Is SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Worth it? How to Visit SUMMIT One and Get the Best Photos
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is New York’s most popular observatory and you may wonder if SUMMIT One is worth visiting. This guide will tell you everything you need to know to visit SUMMIT One Vanderbilt and how to get the best photos at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is the newest observatory in New York City and it is one of the most popular observation decks in Manhattan. Different from the traditional observatories in NYC, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt engages all your senses with its immersive space and art installations. So you get both an incredible experience and unparalleled view of New York City.
This SUMMIT One Vanderbilt visitor guide will answer all your questions and tell you everything you need to know. If you want to take great photos at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt be sure to continue reading my photo tips there!
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What is SUMMIT One Vanderbilt?
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is the newest observation deck in New York City, making it the 5th sky scraper observatory in NYC. It was opened on October 21, 2021 in the Vanderbilt building in mid town Manhattan.
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is a 3 story 65,000 square feet space offering various different experiences and photo opportunities.
The moment you walk into SUMMIT One, you can experience a high tech and innovative experience. Most of the other observatories in New York City do not offer art installations and technology that engage with all your senses and imagination so you can expect a completely different experience at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.
How much does SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Cost to Visit?
There are 3 types of tickets you can purchase for SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.
SUMMIT One Experience (General Admission)
SUMMIT One Experience is the most basic ticket that you can get, starting at $42 for adults and $36 for youths age 6-12. Children 5 and under can visit for free. You also get a $5 discount per ticket if you are a NYC or Long Island resident.
SUMMIT One Experience is the most popular option and you can visit all 3 floors of SUMMIT One with this ticket.
This general admissions ticket does not include is the glass-bottom external elevator to a higher floor or the signature cocktail.
In my opinion this ticket is sufficient and allows you to experience the “core” experience at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt.
SUMMIT Ascent starts at $56 for adults and $50 for youths 6-12.
The only thing different between SUMMIT Ascent and SUMMIT One experience is the glass-bottom external elevator.
However most review says the external elevator is very short and is not worth the extra $14.
Ultimate SUMMIT (currently unavailable)
Ultimate SUMMIT ticket starts at $62 for adults and $67 for youths 6-12.
It includes the “core experience” of visiting the 3 floors of SUMMIT One, plus the glass-bottom external elevator and a signature cocktail. It’s also $14 more than the SUMMIT Ascent tickets just for the signature cocktail drink.
I am not sure if Ultimate SUMMIT is worth it since there are plenty of nice bars in NYC where you can get a potentially better drink for the same price (and youths can’t even drink alcohol anyway).
SUMMIT One Hours of Operations
SUMMIT One is open everyday from 9am to 12am with last entry at 11pm. The opening hours and days are different during the winter months (it used to be closed on Tuesdays but now it’s open all week long).
You should definitely book tickets online ahead of time because tickets tend to get sold out even on week days.
Occasionally SUMMIT One may be closed for weeks for maintenance so be sure to check the ticket sale website.
It was closed for several weeks in January 2023 (I tried to book tickets but none was available so I only discovered it on their Instagram account). There was no announcements that I was aware of so I was quite surprised.
Even though SUMMIT One open at 9am, there are already people lining up way before then.
How to get to SUMMIT One Vanderbilt?
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is located from 91 – 93rd floor of the Vanderbilt building in Midtown Manhattan. Its exact address is 45 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017.
SUMMIT One is best reached via the Grand Central Station if you are taking the train or subway line S, 4, 5, and 6. Or you can take the F, M, and 7 train to Bryant Park Station and walk two blocks over.
There are a couple of ways you can find SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. You cannot enter SUMMIT One from the Vanderbilt building entrance.
Option 1: 42nd street TD Bank entrance
In my opinion, the easiest way to find SUMMIT One Vanderbilt is to walk outside on 42nd street towards One Vanderbilt.
Look for the TD Bank on 42nd street, and you will see a large door right after TD Bank on 42nd street. The door does not say SUMMIT One (It says Grand Central Terminal) so it can be easily missed and we actually followed someone in.
Once inside, go down the escalator and you will see the SUMMIT One sign as well as a long line of people waiting.
Option 2: Via Grand Central Station
Another option to find SUMMIT One entrance is via the concourse of Grand Central Station. I think this way is even more confusing since there is no signs in Grand Central Station that says SUMMIT One and it is a huge station.
Ultimately you will need to find the sign that points towards either the S Train, LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) or Vanderbilt Av & Madison.
Then continue walking towards S Shuttle to Times Square, then turn right when you see the door that says “Vanderbilt Avenue, Grand Central Terminal, Metro-North, LIRR”. See the photos below.
What to expect at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt?
You can expect a lot of people and long lines at SUMMIT One.
Ok I’m half joking, there are definitely lines and crowd at SUMMIT One but they are there for a reason.
SUMMIT One occupies the top 3 floors of Vanderbilt Building and the entire experience is based on the digital art installation called Air by Kenzo Digital.
This art installation is made up of mirrors in a large space so everywhere you go there is reflection everywhere, making you feel like you are in an infinite space.
The 3 floors of SUMMIT One experience is broken up into the following:
- Floor 91: Transcendence 1, Reflect, Affinity Air
- Floor 92: Transcendence 2, Levitation, Unity
- Floor 93: Aprés, Outdoor terrace, elevator to ASCENT
SUMMIT One is an one way visit. You cannot re-enter the floor so make sure you see everything before you go to another floor.
But before we get into detail of what each floor includes and how to get the best photos at SUMMIT One, let’s talk about the ENTIRE experience.
Arriving at SUMMIT One
From one of the two ways described above, you will eventually find your way to the entrance of SUMMIT One, which is underground.
Unless you arrive more than 30 minutes before the opening time, there will be a line of people waiting to get in. Yes people do go and wait in line before 9am opening time so they can be one of the first ones to get in.
As you wait in line, staff members will come by to give you a wristband (you don’t need to put it on, but you should keep it with you because they scan it when they take your photos).
Ticketing & Security
The staff members will break up the line into 2 lines and alternate the two lines to enter. This means even if someone was behind you in line, they could potentially be put in another line and go ahead of you (that’s what happened to us).
Once the line starts moving, they will then check your ticket so be sure to have your ticket QR code ready for scanning. If you are visiting with children 5 and under, they don’t need to have a ticket so they can just walk in with you.
There will be a metal detector machine that you need to walk through but there was no other checks (they did not check our bags).
We arrived at 8:50am for 9am entry, but we did not enter until 9:20am because of the huge line ahead of us.
While we were waiting after security, a staff member will scan your wristband and take your photos.
I never actually put on the wrist band and they said it was fine. You can also tell them you don’t want your photos taken
Video, Sunglasses, Shoe Cover
After security, you have the option to go into a room to view promotional video of SUMMIT One. You can skip this part if you don’t want to go. We asked to skip and security was fine with it.
There will be a sunglasses station if you forgot your sunglasses and also benches you can sit on to put shoe cover on.
These two things may surprise you but since SUMMIT One is made of mirrors everywhere, on a sunny day the rooms can get very bright, so you are asked to bring your own sunglasses.
If you forgot your own sunglasses don’t worry, they will give you sunglasses to wear during your SUMMIT One visit.
In addition since the floor is also made of glass and mirrors, in order to protect the floor, you must wear shoe covers when you go in. You also cannot wear stilettos since they will be bad for the floor.
They also have shoe covers for kids and you can bring your stroller inside with you.
Face Scanner and SUMMIT One Elevator
After you go through security and put on shoe cover, you will be asked to go to one of the machines to scan your wristband and face. The machine will take a photo of your face which will later be displayed on the 92nd floor “Unity” installation (more on that later).
After scanning your face, you will be directed to the elevator via a dark passage.
The elevator takes 42 seconds from the ground floor to 91st floor. During the ride there will be flashing light and sound as you ascend to the 91st floor.
Floor 91 – Transcendence 1
As you walk out of the elevator, you will follow a circular tunnel into the first room, Transcendence 1.
Transcendence 1 is a room made mirrors and floor to ceiling glass, with a panoramic view of New York City and New Jersey.
You will be dazzled by all the reflections and the infinite world it creates and awed by the sight of Empire State Building so close to you.
Photo tip: Go to the end of the room and the corner to take a photo overlooking Empire State Building.
Most people will stop at one of the first windows when they get off the elevator so just walk past them and go to the end. There is a corner at the end that is a great photo spot.
If you don’t care for the mirror floor, there are many other places on the other 2 floors that give you the same awesome view, so if you really can’t get a photo here, don’t despair, you will have other opportunities.
Floor 91 – Reflect
After you are done with Transcendence 1, you will follow the sign (the only way available) to the next room, Reflect.
Reflect is another art installation by artist Yayoi Kusama. Most people don’t really stop here so it’s a quick walk through.
Floor 91 – Air: Affinity
Affinity is probably the most famous room at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, and it is the room that you see everywhere on social media.
Affinity is the room full of balloons as the experience becomes “interactive and playful”.
Perhaps because there are balloons everywhere in the room, the room feels much smaller than Transcendence 1 and it is much more crowded.
But Affinity is the most fun room at SUMMIT One, both adults and kids love this room.
Photo tip: the corner is again the most spacious for photos. If you can, try to frame the photo with the windows and have the photographer stand against the mirror wall so you can capture balloons on top of bottom.
Since we visited 9am, it was still possible to take good photos. If you visit mid-day you may be out of luck and have to be creative with the angles.
Floor 92: Transcendence 2
Once you are finished with the 3 rooms on the 91st floor, it’s time to move to Floor 92. You cannot go back down to the 91st floor once you go to the 92nd floor.
There are escalators or if you have a stroller or wheelchair you can take the elevator and a staff member will guide you to the starting point when you get off the elevator.
Transcendence 2 is the room right above Transcendence 1 (where all the mirrors are).
You can see the 30,375 square feet of mirrors from this room as you stare down at Transcendence 1 and all the visitors.
This level also has an amazing view of the entire skyline including Empire State Building.
Usually Transcendence 2 is not super crowded so it’s a great photo spot.
Floor 92 – Levitation
Levitation is the next attraction after Transcendence 2.
Levitation is where you can step into one of the two glass ledges suspended 1100 feet above Madison Avenue.
If you are scared of heights you may be scared to step into this glass bottom room, but it is an experience to be had.
To avoid overcrowding, there is a line and a staff member/ photographer doing crowd control.
Each party is given 30 seconds (that’s what they gave me) to step onto the glass ledge to take photos/ videos.
The staff member will take photos for you but I saw that he also allowed people to take photos of themselves but didn’t give them that much time.
I didn’t want any photos of myself so I just asked if I could just take videos and landscape photos and he was fine with that, except he only gave me 30 seconds to do so. Maybe if there was no line they would be more lenient with the time restriction.
Floor 92 – AIR: UNITY
The last digital installation on the 92nd floor is AIR: Unity. It is an interactive installation on a 47.5 x 12 ft LED wall.
When you scan your wrist band, the photo you took earlier at face scanner after security will be displayed and visualized in the clouds.
Floor 93 – Aprés & Outdoor Terrace
The last floor you will experience at SUMMIT One is the 93rd floor, which consists of Aprés cafe and Outdoor Terrace.
Aprés is an Nordic style cafe with drinks and food. If you purchased the ticket including signature cocktail you will be able to get that here.
There is probably no other cafe in the entire New York City with such an amazing view. As you are grabbing a bite you have the entire New York City in front of you to enjoy.
From Aprés cafe, you can step outside to the outdoor terrace.
Most people don’t realize that SUMMIT One has an outdoor terrace since all the social media photos just show the room with the mirrors and balloons.
The outdoor terrace is actually super nice and you can really take some photos against the large windows. According to the official website on a clear day you can see up to 80 miles away.
But be sure to visit in the summer because when we visited in February it was super cold and windy.
When you are done with the terrace, you will go inside again to go through a gift shop. You will have a chance to see and purchase photos of you taken by the staff before taking the elevator down to the ground floor.
If you purchased the Ascent elevator ride, you will be riding the elevator before the gift shop.
Should I Visit SUMMIT One During the Day or at Night?
If you want photos of yourself….
If you want good photos of yourself, you will need to visit SUMMIT One at 9am on a week day, but wait in line at 8:30am or even earlier before they open.
Even though tourists will visit any day of the week, but New Yorkers like myself end up visiting on the weekends since people can’t just take random day off from work just to go to SUMMIT One.
I have also spoken to many Instagrammers asking what time they went and how their experience was, and every single one of them told me that it was crowded at 9am but it got even more crowded by the time they left.
When I visited at 9am, there was already a huge line of people waiting at 8:50am on a sunny Saturday morning. But it was still possible to take good photos once we were up there. It definitely got way more crowded by the time I was on Floor 92 Transcendence 2. There was a lot of people down on Transcendence 1.
If you just want to see the view….
If you don’t care about taking photos of yourself but rather just experience SUMMIT One and see the views, then sunset is the best time to visit.
You will have an opportunity to see the beautiful sunset (assuming you go on a clear day) and you can stay long enough to get the night experience at SUMMIT One.
When the sun sets, Beacon Mode is on and SUMMIT One will display different colors, giving you an entirely different experience.
But as you can expect, many people will want to experience sunset and night, so expect crowds.
Regardless of what time you go, be sure to visit on a clear day. The last thing you want is to go up to SUMMIT One during rainy or foggy days and not be able to see a thing.
How long do I need at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt?
You can spend as little as an hour or as much as 3 hours at SUMMIT One. It really depends on what you do and how many photos/ videos you want to take.
If you just want to see it, you can walk through the whole 3 floors pretty quickly.
But if you are like me and want to get the best photo at every angle, it would probably take you a couple of hours, longer if you want to relax and chill at the cafe on top.
How to take good photos at SUMMIT One Vanderbilt?
If good photos for social media is your goal, then I have a few tips for you.
Arrive early: I am a believer in going somewhere when they first open. For SUMMIT One you literally need to line up 30 minutes before opening time to be one of the first people to go up.
Don’t stop at the first window: most people start taking photos right away. If you can, try to go to the last few windows or corners to get a little more space and a better shot.
Be patient: there is always gonna be people at SUMMIT One, but you usually can get an opportunity to take photos when the crowd thins out for a second. Since there is no restriction on how long you can spend there, be patient and wait for your opportunity.
Be Flexible: if you just want huge window with the view, there are many opportunities for that photo besides Transcendence 1. You can even take it outside on the terrace.
Use Bokeh or long exposure: If you really can’t get rid of people, you will need to find ways to blur people out in the background. If you use a nice camera with a nice lens, try f1.4-2.8 and zoom in to create better bokeh of the background. If you use an iphone, shoot on live mode and use long exposure and stand still, it will blur out people around you if they are moving.
Is SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Worth It?
SUMMIT One is a really good experience and it is worth visiting at least once.
To be honest, before I visited SUMMIT One I didn’t get all the hype. In fact when it first opened I thought to myself how can an observatory be indoors and not be outside like the Edge or Rockefeller Center? I thought it was all a social media hype with the balloons and everything.
But having visited it myself, I actually changed my mind and think this is the best observatory experience I’ve had.
I liked that there are so many different rooms and floors at SUMMIT One and each offers different things. I also thought the view from SUMMIT One was fantastic with the Empire State Building practically in your face.
SUMMIT One is also probably the most kid and wheel chair friendly observatory in New York City. There are elevators and staff members helping you everywhere you go. The space is spacious and kids really love Affinity (the room with the balloons).
I think I also spent the most time at SUMMIT One compare to other observation decks in New York City, so yes, SUMMIT One is worth it for the general admissions ticket. I did read the other two tickets are not worth it.
Other New York City Resources
As a local New York City resident, I can give you local’s perspective on what to do and eat in New York City. If you are planning a trip to the Big Apple, be sure to check out my other New York City articles.
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