Above the Big Apple

It’s fitting that One World Trade Center, otherwise known as the Freedom Tower, should be exactly 1,776 feet tall. The sleek, minimalist skyscraper is about as modern and American as a building can get. And it’s the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere—it seems to just blend into the sky. My currently strained neck muscles could certainly corroborate that statement.

For my mom and I, staring up at the Freedom Tower wasn’t enough. We had to scale it. So we booked tickets up to One World Observatory, a new space near the top of the building with sweeping views of Manhattan and the surrounding region. We started in an elevator, whose screen-covered walls showed a Manhattan developing over time as we approached the top floor. We started in bedrock, ascending to a small 17th Century New Amsterdam. Then, as we climbed higher, a metropolis expanded in spectacular fashion, until we were finally at the top floor—and present day.

After stepping out of the elevator (my mom told me that her ears had popped, though I didn’t experience the same sensation), we were directed into a screening area to watch a short movie about New York. I groaned—I deal with this sort of thing enough at Disney. I watched as various scenes of the city were projected onto building-shaped screens. But then the blocky screens began to rise dramatically, and the unwelcome detour was suddenly made worth it. Directly behind the screens were huge windows looking as far north as the eye could see. The Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and Times Square were all visible. It was a very cool concept: watch a video about the city and then get the literal big picture of it.

After being funneled through lines and gift shops and photographers, we found ourselves in the observatory. Tall glass windows coated the vast space in all directions. There were a lot of people up there, but not too many to put a damper on the experience.

The people running the One World Observatory say you can “See Forever.” For all intents and purposes, I think they’re right. When we were up there, the sun was starting its descent towards the horizon: a short window of abundant ambrosial hues photographers call “the golden hour”. It was a completely clear afternoon, and I could see all the way to the ocean.

OK, enough of me yapping. Just look at the pictures.

If You Go…

  • Purchase timed tickets in advance. You wait on a shorter line.
  • Go for the golden hour, about an hour before sunset (i.e. if the sunset is at 6, get timed tickets for 5 or 5:15) for the best pictures.
  • Eat dinner afterwords at one of the restaurants in Battery Park City or the Financial District. Try Bluesmoke, Haru, or Fraunces Tavern.
  • If you have time, check out the 9/11 Memorial (which is like a public park—no entry passes are needed) and Museum (which does require tickets). Both are incredibly well done.

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