Visiting the iconic Empire State Building is a must-include experience in your trip to New York City. It is a jewel of Art Deco, both on the inside and the outside, and hosts a quite interesting exhibition in its hall. But what makes this visit truly essential is its awe-inspiring views of the city.
1. How to get your tickets to the Empire State Building
My first tip is to get your tickets in advance: this will let you skip the line to buy the tickets at the building's entrance, although you will still have to stand in line at the security checkpoint.
At the ticket office
Buying tickets at the ticket office is also an option, although as I've mentioned above, the queues can be very long (and there's a risk of tickets selling out for the time schedule of your preference).
2. General admission to the Empire State Building
The Empire State has two observation decks, one on the 86th floor and one on the 102nd floor. With this general admission to the Empire State Building you can access the 86th floor and my advice is not to pay the supplement needed to access the top deck, as it is not really worth it.
Something you should keep in mind is that ticket prices go up during peak season, and also you will find a greater number of tourists trying to go up the observatory. By the way, children under 6 years old do not need a ticket for the Empire State Building.
Best time to go up to the Empire State Building
To avoid massive lines and crowds visit the Empire State in the morning. At 8:00 a.m. you'll hardly have to wait in line, and you'll enjoy an almost private experience any day of the week. Your other best option is to visit the building around 12:30 a.m., although on Saturdays and Sundays you are sure to run into a few other tourists.
When it comes to buy your ticket to the Empire State Building you have to choose a date, and you will be able to access the Empire State Building at any time you want during that day. I'm quite the romantic type and I find going up at midnight is a dreamlike experience, but you can choose any time you want to visit this emblematic building: it is open every day of the year without exception from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., and the last elevator up is at 1:15 a.m.
Tips for booking online
When you get your email confirmation, check if you have to print your tickets (the last time I went to New York, they didn't let me just show the tickets on my phone). If so, and for some reason you can't print them somewhere else, don't worry, you can print them at the ticket machines at the entrance, with the only downside of having to wait in line.
Alex's Traveller Tip
Did you know that the Empire State is open until 2 a.m.? Go up the Empire State late at night to be completely alone in front of the immensity of New York, you're in for quite a view!
3. Go up the Empire State Building with the New York Pass and other tourist cards
The Empire State is undoubtedly one of the hottest landmarks in the Big Apple and therefore, its entrance is included in the vast majority of tourist cards that exist to visit the city. Still out of the loop on what a tourist card is or how it works? In a nutshell, it is a pass that you book in advance for a "flat rate" and it will give you access to several attractions in the city, allowing you to save time (skipping the queues at the ticket office) and money.
As I said, most of these cards include the entrance to the Empire State Building. Go down a bit and you will find a list of these cards and the links to my practical guide of each one. But if you are thinking about buying a tourist card, I recommend that you read this comparison of New York tourist passes.
List of passes that include the Empire State Building.
- New York CityPASS: The New York Pass gives you the option to go up the Empire State on up to two different occasions, so you can enjoy the views both day and night.
- New York Pass: The New York CityPASS is valid for a customizable amount of days and gives you access to more than 100 attractions, including the Empire State Building.
- New York Sightseeing Pass: The Sightseeing Pass is also valid for a customizable amount of days (and is the only one that also includes tickets to the One World Observatory).
- New York Explorer Pass: The price of this pass depends on the number of attractions you want to include, with the Empire State being one of them.
My personal advice
If you can't decide on what time to go up the iconic skyscraper, I recommend you buy the New York CityPASS and go up in the morning for a hustle-free, no crowds experience and come back at sunset to enjoy one of the prettiest views in all of Manhattan.
To visit the Empire State Building with your New York City Pass, simply go to the building and enter through the designated gate for New York City Pass holders.
Where is and how to get to the Empire State Building?
The Empire State is located at 20 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001 and the best way to get there is to take the subway to 34 St - Herald Sq and walk down the street. You can't miss it!
Near the iconic building, you will find the area known as Koreatown full of pastry shops, coffee shops, Korean BBQ restaurants, and karaoke joints, as well as beauty shops with products imported directly from South Korea.
How long does it take to visit the Empire State Building?
There is no time limit for your visit to the Empire State Building. Most people usually spend around one hour on the observation deck, but you can stay until closing time if you feel like it.
In case you want to go up at sunset at the Empire State, first you should check what time the sunset is and go up to the observatory an hour before to get a good spot and enjoy the visit before it starts to fill up with tourists.
Something that makes the Empire State stand out from the rest of the skyscrapers in New York is that it opens until 2 a.m., allowing you to go almost any time you want. I'll let you in on a secret: climbing to the top of the building after a party and a night walk around New York is one of my favorite plans in the city.
6. What is it like to go up to the observatory
From the Empire State Observatory, you can look through the iconic binoculars and watch life go by in New York, with views of Bryant Park, the Flatiron Building, Fifth Avenue, One World Trade Center and of course admire the majesty of Manhattan's buildings as a whole.
7. What you will see from the Empire State Building
From the moment of its inauguration in 1931 the Empire State became the star of the New York skyline and quite an attraction for tourists who climbed to its observation deck. Here's what you can see from the top of the Empire State Building:
- Bryant Park
- Flatiron Building
- Fifth Avenue
- Rockefeller Center
- Chrysler Building
- One World Trade Center
- Times Square
- Statue of Liberty
- Brooklyn Bridge
8. Practical information on how to go up the Empire State Building
There are toilets on the 2nd and 86th floors of the Empire State, so don't worry, if you're in an emergency up high you won't have to hold it until you get to the ground.
Camera tripods and excessively large suitcases or backpacks are not allowed in the Empire State, and the building does not have lockers where you can leave your belongings. If you need to, LuggageHero is quite close to the skyscraper and is the cheapest option to leave your belongings while you climb the Empire State.
9. Empire State architecture and design
Also, inside the building, you'll get to see the 'Dare to Dream' exhibition dedicated to the history of the construction of the Empire State Building with accounts of its builders, and architectural plans, drawings, and photographs. Also, you will find an exhibition dedicated to explaining the building's sustainable energy use.
A bit of its history
Something that not many people know is that initially, the spire located at the highest point of the Empire State Building served as an anchor point for a zeppelin since the architects believed this would be the main method of transportation of the future. At least they were better architects than fortune tellers...
An Art Deco icon
What makes the Empire State Building a must-see on your New York trip is not only the breathtaking views from its observatory but also its impressive Art Deco interior, which is something truly wondrous. In itself, visiting the building provides a complete experience that you're sure to be nostalgic about many years after your trip.
10. Where to eat in the Empire State Building area
If for some reason heights make you hungry and you like to know in advance where to eat, near the Empire State there are a few restaurants you're going to want to try. You can, for example, head over to Koreatown and try Turntable Chicken Jazz or BCD Tofu House where you'll find vegetarian options.
My personal recommendation is to walk a bit in the direction of the Chrysler Building and go to Urbanspace Vanderbilt, a warehouse turned into a market with stalls and food trucks of all kinds of cuisines.
11. Visit the Empire State Building with kids
If you visit the Empire State with kids, it's best to go as early as possible in the morning. They will let you in with backpacks, as long as they are the size of a regular backpack with handles, and if you bring a stroller they will most likely make you fold it up to go up to the observation deck.
When you get to the Empire State you can have your picture taken and then buy it as a souvenir. It costs about 20 dollars and I don't think it is worth it, but if this is something your children may like make sure you do not wear any green piece of clothing, as it will spoil the photo (they will take it in front of a green screen).
12. Other popular observatories, skyscrapers, and buildings in New York City
New York is a city made to be admired at ground level but also from a bird's eye view. Luckily, you have a good amount of skyscrapers from which the views of New York are breathtaking.
One World Observatory
One World may not come to mind so quickly because of its relatively recent construction but it will offer you an impressive view of the financial district. Inside, you will with stores, a fancy restaurant, and interactive activities where the kids are sure to have a blast. If you are up for a visit, you can check out all the details in this handy guide I have written: One World Observatory Tickets and Tours.
Rockefeller Center, the Top of the Rock
And among all the skyscrapers in New York, my personal recommendation is the Rockefeller Center. Its observation deck known as the Top of the Rock will offer you the best views of the city including a spectacular close-up of the Empire State Building.
Other iconic buildings
Also, if you're one of those people who shy away from the established tourist circuits, there are many more buildings in New York that you can visit, even if they don't have an observatory. Woolworth Building, Chrysler Building, Flatiron Building, and many others will be the delight of architecture buffs.
13. The best skyscrapers in New York City, compared
- Empire State Building
- From £33
- Observatory: open air
- Floor: 86
- Views: Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, 5th Avenue and One World Building from afar
- Location: Midtown Manhattan
- Book now
- Top of the Rock
- From £31
- Observatory: open air
- Floor: 70
- Views: Empire State, Central Park and One World Building from afar
- Location: Midtown Manhattan
- Book now
- One World Observatory
- From £31
- Observatory: interior
- Floor: 102
- Views: Wall Street, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building from afar
- Location: Southern Manhattan
- Book now
- The Edge
- From £32
- Observatory: open-air and glass floor
- Floor: 110
- Views: Empire State, Midtown and One World Building from afar
- Location: Manhattan West
- Book now
14. Other exciting activities in New York City
Alternatively, if climbing a skyscraper doesn't really appeal to you but you want to enjoy the views of New York from above, you have other options such as taking a helicopter tour of Manhattan or visiting one of the many rooftop bars in the city. But in my opinion, climbing a skyscraper is a mind-blowing experience you can't miss, especially on your first time in New York!
Now all you have to do is choose a skyscraper and get ready to see one of the most beautiful cities in the world as it deserves to be seen. Bon voyage!