A visit to the Top of the Rock, in the heart of Rockefeller Center, is an MUST-SEE stop on any first trip to New York!
Why? Simply because it is from the platforms of this observatory that you will get one of the most beautiful views of New York!
So, if you too are lucky enough to be able to visit "the Rock" one day, read the article below: it will allow you to learn a lot about the building. It will tell you how the tour works, the best times to go there, and also how much the tickets cost. I'll even give you a few tips at the end!
Top of the Rock: A bit of history
Top of the Rock is the observatory on the top three floors of the "Comcast Building" (formerly known as the "GE Building" from 1988 to 2015, and before that as the "RCA Building" from 1933 to 1988). It is a 1933 Art Deco skyscraper located in Rockefeller Center – which itself is a 19-building complex built by the Rockefeller family.
Main attraction of the complex (hundreds of thousands of tourists climb to the top every year), Top of the Rock is the tallest building in Rockefeller Center. Its construction required more than 100 million dollars!
Its architecture is special: three panoramic terraces have been created at the top (260 metres above sea level) on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors. From these terraces, you get an unobstructed view of the whole city, allowing you to take pictures of many of New York's mythical places.
The Top of the Rock Observatory was closed in 1986 to renovate the Rainbow Room restaurant (renovation cost: $75 million), located 5 floors below. It reopened in 2005.
Which view from the observatory?
It will take you less than a minute to reach the top. The climb is spectacular because it is done in glass lifts. And with the spectacle of the laser lights through the ceiling (also made of glass), you'll barely have time to enjoy the show before you're at the top!
The Top of the Rock Observatory has 3 open-air terraces, on 3 levels. The first two terraces are glassed in (with a view of Downtown or Uptown respectively), but the 3rd floor, which is accessed by a small staircase, offers a perfectly clear view of both Uptown and Downtown. You'll feel like you're on top of the world!
Once at the top, you can see all of Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge and therefore Brooklyn, but also New Jersey and Queens. You will see the Chrysler Building, the Hudson River and even Central Park (although the view will be less clear), Times Square and even the Empire State Building!
As the monument is very well known and visited by tourists all year round, I strongly advise you to get your tickets as soon as possible to make sure you’ll be able to go up on the day of your choice!
Top of the Rock or Empire State Building?
In my opinion, if you have to choose, visiting the Top of the Rock is more enjoyable than visiting the Empire State Building. Why?
1)The first reason (which I just mentioned!) is that from Top of the Rock, you can get a great view of the Empire State Building!
2) Secondly, you will also have a great view of all of Manhattan.
3) The Empire State Building’s platform is rather narrow, so it can feel more confining on the One World Observatory. On Top of the Rock, on the other hand, thanks to the large outdoor terraces, there is more room! Visitors are less crowded together.
And anyway, there are always fewer people at the Top of the Rock!
4) From the highest terrace of the Top of the Rock, there is no glass or railings (though the 2 lower levels have windows), so you will have a completely unobstructed, 360° view of New York. This is an additional advantage for taking photos at night.
Note that the transparency of the plexiglass windows on the first two levels is not really a problem – you just have to play with the reflections. It's still more practical than wedging your camera through railings (like those on the Empire State Building).
Plus, there are slots between the glass panels where you can wedge your camera – of course, you'll have to wait your turn to access them and take some nice pictures.
5) As with the Empire State Building, you can opt for a ticket that offers two tours in one day.
6) The Top of the Rock tour is included in all New York City passes.
Of course, if you have the opportunity (i.e. time and budget) to do both the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building, don't hesitate! Indeed, since the two observatories are located in different places, you will be able to contemplate different panoramic views.
I advise you to go up to the Top of the Rock early in the morning, and to the Empire State Building at nightfall.
Having said that, if you're still hesitating, I have an article dedicated to the comparison of New York observation platforms with even more details/information. I'll let you refer to it 🙂
When is the best time to go?
The three floors of the observatory are always very busy, but if you go very early in the morning (as soon as it opens) you can avoid the queues. The best part is that you will get to take pictures of New York as the city slowly wakes up. The sun (which will be at your back) will illuminate the Empire State Building and the southern tip of Manhattan.
In the afternoon, the Empire State Building will be backlit, but Central Park will be very well lit.
At sunset, you'll be able to take some unique photos, and you'll be treated to some incredible colours! And after dark, it will be a festival of twinkling lights!
The twilight visit is the most popular time, so make sure you get there at least an hour before dark!
If you want to enjoy two different views, opt for a 'double entry' ticket: you will then visit the observatory once during the day, and then a second time when night has fallen.
What are the different tickets available?
Where to buy tickets?
You can buy your tickets at the Top of the Rock box office (do it early, for if there are too many people, you may be told to come back later!) but also online.
If you buy online, print out your ticket or scan the QR code on your phone, and present it when you arrive at the venue (automated kiosk). Please note that if you buy online, you will be entitled to a skip-the-line ticket, but you will also be able to change your ticket’s time slot, or upgrade said ticket, at any time.
Seniors (62 +)
Admission is free for children under 6 years old.
VIP Access Ticket
This $75 (about £57) ticket gives you:
- priority access to the lift,
- priority screening by security,
- 20% discount on all products sold in the gift shop.
Rockefeller Center Guided Tour Ticket
With this $25 ticket, you will learn all about the Rockefeller Center (architecture, history, culture). Tours are given in English every half hour from 10 am to 7:30 pm.
You will be provided with headphones, so you can follow the guide's comments at your leisure.
If you also want to go up to the observatory, you will need to buy a $52 Rock Pass.
Sunset Tour Ticket
If you want to visit the observatory at the end of the day, you will need to pay $10 on top of your normal admission ticket.
Sun & Stars Ticket
You can upgrade a normal admission ticket/sunset visit ticket to a Sun and Stars ticket. This will allow you to make a first visit during the day then return at sunset.
The cost is $56 for an adult and $45 for a child.
If you are not sure of the day of your visit, opt for a "flexible" ticket. You’ll just have to exchange it for a fixed date ticket at the entrance.
Are there any good deal?
To save some money, opt for one of New York’s Tourist Passes. If you're planning to visit several of New York's must-see sights, this is the best way to do it!
With the New York CityPASS, you can visit 6 of New York's top attractions for $132/adult and $108/child. You will save 44% on the normal admission price and you will also be able to see:
- the Statue of Liberty,
- Ellis Island,
- the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET),
- the American Museum of Natural History,
- the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
With the New York Pass (which lets you choose from over 80 attractions) and the New York Explorer Pass (49 attractions), you'll save up to 50%. And you can also choose the number of days the pass will be valid.
These passes will give you priority access, but note that you'll waste even less time if you remember to pick a time slot in advance, during your purchase of the ticket, for example.
You will simply need to exchange your pass for a ticket before you can enter.
Where is Top of the Rock located?
Rockefeller Center is located in the heart of Manhattan. The Top of the Rock observation deck is located atop the Comcast Building.
Top of the Rock’s main entrance is on 50th Street, between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue.
The exact address is: Top of the Rock: Comcast Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112.
How do I get there?
By underground, take the B, D, F and M lines and get off at the 47th-50th Streets — Rockefeller Center station (you will arrive in the shopping centre below Rockefeller Center). You can also take the E and M lines and get off at the 5 av/53rd st station.
What are the visiting hours?
Top of the Rock is open every day of the year from 8 am to midnight, regardless of weather conditions.
However, for safety reasons, some areas of the observatory may be closed temporarily. Tickets are non-refundable, but you may return another time.
Opening hours vary on:
- Christmas Eve: 8 am - 10 pm
- New Year's Eve: 8 am - 10 pm
- New Year's Eve: 10 am - 12:30 am.
Please note that the first lift goes up at 8 am and the last one at 11:15 pm.
How long does a visit take?
Once you're on top, you can stay as long as you like (all day if you feel like it). Most visitors usually stay between 45 minutes and an hour.
However, before you can get to the top, expect between 30 minutes (outside peak hours) and two hours (during peak hours) of waiting time.
Top of the Rock is organised on 3 levels and can accommodate up to 500 people at a time.
It is accessible to people with reduced mobility (lifts to platforms, equipped toilets) and guide dogs are allowed.
Folding prams are also allowed.
Where to eat?
Food and drink are not allowed on the viewing platforms, but Rockefeller Center is full of places to eat before or after your visit.
There is even a restaurant at the top where you can dine with a breathtaking view! It's also a great place for an unforgettable tête-à-tête!
What else can you do on site?
Once in the building, admire the art-deco style of the lobby decoration (it's free), but also the murals and the bas-reliefs. After that, check out the Mezzanine exhibit, which tells the story of the Top of the Rock and Rockefeller Center. There are also many statues to discover within the complex (Atlas, Prometheus...).
In winter, don't miss the ice rink installed on Rockefeller Plaza (from November) and the famous Christmas tree of course (from early December)! Also, if you have the chance, don't forget to go and see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular – the end of year show at Radio City Music Hall.
Finally, throughout the year, you can shop in the hall. There are over 100 shops in Rockefeller Center (chief among them the Lego and Nintendo shops) and a host of visitor services (health and beauty, banking, etc.).
The Rockefeller Center complex, which covers 9 hectares, is mainly made up of offices, but there you’ll also find NBC studios, the famous Radio City Music Hall and Christie's auction house.
My tips for visiting Top of the Rock
- To get the most out of your visit to Top of the Rock, remember to prepare it well before your trip to New York.
- Download the free Top of the Rock app (for iPhone and Android). This app will give you access to an audio tour (also free). This guide will also show you the best viewpoints and how to get there.
- Don't forget to take your camera with you! Note however, that professional video cameras and tripods are not allowed, and selfie poles are only tolerated so long as you don't disturb anyone.
- There is free wifi on site.
- Think about souvenir photos:
- Take the traditional photo with your finger poking the top of the Empire State Building.
- Re-enact the famous scene from the photograph "Breakfast at the Top of a Skyscraper" of workers having lunch with their feet up (1932). A special area has been set up for this purpose, so don’t hesitate!
And this concludes my article. Hope this answered all your questions!