Are you planning to visit New York, and more especially to visit the Empire State Building? You've come to the right place!
In this article, you will learn all about visiting the most emblematic monument of New York City.
And even though it is no longer the tallest skyscraper in New York (not since the construction of the One World Trade Center), a visit to the Empire State Building is still a must for any stay in the Big Apple.
From the top of the building, you will see something incredible: a breathtaking view of Manhattan and all of New York.
If the activity remains relatively expensive, it is well worth the price! I explain why right now 😉
The empire State Building: a bit of history to staRT with
It was John J. Raskob, a former General Motors executive, who commissioned the construction of the Empire State Building. Following a fierce competition with the other car giant Chrysler, he wanted his building to be as tall as possible, and completed as quickly as possible too.
And he got it! At over 380 metres high (443 metres after the addition of its radio and television antenna in 1955), the Empire State Building was indeed the tallest building in New York (until 1973, when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were built) and for a long time the tallest in the world (until 1967).
The construction of this Art Deco building took just over a year. It began on 17 March 1930 and, at an average rate of 4 floors per week and with 3,400 employees, the work was completed in 1931. Its inauguration, celebrated by President Hoover from Washington, D.C., took place on 1 May 1931.
The Empire State Building has 103 floors, 73 lifts, 1,872 steps, 6,514 windows and over 10,000 offices.
My recommendation for visiting the Empire State Building 🏙️
During your stay in New York, you will normally visit a multitude of monuments and sites. That's why I can only recommend you take a tourist pass: they contain most of the main paid attractions to do in the city.
The New York CityPass, for example, allows access to 5 attractions (2 fixed and 3 to choose among a list). The Empire State Building is of course one of the attractions included in this pass – with the added bonus of it being a "double entry". You'll be able to visit twice in the same day (during the day and at night, for example). Pretty interesting, huh? 🙂
You'll also save money by taking a pass rather than buying each entry to each activity individually.
Where is the Empire State Building located? How to get there?
The Empire State Building (ESB) is located in Manhattan – in Midtown to be precise, on Fifth Avenue, near 33rd and 34th Streets.
Its exact address is: Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Avenue — New York, New York 10118.
You can get there by using the New York Subway System with lines B, D, F, M, N, Q or R. Just stop at the 34th Street Herald Square station, which is only 350 metres from the ESB.
Alternatively, you can take lines 4 or 6 and get off at 33rd Street Lexington, or lines 1, 2 o 3 and stop at 34th St Penn.
On which floor is the observatory located?
In fact, there are two observation platforms at the Empire State Building – two terraces, open to the public:
- The Main Deck, on the 86th floor (320 m high). There, you can observe the city through telescopes.
- The Top Deck, on the 102nd floor. It has a fully glazed floor.
The two platforms provide a 360º view of the city and therefore a superb panorama. The view from the 102nd floor is particularly exceptional, as it is possible to see up to 5 boroughs.
What are the Empire State Building's opening hours?
The ESB is open every day of the year from 8 am to 2 am, including public holidays.
Please note that the last lift to the observation platform goes up 45 minutes before closing time, at 1:15 am.
Please allow at least 2 hours for your visit.
When is the best time to visit the ESB Observatory?
It is impossible for me to give THE best time to visit, but you can choose between several time slots:
- In the morning before 11 a.m., when the weather is clear
You will then have an incredible view of Manhattan and its southern tip. You will also see Lower Manhattan, Downtown, SoHo, Greenwich Village and the One World Trade Center. On top of that, you will enjoy a beautiful view of Central Park, the Hudson River, the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Times Square. And in the distance, you will be able to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on your right, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on your left.
- In the afternoon, around 2 p.m. – 3 p.m.
At that time, you’ll also enjoy a bird's eye view of Bryant Park, and see the Chrysler Building and Midtown.
- At sunset
The spectacle is simply grandiose at this time, as the sky takes on a golden-red hue. Moreover, the view at night is breathtaking: the magnificent colours on the horizon, New York sparkling with a thousand lights... What good memories to make!
And there are far fewer people from 10 p.m. – 11 p.m., so there are shorter queues. Not to mention that once you're up there, you won't have to elbow your way around the platform to take nice pictures.
Finally, who wouldn't fall under the spell of a panoramic view of New York by night?
In fact, the best thing to do is to climb to the top of the ESB two or three hours before sunset. That way you can enjoy both the daytime view, see the sun set, and then see New York lit up.
Also note that from Thursday to Saturday nights, jazz bands perform at the Empire State Building from 10 pm to 1 am, making for a fun evening!
You can also visit the building on 14 February and propose to your significant other! It's a magical memory that you will be able to repeat every year thereafter, as you will now be entitled to free admission every Saint Valentine's Day!
Whatever time you visit, it will always be crowded. If you want to be sure of having a place on the day you want to visit, and if you want to limit your waiting time on site, I recommend that you book your tickets in advance. This way, your ticket will be a “no-queue” ticket, and you’ll save a lot of time!
What to do at the Empire State Building? Other activities
- The Empire State Building Museum
Access to the permanent exhibition on the construction of the Empire State Building is included in your ticket to the observatory. So don't hesitate to visit it!
Since 2019, this museum of almost 1,000 m² is located on the second floor of the building. It is open every day from 8 am to 2 am and consists of 9 galleries:
- “The Site in the 20′”: black and white vintage photographs of the site and the streets of New York in 1920;
- "Construction”: interaction with the construction workers (with audio!);
- “Opening Day”: to recapture the emotion of the little boy selling his newspapers on the street;
- “Modern Marvel”: an exhibition on the building's fittings and technological advances;
- “Otis Elevators": to discover the secrets of the building’s Otis lifts, with an original copy of the ESB’s very first lift as well as its new generation version;
- “Urban Campus": to see the view from the offices of the companies located there, as well as a glimpse of the parts that are not open to visitors;
- “World's Most Famous Building": more than 70 screens showing the Empire State Building's appearances in pop culture, from the 1930s to today (films, posters, cartoons, commercials, etc.);
- “King Kong": to visit an office from the 1930s and find yourself in the hands of the legendary King Kong (the Empire State Building has appeared in many films and series, but it was the film King Kong that really made it famous!)
- “Celebrity": a gallery with portraits of the many celebrities who have visited the Empire State Building.
- The Skyride
You can also try the "Skyride", a flight simulator that will take you virtually over New York City. Children love this attraction: they feel like they are in a helicopter flying over the busy streets of New York, over Times Square or even Central Park! This aerial tour is also very popular with adults, as it allows them to discover the architectural wonders of more than 25 tourist sites in the city.
The ride is located on the second floor of the Empire State Building and is open 365 days a year.
- The Empire State Building shop
Don't forget to go to the 80th floor, where you can enter the official ESB shop: The Store. Open every day of the week, from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., there you can buy exclusive Empire State Building items (glassware, toys, ready-to-wear, books...) as well as high-end gifts.
Finally, in the lobby of the building, many shops and restaurants await you: Tacombi, Sushi-Teria, Starbucks, Juice Press, Walgreens, Strawberry, Bank of America...
How much does it cost to visit the Empire State Building?
You can buy a ticket directly at the Empire State Building ticket office on the day of your arrival, but it is best to buy tickets in advance on the internet. This way you can avoid having to wait on site.
On the internet, all you have to do is choose a date. No need to choose a time for your visit!
On D-day, you'll juste have to go directly to the ticket control and then to the lift. You won't have to exchange your reservation for a paper ticket!
And if you want to change the date of your visit, just present your exchange voucher.
- "Basic" ticket
Access to the observatory is free for children under 6, but here is the cost of a standard ticket to the 86th floor:
- Ticket to the 86th + 102nd floors
- “VIP Express” ticket
This ticket is convenient if your stay in NY is short and you don't have time to wait in line. It is also a good idea if you plan to visit the Empire State Building on a holiday. The terraces are packed on those days!
Please note that these tickets are limited in number!
- 86th floor VIP express ticket
It is more expensive because it avoids queues: £55 for all visitors.
In fact, this ticket is not really interesting, as it will only save you a few minutes of waiting (at the ticket office, and when accessing the lifts for ticket control).
- VIP express ticket 86th + 102nd floors
Starting from £77 for all visitors.
- The "two-time entry" ticket (day/night)
With this ticket, you can visit the Empire State Building twice in one day: once during the day and once in the evening (between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.).
Children under 12yrs old
- Premium Experience Ticket 86th floor
Priced at £143 (for all visitors), this ticket includes a 90-minute guided tour with a professional, priority VIP access and a souvenir photo.
- Express ticket with access to the 86th floor and dinner at STATE Grill and Bar
With this ticket, you will have priority access to the 86th floor. Once done with your visit, you can head to the STATE Grill and Bar – the restaurant on the ground floor of the building. There you will be able to enjoy a three-course menu.
- VIP Sunrise Experience ticket
With this £102.50 ticket (for all visitors), you will be able to see the sunrise over New York City before the building even opens to the public!
Only 100 visitors per day can benefit from it and this experience is not available each and every morning. So it's best to book it beforehand, if you can!
- "Unlimited access" visit
This "red carpet" entry is offered at £409 (for all visitors) and gives access to everything.
Are there any good deals?
First of all, you should know that buying an online ticket or a pass will allow you to enter the observatory without going through the ticket office. This is therefore a time-saving way to access the observatory deck.
With a pass, you won't have to go to the ticket office, but to the "Gray Line – Citysightseeing" desk in the lobby of the building. There you can pick up your ticket and go behind the ticket office to avoid the queue.
When visiting New York for the first time, buying a pass such as the New York Pass, the New York CityPASS or the New York Explorer Pass is a real plus! Why? Because these passes will allow you to discover many must-see sites while saving money.
Admission to the Empire State Building is included in these passes, and so are many attractions: the Statue of Liberty, the MET or the Top of the Rock observatory.
The New York CityPass has the added advantage of offering a double entry: you can visit the Empire State Building twice in one day.
The pass costs £97 for adults and £82 for children aged 6 to 17.
The principle of the pass is simple: once you have bought it, you can do 6 activities during a 9-day period.
3 activities are considered mandatory (they are automatically included in the pass): the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) and the American Museum of Natural History. In any case, these are 3 emblematic and historical visits of the city, so the lack of choice is not all that annoying.
The rest of the pass is the most interesting part 🙂
You can choose from the following attractions according to your preference:
- The Guggenheim Museum OR the Top of the Rock,
- The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR a Cruise Ship,
- The 9/11 Memorial Museum OR the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Also note that with the Empire State Building tickets, you will be entitled to an audio guide in English (other languages available), so don't forget to ask for it! It will allow you to learn more about the history of the building, its construction as well as to discover some anecdotes about it. It will also tell you what to look for and in which direction.
The Empire State Building's lights
The building is also impressive to see from the outside, especially when illuminated by LED floodlights (16 million colours).
The top 30 floors of the ESB are illuminated every night. Each day has its own theme, often based on holidays throughout the year and current events in the US and around the world. Sometimes brands even privatise these lights!
On a normal night, the colour is white, but the Empire State Building gets dressed up in blue, white and red on National Day, pink and red for Valentine's Day, red and green at Christmas... If you want to understand the meaning of the colours, go to the official website of the Empire State Building.
With or without a pass or VIP ticket, there is no way to avoid security checks at the entrance to the Empire State Building!
Tripods are not allowed – but don't forget to still take a lot of pictures, especially with the incredible view of the Manhattan Skyline you will have right in front of your eyes 😄
The site is accessible to people with reduced mobility. Binoculars pointing down have been installed and assistance dogs are allowed.