NYC’s Summit Observation Deck, one of the newest and most immersive observation decks in the city, is located on the top four floors of the new One Vanderbilt skyscraper next to Grand Central Station. The over 6,000 square meter (65,000 square foot) space, which opens October 21, 2021, was designed by architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF).
I had the pleasure of visiting Summit three times at both day and night with a small group as well as with large normal day crowds. My favorite time to go was during the day just a few hours before sunset for the best photo opportunities. You can enter Summit through a passageway in Grand Central near the Transit Museum Gallery Annex corner by following signs for Summit One Vanderbilt. The space boasts some of the best views of NYC but also comes complete with mirrored experiences, a Yayoi Kusama display, glass boxes jutting out over Madison Avenue, a glass elevator, the best bathroom views, and more.
How does Summit One Vanderbilt compare to other NYC observation decks?
Traditionally, a NYC observation deck is not known for mirrored photo opportunities. Most are frequented for their views and their location, location, location. They are either memorable for their history (and possible historical exhibit) or for their vantage points of either downtown or the Empire State Building.
A few years ago, there were two main options for paid observation decks in Manhattan. Visitors chose between the historic Empire State Building or Top of the Rock in Rockefeller Center, which included the Empire State Building in the view. Both landmarks are based in midtown giving them distinct outlooks from the city center, though you need go to Top of the Rock to see the Empire State Building in your skyline views. Then One World Trade Center opened in Lower Manhattan with a unique elevator experience and downtown views that require a zoom lens to see uptown icons like the Empire State Building.
The next observation deck opening was March 2020 with the Edge at Hudson Yards, a triangular deck with a portion of glass floor looking 100 stories down to the bottom of the building. Built on the west side, there are stunning river and cityscape views, but you need a zoom lens to see common landmarks in most photos. Edge has a side view of the Empire State Building rather than a direct one. Following the opening at Summit One Vanderbilt, the next anticipated observation deck will be in the Chrysler Building.
No other NYC observation deck has closer views of the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, not to mention so many photo opportunities, exhibits, and perspectives, as Summit One Vanderbilt. The incredible views from the outdoor observation deck are easily upstaged by the mirrored viewing experiences that some visitors overlook. The views of the Chrysler Building in the first mirrored experience Transcendence are absolutely incredible. This is the closest and best view of the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building compared to any other observation deck in the city. Most visitors rush first to capture mirrored shots in front of the Empire State Building, which is only 8 blocks away from Summit One Vanderbilt as opposed to 15 blocks away at the Top of the Rock observation deck.
What to Wear: Pants, comfortable shoes, and sunglasses
Before I visited Summit, many people warned me against wearing dresses or skirts because the mirrored floors will reflect up and around you repeatedly. The first time I visited, I wore a jumpsuit, my favorite thing to wear in an experience like this as it looks like a dress but it is more comfortable during a mirrored experience like this one. I still saw many people wearing dresses and skirts, usually over shorts for photos, and I wore a dress over shorts during my most recent visit. Emails with tickets remind visitors that “due to the reflective nature of floors in the space, guests are recommended to wear pants, shorts, or leggings, and bring sunglasses.”
When I went during the day, many people ignored the advice to bring sunglasses. I was grateful to be the only one with sunglasses in a group of about 30 visitors. At midday, the sun was brightly reflected in multiple mirrors. Certain times of day including midday and sunset, if there are not many clouds in the sky, the sun can seem blindingly bright as it is reflected in multiple surrounding mirrors.
I recommend wearing comfortable shoes or sneakers. The ticket email states that “stiletto heels, steel toe boots, and other footwear that can damage flooring are not permitted.” The site also adds sports cleats to the list. Staff will provide you with booties to slip on over your shoes before entering mirrored floored spaces, so heeled or slippery shoe options are not ideal.
Summit One Vanderbilt photo experiences
Air, designed by Kenzo Digital, is a large mirrored space likened to a “Central Park in the sky” that allows visitors a respite from the busy NYC streets while enjoying the surrounding skyline views reflected all around them. Air is a fully immersive and multisensory experience including sound, light, and production design. “Through its boundless juxtapositions of form, Air compels you to live in the present moment: calm, aware and free” says Kenzo Digital, Artist and CEO, Kenzo Digital Immersive.
Transcendence is the first area within the installation Air where mirrored walls and floors surround you with the best New York City views in a seemingly limitless space. I have had the pleasure of visiting in a very small group and a large, normal day crowd. This room clearly shines when it is almost empty but is still a fun experience even in a larger group. I highly recommend going to the second level overlooking this area to get unique angles in the round circular areas or at the railing overlooking the rest of the mirrored space.
Thrill seekers or individuals who are not afraid of heights can enjoy two ways to look down over the streets 1,000 feet below: Levitation glass boxes and the moving glass elevator, Ascent. Note that you can buy a ticket for Summit Experience starting at $39 for adults, but taking the glass elevator costs $20 more with tickets starting at $59 for adults. If you are on a budget or afraid of heights, this is an easy way to save $20.
Levitation’s all-glass sky boxes extend outside the building 1,063 feet over the bustling Madison Avenue. An employee encouraged us to look up at the center of a series of cameras for a photo and multiple angle gif. After your visit, you can follow directions on your wristband to either scan the QR code or go to storibox.com and type in the code to download and share photos from your experience.
Levitation sky boxes are reminiscent of the Skydeck’s The Ledge in Chicago and NYC’s Edge glass floor portion of the observation deck. However, Summit’s Levitation experiences have the best location and views since you can look down over a one of the busiest NYC streets with more taxis than most streets because of its proximity to Grand Central.
Ascent, like the Levitation glass boxes, allows you to see beyond the building. The glass elevator experience will raise you over 1,200 feet above the ground for even more private and unobstructed views of the Empire State Building and NYC Skyline.
Yayoi Kusama, the artist behind the mirrored infinity rooms, also designed Clouds (2019), which is a floor-based constellation. Visitors can walk among almost a hundred different stainless-steel cloud-like forms. Kusama’s Clouds sculpture installation fills the floor and encourages you to get low to see new reflections and angles in the mirror-finished forms meant to reinforce the feeling of infinity and perpetuity.
Have you ever looked up at the clouds to play the guessing game of what that cloud looks like? If yes, you will love the room of screens that allows you to fly through the clouds. Right before entering, you will scan your wristband to take a photo and look straight at the camera where your face will then be superimposed into the clouds. I preferred visiting this room at night when the outside sunlight doesn’t dampen the vibrancy of the screens. We were all laughing and pointing when each group member’s face appeared floating through the clouds. Some rushed to snap selfies in front of their cloud-like face, but in case you miss the moment, your wristband will also provide you with access to your photo in the clouds.
The most popular room for photos at the Summit is filled with silver balloons. The floating silver orbs circulate around the room because of fans in one of the classiest takes on an adult ball pit. At night, it is hard to capture this experience, so I recommend using a flash or visiting during the day for the best photos of this room.
Après is a lounge and café featuring a suspended fireplace. The stunning aesthetic was designed by Snøhetta. “SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is an immersive and sensory space embracing the cityscape of New York. 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 larger city,” said Anne-Rachel Schiffman, Director of Snøhetta. Enjoy bespoke light fare and cocktails curated by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events at the indoor and outdoor bars as well as the all-day lounge and café. “Our team is proud to add additional flavor to this thrilling new destination that will place a resounding exclamation point on New York City’s renaissance,” said Danny Meyer, Founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group.
Here are the images I received from my wristband (cropped so they’re straight and centered).
SL Green invested in sustainable solutions at One Vanderbilt so that the building has one of the lowest carbon footprints compared with similar sized buildings in NYC. Summit uses UV-c light sanitization and MERV 16 air filtration along with 9-stage volatile organic compound (VOC) HEPA filters to maintain the highest air quality and cleanest surfaces.
Summit One Vanderbilt is destined to become the most popular observation decks in New York City for its stunning location views and unmatched photo experiences. Before you leave the venue, do not forget to go to one of the beautiful blue or orange tiled bathrooms that have some of 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 display, glass boxes jutting out over Madison Avenue, glass elevator, and mirrored experiences are those that you simply need to see to believe!