SCHOOL TRIP SPOTLIGHT: Top of the Rock
New York City is a bastion of massive buildings that work in unison to completely confound your sense of direction. The best way to get a true sense of the mass of concrete and steel is from above.
Enter Top of the Rock, which offers groups the best vantage point on a school trip to New York City.
Any visitor to the Rockefeller Center area finds their eyes effortlessly tilting skyward as they approach the famous skyscraper, nicknamed “30 Rock” because of its address.
John D. Rockefeller, namesake, and financier of the project, envisioned building the new Metropolitan Opera House on the site. Due to the opera’s financial struggle brought on by America’s Great Recession, it wasn’t to be. So, the land became a combination of office, retail, and entertainment space.
Today, the entertainment includes NBC Studios, located in the basement, which hosts the iconic TV shows Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Before heading indoors, visit a great Art Deco icon. Atlas, a bronze statue within the courtyard of the International Building, makes for a great curricular connection between the industrial giants who built NYC and a Titan of Greek mythology who was condemned to carry the world on his shoulders.
Head inside Rockefeller Center, where groups are greeted in the venue’s lobby by a stunning, 14,000-piece Swarovski crystal chandelier that is the inverted shape of the building, as well as a winding staircase up to the security screening area.
After security, your group will take a memorable elevator ride to the Top of the Rock.
TIP: Be sure to use the restrooms before the elevator ride as there are no restrooms at the top.
Without spoiling the surprise, be sure to look up while taking the 1-minute, 70-floor elevator trip skyward. Upon exiting the elevator, you’ll be on the 68th floor with fantastic views of “the city that never sleeps.” This floor includes a gift shop and a couple of outdoor decks that offer stunning city views looking north, east, and south.
Do a full loop of the 68th floor to reach the up escalator, which leads you outdoors onto the 70th floor. This floor features a viewing deck surrounded by glass partitions that prevent anyone from leaning over and heated tiles to prevent any ice buildup.
PHOTO TIP: As the sun sets, be sure to shut-off your camera’s flash as it will only flashback in the glass as you take your photo.
If you’re particularly perceptive, you’ll locate the hidden staircase to the highest viewing pedestal. Unlike the Empire State Building or the new One World Observatory, you’ll get a 360-degree, unencumbered view of the Big Apple, including nearby Times Square.
When it’s time to depart, you’ll take the escalator down to the 68th floor where you’ll join the line for the elevator to the bottom, which offers guests another gift shop filled with NYC souvenirs.
Top of the Rock also offers Education Materials and a Teacher Guide that includes information about exhibit artifacts, curricular connections to Math and Art, discussion questions, and a suggested reading list.
The SCHOOL TRIP SPOTLIGHT is written by NationsClassroom’s licensed tour managers and guides. Written from their years of experience with student groups, the articles feature exciting attractions from the most popular student travel destinations on the historic East Coast.
Originally published January 2020, updated March 2021