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New York City is endlessly explorable, offering new surprises at every turn. Whether you’re hiking through its concrete canyons, zipping around via the subway, or peeking into buildings big and small, there are always places to discover and things you’ve never seen. Still, there’s no view of America’s largest metropolis like the one from high above. Boarding a helicopter and swooping around the city’s iconic skyscrapers, famous stadiums, and natural land features is like nothing else you’ve ever done, and though it’s a bit pricier than a traditional walking or bus tour, it’s definitely worth the splurge. These helicopter tours are the best that New York has to offer.
01 of 09
For a straight-ahead, lay-of-the-land highlight tour, this 15-minute flight can’t be beaten. You’ll take off from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport at Pier 6 (not far from the Staten Island Ferry Landing or the sights of Wall Street and downtown Manhattan, if you’d like to combine your flight with a walking or boat tour) and fly around all of the city’s most iconic landmarks: the Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler Building, the MetLife Building, the Empire State Building, the New York Stock Exchange, and One World Trade Center.
You’ll also get a good look at the New York Harbor, which has been an important economic hub since the Lenape Nation used it for fishing, oyster-gathering, and travel, as well as the former military base of Governor’s Island (now a spectacular park), Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants made their first American landfall, and the USS Intrepid, a retired WWII aircraft carrier that is now a museum.
All-in-all, this tour offers a pretty straightforward (and entirely dazzling) experience at a good value.
02 of 09
Manhattan helicopter tours are amazing, delightful, one-of-a-kind experiences, but for the most part, they don’t last terribly long, so if you take one, you might find that you’ve got quite a bit more of your day that you’d like to fill up. This tour combines a helicopter tour of Manhattan with a New York harbor cruise that includes a champagne toast in front of the Statue of Liberty. Along with the Statue of Liberty herself, you’ll see several of the same sights from two unique angles: the Brooklyn Bridge, Battery Park, Ellis Island, and, of course, the skylines of both Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The two parts of the tour take about two and a half hours total, so it fills a morning or afternoon, leaving you plenty of additional time in your day for exploring some of the many sights you saw from above or from the water.
03 of 09
The New York City skyline is always spectacular, but by night, it’s downright magical. This tour flys you all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, taking in the neon lights of Broadway and Times Square, the glowing Empire State Building (often lit up by night in special colors for holidays or events), and Lady Liberty herself, holding her torch high in the air.
You’ll also see classic skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building and 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the big lights of Citi Field, where the Mets play, the United Nations Headquarters, which sits handsomely at the edge of the East River, and the grand bridges that span the New York waterways: the Brooklyn Bridge, with its Gothic Revival stone towers, the Manhattan Bridge, with its famous arch and colonnade, and the soaring steel of the Williamsburg Bridge. With their floodlights beaming and trains and cars bustling across at all hours of the night, they’re a gorgeous, iconic sight.
04 of 09
All Manhattan helicopter tours take off from Pier 6, but if you’d prefer to depart from New Jersey, either for convenience or simply to save a few bucks, this tour, which takes off and lands at the Kearny Airport, offers a fantastic value and is super-convenient to Newark. To make it extra-convenient you can choose an optional upgrade of private luxury transportation to and from Manhattan (the Kearny Airport is only about 10 minutes from the Lincoln Tunnel).
The 15-minute flight approaches Manhattan from the south end, so the first points of interest you’ll encounter are the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. From there, it’s on to Lower Manhattan, home of One World Trade Center, Battery Park, and the South Street Seaport.
On the flight, you’ll get a good look at Brooklyn, as well as Staten Island which, for geographical reasons, is only seen from a distance on most Manhattan-based tours.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Most New York helicopter tours include quick jaunts over the outer boroughs to get a look at some of their gorgeous neighborhoods and parks, not to mention most of the greater metro’s most impressive athletic complexes. But if you’re less interested in sports and more interested in Manhattan’s soaring architecture, this is the tour for you.
Your helicopter ride will take you from Liberty Harbor at the southern tip of the island, watched over by the grand green lady, all the way up to the northern part of the island, where you’ll see the George Washington Bridge, Columbia University and surrounding Harlem, and even, yes, Yankee Stadium in the distance, plus everything in between: Central Park, Broadway, Rockefeller Plaza, the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, Lincoln Center, and all of Manhattan’s quirkier smaller neighborhoods: Greenwich Village, Soho, Tribeca, Chelsea, and more.
It’s a more focused tour, but there’s just so much to see in Manhattan that it feels expansive even without the outer boroughs.
06 of 09
Helicopter tours are small by definition, usually only holding four to six passengers, but if you go with a private tour, you not only ward off the potential of having to share close quarters with annoying strangers, but you can help choose your itinerary. Maybe you grew up in Queens and want to spend extra time hovering over your childhood neighborhood. Maybe you’re a sports super-fan and want to focus on the stadiums of the NY greater metro. Maybe you love art deco architecture and want to make a point of seeing the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building from as many angles as possible.
Your pilot will work with you to make sure your tour itinerary is focused on your favorites, or if you prefer, can offer a comprehensive tour. You choose! This tour is also longer than most, clocking in at 30 minutes, so even if you have diverging opinions in your group (up to five people) about what is interesting, there’s plenty of time to see everything.
07 of 09
Best Photography Tour: NYC Aerial Photography Workshop
Whether you’re a professional photographer or simply a point-and-shoot enthusiast, this remarkable tour includes an adrenaline-boosting hour-long, open-door flight over New York City, accompanied by a professional aerial and landscape photographer who’ll guide you through strategies for taking the best possible shots from up high. (Professionals and those who are already well-versed in their camera and are simply looking to take some aerial shots can opt out of having an instructor on board.)
The pilot plans the route with photography in mind, and includes good angles for shooting Central Park, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty, and happily includes landmarks of your choosing, so long as they aren’t in a flight-restricted area.
The tour takes off and lands at the Westchester County Airport in White Plains, which can be accessed via the Metro-North railroad, or you can opt for a round-trip private vehicle as an upgrade.
08 of 09
If you’re the in-for-a-penny, in-for-a-pound type, upgrade your simple helicopter tour to a 30-minute luxury excursion in an Airbus AS355, a top-of-the-line chopper with dual-turbine engines on the outside, letting you fly faster and see more, and exquisitely comfortable leather seating for up to five passengers on the inside.
As you float over the city in the lap of luxury, you’ll be treated to a glass of champagne while your pilot provides an explanation of the sights below through your noise-canceling headset. The tour generally includes the standard sights: Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, One World Trade Center, but hey, on this flight, you’re the big boss, so if you have preferences, your pilot will gladly work with you to customize your itinerary.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Whether you’re trying to plan a one-of-a-kind first date or an impossibly romantic sky-high proposal over the city where you met, or really anything in between, this private two-person tour might be just the right one for you. Leaving from the Westchester County Airport, north of New York City, your flight is available in two optional lengths: the 30-minute option includes the sights of uptown and midtown: the George Washington Bridge, Central Park, Times Square, and more.
Upgrading to the 45-minute option adds a lower Manhattan jaunt, which will include One World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island.
If you’re planning a proposal and have a backdrop in mind for popping the question, be sure to tell your pilot in advance: They’ll work with you to make it happen!