There are many well-known observatories within Manhattan but probably the most typical one may still be the top of the Empire States Building since it used to be the highest tower in the city. However, this first position has been replaced since the construction of the new World Trade Center Tower, known as the Freedom Tower. Recently I had the chance to visit its Observatory. Even if it is sort of expensive (around $40) the views are great and there are a couple of surprises in the way up (to justify the price I guess). Once in the top, there is a 360 degrees bay window that allows you to get a whole picture of New York, from North to South to East to West. This new tower is now the tallest building of the USA so you won’t miss any spot in the city from there. Being in the southern area of Manhattan you will easily see both sides of the Hudson River, Brooklyn and New Jersey and of course the Midtown Skyline with Central Park as a background. It is a good activity to do while having people visiting because it is totally a very touristy thing.
However, if I have to make my choice I would neither choose the views from the Empire States nor from the Freedom Tower but undoubtedly my favorite ones are from the Top of the Rock. The top of the Rock is the name for Rockefeller Center’s Observatory. It has a huge terrace in its top from where you can enjoy both, a whole view of the Midtown skyscrapers and Central Park. It has much more exterior surface than the top of the Empire States so it does not get as crowded. To me its panoramic view is the most beautiful and picture taken from there are the best. In addition it is the cheapest option from all of them.
Nevertheless, as a New York citizen I generally try to avoid all these turisty activities and if I ever feel like going to the top of somewhere I find a better idea to meet some friends in any of the hundreds of rooftops bars and terraces in Manhattan from where you can still enjoy of amazing views while having a drink and socializing. The drinks might be a little pricy but it is way more affordable than getting in the top of any of the previous mentioned.