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8 Things To Do at the One World Observatory in NYC

Here’s everything you can do at the One World Observatory at Freedom Tower — from elevators that put on a time-lapse show to a portal that lets you glimpse the city 100 stories underfoot.

By Gabby Hammond

October 18, 2022

Freedom Tower

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people visit the One World Observatory for that once-in-a-lifetime view of New York City. From the top of the One World Trade Center, guests can marvel at 360-degree views of Manhattan, the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge and New York Harbor, all while staying indoors.

Stopping by the observatory is an easy add-on when you’re visiting Ground Zero. Since the building is part of the World Trade Center, the entrance to the observatory is only steps away from the 9/11 Memorial Plaza. Visiting the memorial, museum and observatory is a great way to spend your morning or afternoon downtown.

Besides seeing some of the most beautiful sights in the city from up high, there are quite a few activities you can enjoy while you’re up here. In this list, I have six things you can (and absolutely should) do during your visit to the One World Observatory.

But first, let me explain how One World Trade Center — and the observatory — got here, and how they’re connected to 9/11 and the sites of Ground Zero.

The One World Trade Center and Its 9/11 Connection

City View

One World Trade Center, which houses the observatory on floors 100-102, has an important connection to the rest of Ground Zero. Completed in 2014, it was built in the wake of 9/11 to restore the World Trade Center and bring back business into the area.

The building is often referred to as the Freedom Tower as it represents the perseverance of the city and our country’s ideals of freedom and independence.

Fun fact: At 1,776 feet, its height matches the year of America’s birth.

Together with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, the One World Observatory, with its height and magnificence, creates an immersive experience for visitors. The museum takes you through the tragedy of 9/11 while the One World Trade Center observatory and Freedom Tower celebrate the city’s recovery and continuing success.

Now that you know a little more about the One World Trade Center, here are the things to do when you visit.

1. The Oculus

Across the memorial plaza from One World Trade Center is the Oculus, a transportation hub and shopping mall inside one of New York’s most unique buildings. It’s an easy stop on your way into the World Trade Center, before you make your journey to the observatory. You could grab a bite to eat, check out the retail outlets, or simply explore the incredible architecture.

If you want to know more, I wrote a whole guide to the Oculus, including how it got here and what makes it special.

2. Global Welcome Center: Voices and Foundations

Your experience at the One World Observatory begins at the Global Welcome Center — a video wall that transforms to show different states and countries and welcomes you in multiple languages. You can see a glimpse of it in the video above. The installation is meant to celebrate the different homelands of each and every visitor.

Then you’ll journey through Voices, a walk-through video montage featuring the men and women who designed and built the One World Trade Center. Hear their inspiring stories about the building before you see it for yourself.

Finally, get a close-up look at Foundations, an exhibit showing the Manhattan bedrock on which NYC and the World Trade Center was built. The skyscrapers you see today would not be possible without it.

3. SkyPod Elevators

Freedom Tower from Below

While technically you can’t avoid riding the elevator, that doesn’t make it any less fun. Almost every skyscraper observation deck has a quick journey to the top of the building, and the One World Trade Center observatory elevator, called the SkyPod, is the fastest in North America.

As a bonus, the elevator ride at OWO also takes you through hundreds of years of New York City history. The sides of the elevator are LED screens. As you get higher and higher, you travel through time. Starting with the lush green fields and trees that used to encompass Manhattan, you’ll see the growth and development of the city right before your eyes.

Go from unsettled lands to the concrete jungle of skyscrapers in just 47 seconds. Then before you know it, you’ve traveled 102 stories and over 300 years.

4. The See Forever Theater

Once you reach the top of the One World Trade Center, rather than being sent directly to the observation deck, you’ll enter the See Forever Theater. The theater is a high tech audio and visual experience that culminates with your first glimpse of the skyline.

The film footage shows a brief, two minute montage of New York city streets, people, and buildings. It’s the perfect way to start your exploration of the city from new heights.

5.  One World Explorer

One World Explorer at the One World Observatory in NYC
Credit: Marco Verch / CC BY 2.0

Rather than a typical audio tour, the One World Observatory offers the One World Explorer. It’s an interactive guide that shows you virtual tours of New York’s most popular buildings and attractions.

As you gaze out from the observatory, the explorer will bring you up close to what you’re seeing. All you have to do is scan the skyline and select which places you want to learn about.

Bonus: You can even take the experience home with you when you leave by streaming the photos and videos on your own device.

The One World Explorer offers two channels, Skyview and Restaurant:

  • The Skyview channel labels the city skyline, moving along with you as you go from window to window. Forty different sites are labeled which, one touched, will virtually fly you there to see it up close. An accompanying video will share interesting stories and history about each site.
  • The Restaurant channel takes you on a tour of 10 of the city’s most famous restaurants. You’ll leave the observatory with a better idea of where and what to eat in New York.

Opting to use the One World Explorer is a $10 upgrade to the price of a standard ticket, but it can really improve your experience in the observatory.

6. Sky Portal

Credit: Aude / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Sky Portal is a daunting 14-foot-wide circle of glass. If you’re brave enough to step on, look down and you’ll see the city 100 stories down, directly beneath your feet.

The portal offers one of the most unforgettable and unique perspectives in the One World Trade Center observatory and even uses real-time, high-definition footage of the street below to help you see what’s going on thousands of feet down.

7. Dining at OWO

Dining at OWO

Views are better with great food, right?

The dining level on the 101st floor is only accessible to guests who have tickets to the observatory. There are three restaurants with different style services: One Dine, One Cafe, and One Mix.

  • One Dine: This upscale restaurant features a diverse seasonal menu as well as signature dishes. You can enjoy premium cuts of meat and fresh seafood. You can also opt for a three-course prix-fixe meal designed by the chef. The restaurant is open daily from 11:30am – 8:00pm and reservations are recommended, especially if you have a large group.
  • One Cafe: Otherwise known as Savoy Illy Caffe & Gelateria, One Cafe serves an authentic Italian coffee blend along with tea, cold brew and a selection of small treats. This is the place to stop if you need a quick pick-me-up.
  • One Mix: This elegant bar boasts an expansive menu of cocktails. Seating at the bar is walk-up only and offers beautiful views for you to enjoy while sipping on your drink.

8. Souvenirs to Remember Your OWO Trip

Credit: Aude / CC BY-SA 3.0

Looking to take home a memento from your visit? The Gallery at Level 100 of the One World Observatory has you covered. Many of the products here were designed exclusively for the observatory, so you won’t find them anywhere else.

Souvenir photos are available as well. The photo area is on the 101st floor, and you can purchase pictures as you exit the observatory.

OWO at the One World Trade Center

OWO at the One World Trade Center

One World Observatory is unlike any other observation deck in New York. The use of technology and history make it a much more immersive experience than simply a cool view (though the view is pretty amazing). And Freedom Tower’s role at Ground Zero makes it not quite like any other building in New York.

After you visit, you’ll leave having seen the city from new heights and, hopefully, with even more appreciation for it as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about 9/11 sites, including the World Trade Center, join us on a guided tour of Ground Zero. You’ll hear personal stories about the September 11th attacks, told by a New Yorker who was here in NYC on that day And you can choose to upgrade your tour to include tickets to the observatory. It’s the best way to experience the World Trade Center in just a few hours.

By Gabby Hammond

October 18, 2022

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