Visiting the iconic Empire State Building is an experience you have to include in your trip to New York. It's an Art Deco gem, inside and out, and the exhibitions it houses and its views of the city will not leave you indifferent.
My first tip is to get your tickets in advance- this will save you queuing for tickets, although you will have to queue at the security checkpoint.
The Empire State Building has two observation decks, one on the 86th floor and one on the 102nd floor. With this general admission ticket to the Empire State Building you get access to the 86th floor and my advice is not to pay the extra fee to get to the top deck, it's not worth it.
One thing you should bear in mind is that the price of admission goes up in high season, and therefore, you will find a greater number of tourists at the observatory. Remember that children under the age of 6 are free.
When you receive your confirmation, check to see if you have to bring your printed tickets (at least when I last went up, they did not accept electronic tickets). If so, and for some reason you can't print them out, don't worry, you can print them out at the ticket machines at the entrance, but you will have to queue.
Why I like this option: this is the cheapest option to go up the Empire State Building and it allows you to do it at the time you want, so you can plan your visit in advance (see below for tips on the best time of day to go up).
Recommended if... you want to enjoy the Manhattan skyline from one of its most legendary buildings.
How much it costs to climb the Empire State Building
Booking your tickets for the Empire State Building online in advance will cost you around 39 Euros at Hellotickets. However, if you are travelling with children, in a group or if you have access to a special rate, you may get better prices. If you are worried about your budget when it comes to organising your visit to this mythical skyscraper, you can check out my guide to the prices of tickets to the Empire State so you can see what rate you are entitled to and you can decide how to buy your tickets.
Buying tickets at the ticket office is also an option and the price you get will be the same, although as mentioned above, the queues can be very long (and you may run out of time to go up at the time you wanted).
Where is and how to get to the Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is located at 20 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001 and the best way to get there is either walking if you are downtown or by underground to 34 St - Herald Sq and down the street. You can't miss it! Wherever you are located, I have a plan for you. Check out this article on how to get to the Empire State Building where I suggest different routes or itineraries depending on how much time you have, what your budget is or how much you want to visit neighbourhoods and other attractions around it.
For example, close to the iconic building, located in the heart of Midtown, you'll find everything from Central Park and Times Square to other key points in the city such as the Flatiron Building. Also nearby is the area known as Koreatown, which is full of bakeries, cafes, Korean barbecue restaurants and karaoke bars, as well as cosmetic shops with products imported directly from South Korea.
Best time to climb the Empire State Building
If you're trying to pick the best time to climb the Empire State Building to avoid queues and crowds, visit the Empire State Building in the morning. At 8:00 you'll barely 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 00:30, although on Saturdays and Sundays you're sure to encounter other tourists.
When you buy your ticket you have to choose a day, when you can enter the Empire State Building at any time you want. I'm a romantic and I think that going up first thing in the morning or at midnight is a fantasy, but you can choose the time you want, as it is open every day of the year from 8am to 2am, and the last lift up is at 1:15am. Here's everything you need to know about the Empire State Building experience at night.
Alex's Traveller Tip
Did you know that the Empire State is open until 2am? Climb the Empire State late at night to be completely alone in front of the immensity of New York - it's worth it!
How long does it take to visit the Empire State Building
There is no time limit on your visit to the Empire State Building. Most people usually spend about an hour on the observation deck, but you can stay until closing time if you feel like it.
In case you want to go up to the Empire State Building at sunset, my recommendation is to check what time the sun sets and go up to the observatory an hour early to get a good spot and enjoy your visit before it starts to fill up with tourists.
One thing that sets the Empire State Building apart from the rest of New York's skyscrapers is that it is open until 2am, so you can 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 an evening stroll around New York is at the top of my list.
Climbing the Empire State Building with New York Pass and other tourist cards
The Empire State Building is, without a doubt, one of the most popular points of interest in the Big Apple and, therefore, its entrance is included in most of the tourist passes that exist to visit the city. Still don't know what a tourist card is or how it works?
In a nutshell, it is a card that you book in advance for a "flat rate" and will give you access to various attractions in the city, allowing you to save time (by skipping the queues at the ticket office) and money.
As I mentioned, most of these cards include admission to the Empire State Building. Here is a list of these cards and links to my practical guide to each one. But if you're thinking of buying a card, I recommend you read this article on the comparison of New York tourist passes.
List of passes that include the Empire State Building
- New York CityPASS: The New York CityPASS gives you the option of climbing the Empire State Building on up to two different occasions, so you can enjoy the views both day and night.
- New York Pass: New York Pass is bookable by the day and gives you access to over 100 attractions, including the Empire State.
- New York Sightseeing Pass: The Sightseeing Pass is also bookable on a daily basis (and is the only one that also includes the One World Observatory).
- New York Explorer Pass: The price of this pass depends on the number of attractions you want to book, with the Empire State being one of them.
My personal advice
If you can't decide what time to go up the iconic skyscraper, I recommend buying the New York CityPASS and going up in the morning for a hustle-free , uncrowded experience and returning at sunset to enjoy the views.
To visit the Empire State Building with your New York City Pass, simply go to the building and enter through the specially designated door for visitors with a New York City Pass.
What the observatory looks like
From the Empire State Observatory, you can look through the famous 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.
What you will see from the Empire State Building
From the moment it opened in 1931, the Empire State Building became the star of the New York skyline, and a major 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
Where to eat around the Empire State Building
If heights make you hungry and you like to know where to eat beforehand, there are a few restaurants near the Empire State Building that you'll want to try. You can, for example, head 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 towards the Chrysler Building and go to Urbanspace Vanderbilt, a warehouse-turned-market with stalls selling all kinds of food. Still, if you're in the mood to get your foodie day organised, check out this list of where to eat near the Empire State Building.
Visit the Empire State with kids
If you're visiting the Empire State Building with children, 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 typical backpack with handles, and if you have a pram they will most likely make you fold it up to get on the observation deck.
When you get to the Empire State Building you can have your photo taken and then buy it as a souvenir. It costs about 20 dollars and I don't think it's worth it, but if you know your kids will be excited, make sure you don't wear any green clothes as it will spoil the photo (they'll take it in front of a chroma).
Practical information on how to climb the Empire State Building
Many people wonder how many floors the Empire State Building has. Well, the exact number is 102, although the observation deck is on the 86th floor and not the top floor. You can use one of the 73 lifts in the building to visit them, so that awkward moment of waiting for the lift should be kept to a minimum, but not the ride in the elevator. There are restrooms on the 2nd and 86th floors of the Empire State Building, so don't worry, if you get caught in an emergency on high, you won't have to run down to the ground.
Camera tripods and oversized suitcases or backpacks are not allowed in the Empire State Building, 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 Building.
Architecture and design of the Empire State Building
Inside, you can also see the 'Dare to Dream' exhibition dedicated to the construction of the Empire State Building and tell the stories of its builders, through architectural plans, drawings, and photographs. You will also find an exhibition dedicated to explaining the sustainable energy use of the building.
A bit of its history
Something that not many people know is that in the same year it opened, the spire at its highest point was used as an anchorage point for a zeppelin, as the building's architects believed that this would be the mode of transport of the future. It's a good thing they designed one of the world's greatest architectural gems, because as soothsayers they weren't good for much...
Symbol of Art Deco
What makes the Empire State Building a must-see on your New York adventures is not only the breathtaking views from its observatory, but also its stunning Art Deco interior, which is a marvel. It's a well-rounded experience that you're sure to look back on with nostalgia many years after your trip.
Other popular observatories, skyscrapers and buildings in New York City
New York is a city made to be admired from below but also from above, and for that, you have a multitude of skyscrapers from which the views of New York are breathtaking.
One World Observatory
One World may not come to mind so quickly due to its relatively young age, but it will offer you a breathtaking view of the financial district, with shops, a fancy restaurant, and interactive activities that the kids will have a blast at. If you fancy a visit, you can find all the details in my handy guide: One World Observatory Tickets and Tours.
Rockefeller Center, the Top of the Rock
And of all the skyscrapers in New York, my personal recommendation is Rockefeller Center. Its observation deck known as the Top of the Rock will give you the best views of the city including a spectacular close-up of the Empire State Building. In fact, many visitors face a dilemma when deciding between climbing one of the two. If it helps, here's a comparison: climbing Top of the Rock vs. climbing the Empire State Building.
Other iconic buildings
Also, if you are 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. The Woolworth Building, Chrysler Building, Flatiron Building and many others will delight anyone with a passion for architecture.
Comparative table of New York's best skyscrapers
- Empire State Building
- From £34
- Observatory: open-air
- Floor: 86
- Views: Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, 5th Avenue and from afar One World Building
- Location: Midtown Manhattan
- Top of the Rock
- From £32
- Observatory: open air
- Floor: 70
- Views: Empire State Building, Central Park and from afar One World Building
- Location: Midtown Manhattan
- Book now
- One World Observatory
- From £31
- Observatory: Indoor
- Floor: 102
- Views: Wall Street, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and from afar Empire State Building
- Location: Southern Manhattan
- Book now
- The Edge
- From £32
- Observatory: open air and glass floor
- Floor: 110
- Views: Empire State, Midtown and from afar One World Building
- Location: Manhattan West
- Book now
Other interesting activities in New York
Alternatively, if climbing a skyscraper doesn't really appeal to you but you want to enjoy the views of New York from the top, you have other options such as taking a helicopter tour of Manhattan or visiting one of the city's many rooftop bars. But in my opinion, climbing a skyscraper is an amazing experience not to be missed, especially on your first time in New York!
Now all you have to do is pick a skyscraper and get ready to see one of the most beautiful cities in the world the way it deserves to be seen. Have a great trip to the heights!
Frequently asked questions
Which is better, Top of the Rock or Empire State Building?
The Empire State Building Observatory is higher and offers better views of the Financial District and One World Trade Center, while Top of the Rock is the choice for viewing Times Square, Central Park and the Empire State Building from above.
How long does it take to get to the top of the Empire State Building?
To avoid queues, it is best to visit early in the morning or in the evening (around 22:00).
Can I enter the Empire State Building with a backpack?
Yes, you can bring your suitcase, backpack, purse and almost any kind of luggage inside. Cameras are also allowed inside the Empire State Building.
What can you see from the Empire State Building?
Among others, you will be able to see all the highlights of Midtown: Times Square, the legendary Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park, Union Square, the Financial District and the Hudson surrounding Manhattan. You can also see, in the distance, the Financial District and the Hudson River surrounding Manhattan. Spectacular!