Like moths to a flame, millions of people visit NYC every year for a chance to catch a glimpse of the world-famous views of New York City.
And there’s no denying that New York City is a beautiful city — thankfully there’s no shortage of spectacular New York City views from which to take in the iconic Manhattan skyline.
My husband and I live in New York City and often host friends and family. The one thing everyone inevitably asks for is a tour of the best views of NYC — and believe me, sometimes that list feels endless!
Ten out of ten times, I’m more than happy to oblige because even though I’ve lived in this city for a while, I still pinch myself whenever I catch a random glimpse of the epic NYC skyline.
After wading through these iconic viewpoints more times than I can count, I decided it was time to share them with everyone.
So without further ado, please allow me to share the absolute best views of NYC (both free and paid options) based on firsthand experience. I hope you enjoy!
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world. ―F. Scott Fitzgerald
Best FREE Skyline Views of NYC
Let’s kick off our list of the best free views of the New York City skyline with a classic spot you absolutely can’t miss during your visit to the City that Never Sleeps — Dumbo, Brooklyn.
You’ve probably seen photos from this iconic spot on Instagram and there’s a reason for it — the panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline from the Brooklyn side are hard to beat.
The Brooklyn Bridge takes center stage as the jaw-dropping NYC skyline looms in the background with the East River dividing New York’s two most famous boroughs.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the best free things to do in New York City so there’s a good chance you’ll make the trek for yourself while visiting — I highly suggest adding a stroll through DUMBO to your itinerary because it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
The view of NYC from the Manhattan Bridge
This is a lesser known spot but the view of New York from the Manhattan Bridge is one of my favorites.
You will get two very interesting viewpoints — the first being an aerial view over Chinatown and the second of the Brooklyn Bridge as you approach DUMBO.
This is quite possibly my personal favorite view of NY because it’s seldom crowded (thanks to the noisy subway that runs the length of the bridge every few minutes).
But I’ll be honest, I also love this viewpoint for sentimental reasons. Living in NYC was a longtime dream of mine and until that dream was realized I’d find small ways to motivate myself to make the leap one day.
I scoured the internet for iconic NYC viewpoints and found an image taken from the Manhattan Bridge. It became my work screensaver for years and served as a constant reminder that the city awaits.
You can only imagine how elated I was to finally snap the photo for myself after officially moving to New York!
To this day, the view of New York from the Manhattan Bridge is still one of my favorites, even if for sentimental reasons. 😉
The High Line
The High Line is one of the more unique parks in New York City and goodness – this thing is just great.
Before the High Line was even conceived, this area was used as an elevated rail-line for freight trains delivering cargo.
The the demand for this service became moot with the rise of trucking and the railroad track was abandoned and neglected until Mayor Bloomberg approved a plan to transform it into a city park.
The High Line was opened in 2009 and became an instant success.The elevated promenade stretches for 1.5 miles and receives an average 8 million visitors annually.
The best time to visit the High Line is either spring or summer when the plants are in bloom. Regardless of when you visit, you’ll see beautiful murals, unique art and rotating sculptures.
The people-watching opportunities are endless! Plus, the views of NYC from this vantage point are some of the most interesting.
Further Reading: 10 Enchanting & Iconic Parks in New York City
Tudor City Bridge
One of the very best free views of New York City is found off the Tudor Bridge.
We’ve visited this spot on several occasions and usually have the bridge to ourselves, even during sunset which shows just how underrated this NYC viewpoint is.
However, there’s a well-known annual phenomenon in New York City known as Manhattanhenge, which is when the sun aligns perfectly with east-to-west running streets as it sets.
The streets create a perfect pocket that seemingly catches the sun. As you can imagine, the bridge swells with photographers during this time because this is easily the best view of NYC during Manhattanhenge.
The Chrysler Building steals the show and the fast moving cars below make this a great spot to practice your photography skills.
The view of NYC from the Staten Island Ferry
As you may know, the Staten Island Ferry is a great way to see the Statue of Liberty up close for free.
The ferry departs from lower Manhattan and offers striking views of New York, so you’ll want to be as close to the edge of the ferry as possible and have your phone ready.
The view of the Statue of Liberty is epic and even made me emotional the first time I saw it. I’m so glad NYC has a free ferry that passes Lady Liberty because tickets to Ellis Island were sold out when my in-laws were in town.
The Staten Island Ferry is beloved and gets quite crowded! It takes approximately 22 million people a year (about 70,000 passengers a day) between Manhattan and Staten Island.
The majority of folks hop on for the views of the Statue of Liberty before heading back to Manhattan.
Just know that you must disembark the ferry when it reaches Staten Island and queue up to board toward Manhattan, about 90% of passengers did this during our trip.
Liberty State Park
Liberty State Park is located in Jersey City, just across from the Financial District and is often overlooked by visitors because it’s not in the heart of the city. Don’t make the same mistake!
Not only is this view of New York City one of the best, but Liberty State Park is home to one of the most moving memorials in NYC, the Empty Sky Memorial.
The memorial is dedicated to New Jersey’s 9/11 victims and it’s so beautifully made. Thankfully since crowds are usually kept to a minimum, you can take your time reflecting.
Continue down the promenade for spectacular views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. There’s road that links Liberty State Park to Ellis Island but the road is reserved for authorized vehicles only.
Note: Google Maps can be misleading, you cannot reach Ellis Island by walking from Liberty State Park. You must hop on a ferry.
Image courtesy of Expedia
View of NYC from Roosevelt Island
You may have heard that Roosevelt Island is one of the best spots to see cherry blossom in NYC during the spring season.
But did you know that it also offers one of the best views of New York City?
The adventure starts with a fun tram ride (you can use your MetroCard or pay $2.75) that departs from the Upper East Side and drops you off on Roosevelt Island.
Enjoy the great NYC views from the tram, but brace yourself — it gets even better.
When you get off the tram head towards the promenade that hugs the East River, which swells with visitors eager to see the breathtaking cherry blossoms in spring.
Roosevelt Island is also popular during the warm summer months, you’re bound to see couples and friends picnicking while soaking in sunset over the epic NYC skyline.
Further Reading: The 10 Best Spots for Cherry Blossoms in New York City
Brooklyn Bridge Park + Brooklyn Promenade
We can’t talk about the best free viewpoints in New York City without mentioning one of the most beloved parks in NYC, Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The irresistible view of the Brooklyn Bridge takes center stage as happy couples pepper the lawn with picnic blankets and pizza boxes in tow. These folks definitely know how to keep the romance alive, I tell you what. All you need to do is watch the sun set over Manhattan’s epic skyline to see what all the fuss is about.
The 80-acre park hosts outdoor movies during the summer months, which takes date night to a whole new level. Watching a movie while sneaking peaks at one of the best views of New York City, it’s an unforgettable experience to be sure.
Swing by Juliana’s for a take-out pie and spread out over a picnic blanket with your special someone to see exactly why sunset picnics are a favorite past-time for New Yorkers.
P.S. Did you know that the Brooklyn Bridge is older than London’s famous Tower Bridge? It’s true! Read: 20 Thought-Provoking Facts About New York City.
Cantor Roof Garden at the Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (better known as the Met) is often considered the best museum in New York City.
It’s not hard to see why, with over 2 million pieces of art, it’s the largest museum in the country and the fifth largest museum in the world.
But the best part? The Met is located within Central Park, so you can bet the museum’s rooftop bar has some speculator NYC views.
I highly suggest visiting during sunset but prepare for crowds — this is a beloved NYC viewpoint for good reason.
Most Iconic New York City Viewpoint: Central Park
There’s so much to love about Central Park and the breathtaking views of New York City’s iconic skyline poking through between trees is no exception. My two favorite NYC views within the park can be found at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir and from the iconic Bow Bridge.
Honestly though, it’s not uncommon for me to wander aimlessly about and, in so doing, I’ve seen some lovely viewpoints that aren’t well known.
At the end of the day you simply can’t skip visiting Central Park regardless of how many times you’ve seen it because it never fails to feel magical.
Further Reading: 15 ICONIC Things to Do in Central Park
Bonus: Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle
While exploring Central Park, don’t miss a quick trip to the Time Warner Building near Columbus Circle. There’s a Whole Foods in the lower level of the mall, so it’s a great pit stop for water and snacks.
Head to the fourth floor for one of the best free views of New York City.
This area is especially lovely in the fall when the contrast between orange trees and the gray streets and buildings puts the height of the city’s skyscrapers into perspective.
View of NYC from Governors Island
The other weekend one of my friends suggested spending Saturday at Governors Island. Having never visited, I eagerly accepted the invite.
Since the invitation was last minute, I didn’t have time to properly research Governors Island before heading out, so imagine my surprise when the ferry dropped us off and this breathtaking NYC skyline came into view.
All I can say is that I’m so glad I brought my camera with me!
We spent four hours exploring Governors Island and I was quite impressed. The island is full of public green spaces and we saw a lot of folks picnicking and napping on the lawns.
There’s a cool rock outcropping visitors can climb to get views of NYC (that’s where I got the photo from) and the Statue of Liberty.
What’s more, we saw so many folks biking around the epic esplanade, it looked like a very popular activity on Governors Island and thankfully there’s a handful of Citi Bike stations to choose from.
To cap off our great day on the island, my friends and I chose to swing by Island Oyster for oysters, drinks and food. I must say, the food was surprisingly good!
And the NYC views from the restaurant? Well, you know what the say — a picture’s worth a thousand words.
Manhattan skyline from an airplane
One of the best things about living in New York City is flying back home.
There’s an inexplicable feeling that overwhelms me every time I catch a glimpse of the breathtaking NYC skyline from a plane.
Seeing the view of New York from a plane gives you a unique advantage because you can get a sense of the massive scale of this city — especially the size of Central Park!
Have your camera ready when flying into or out of NYC because these are easily some of the best views you’ll get during your trip. Especially if you’re flying during sunset or sunrise (mercy!)
Best NYC Views (Payment Required)
Edge’s claim to fame is that it’s the highest outdoor sky-deck in the Western Hemisphere.
It opened in March 2020, making it the new kid on the block, but we can’t hold that against it!
This incredible architectural feat has been welcome with open arms by both locals and visitors.
The observation deck is jaw-dropping, it suspends in mid-air (how did they build this thing?!) and offers some of the best panoramic views of New York City.
Tickets can be purchased here.
Image courtesy of Related-Oxford
The Empire State Building
Visiting the Empire State Building is on almost everyone’s to-do list when visiting New York City for the first time — and understandably so.
This is arguably the most iconic building in New York and the sweeping views from the two observation decks live up to the hype.
As mentioned, there’s two observation decks, located on the 86th floor and 102th floor, respectively.
To visit both observation decks you’ll need to purchase an upgraded ticket because access to the higher deck is not included with general admission. Go figure.
Prefer not to upgrade? No worries, the views from the Main Observation Deck on the 86th floor are remarkable, albeit crowded.
However, folks move fairly quickly and it’s easy to get close to the fence and take in the breathtaking view.
Since the Empire State Building is located near the Financial District, you will get great views of the One World Trade Center, Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Plaza Center, Times Square and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Admission: $38 per person for the Main Observation Deck on the 86th floor. Additional $20 for 102nd floor access.
Image courtesy of Travel + Leisure
One World Observatory
The One World Observatory sits high atop the 102nd floor of the One World Trade Center, making it the highest observation deck in New York City (1,268 feet above street level).
The panoramic views of NYC from this vantage have a tendency to shrink the city’s monolithic skyscrapers in a unique way.
The elevator ride to the observation deck is an experience in itself. You’ll get to see a time-lapse of the development of lower Manhattan from pre-Colonial times to present day.
When you reach the observatory you’ll find yourself breathless. The One World Trade Center (previously called the Freedom Tower) offers the most epic views New York City.
You’ll see Rockefeller Plaza Center, the glorious Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Hudson River and all 5 boroughs from this epic viewpoint.
If you’re not terrified of heights, I highly suggest visiting the Sky Portal. It’s a glass floor overlooking the city streets 100 floors below you — it’s such a crazy experience!
Fun fact: The One World Trade Center stands at 1,776 feet (including the spire), in honor of the year America declared independence.
Admission: Buy tickets here.
Image courtesy of Gothamist
Best NYC Viewpoint: Top of the Rock
If you’re looking for the absolute best view of New York City, it’s hard to beat the Top of the Rock NYC Observation Deck, especially at sunset.
Visitors can access three separate indoor/outdoor observation decks on the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors.
The panoramic NYC views from this iconic building makes this one of the most popular observation decks in NYC.
You can expect crowds practically every hour of the day.
The reason I like this New York City viewpoint so much is because the large glass panels offer unobstructed views the NYC skyline, unlike some of the other observation decks in NYC that use fencing.
It makes sense to use clear glass panels here because the sweeping view of Central Park is downright breathtaking and obstructing that view would be a crime!
From Top of Rock you will see the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Flatiron Building and the One World Trade Center.
Some folks consider the Top of the Rock a tourist trap, but I strongly disagree. There’s a reason this New York City viewpoint attracts people in hoards. It’s definitely worth a visit!
Make sure to check the interactive Beam Walk during your visit. It simulates what it would feel like to balance on a beam 69-floors about the street while the building was being constructed (whew- I’m sweating just typing that!).
Tip: Visit the Rainbow Room, a bar on the 65th floor that doesn’t have an admission fee but does have an order minimum of $65 (about 3-4 drinks).
Image courtesy of Rockefeller Center
For the Most Epic Views of New York City
Take a helicopter tour for the best NYC view
This exhilarating activity is not for the faint of heart but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention it on this list.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie (*raises hand) this is the best experience for you. A helicopter ride over New York City will provide you with a very unique Birdseye view of NYC.
What’ more, some helicopter companies ever offer doors-off tours where you can dangle your feet outside the helicopter, it’s a memorable experience – to say the least!
Best Views of NYC (Post Summary)
In sum, here’s the best viewpoints in New York City:
- Top of the Rock NYC Observation Deck
- Central Park
- Time Warner Building
- One World Observatory
- Brooklyn Bridge Park
- Empire State Building
- NYC views from Dumbo, Brooklyn
- The High Line
- Roosevelt Island
- Governors Island
- The Staten Island Ferry
- Liberty State Park
- Manhattan Bridge
- Tudor Bridge
- Cantor Roof Garden at the Met
- From an airplane
- Helicopter tour
Map of best spots to see New York City skyline
And there you have it, my friends. I hope you enjoyed this quick list of the best viewpoints in New York City. Let me know if you think I missed any spots, happy to add more to the list!
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.