The New York Summit observation deck at One Vanderbilt

NYC’s Summit Observation Deck, one of the city’s newest and most immersive observation decks, is located on the top four floors of the new One Vanderbilt skyscraper next to Grand Central Station. The more than 6,000 square meter (65,000 square foot) space, which opens on October 21, 2021, was designed by the architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF).

I had the pleasure of visiting the Summit three times both during the day and at night with a small group as well as the usual large daytime crowd. My favorite time to go was during the day, just a few hours before sunset for the best photo opportunities. You can enter the Summit Grand Center Passage, located near the corner of the Transit Museum Gallery Annex, by following the signs for Summit One Vanderbilt. The space boasts some of the best views of New York, but is also packed with mirror experiences, a Yayoi Kusama screen, glass boxes overlooking Madison Avenue, a glass elevator, the best bathroom views, and more.

How does Summit One Vanderbilt compare to other observation decks in New York?

Traditionally, New York’s observation deck is not known for mirror photo opportunities. Many frequent for their views and location, location, location. They are either memorable for their history (and possibly a historical exhibit) or for their downtown or Empire State Building landmarks.

A few years ago, there were two main types of paid observation decks in Manhattan. Visitors chose between the historic Empire State Building or Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, which includes a view of the Empire State Building. Both attractions are based downtown, giving them clear views of downtown, though you’ll need to go to Top of the Rock to see the Empire State Building with your skyline views. Then One World Trade Center opened in Lower Manhattan, with a one-of-a-kind elevator experience and downtown views that require magnifying lenses to see icons above the city like the Empire State Building.

The next observation deck opened in March 2020 with the Edge at Hudson Yards, a triangular deck with a glass-floored section that looked down from the 100th floor to the building’s floor. Built on the west side, there are stunning views of the river and cityscape, but you’ll need a zoom lens to see the general sights in most of the photos. The Edge has a side view of the Empire State Building, rather than a direct view. After opening at Summit One Vanderbilt, the next anticipated observation deck will be at the Chrysler Building.

No other observation deck in New York has closer views of the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, not to mention as many photo opportunities, exhibits, and perspectives as Summit One Vanderbilt. The incredible views from the outdoor observation deck are easily overlooked by mirror-viewing experiences that some visitors overlook. The views of the Chrysler Building at Transcendence, the first mirror experience, are absolutely incredible. This is the closest and best view of the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building of any other observation deck in the city. Most visitors rush to take mirror shots first in front of the Empire State Building, which is only 8 blocks from Summit One Vanderbilt, as opposed to 15 blocks from the Top of the Rock observation deck.

What to wear? pants, comfortable shoes and sunglasses

Before visiting the Summit, I was warned by many people not to wear dresses or skirts because the mirrored floors would be reflected repeatedly above and around you. The first time I visited I wore a jumpsuit, which was my favorite thing to wear in an experience like this because it looks like a dress but is more comfortable in a mirror experience like this. I still saw a lot of people wearing dresses and skirts, usually over shorts for photos, and I was wearing shorts on my last visit. Emails with tickets remind visitors that “due to the reflective nature of the floors in the area, guests are advised to wear pants, shorts or leggings and bring sunglasses.”

When I went during the day, many people disregarded the advice to bring sunglasses. I was grateful to be the only one in a group of about 30 visitors wearing sunglasses. The afternoon sun reflected brightly in many mirrors. At certain times of the day, including midday and sunset, if there aren’t many clouds in the sky, the sun can appear blindingly bright as it reflects in the many mirrors around it.

I recommend wearing comfortable shoes or sports shoes. The ticket email states that “stiletto heels, steel toe shoes, and other shoes that may damage the floor are not permitted.” The site also adds sportswear to the list. Staff will provide you with shoes to slip on before entering the mirrored floored areas, so heeled or slip-on shoe options are not ideal.

Summit One Vanderbilt photo experiences

Air, designed by Kenzo Digital, is a large mirrored space modeled after Central Park in the Sky, allowing visitors to take a break from the busy streets of New York while enjoying views of the surrounding skyline reflected all around. Air is a fully immersive and multi-sensory experience, including sound, light and production design. “Through its infinite combinations of form, Air forces you to live in the moment, relaxed, aware and free,” said Kenzo Digital, artist and CEO of Kenzo Digital Immersive.

Transcendence is the first open-air installation space where mirrored walls and floors surround you in a seemingly infinite space with the best views of New York City. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with a very small group and a large, regular day crowd. This room obviously shines when it’s nearly empty, but it’s still fun even in a larger group. I highly recommend going to the second level facing this area to get unique angles in the circular areas or at the railing that faces the rest of the mirror space.

Thrill seekers or individuals who aren’t afraid of heights can enjoy two ways to look down on the streets 1,000 feet below: Note that you can purchase a Summit Experience ticket starting at $39 for adults, but the glass elevator ride costs $20 more and tickets start at $59 for adults. If you’re on a budget or afraid of heights, this is an easy way to save $20.

Professional photo (cropped) of Levitation’s wrist

Levitation’s all-glass skyboxes extend beyond the building’s boundaries at 1,063 feet above bustling Madison Avenue. A staff member encouraged us to look in the center of a row of cameras for a photo and some angled gifs. After your visit, you can follow the directions on your wristband to scan the QR code or visit and enter the code to download and share photos from your experience.

Women on Skydeck The Ledge with arms outstretched
Chicago’s The Ledge is similar to NYC’s Levitation sky boxes

The levitating sky boxes are reminiscent of Skydeck’s The Ledge in Chicago and the Edge glass floor observation deck section in NYC. However, Summit’s Levitation experiences have the best location and views, as you can look down on one of New York’s busiest streets with more taxis than most streets because of its proximity to Grand Central.

NYC’s Summit Levitation Box overlooks the Empire State Building

The lift, like the Levitation glass boxes, allows you to see beyond the building. The glass elevator experience will take you over 1,200 feet above the ground for more private and unobstructed views of the Empire State Building and NYC Skyline.

Yayoi Kusama, the artist behind the infinity mirrored rooms, also designed Clouds (2019), a floor-based constellation. Visitors can walk through nearly a hundred different stainless steel cloud-like shapes. Kusama’s Clouds sculpture installation fills the floor and encourages you to descend to see new reflections and angles in mirrored forms meant to reinforce the sense of infinity and eternity.

Have you ever looked at clouds to play a guessing game about what that cloud looks like? If so, you’ll love the screen room that lets you fly through the clouds. Just before entering, you’ll scan your wristband to take a photo and look directly into the camera, where your face will appear in the clouds. I chose to visit this room at night when the sunlight outside did not dampen the vibrancy of the displays. We were all laughing and pointing as each group member’s face appeared floating through the clouds. Some were quick to take selfies in front of their cloud-like face, but if you don’t miss the moment, your wristband will also give you access to a photo of you in the clouds.

The most popular room for summit photos is filled with silver balloons. Floating silver balls swirl around the room as fans hit the ball pit in one of the easiest styles for adults. It’s hard to capture this experience at night, so I recommend using a flash or visiting during the day for the best photos of this room.

Après is a lounge and café with a hanging fireplace. The stunning aesthetic was developed by Snøhetta. “SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is an immersive and sensory space that embraces the New York cityscape. Between integrated art, sound and lighting and the observatory’s expansive views, our approach to interior design allows visitors to understand their place in the great city,” says Anne-Rachel Schiffman, director of Snøhetta. Enjoy light fare and cocktails hosted by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events at the indoor and outdoor bars, as well as the 24-hour lounge and café. “Our team is proud to add additional flavor to this exciting new destination that will ring the bell in New York’s renaissance,” said Danny Meyer, founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group.

Here are the images I got from my wristband (cropped so they are straight and centered).

SL Green invested in sustainable solutions at One Vanderbilt to ensure the building has one of the lowest carbon footprints compared to similarly sized buildings in New York. Summit uses UV light disinfection and MERV 16 air filtration, along with 9-level Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) HEPA filters to maintain the highest air quality and clean surfaces.

Summit One Vanderbilt is destined to become New York’s most popular observation deck for its stunning landscape views and unparalleled photography experiences. Before you leave the place, don’t forget to go to one of the beautiful blue or orange tiled bathrooms with the most incredible views. Summit One Vanderbilt is truly one of the most immersive observation decks with the largest variety of exhibits. The Yayoi Kusama screen, the glass boxes jutting out over Madison Avenue, the glass elevator, and the mirror experiences are ones that just have to be seen to be believed.

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