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View From the Top
Nothing yields a fresh perspective quite as much as an observation deck. Whether you’re the cautious person who stands back from the rail and looks far, far out or the daredevil who leans as close to the edge as possible, you can’t help but be impressed by the view from umpteen floors up.
When you’re on vacation (or shepherding visiting friends through your city), you spend a lot of time outside. Now that summer has given way to cooler temperatures in much of the country, perhaps the best news about sky-high observatories is that many offer enclosed viewing areas. Inside, you can enjoy the sights with the dual advantages of protection from the elements and information about what’s in front of you. Sure, you’ll still need your scarves and jackets, but you’ll be able to take them off while you watch the ants – er, people – scurry below. Or dash outside for a breathless few minutes, just to say you’ve experienced a wind chill of 10 below (which you certainly could do at Chicago’s open-air Skywalk at the John Hancock Observatory).
If it’s learning you want, observation decks are full of resources. From fixed displays and hand-held devices to film and multimedia presentations, decks are more than the view. Available materials explain the cityscape and provide historical details that enrich the experience. For example, the Empire State Building’s audio tour features “Tony,” a fictional New Yorker, and a video explains CN Tower’s construction in Toronto. But because looking is the point, you’re not likely to feel overwhelmed or obligated to read every word. You can take as much – or as little – time up top as you want. And when you leave, as long as you walked the perimeter, you’ll know that you’ve seen what you were supposed to see.
Another great aspect of observation decks is their availability. Many are open year-round and have longer hours than museums or other attractions. Top of the Rock at New York City’s Rockefeller Center is open until midnight daily! Cap off a 9-to-5 day by watching the city come to life. Instead of fighting rush-hour traffic, you’ll be high above, observing the activity below. At many locations, you can even enjoy a coffee or cocktail while you’re there.
Speaking of sustenance, decks can be the place to go for a special event. Some locations have full-service restaurants – even those that revolve, where diners get a panoramic view from their seats. Top of the Hub restaurant at Boston’s Skywalk Observatory is a fully enclosed way to unwind and take in the view at New England’s only observation deck. In Seattle, you can sit atop the Space Needle and let the restaurant move you. It’s a great transition to an evening activity or a fitting end to the day. What could be a predictable tourist stop becomes a much richer experience.
Not every city has a vantage point that lets you pretend to be a stationary Superman. When you can take yourself hundreds of feet above the street, you gain a whole new perspective on what’s below. And you just might find something else to explore once you’re back on the ground.