particularly at peak times and during Spring Break and summer months.
You’ll arrive at One Vanderbilt, which is right next to Grand Central Station, and get in the first quick-moving line where they’ll scan your pre-purchased ticket then send you up the queue. Once you go through the next line, you’ll watch a brief video about the concept of the SUMMIT at One Vanderbilt, then be outfitted with shoe coverings and sunglasses if you need them.
Sunglasses are absolutely necessary during the daytime as the light reflecting off of all that glass is positively blinding.
Next up, you’ll scan in your eyeballs at a kiosk as the attractions uses facial recognition to admit you to upper floors. After going through a final line—it goes very quickly, I promise—you’ll take the elevator ride up to the top. This was the part I was dreading the most, but it was so fast, I didn’t even have time to get claustrophobic.
Once we arrived on the 91st floor, we stepped out into a magnificent display of glass and panoramic views.
You’ll probably want to hang out in this room for a good while admiring the view and reflections. Note that once you move onto the next room, you can’t backtrack: The flow is designed to be a one-way route so as to manage the throngs of people there to also experience SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.
It’s hard to get great photos in the daytime from this level with all the reflections hitting the glass and bodies crowding your viewpoint; however, fear not because the higher you go, the better the photo potential is.
The next room you’ll enter is likely the one you’ve see all over Instagram: It’s the one brimming with floating, mirrored helium balloons. This is part of the “Air” portion of SUMMIT, which was created by Kenzo Digital to be a fully immersive art experience backed by the best views in Manhattan.
The balloon room was super cool, but also small and incredibly crowded. If you’re someone who gets stressed in cramped, crowded spaces or from visual overload, I recommend a quick walkthrough then onto the next room.
Your last stop in the general admission ticket is the “Levitation” portion of the experience, where you step out into open-air, transparent skyboxes suspended over Madison Avenue. This might have been my favorite stop on the SUMMIT tour as the views up here truly were unmatched.
Why we decided on the SUMMIT at One Vanderbilt
Ultimately, we chose the SUMMIT NYC due to the artistic interior with its reflecting mirrors across levels and other art installations. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I would go back to the One Vanderbilt every time I was in New York if I had someone to go with.
The photo opps at SUMMIT are endless. Honestly, it was visual overload at points, and I was so overstimulated, but I loved it.
The cost to visit SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
Obviously, cost of attractions in NYC are not cheap, but I found the price of SUMMIT pretty comparable to competitors. The lowest ticket price, SUMMIT Experience, is $39 a person, which is what we opted for. The allowed us to take the initial ascent and access all four levels of the immersive experience.
The next level up, SUMMIT Ascent, includes a ride up the largest external glass-bottomed elevator—12 stories higher up—to the tallest point of SUMMIT at 1,200 feet with the top ticket level also including a signature cocktail at the top. Is it worth it for an extra $40? Probably not. If you’re just there for the view, opt for the base level ticket as that’s all you’ll need. Once you get this high in the air, another 12 stories doesn’t really make a huge difference.
Insider tip: If you’re a New York City resident, you receive discounted pricing.
If you’re in New York for more than a day, you also might consider buying the New York CityPASS, which will give you discounts on pre-paid admission at many of the city’s top attractions. I use this tactic when I’m in uber-tourist mode and am planning to visit three attractions or more.
Other frequently asked questions about SUMMIT
Should I go up the SUMMIT at night or during the day?
Whether you go up SUMMIT at night or during daylight is totally personal preference. The observatory tower is open six days a week until midnight, with the last entry at 11pm. I wanted Kiva to see the New York skyline during the day, but my friend recently took her 10 year old up SUMMIT after hours, and they absolutely loved it. Whatever time slot you decide upon, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Evening admission is typically a pricier ticket.
Should I do SUMMIT One Vanderbilt if I’m claustrophobic?
Huge claustrophobe here, and the part I was most terrified of was the elevator ride up. Not because it’s 91 stories, but because of the tiny space I’d be trapped in on the journey to the top. It was not bad, though: such a quick trip and so easy. I had nothing to be worried about!
How long does the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt experience take?
Give yourself at least two hours to go through the whole process from ground level to the top. Three hours is more realistic, as once you’re immersed in the glass and art, you’ll likely want to stick around and enjoy the view a bit. We were in and out in two hours round trip as we had a dinner reservation and a Broadway show on the docket.
Where to stay in New York City
The hardest thing about planning a trip to NYC is figuring out where to stay. Having lived there before, I prefer staying downtown in a vacation rental in SoHo or the West Village. If it’s your first time in New York, you may want to stay at a hotel in Midtown just to be convenient to all the subway lines and big tourist attractions like the Empire State Building, Central Park, Broadway and more.
Still not sure if SUMMIT NYC is worth it or right for you? Feel free to drop your questions in the comments, and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.