Visiting the Empire State Building
Most tourists are only interested in visiting the observation platform of the ESB. Of course, the view of the Empire State Building is breathtaking but this tourist attraction offers a lot more. In the lobby you can admire the beautiful art deco murals and there are also two interesting exhibitions: the ‘Dare To Dream‘ and ‘Sustainability’ Exhibit. And of course you should also visit the observation platform. Did you know that there even are two options?
The observation platform on the 86th floor is the tallest open-air platform in New York and has been seen in many films and TV shows. Here you can enjoy a 360° view of New York and beyond. Central Park, The Hudson River, Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, … you can admire all the important locations of New York City.
You can also go sixteen floors higher, up to the 102nd floor where you (if possible) get even more spectacular views. From here the whole city is visible and on a clear day you can see almost 130 kilometers / 80 miles far!
Tip: download the official Observatory Experience app that gives you more information about the view from any direction.
Empire State Building or Top of the Rock?
If you have booked a cheap city trip to New York, you must of course make some plans as well. Because there is a lot to see and do in NYC!
Next to the Empire State Building you can also visit the Top of the Rock. The Top of the Rock is part of the Rockefeller Center. Another iconic skyscraper located in New York. This building can also be climbed, so that from here you also get a phenomenal view of the Big Apple.
A question that almost certainly will occur during your trip to New York is: “Where do you get the best views over New York? Is it from the Empire State Building or from the Top of the Rock?”
And the answer to that questions differs from person to person… So I can’t make that choice for you. But… I can give you some facts and insights which will make the choice a lot easier!
The view from both buildings
Personally, I have to admit that I like the view from the Top of the Rock most.
From the Rockefeller Center you get an unobstructed view of the city. There are several viewing platforms that you can visit. From the lowest point you can lurk behind the glass walls to the city. One floor higher you can even look at the city without any hindrance. Do you have fear of hights? That’s not necessary at all! Because this top floor is only a few meters higher than the large viewing platform, but then without the scary views if you look straight down.
From the top level of the Top of the Rock you can see: Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, One World Trade Center, Central Park, Bank of America Tower, Flatiron Building, …
The viewing platform of the Empire State Building may be slightly higher, but your view is obstructed a little more. The entire platform is covered with metal fencing so that no accidents can happen. Good for safety, but unfortunately less great for your selfies!
From the Empire State Building you can see the following iconic buildings: Rockefeller Plaza Center, Chrysler Building, One World Trade Center, Central Park, Times Square, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, …
For a photo of you with NYC as your background, I would therefore choose the Top of the Rock.
The location of both skyscrapers
Both buildings are located in the city center, about one mile apart. The Empire State Building is closer to the financial district of New York, while Top of the Rock is much closer to Central Park and Times Square.
The price of both viewpoints
Tickets for the Empire State Building cost $36 per person. An admission ticket for the Rockefeller Center viewing platform costs $34.
Do you find it difficult to make a choice? Then think of buying the New York Pass. A useful solution if you plan to visit multiple sights and museums. For about $90 / £62 / €70 you get access to dozens of attractions, including the ESB and the TofR.
If you want to read more about the Rockefeller Center, read this article with pictures and tips.
A brief history of the Empire State Building
In the early eighteenth century there wasn’t a 102-storey giant towering over NYC yet. On this location there stood a farm owned by a certain John Thompson. In the late twenties of the nineteenth century he sold the land to the Astor family, who set up a Waldof-Astoria hotel here at the end of the nineteenth century. It wasn’t until the twenties of the nineteenth century that it became the property of Empire State Inc., a business in the name of businessman John J. Raskob and Al Smith, the former governor of New York. They dreamed of a skyscraper of (barely) 50 floors, but these plans were revised no less than fifteen times. They started construction on March 17, 1930 and they completed (!) one floor a day! Eventually the building became 380 meters high (443.2 meters if you count in the antenna) with which it was the tallest building in the world for almost 40 years. At that time, the creation of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon had become an absolute symbol, thanks in part to appearances in many films and television shows. The most legendary scene is undoubtedly the one in which King Kong climbs the Empire State Building. The name from the building derived from Empire State, the nickname of New York.
Empire State Building tickets
You have many choices when you visit the Empire State Building. You can choose from the following options:
- Main Deck (86th floor): $36 for adults, $30 for children and $34 for seniors. From $65 you can buy a VIP Express Pass where you do not have to wait in line.
- Top and Main Deck (86th and 102nd floor): $ 56 for adults, $ 50 for children and $ 54 for seniors. From $ 85 you can buy a Vip Express Pass.
- The Sunrise Experience: if you’ve always wanted to see the sun rise from the 86th floor of the ESB, you can enjoy this unique experience for $100 per person. To make it extra special you can also order a breakfast. Note that only 100 tickets per day are sold for this activity.
- AM / PM Experience: with these tickets you get access to the 86th floor in the morning and in the evening. Tickets cost $52 for adults and $43 for children.
- Premium Experience: in exchange for $ 175 per person you get a one and a half hour guided tour with VIP priority access and a souvenir.
You can purchase all these tickets from various tour operators. I always buy my tickets from GetYourGuide, Viator or Tiqets, because they never have to worry about a cancellation if your plans have changed.
If you’re planning to visit many tourist attractions in New York City, you may want to purchase a New York CityPASS. For €70 to €100 / £62 to £90 / $83 to $125 (adults and kids have other entrance fees) you get access to the following sights of NYC:
- The Empire State Building
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR the Guggenheim Museum
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
- And much more. Look for a complete overview on this page.
Since you’re most likely planning to visit several of these attractions, it would be rather unwise to spend a lot of money on separate tickets.
You should book your New York CityPASS online because they often give quite big reductions on the world wide web.
Best time to visit the Empire State Building and opening times
The Empire State Building is open every day of the year. You should arrive at eight o’clock in the morning when the observation platform just opens to avoid the crowds. If you prefer to sleep a bit longer, it’s best to come around noon when most people have lunch.
Surprisingly, this skyscraper is always open until two o’clock at night! The last lift elevator up leaves at 1:15 AM. Towards the end there are obviously fewer people. From Thursday to Saturday there is always a live saxophonist up high from 9 PM to 1 AM. And yes, he plays request numbers!
From April to June and from September to early November it is the quietest period to visit the Empire State Building and by extension New York City. The weather is still very pleasant and there aren’t too many tourists.
Four fun facts about the Empire State Building
- Currently, the ESB is the fifth highest skyscraper in the United States and the 28th highest in the world.
- Every year about four million people visit the panoramic viewpoint of the Empire State Building.
- At the end of the 70s of the last century, the North Tower of the original Wold Trade Center discharged the ESB as the tallest building in New York. After the terrorist attacks of 11 September, the ESB was again number one of the Big Apple. Until April 2012 when the new One World Trade Center became the highest building in the city.
- In total, this legendary skyscraper appeared in more than 250 films and TV shows including ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, ‘Gossip Girl’, ‘Independence Day’ and ‘The Smurfs’. It was also declared one of the Seven Wonders of the modern world.
Together with the Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building is the skyscraper you shouldn’t miss during your visit to NYC. A good tip is indeed to visit the first during daytime and the second in the evening, so you always get a different and equally impressive panoramic view of this fantastic city.
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.