If you ask what One World Observatory is, chances are people will shake their heads in confusion. But mention the observatory at the top of One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower, and you’ll start getting nods. The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere opened to tenants in November 2014, and now it’s open to you too. It’s a great excuse to round up the kids for an educational adventure. It’s open every day, but to avoid the longer lines, it’s best to visit on a Monday.
One World Trade Center planners carefully mapped out the guest experience to wow you with technology that helps tell the story of New York City and the building’s place in it. You enter an interior elevator, or sky pod, and get smoothly whisked from the basement to the 102nd floor in fewer than 60 seconds. Time passes quickly, as you’re engrossed in a three-walled, high-tech video showing you more than 500 years of Manhattan history, rising from bedrock to present day. As you fly upward, you see Manhattan’s development from farmland to metropolis alongside your rapid ascent, which is depicted on a small drawing of the One World Trade Center building. It reminds you of mercury rising in an old-fashioned thermometer.
When you get to the top, you can rent a tablet with special technology that points out buildings and landmarks across your view when you move it in any direction. You click on the tablet to hear more about the historic building you choose, and then swoop over to the building via a virtual helicopter ride.
The main observatory is on the 100th floor, from where you can see all the Boroughs—and even New Jersey across the Hudson—with an unobstructed 360-degree view, as you circle the floor. For another perspective of the tiny world below, you stand on the sky portal, a 14-foot-wide circle that gives you a real-time vision of the street from a high-definition camera.
On the north and south sides, you check out City Pulse, a wreath of video monitors flashing pictures related to New York City. The real magic starts when a tour guide starts the show, standing behind the wreath, where the video images change with the swoop of an arm. A quick finger point to one video screen, and it changes the image or pauses the video, allowing the guide to tell you about that topic—whether it’s how Central Park was built, or how the New York Public Library book stacks are underneath the grassy seating area at Bryant Park.