Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building

If you want to go up to one of Midtown Manhattan's most legendary observatories but don't know which one to choose, we compare them!

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

12 min read

Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building

View of New York from the Sea | ©Kevinofsydney

One of the best things to do in New York during your trip is to see the city from above. There are several skyscrapers in Manhattan whose observatories offer spectacular views of the island from many different perspectives.

Ideally you'd like to see them all, but if your budget is tight or you don't have enough time, to help you with the difficult task of choosing, here we compare two of downtown's most iconic observatories: climbing the Empire State Building vs. climbing the Top of the Rock.

The views from the Empire State and Top of the Rock

View of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock| ©halbag
View of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock| ©halbag

These are the two most iconic observatories in downtown New York because of their antiquity and breathtaking views. Located in Midtown Manhattan, they are the absolute stars of the city skyline. Let's take a look at what you'll see from each one to start deciding which one suits you best.

The views from the Empire State Building

Since it opened in 1931, the Empire State Building has always been a magnet for onlookers and tourists. Hollywood contributed to its popularity by making it a star of its films, but the truth is that the panoramic views from its observation deck are enough in themselves to earn it the fame it enjoys.

The Empire State Observatory is divided into two floors (86 and 102). Through its famous binoculars and from the observation deck itself you will see places such as:

Top of the Rock views, a classic

Due to its location in the heart of Manhattan, the Top of the Rock is the observatory most recommended by travellers and the one with possibly the best views at any time of the day, although sunset is the favourite time of day for visitors.

From its observation deck spread over three floors (67, 69 and 70) you will not only have the best panoramic view of New York, but you will also be able to see Central Park and the Empire State in all its splendour. At the Top of the Rock you will have the feeling of being on top of the world. Everything seems tiny and colossal at the same time when you look at sites such as:

Comparison of views

  • Empire State Building
  • From £37
  • Hudson Yards
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • Chrysler Building
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Rockefeller Center
  • One World Observatory
  • Fifth Avenue
  • Times Square
  • Hudson River
  • East River
  • Bryant Park
  • Others like Flatiron Building or Central Park
  • Book
  • Top of the Rock
  • From £36
  • Empire State Building
  • Central Park
  • Upper East Side
  • Upper West Side
  • Harlem
  • Hudson River
  • George Washington Bridge
  • The Edge
  • Times Square
  • Hudson Yards
  • One World Trade Center
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Reserve

Empire State and Top of the Rock ticket prices

Top of the Rock tickets| ©HelloTickets
Top of the Rock tickets| ©HelloTickets

You may want to climb one of the iconic skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan to get a bird's eye view of the city, but do you know how much the tickets will cost or if there are any discounts you can take advantage of?

To help you plan your budget and choose the observatory that best suits your budget, we're going to compare the prices of tickets to the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock.

How much is a ticket to the Empire State Building and are there any discounts or reduced prices?

From €44 you can get a skip-the-line ticket to the Empire State Building to go up to the Main Deck, the main observatory on the 86th floor with 360º panoramic views of the New York skyline. In addition, with the free audio guide included with this ticket you can learn all about this jewel of the Art Deco movement.

If you want to know more about this question, I recommend you read the post Empire State Building ticket prices where it is discussed in detail.

How much is a ticket to the Top of the Rock and are there any discounts or reduced prices?

As for the Top of the Rock, from 42€ you can get a skip-the-line ticket to the three floors of the observation deck (floors 67, 69 and 70) to enjoy the magnificent 360º views of Manhattan from a privileged location at the top of the 30 Rockefeller Plaza building.

This ticket also includes access to the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center and the General Electric Building, two very interesting places in the complex that will complete the visit.

I recommend you to read the post Ticket prices to Top of the Rock to learn more about this topic and so you can better organise the budget of the visit.

Book your tickets for the Top of the Rock

The Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock, the height of both viewpoints

Top of the Rock terrace| ©HelloTickets
Top of the Rock terrace| ©HelloTickets

The Empire State 's main observatory known as the Main Deck is located on the 86th floor of the famous skyscraper and rises up to 320 metres high, while the Top of the Rock observation deck is 260 metres high, between the 67th and 70th floors, at the top of the 30 Rockefeller Plaza building.

A difference of about 60 metres in height that will test your vertigo. Seeing New York from above is a wonderful experience that you should have at least once in your life. Don't let your fear of heights stop you from seeing the city at your feet - here are some tips to help you!

Tips for people with vertigo

If you suffer from vertigo, the prospect of climbing a skyscraper and confronting heights may predispose your mind to fear. Don't worry, this is very common, but to avoid vertigo during your visit to the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock, I recommend that you put the following tips into practice:

  • Mentalising about the place you are going to visit will train your brain to control your emotions and transform them into pleasant experiences.
  • Work on your breathing to control anxiety and stress. Practising deep breathing before climbing a skyscraper will help you to oxygenate your brain, release tension and regain calm.
  • Focus on your goal, not your fear of heights. When you reach it, remember that you have surpassed yourself. Enjoy this success and keep this positive memory to motivate you in the future.

Height Comparison

  • Empire State
  • From 37
  • Height: 320 metres
  • Observatory: 86th and 102nd floors.
  • Book
  • Top of the Rock
  • From 36
  • Height: 260 metres
  • Observatory: 67th, 69th and 70th floors.
  • Book

How to get to the Empire State and Top of the Rock Observatory

How long does it take to get to the Top of the Rock?| ©HelloTickets
How long does it take to get to the Top of the Rock?| ©HelloTickets

To get to the observation decks of both skyscrapers, fortunately you don't have to take the stairs. Both the Empire State and Top of the Rock have ultra-fast lifts that will take you to the heights in just a few seconds.

The ascent of the Empire State Building

The ascent to the Empire State Building is via two different lifts. The first one takes you to the 80th floor and on the way up a short video about the construction of the building is projected on the ceiling. The second lift takes you to the Main Deck on the 86th floor where all the fun awaits.

In case you have reduced mobility or come with a person with special needs, the two observation decks of the Empire State Building are accessible to people who need to use wheelchairs. Also, to facilitate the experience, the observation deck's binoculars can accommodate all visitors.

Climbing the Top of the Rock

The Top of the Rock has four Sky Shuttles to take you up to the 67th floor where the observation deck is located. These state-of-the-art lifts travel the distance to the observatory in less than a minute and a video is projected on the ceiling to liven up the ascent.

The Top of the Rock observatory is also accessible to people with special mobility needs and Rockefeller Center tour guides can show you the most wheelchair-accessible routes inside the building.

Empire State Building and Top of the Rock location

View from the Empire State Floor| ©HelloTickets
View from the Empire State Floor| ©HelloTickets

Both the Empire State Building and the Top of the World are located in Midtown Manhattan, in the heart of New York City. The former is located at the intersection of 5th Avenue and West 34th Street while the latter is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, with its entrance at 50th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue.

You can get to both by walking, the cheapest and most entertaining way to see Midtown, but if you're pressed for time to see either of these attractions and need to get there as soon as possible then I recommend taking the underground.

These are the main underground lines that will take you to both observatories but if you want to know in more detail how to get to these attractions I recommend you read the posts on how to get to the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock.

Comparison of location and how to get there

  • Empire State
  • From £37
  • Address: 5th Avenue and West 34th
  • Underground lines
  • From 34th - Penn Station (1, 2, 3, A, C & E)
  • From 34th - Herald Square Station (N, Q, R, W, B, D, F and M)
  • From Grand Central Terminal (4, 5, 6 and 7)
  • Book
  • Top of the Rock
  • From £36
  • Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza
  • Underground lines
  • From 47th-50th Street Rockefeller Center (B, D, F and M lines)
  • From 49th Street (N, Q and R)
  • From 50th Street stop (line 1)
  • Book

The architecture of the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock's ground floor| ©HelloTickets
View from the Top of the Rock's ground floor| ©HelloTickets

Both the architecture of the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock are in the Art Deco style, very much in vogue during the 1930s.

It is a movement that exudes elegance and timelessness and is imbued with minimalism and sober lines. Without being an industrial style, it is characterised by the use of mosaic and geometric shapes that are repeated, parallel and straight lines as well as plain colours with an abundance of gold, black, grey, silver and white. The ornamentation is sparse without being industrial in style.

Opened in 1931, the Empire State Building was designed by architect William F. Lamb. It has been listed as a National Historic Landmark since 1986 and for nearly 40 years was the tallest building in the world. The Top of the Rock, on the other hand, was designed by architect Raymond Hood, was built in 1933 and has been listed as an American Historic Landmark since 1988.

Although Art Deco is a style that originated in France, it had a major impact on American design and architecture in the first half of the 20th century. The Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock are not the only examples of this movement in New York. They are joined by the Chrysler Building, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the American Radiator Building and the Chanin Building. That's why when we talk about the "Gotham" style it's so easy to imagine the architecture of the Big Apple.

Book your tickets for the Top of the Rock

Empire State Building and Top of the Rock timetable comparison

Inside the Top of the Rock| ©Nick Night
Inside the Top of the Rock| ©Nick Night

The Empire State is open from 8 AM to 2 AM while the Top of the Rock is open from 10 AM to 10 PM. Both are open every day of the year, so you can choose the time you want to go up.

Both observatories have very long opening hours, giving visitors the flexibility to climb to the top of the skyscrapers at almost any time of the day.

What are the crowds like?

As two very popular tourist attractions, there are always plenty of people at the observation decks enjoying the views, so if you want a more intimate experience up there, I recommend going early in the morning or before closing time. You can learn more about the best time to go up these skyscrapers in the Empire State and Top of the Rock posts on this topic.

Comparison of the Empire State and Top of the Rock observation decks

View of Time Square from the Empire State Building| ©Hellotickets
View of Time Square from the Empire State Building| ©Hellotickets

There are several similarities between the two observation decks. For example, both are two iconic New York observation decks that were built in Art Deco style in the early 20th century and are located in Midtown Manhattan with spectacular views. But what are the observation decks like, and is the experience the same at each?

If this is your first time in New York, I recommend visiting the Top of the Rock for 360º views of Manhattan with the Empire State Building in the background, something that is not possible from the Empire State Building itself.

The Top of the Rock Observatory is spread over three floors. The 67th floor is almost entirely enclosed, but the 69th and 70th floors are open to the public. In addition to breathtaking views from any part of the observation deck, this attraction also features other curious entertainment such as the Breezeway room with LED lights that move as you walk by or the Radiance Wall by artist Michael Hammers.

The Empire State Observatory is spread over two floors, the open-air Main Deck located on 86th floor and the glassed-in Top Deck located on 102nd floor. Both have fairly similar views of the New York skyline.

Book your tickets to the Empire State Building without queues

Can you eat inside the Empire State Building or at the Top of the Rock?

Mexican food at Tacombi Restaurant| ©Jessica Fiess-Hill
Mexican food at Tacombi Restaurant| ©Jessica Fiess-Hill

Seeing New York from the heights gives you an appetite. Fortunately, both the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock have restaurants inside the skyscraper where you can take a break to recharge your batteries.

Dining at the Empire State Building

Inside the Empire State Building you'll find something to suit all tastes and budgets. From Chopt' s healthy salads and Tacombi's authentic Mexican flavours to the elaborate New York-style dishes at the State Grill & Bar. However, if you want to see the Empire State illuminated before you in all its splendour at night, I recommend you leave the skyscraper to go to the rooftop 230 Fifth. It's a marvel!

Check out the post Where to eat well near the Empire State for more suggestions.

Top of the Rock's gastronomic offerings

Without leaving Rockefeller Center you can find a wide variety of restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat, such as the artisan bagels at Black Seed Bagels, the delicious sushi at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar or the delicious fried chicken with Asian-American influences at Fuku, among others.

A few floors below the Top of the Rock observation deck, at 65 30 Rockefeller Plaza, is the Sixty-Five Bar, a great place to enjoy the views with a delicious cocktail in hand.

If you want to know more about other restaurants in the area, don't miss the post Where to eat well near the Top of the Rock where you'll have more ideas.

In short: climb the Empire State Building or climb the Top of the Rock?

Inside the Empire State Building| ©Jazz Guy
Inside the Empire State Building| ©Jazz Guy
  • Empire State Building Tickets
  • Price: From 44 euros
  • Reduced rates: Yes.
  • Height: 320 metres
  • Observation deck: 86th and 102nd floors.
  • Views: Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, 5th Avenue. Hudson River, Bryant Park, etc.
  • 8 AM to 2 AM.
  • Crowds: High, especially at dusk. Lower early and late in the day.
  • Wheelchair accessible: Yes.
  • Location: Midtown Manhattan
  • Book now
  • New York Top of the Rock Observation Deck Ticket
  • Price: From 42 euros
  • Reduced rates: Yes
  • Height: 260 metres
  • Observation Deck: 67th, 69th and 70th floors.
  • Views: Empire State Building, Central Park, OWTC, Hudson River, Hudson Yards, etc.
  • 10 AM to 10 PM.
  • Crowds: High, especially at dusk. Lower early in the day.
  • Wheelchair accessible: Yes.
  • Location: Midtown Manhattan
  • Book now

How to choose according to your travel plan

New York Night View| ©George Bakos
New York Night View| ©George Bakos

It's not easy to pick just one observatory to climb as each of New York's most famous skyscrapers has a unique perspective of the city.

If you're at a crossroads and not sure which one to choose, then it's a good idea to take a look at your travel plan to help you decide. Here are some tips!

  • If it's your first time in New York: Top of the Rock (you'll have a beautiful panoramic view of the New York skyline with the Empire State Building included in the landscape, something that doesn't happen the other way around).
  • If you've been to the Big Apple more than once before: Empire State Building (it's a classic).
  • If you're on a budget: Top of the Rock
  • If you prefer a daytime view: Empire State Building
  • If you prefer the view at night: Top of the Rock (you can also see the Empire State in lights).
  • If you're short on time: Empire State (has longer opening hours)
  • If you want to see the sunset: Top of the Rock
  • If you want to take a lot of pictures of the landscape: Top of the Rock
  • If you are visiting New York in winter: Empire State (has heaters on the 86th floor outdoor viewing deck to keep you warm)
  • If you visit New York in summer: Top of the Rock (it has two open-air observation decks on the 69th and 70th floors where you can catch the breeze).