The Empire State Building's observatory is located on the 86th floor of the iconic art deco building. It will cost you $32 to visit, but once you're up there the open-air deck will give you a sweeping view of the city. The downside: it gets crowded, and it's surrounded by a tall metal fence. But what if we told you there's a private deck upstairs? 17 flights above the popular tourist spot, on the 103rd floor, is a much more exclusive platform circling around the bottom of the spire, with just inches of standing room and nothing but a knee-high parapet stopping you from stepping into thin air.
The 103rd floor is tiny, narrow, and vertigo-inducing. It's so still and quiet, and it feels improbable that you could actually be standing there, alone, looking over the city from atop one of the greatest structures ever built within it. Your feet and hands tingle and sweat when you direct your gaze off the ledge. When the wind blows it feels like it will take you with it, and it probably could if it were strong enough. It really feels like the most special place to be in New York City... and as such, it's reserved mostly for celebrities.
To open it up to the public would be a logistical nightmare—impossible, really. Even if that was the original plan... or scheme. Originally the floor—which is reached via a series of elevators and a ladder—was to be used as a disembarkation spot for airships tethered to the building's spire. The NY Times once reported that "passengers fresh from Europe or South America were to have set foot on American ground" for the first time on that circular terrace. Of course, that never actually happened, and these promised practical plans were likely a ploy to get the structure the additional height it needed to top out over the Chrysler Building.
These days the room—only about 20-feet wide—is used to house various electrical equipment, and as an access point to the spire itself, which requires routine maintenance. Outside, the 2-foot (if that) terrace is used for photo ops—you've seen everyone from Taylor Swift to Tom Cruise up there, and last year I got to climb up myself. Every time I think about it all I can see is my Birkenstocks getting caught in the long dress I wore that day, and the entire experience playing out differently—the kind of vertigo this place gives you is lasting.
Click through for a look, and keep in mind that you can get to the 102nd floor, just below this, for $52... but that floor is enclosed, only giving you a view through glass windows, robbing you of that pure vertigo buzz.