Last summer we took my 18 year old niece to New York City for the first time. Being a former New Yorker, I had a pretty solid list of attractions for her, including the Staten Island Ferry, the High Line, and of course, Central Park. But there was something new that had appeared right in the heart of the city, a huge new observation tower, not even a year old at the time. But before booking, I thought. Is SUMMIT NYC worth it?
So you don’t have to scroll all the way to answer, I’ll spoil the post here. Yes. Yes, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt in New York is well 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
There is no shortage of observation towers in New York City. You have classics like the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, but you also have a whole host of newcomers like One World Trade Center, The Edge at Hudson Yards, and SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. Midtown Manhattan’s tallest skyscraper.
Here’s what it is. If you’ve been once, you’ve been to them all, so you really only have to pick one for your time in New York. I did some thorough research before deciding which one to take to Kiva for our long weekend in NYC. I researched online reviews and photos and decided on SUMMIT because it really looked like an experience for a first time visitor to NYC, let alone this NYC veteran.
The summit at One Vanderbilt spans the 91st through 93rd floors, rising nearly 1,100 feet above Manhattan. I love the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock, but SUMMIT took those two experiences away. Plus! You can see both, 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 Summit One Vanderbilt?
First, you should book Summit One Vanderbilt tickets at least a few weeks in advance, as this is a popular attraction that often sells out, especially during peak times and during spring break and the summer months.
You’ll arrive at One Vanderbilt, which is near Grand Central Station, and you’ll be in the first fast-moving line where they’ll scan your pre-purchased ticket and then send you in line. After crossing the next line, you’ll watch a short video about the SUMMIT concept at One Vanderbilt, then you’ll be supplied with shoe covers and sunglasses if needed.
Sunglasses are an absolute must during the day, as the light reflected all over the glass is positively blinding.
Next, you’ll have your eyeballs scanned in a booth as the rides use facial recognition to admit you to the upper floors. Once you cross the last line, I promise it goes very quickly, you will take the elevator up. This was the part I dreaded the most, but it was so fast that I didn’t even have time to get claustrophobic.
As soon as we reached the 91st floor, we were blown away by the glass and the amazing view of the panoramic views.
You will probably want to spend a good amount of time in this room admiring the view and the reflections. Note that after moving to the next room, you cannot backtrack; flow is designed to be a one way route to manage the crowds of people there and experience SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.
It’s hard to get great photos from this level during the day with all the reflections hitting the glass and bodies blocking your view. fear not, however, because the higher you climb, the better the photo potential.
The next room you’ll walk into is probably one you’ve seen all over Instagram; it’s a room filled with floating, mirrored helium balloons. This is part of the “Aerial” portion of SUMMIT, created by Kenzo Digital to be a fully immersive art experience, anchored by the best views of Manhattan.
The balloon room was very cool, but it was also small and incredibly crowded. If you’re the type of person who gets stressed out in tight, crowded spaces or because of visual overload, I recommend walking quickly into the next room.
Your last stop on the general admission ticket is the “Levitation” part of the experience, where you step outside into transparent sky boxes suspended over Madison Avenue. This might have been my favorite stop on the SUMMIT tour because the views here were truly unparalleled.
Why we decided to summit at One Vanderbilt
In the end, we chose SUMMIT NYC because of the artistic interior with its reflective mirrors on different levels and other art installations. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I would go back to One Vanderbilt every time I was in New York if I went with anyone.
The SUMMIT photo shoot is endless. Honestly, it was visual overload at points and I was so overstimulated, but I loved it.
The cost of visiting SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
Obviously the cost of sightseeing in New York is not cheap, but I found SUMMIT’s price to be quite comparable to the competition. The lowest ticket price for the SUMMIT Experience is $39 per person, which is what we chose. The pass allowed us to take the initial ascent and access all four levels of the immersive experience.
The next level, SUMMIT Ascent, includes a ride up the largest outdoor glass-floored elevator 12 stories up to the SUMMIT’s highest point at 1,200 feet, the highest ticket level, which also includes a signature cocktail at the top. Is it worth the extra $40? Probably not. If you just want to see the view, choose the basic level ticket because that’s all you need. When you’re this high up in the air, 12 more stories won’t really make much of a difference.
Insider tip. If you are a New York resident, you get discounted rates.
If you’re in New York for more than a day, you might also want to consider purchasing a New York CityPASS, which will give you discounts on advance entry to many of the city’s top attractions. I use this tactic when I’m in tourist mode and plan to visit three or more attractions.
Other frequently asked questions about SUMMIT
Should I get ready at night or during the day?
Whether you climb the SUMMIT at night or during the day is entirely a matter of personal preference. The observatory tower is open six days a week until midnight, with last admission at 11pm. I wanted Kiva to see the NYC skyline during the day, but my girlfriend recently took her 10 year old up to the summit after hours and they absolutely loved it. No matter what time period you decide on, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Evening entry is usually a more expensive ticket.
Should I do SUMMIT One Vanderbilt if I’m claustrophobic?
It’s hugely claustrophobic in here, and the thing I dreaded the most was going up in the elevator. Not because it’s 91 stories, but because of the small space I’d be trapped in on the journey to the top. It wasn’t bad, though. so fast and so easy to travel. I had nothing to worry about.
How long is the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt experience?
Give yourself at least two hours to go through the entire process from ground level to the top. Three hours is more realistic because once you’re immersed in the glass and art, you’ll probably want to stick around and enjoy the view a bit. We were in and out within two hours because we had dinner reservations and were opening a Broadway show.
Where to stay in New York?
The hardest part of planning a trip to New York is figuring out where to stay. Having lived there before, I prefer to stay downtown with a vacation rental in Soho or the West Village. If it’s your first time in New York, you might want to stay in a Midtown hotel to be convenient to all the subway lines and major tourist attractions like the Empire State Building, Central Park, Broadway, and more.