The Ultimate Guide to the Empire State Building Experience

October 24, 2016

Get ready to discover everything you need to know about an Empire State Building tour, from reserving tickets to when to visit.

Signature to the New York City skyline, the Empire State Building is one of the most popular attractions in Manhattan. If you’re a tourist in New York City, it’s bound to be on your itinerary – it’s almost sacrilege for it not to be. The iconic landmark has sweeping views of the city, easily providing the quintessential New York moment.

City View from The Empire State Building at Night - NYC, New York, USA

Before You Go

Why are the views atop the Empire State Building so grand? With a location at 34th and 5th, the skyscraper is squarely in the middle of it all. Empire State Building observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors place you high above the spectacular sprawl of the island. And people love it! Which is why you can expect crowds and lines at the attraction. Purchase tickets in advance for your Empire State Building tour. You’ll avoid the lines at the ticket area and be able to go directly to the security line. If you want to bypass all of the lines (except security), purchase an Express ticket ($50). Depending on the time you visit, it can be worth it.

An audio tour, free with Empire State Building tickets, will describe various parts of the museum you queue through. If you don’t purchase the Express pass, the audio tour is a helpful way to pass time in line.

night view of nyc from the top of the empire state building

Views for Days

The 86th floor observatory, at a height of 1,050 feet, is reached by a lightning-fast elevator ride. A glass enclosed area is where you arrive, but the main attraction is outside. Even during the winter months, you’ll want to brave the wind and cold for the views from this perch. No matter what time you go, there are crowds. Each time I’ve been, though, everyone has been rather polite (shocking, I know) regarding viewing space and picture taking. For an even higher look at the city, purchase Empire State Building tour tickets that include access to the 102nd floor. Not only are the views more dramatic, there are less people and better photo opportunities.

When to Visit

For my money, the best time for an Empire State Building tour is at dusk. Watching the sun set over the city is magical. Pink and orange hues paint the sky, turning amber in their boldness before dark overtakes them. City lights sparkle against the sight, turning brighter as night finally sets in. The glow of the city is mesmerizing; it’s the stuff movies are made of, literally. You can easily see why romance and this landmark go hand-in-hand, which is why gazing at the city with your sweetheart by your side is definitely recommended. Once at the top, you can stay for as long as you like. In fact, the Empire State Building prides itself on staying open late. So, visitors can take in views of the city that never sleeps as late as 2:00am. (The last elevator up is at 1:15am.)

Once you’re finished with the panoramic vista from the top, be sure to admire the Empire State Building from the ground. During the day, the steely art-deco architecture beams against the skyline. At night the top 30 floors illuminate the black night. Since 1976, the colors have changed to mark holidays, special events, and organizations.

How to Get There

You can’t miss the Empire State Building. Make your way towards midtown Manhattan via the B, D, F, M, N, Q, or R train to 34th street. From there, all you need to do is look up and you’ll find your way.

Address: 350 Fifth Ave at 34th Street
Subway: B, D, F, M, N, Q, R to 34th Street-Herald Square
Operating Hours: 8:00am-2:00am; last elevator up at 1:15am
Price: 86th Floor observation deck: Adult $27/Child $21, with 102nd deck: Adult $44/Child $38

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