Top 14 Spots to View the Manhattan Skyline

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Photo courtesy of Melissa Kravitz
Photo courtesy of Melissa Kravitz

Among the many reasons to love New York City, the magnificent skyline is high up there. Skewered with grandiose buildings that are plotted in the center and perimeter of Manhattan, the view here is enough to take your breath away (and have you reaching for your phone to snap countless photos). Plus, because the Big Apple's core is surrounded by water, there are plenty of fantastic ways to witness the skyline without having to venture too far from the city. From parks and rooftops to subway and bridges, here are 14 spots that offer stellar front-row seats to one of the best city skylines in the world.

1. Brooklyn Bridge Park

If you think the views you spotted while walking across the Brooklyn Bridge from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn were amazing, wait until you see them from Brooklyn Bridge Park. Here, you can lounge on the grass alongside the East River and watch the day pass through the buildings. The park recently revamped its piers, which now offer local food vendors, nightly outdoor movies, readings, parties, and more. When you’re ready to get up close and personal with the spectacular skyline, start trekking across the bridge — ideally at sunset.

2. North River Lobster Company

North River’s floating seafood restaurant is a must-visit during the warm months for any tourist or local. Departing from the Hudson River just west of Times Square, this 900-foot boat sails past the skyline on complimentary 45-minute cruises all afternoon and evening. A raw bar, lobster rolls, and truffle parmesan fries are enough to fuel you through the ride. Make sure to also grab a cocktail from the bar to toast to the Empire State Building. No reservations are necessary.

3. East River State Park

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There are many reasons Williamsburg has quickly grown in popularity, and its proximity to Manhattan is certainly one of them. The hip Brooklyn neighborhood offers many of the same perks as Manhattan plus even more magnificent skyline views. Head to East River State Park, which is located on the banks of the East River, to take in the city’s skyscrapers in all their glory. Tip: Visit on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. when Smorgasburg hosts over 100 local food vendors that purvey delicious edibles, including the legendary ramen burger.

4. Liberty State Park

Sometimes you have to leave New York to appreciate the city to its fullest. Here to help is Jersey City’s Liberty State Park, which is located a quick Path train ride across the Hudson River. Significantly less crowded than any Manhattan park, this public lawn is a great place to picnic as the skyline watches over you. You can also walk down the promenade and admire the city’s Financial District skyline from an angle you likely won’t find in Manhattan itself. Take the ferry back at sunset for the perfect photo op.

5. Brooklyn Heights Promenade

The ideal spot for a leisurely stroll, this pedestrian walkway is one of the most relaxing (and romantic) in the city. And that’s saying a lot for a place that’s known for its crowds and noise. Beyond the incredible views, expect to see couples walking as well as locals and visitors reading or drawing on benches. If you want a little more action, wander into Brooklyn Heights’ streets, which are lined with charming brownstones and cozy shops, restaurants, and cafes.

6. Bar Sixty Five at the Rainbow Room

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Those who want elevated New York City views may rush to the Empire State Building, which offers a fantastic 360-degree sight. But there’s one important landmark that’s missing from that picture — the Empire State Building itself. The Top of the Rock, the observatory on top of Rockefeller Center, is a great spot for families and large groups to see the city’s iconic buildings from the sky. Those on a more intimate trip can head to its slightly shorter sibling, Bar Sixty Five at the Rainbow Room. The 65th-floor bar and restaurant offers almost identical views to the rooftop, thanks to its open-air space and tables near the windows. Cocktails and bar snacks don’t come cheap here, but you won’t be shelling out for a ticket to the Top of the Rock. Plus, the bar takes reservations and hosts a tasty Sunday brunch.

7. Gantry Plaza State Park

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Head over to Long Island City, Queens for views of the United Nations building and loads of midtown skyscrapers across the East River. Gantry Plaza State Park is the neighborhood’s unofficial beach, complete with sprawling lawns, a dog park, playground, sandy beach volleyball court, and play area for kids. The ferry landing, from which you can ride into Manhattan or Brooklyn, also boasts a coffee shop and bar. Grab a cup of sangria and enjoy the breeze while taking in the skyline.

8. Governors Island

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City Vibes | Governors Island

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Ferry over to this former military base, which is now home to picnic spots, outdoor artwork, summer weekend festivals, and guided outdoor tours. As soon as you step off the ferry from Brooklyn or the Financial District, turn around to enjoy the breathtaking, sun-kissed views of Manhattan, which includes One World Trade Center sparkling in the sunlight. On the other side of the island, you can also catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.

9. J Train

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The J train trip between Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn and Delancey-Essex Street in Manhattan is one of the most scenic on all of the city’s public transit. Stake out a south-facing window seat and prepare to watch the cityscape roll by as the train rumbles across the tracks on the Williamsburg Bridge. Hold your phone up to the window and capture the perfect New York City shot.

10. WNYC Transmitter Park

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This Greenpoint park is another top-notch waterfront spot to savor the Manhattan skyline. A little more off-the-beaten-path than Williamsburg, Transmitter Park mostly attracts locals who are looking to picnic, socialize, or sunbathe on the grass. Walk out onto the pier to enjoy the breeze coupled with unobscured views of midtown and lower Manhattan.

11. The Brooklyn Barge

The Brooklyn Barge, New York City’s only permanently floating bar, is located on the East River in Greenpoint and serves up food and drinks with a side of stellar skyline views. Fill up on tacos, sandwiches, and other shared bites (think fries topped with BBQ pork, cheddar, and jalapenos) plus local beer. Free paddle boarding and kayaking are also available during the summer, if you want to get a few feet closer to those skyscrapers.

12. Manhattan Bridge

While many opt to walk the Brooklyn Bridge, they’re missing out on the view showcased in so many iconic movies and souvenirs: the skyline starring the Brooklyn Bridge itself. To enjoy this sight, hike across the significantly less crowded Manhattan Bridge, which spans from Manhattan’s Chinatown to Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood. Visit DUMBO the first Thursday of each month for gallery openings, artist meet-and-greets, and tons of restaurant and bar specials.

13. Hotel Americano Rooftop

Head to the top of Hotel Americano for stunning views of the midtown and downtown buildings. La Piscine, the rooftop bar with a very small pool, frames the skyline in a way that you may have only previously seen in movies. And unlike many other rooftop hot spots, this Chelsea joint takes reservations. Make one and request a seat with a view.

14. Refinery Rooftop

A popular post-work spot in midtown, this former hat factory houses one of the best rooftop bars in the city. The 3,500-square foot space offers panoramic views and fruity cocktails like the blood orange mojito and strawberry lemonade spiked with vodka. Groups can also indulge in cocktail caddies, which serve four for your viewing pleasure.

One of Our Favorite Hotels with a Manhattan View: The William Vale

The 183-room William Vale is a luxury property in Brooklyn’s hip Williamsburg neighborhood. It has stunning views of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn from numerous vantage points. The hotel embraces its setting, with rooms that are trendy, modern, and outfitted with eye-catching locally produced art. An outdoor pool with food service is open during summer months plus there’s a modern gym and incredible rooftop bar.

What to Bring: Black Jeans

Blend in with New York’s all-black fashion with a pair of cool skinny jeans from Rag & Bone.

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