Nice Guy Tourist: Lower Manhattan’s Changing Skyline (One World Trade Center and the Oculus)

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I recently played New York City tourist-for-a-day in Lower Manhattan. My first stop was One World Trade Center, where the highlight, of course, was the unbeatable view from the observatory, but the whole experience was really something to see.

First, there’s a pre-show on the ground floor—a digital media exhibit that takes you through the background and construction of the building. Then you step onto the elevator, which zips up to the 102nd floor in no time at all. Actually the 47-second ascent in the “Skypod” is a mini-history lesson in itself, as 500 years of history unfold in a floor-to-ceiling LED virtual technology display. Manhattan’s skyline rises with you on your way up.

At the top, there’s another short video and finally the screen opens up to the most amazing views you’ll find in New York City.

At 1,776 feet, One World Trade is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The observatory has a 360-degree view so you can see the entire island of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, plus much more. If you’re lucky enough to go on a clear day, the view goes on for at least 50 miles and you can even see the curvature of the earth! With views like this, it’s no wonder the observatory sees as many as 12,000 people on their busiest days.

The three-story observation deck is operated by Legends Hospitality, the group that also runs sales and concessions at places like Yankee Stadium and Cowboys Stadium. On the 101st floor of One World Observatory, you’ll find refreshments. Grab a cup of coffee at One Café, a beer at One Bar, or stay for lunch or dinner at One Dine, which offers a seasonally-inspired menu and a full bar.

My second stop was less than a half-mile away at the surreal building known as the Oculus. This transit center, officially named World Trade Center Transportation Hub, connects New Jersey’s PATH train system to NYC’s subway system. It’s also a shopping mall with more than 100 retail stores inside.

The Oculus is unmissable for its bright, white, unique architecture—it was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to look like a dove in flight. In addition to the thousands of commuters that pass through the Oculus, tourists flock here for photos inside the stark white building. The white, ribbed columns that make up the interior infrastructure play with the light that streams in and create an optical illusion of sorts—which is to say, this is probably one of the most photogenic spots in the city, and there’s a perfect viewing platform to take those Instagram shots.

Like One World Trade, which has been called the most expensive office building in the world, the Oculus went way beyond its original budget. It was supposed to cost $2 billion and in the end topped out at almost $4 billion—about the same price tag as One World Trade. But in the end, these buildings are now a permanent part of New York’s fast-changing skyline, as well as symbols of progress and sites of inspiration.