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15 Things to Know BEFORE Visiting: Empire State Building Observation Deck

15 Things to Know BEFORE Visiting: Empire State Building Observation Deck

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The Empire State Building is one of the most iconic buildings in the whole world. To say it’s a must-visit while you’re in New York City is a huge understatement! 

This famous skyscraper has been featured in countless movies and tv shows, and its observation deck offers absolutely epic views of New York. Manhattan has one of the most spectacular skylines in the world, so you really can’t pass up the chance to admire it from inside the city’s most famous building. 

Plus, when you visit the Empire State Building Observation Deck, you also get to learn a lot about the history of the building, and therefore, of New York City itself!

Visiting the Empire State Building is the number one thing to do in New York City and we loved our experience, so we’ve put together this guide containing everything you need to know before you visit. 

1. About the Empire State Building

Daniel on the 86th Floor Observatory in New York City, Empire State Building
The 86th Floor!
The Hudson river sits behind the city as seen from the Empire State Building in NYC
What a view!

Today, the Empire State Building is the 7th tallest building in New York, but for almost 40 years, it was the tallest building in the world. In fact, that’s a big part of why it’s so famous. 

The Empire State Building was built on the site of the original Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and it was only going to be 50 stories tall. Plans soon changed, however, because at the time, the “race to the sky” was in full swing in New York City. Property developers were all vying to build the world’s tallest tower. 

The pressure was on, and the Empire State Building was built in just a year and 45 days! That’s fast even by today’s terms, but it was even more impressive in the 1930s! Up to 3,400 men per day worked on the building, and it was completed in 1931, winning the race to the sky.

As you can imagine, the opening ceremony for the Empire State Building was a pretty big deal. It was attended by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the future president of the United States. It was lit up via a push button all the way from Washington by the current president, Herbert C. Hoover. 

Bailey poses for a photo at the top of the Empire State Building in New York City
It’s so cool that you can step outside and enjoy the view without a glass barrier!

At the time, a lot of developers and real estate experts predicted that the Empire State Building would remain the world’s tallest building for a very long time, and they were proven right. The previous tallest buildings (the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street) had only managed to hold onto the title for a few months each, but the Empire State Building retained its title until 1971, when the World Trade Center overtook it. 

By now, you’re probably wondering how tall the Empire State Building actually is! 

It stands 102 stories tall, or 1,250 ft (380 meters). If you include the spire and antenna, it’s 1454 ft (443 meters) tall. The mast of the building was actually designed as a tethering dock for airships, but this plan was abandoned due to safety concerns. 

View through the wire fence on the 86th Floor Observatory in New York at the Empire State Building
View through the wire fence on the 86th Floor Observatory in New York at the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building has been featured in over 250 films and tv shows. The first of them all was the iconic scene in the 1933 classic King Kong, where King Kong himself climbs up to the top of the building. Some of its other famous appearances include Sleepless in Seattle and Elf, but we’d be here all day if we mentioned every single one! 

Honestly, when compared to other observation decks in New York like the Edge NYC, the Empire State Building is just so much more popular due to its history and fame. It’s no surprise that it’s one of the first stops on our recommended 5 days in NYC itinerary!

Although it’s a famous tourist attraction, most of the building is dedicated to office space. Imagine working in such an iconic building every single day! 

2. Where is the Empire State Building?

Daniel at the Museum for the Empire State Building in NYC
Entering the Empire State Building!
Daniel walks along the outdoor viewpoint on the 86th Floor Observatory in New York, Empire State Building
The 86th Floor outdoor observatory!

The Empire State Building is located in midtown Manhattan. There are several entrances, but if you want to visit the observation deck you need to enter on West 34th Street. It’s between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, so it’s in the very heart of Manhattan! 

There are several subway stations near the Empire State Building. You can take the 123 or ACE lines to Penn Station, the NQRW or BDFM lines to 34th Street Herald Square Station, or the 456 or 7 lines to Grand Central Terminal. All of these stations are within a 10-minute walk of the Empire State Building. 

3. What floors can you visit in the Empire State Building?

Views from the Empire State Building in NYC
The 102nd Floor!
A tourists looks through binoculars at the empire State building in NYC
The 86th Floor!

The first floor you’ll visit when you go to the Empire State Building is the 2nd floor, where there’s an exhibition all about the building’s construction. This is like a museum with a ton of information and even interactive exhibits.

You also get good views of the city from the 80th floor, which is a transfer floor. This is where you change elevators and there is also a small display here! However, the main event is floor 86 where you’ll find the main observation deck. You get 360 views of Manhattan from up here and on a clear day, you can see for up to 80 miles (129 km). We loved the views!

It doesn’t end at the 86th floor, though. You can go all the way up to floor 102, which is the very top of this iconic building, but you will need to pay extra for the privilege. 

Is it worth it? To be honest, not really. But one bonus is it is much quieter up there! You see, most people simply get the ticket to the 86th floor so those who want to avoid the crowds can upgrade to the 102nd floor. Don’t worry, though, you still get to see the 86th floor, as it’s included in the upgraded ticket!

4. What is better, the 86th Floor or 102nd Floor?

Stunning view of the Hudson River as seen from the Empire State Building
You get such a clear view from the outside viewing deck as your camera takes photos through the wire!

Personally, I thought that the 86th floor was better. This floor is all open with a viewing deck that you can walk all the way around the outside of the building. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better view in NYC if you ask me (unless you go on an NYC helicopter ride, that is!)

The 102nd floor of the Empire State Building is fully enclosed with glass, and the glass isn’t cleaned every day. This means that the photos you take from the 102nd floor don’t come out as nicely. 

If you’re visiting the Empire State Building on a tight budget, you won’t miss out too much by just going to the 86th floor and skipping the 102nd. If not, then it is still worth going all the way to the top. I mean, it’s not everyday that you get to visit the Empire State Building! 

I also loved seeing the city from the 80th floor, which is a transfer floor for those going to the 86th and 102nd floors. You have to change elevators because the building is too tall to have just one! 

Related Read: One of our other favorite activities in New York was the Chelsea Market Food Tour – read our full review!

5. How much does it cost to visit the Empire State Building Observation Deck? 

Bailey enjoys the view from the 86th Floor Observatory in New York at the Empire State Building
It’s a must visit!

Main Observation Deck Only (86th floor)

There are a couple of different pricing options available, but standard admission to the main observation deck costs $48 USD for adults including tax. Seniors pay a slightly lower price of $46 USD and it costs $42 USD for kids aged 6-12. Kids under 6 can go up for free! 

If you want to visit the main observation deck at sunset, prices are higher. It costs $59 USD for adults, $57 USD for seniors, or $53 USD for kids, including tax. Just be sure to select the sunset option when you book here if that’s when you want to visit.

If you’re pressed for time or just hate queuing, you can get a skip-the-line ticket to the main observation deck for $92 USD. This price applies to all age groups. 

86th and 102nd floor 

If you want to go to the 102nd floor, which is the very top of the Empire State Building, you’ll need to buy a ticket that grants you access to the 86th and 102nd floors. This costs $86 USD for adults, $84 for seniors, and $80 for kids. 

Or if you want to go all out and visit both observation decks at sunset, it costs $93 for adults, $91 for seniors, and $89 for kids. 

A skip-the-line pass for both floors costs $119 USD per person for all visitors or $132 USD at sunset. You can view all ticket options, time slots available, and book online here!

Money Saving Tip – Some of NYC’s best attractions unfortunately aren’t free. But that doesn’t mean you have to blow your budget to see them! We purchased a New York City attraction pass during our visit and it helped us save 30-40% on admission fees to top attractions like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. There are a few different options, but the top three are the New York CityPASS®, the New York Pass, and the New York Explorer Pass by Go City.

6. Do you need to purchase tickets in advance?

New York City as seen from the Empire state Building
Books are essential!

Yes, you have to make a reservation to visit the Empire State Building. You don’t need to do it months in advance, but you have to book a time slot in order to go up to the observation deck. You need to show up at your selected time slot, but there will be queues, although they usually move pretty quickly.

This rule is in place because there’s a limit to how many people can go up at a time. It helps to keep things organized and ensures that you don’t have to wait for hours and hours, so we think it’s a good system. 

Plus, it doesn’t limit you either. You can book your time slot right at the last minute, right before you go. The time slots are every 15 minutes, so you can still be flexible. 

7. Is the skip-the-line ticket worth it? 

Crowd of toursits enjoy the view from the 86th Floor Observatory in New York at the Empire State Building in NYC
It is a busy place!

Personally, I don’t think so. 

We bought skip-the-line tickets and to be fair, we did get up to the observation deck faster than we would have with standard admission. However, we saw that the line was moving pretty fast and so we didn’t think it was really worth the money. I think that we probably only saved about 15 minutes in total! 

With that being said, the Empire State Building does get super busy on weekends and so if you’re short on time, or just have little patience, you might want to consider it. But during the week, I say save your money and just book the standard ticket on Viator.

8. When is the Empire State Building Observation Deck open?

View of Manhattan from the Empire State Building in New York City
View of Manhattan from the Empire State Building in New York City

The Empire State Building Observation Deck is open from 9 am until midnight, 365 days per year. Yup, you could even head up on Christmas Day! 

The last time slot that you can book is at 11:45 pm each day, but the entry doors close at 11:15 pm, so you’ll need to get there early. 

There is even a sunset ticket option you can see here.

9. When is the best time to visit the Empire State Building Observation Deck? 

86th Floor Observatory in New York view of the city
Is there a better way to see NYC?
Bailey looks through the Binoculars on the 86th floor of the Empire State building viewpoint
Be sure to take advantage of the binoculars!

It’s best to get an early slot to visit the Empire State Building because there are fewer people around and you get the best light for photos. Or, it tends to quieten down after the midday rush at around 3 pm in the afternoon before getting busy again at sunset, so late afternoon is a good time to go. 

If you do plan to go at sunset, consider getting the sunset skip-the-line ticket which you can get on Viator by selecting your date and number of guests. It’s one of the busier times!

However, visiting the Empire State Building Observation Deck at night can also be a magical experience because you get to see New York City lit up after dark. It really is breathtaking, and if you go at around 9:30 to 10 pm you won’t spend very long queuing, either.

Truthfully, any time of day is a good time to go!

Related Read: For another amazing vantage point in NYC, consider going on a helicopter ride over Manhattan – it really is a bucket list activity!

10. Facilities at the Empire State Building Observation Deck?

Statue of men working at the Empire State Building museum
The museum is really cool!
Museum display the the Empire State Building in New York City
It’s so scary how they built sky scrappers back then!

Museum

The 2nd and 80th floors of the Empire State Building are transfer floors, and both are home to exhibits where you can learn more about the building and its history. There are exhibits about the construction process, the race to the sky, and even take selfies with statues of construction workers. 

You can also learn about the opening day of the building, which was a major event, and learn all about the sustainability measures in place. We also really liked the surround-sound theater section which shows scenes from tv shows, video games, commercials, and movies that feature the Empire State Building. It just goes to show how iconic this building really is. 

You can also pose with King Kong’s giant hands, which is pretty fun!

Bathrooms

There are bathrooms on the 2nd floor, but once you head up in the elevator the only bathrooms are the 86th floor. You won’t find any on the 102nd floor. The bathrooms are wheelchair accessible, and very clean, so there’s nothing to worry about there. 

Bailey poses for a photo at the entrance to the Empire State Building official store
Get your souvenirs here!
Gift shop at the Empire State Building in NYC
The store is a little overwhelming!

Official Store

If you want to buy bona-fide Empire State Building merch, this is the place to do it. They’ve got everything from clothing to artwork and even jewelry. It’s a good place to buy souvenirs and you can pick up some really cute holiday ornaments here, too. You’ll find the gift shop on the 2nd floor, which is one of the transfer floors.

11. How long do you need to visit the Empire State Building Observation deck?

Bailey poses for a photo at a display on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building in NYC
You can spend a while here!
Bailey poses for a photo on the 86th Floor Observatory in New York at the Empire State Building in New York City
It’s hard to stop taking photos!

We recommend allowing 2-3 hours for your visit. There can be long lines. They do appear to move pretty quickly, but it still may take a while to get to the top. Plus, it’s nice to take a proper look at all of the exhibitions and learn about the history of the building on your way up to the top. 

Once you get to the top, you get a 360-degree view so you’ll want plenty of time to walk around the building, snap photos, and take in the stunning view of one of the world’s most incredible skylines. This definitely isn’t the kind of experience you want to rush. 

12. What is the New York CityPASS®? 

View of New York City downtown Manhattan from the Empire State Buildings in NYC
The city pass can save you tons of money!

The New York CityPASS® is a pass that includes admission to the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, and three other top attractions. So basically, it can be a great way to save money if you’re planning on doing a lot of sightseeing in New York City! 

There are a couple of different types of sightseeing passes similar to this that you can get in New York, but we think that the New York CityPASS is the best one because it’s valid for 9 consecutive days, so you don’t have to try to cram everything in at once. 

Plus, at $138 USD it’s really great value for money. It covers your admission to the Empire State Building Observation Deck and the American Museum of Natural History, and then you can choose 3 of the following attractions, too: 

If you make the most of your pass, you could save 30-40% of your admission fees while you’re in the city, so it’s definitely worth doing. It also means that you don’t need to queue up at ticket booths on the day of your visit. 

You can purchase your New York CityPass and read all the details about it online here!

Related Read: Another sightseeing pass option is The New York Pass which includes 100+ activities including the Empire State Building. Our review on if the New York Pass is worth it breaks it all down!

13. Is the Empire State Building Observation Deck wheelchair friendly?

City views from the Empire State Building in NYC
yes it is!

Yes, it is. Both motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs are permitted, and service dogs are allowed inside too. The main observation deck on the 86th floor has lowered viewing walls and binoculars, and the bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. There are also ramps throughout the building to help wheelchair users get around. 

14. Is the Empire State Building Observation Deck suitable for children?

Daniel on the King Kong display at the Empire State Building in New York City
The King Kong display!
View of Downtoan Manhattan from the Empire State Building in NYC
Kids love the experience!

Yes! It’s a great attraction for families in NYC. Kids love the experience and the museum, which is fun and interactive. 

The only thing to note is that kids might get a little scared in the elevator because it moves pretty quickly and your ears can pop during the ride. Plus, they play a film inside that makes it feel as though it’s moving even faster than it really is. But other than that, the Empire State Building Observation Deck is very child-friendly! 

15. Is visiting the Empire State Building Observation Deck worth it?

Views of New York City and the Hudson River as seen from the Empire State Building in NYC
Yes!

Yes! 

The Empire State Building is so incredible, and probably the most iconic symbol of New York City. Plus, it has a really interesting history and the views from the top are some of the best city views you’ll ever see. 

Visiting the Empire State Building is about so much more than just going to an observation deck (although it is one of the best observation decks in NYC). It’s a whole experience, and I absolutely loved it from start to finish! 

Get your tickets and book your time slot for the Empire State Building online here!

Related Read: While in town, another worthwhile experience is going on a dinner cruise in New York – seeing the city from the Hudson River is spectacular!

Other Things to do While You’re in New York City

Daniel with his pizza at the Chelsea Market on our food tour
This was one of the best slices we tried in NYC!
bailey walks along the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City
A must-do!

As the biggest city in the USA, there is no shortage of things to do in New York! I mean you could spend weeks here and still not see a fraction of what the Big Apple has to offer. But if you only have a few days and want to see the highlights, these are other top attractions and activities we highly recommend checking out.  

  • Eat pizza! – New York was home to the first pizzeria in the US way back in the early 1900s and it’s still something this city is known for. I dare say the pizza here is legendary! Top pizza joints include John’s of Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, Prince Street Pizza in Nolita, and we also loved 2 Bros Pizza. You can even eat pizza (and lots of other treats!) on a food tour of Chelsea Market which is a foodie’s paradise!
  • Visit Central Park – Likely you’ve seen this famous park in movies, so it’s a must while you’re here. Central Park is huge with great spots like a historic carousel, Belvedere Castle, and even a skating rink in the winter. Feel like you’re starring in a rom-com with this horse and carriage ride. It’s 45 minutes around Central Park and a fantastic way to cover more ground in style.
  • Fly above NYC – Exploring on the ground is fun, but to truly appreciate the New York skyline, take to the air! Joining a helicopter flight in NYC gives you a front-row seat (or hopefully a window seat!) to all the iconic sights like the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty. We chose this 15-minute helicopter flight that flew over Manhattan and it was a highlight, if not THE highlight of our whole trip!

Where to Stay in New York City

Bailey with her luggage in New york City
Ready to check in!

New York City is huge – there is just no other way to put it! Even Manhattan (the area you’ll want to base yourself in) is a lot bigger than you think. That’s why choosing the right hotel in the right location is so important during your stay in New York.

Below, we’ve simplified it all for you by choosing a couple of the very best hotels available in the city. All three of these options have ideal locations close to attractions and the subway system. They all have amazing reviews, too, so just choose the one in your budget category and you’ll be ready to pack your bags!

Motto by Hilton – $$$

Motto by Hilton is a gorgeous hotel located in the Chelsea neighborhood only 600 meters from the Flatiron Building and close to the famous Chelsea Market. The hotel features modern decor that has “speakeasy vibes”. In fact, they have a beautiful bar onsite that looks like the perfect place to sip an Old Fashioned. There are a variety of rooms on offer including some that are a little more budget-friendly, and some that are pure luxury with city views! Prices start from about $400 USD per night plus tax.

You can check prices and availability for Motto by Hilton online here!

Delta Hotels by Marriott New York Times Square – $$

Delta Hotels by Marriott New York Times Square is where we stayed the last time we visited New York, and honestly, we loved it! This hotel is the perfect combination of comfort and value for money. It was clean, modern, and our room had all of the amenities we needed for an enjoyable stay (air conditioning, k-cup coffee maker, steamer, large shower, big windows, etc). Plus, the location is ideal – it’s only a couple blocks from Times Square!

Prices do range, but they do go as low as $200 USD per night plus tax depending on the time of year and day of the week. You can check prices and book online here!

Nap York Central Park Sleep Station – $

For those traveling on a tight budget, Nap York is a budget hostel that’s an ideal choice. Although affordable, this property is immaculate and offers a ton of amenities for a great stay including air conditioning and a shared kitchen. The rooms are modern and the location is about as central as it gets! This property only offers dorm rooms, but they are affordable at as little as $150 USD per night.

You can check prices and book Nap York online on either Booking.com or Hostelworld

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie on the 86th Floor Observatory in New York
Thanks for reading!

The Empire State Building really is one of those iconic New York attractions. We hope that this blog has helped you prepare for your visit. We think you will love it!

Be sure to browse around our blog a little more before you go. We have lots of other articles about travel in the USA including a couple of related reads below:

The BEST Food Tours in New York City

Review of the Bateaux NYC Premier Dinner Cruise

New York Explorer Pass by Go City – Is it worth it?

What you NEED to KNOW about the Edge NYC Observation Deck

Don

Tuesday 26th of September 2023

I would like to add that the Empire State Building 86th floor is worth visiting even for those really scared of heights. This is because of it's fame and how important an attraction it is. The building only sways at most about 2 inches at the very top in hurricane force winds of 120 mph and there is a high fence on the observation deck. The deck also has an indoor section with the windows only going partway down.

destinationlesstravel

Tuesday 26th of September 2023

Hey Don,

Thanks so much for adding that!

Thanks Daniel