Skip to Content

How To Visit The Empire State Building In New York City

How To Visit The Empire State Building In New York City

The Empire State Building is arguably the most famous building in the entire world. At the time of completion in 1931, this iconic structure stood as the world’s tallest building and held the title for almost 40 years.

A visit to New York City is not complete with out experiencing the original NYC observation deck. This travel guide will tell you everything you need to know when visiting the Empire State Building.

But why should you trust us about the Empire State Building?

Well, because when we lived in New York City in 2021, we visited the Empire State Building on three separate occasions and at various times of the day. Our experience gave us great perspective about the best time to visit because we visited both during the day and at night.

Here’s how we will help you plan your trip to the Empire State Building:

  • What is the Empire State Building and how to get there
  • Empire State Building tickets options
  • A photo walkthrough and detailed explanation for all 4 floors
  • Best time to visit and tips for your visit
  • Final thoughts with pros and cons

Now, let’s climb to the top of the Empire State Building!

*Please note this post may contain affiliate links. If you click on one, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! Read more in our disclosure policy.*

What Is The Empire State Building?

The Empire State Building is a famous 102-story skyscraper located in Midtown Manhattan. The name was derived from the nickname of New York state, the Empire State.

Today, the Empire State Building (ESB) is the 4th tallest building in NYC and the 6th tallest in the United States. But it still holds a strong reputation as one of the best and oldest observation decks in the city.

Manhattan skyscraper street view with Empire State Building
Street view of the Empire State Building

How Tall Is The Empire State Building?

The top floor of the ESB reaches a height of 1,250 ft (381m) while the spire and antenna stretch to an impressive 1,454 feet (443 meters). To visit the 102nd floor observatory, you would have to climb a total of 1,872 steps.

In addition to the observation decks, the Empire State Building is home to shops and restaurants on the ground floor. The ESB is such a large complex, it even has its own zip code (10118).

When Was The Empire State Building Built?

The Empire State Building was built from 1930 to 1931. Without going into much detail so you can learn from the exhibits when you visit, the Empire State Building was completed in a record breaking 410 days.

The story of the construction is quite remarkable for this time period. The architects, Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates, planned to construct the first building to be over 100 stories tall.

Builders, Starrett Bros. & Eken, made it their goal to rise the framework a whopping 4.5 stories per week. On May 1st, 1931 President Hoover pressed a button in Washington D.C. to officially turn on the lights for the first time.

It is easy to see why the Empire State Building quickly became a popular attraction in Midtown Manhattan.

Empire State Building view with Macy's storefront in foreground
Empire State Building and Macy’s storefront view

Where Is The Empire State Building?

The Empire State Building is located at the heart of Manhattan on 34th St and 5th Ave.

Empire State Building Address: 20 W 34th St., New York, NY 10001

Click here for the Google Maps location.

Head southwest through Manhattan, passing Times Square and Bryant Park as far as W 34th Street to find New York City’s historic landmark and centerpiece.

The enormous Empire State Building is squashed tightly between 34th and 33rd streets / 5th and 6th avenues.

Access to the building entrance is on W 34th Street, half way between 5th and 6th avenues. Make sure to look up when you arrive and take in the looming views from the street.

How To Get To The Empire State Building

You can get to the Empire State Building in many different ways.

Subway

  • 1, 2, 3 and A, C, E lines: Take the train to 34st Street – Penn Station. It will be about a 5 minute walk from Penn Station.
  • N, Q, R, W and B, D, F, M lines: Take the train to 34th Street – Herald Square Station. It will be about a 5 minute walk from Herald Square Station.
  • 4, 5, 6 and 7 lines: Take the train to Grand Central Terminal. It will be about a 10 min walk from Grand Central Terminal.

NYC Bus

  • W 34 St and 5th Ave: QM10, QM12, QM15, QM16, QM17
  • 5th Ave and W 34 Street: BxM7, BxM18, X27, X28, X37, and X38

You can also arrive by Uber, Lyft or taxi but this might not be the most cost effective option.

Ticket machines at the Empire State Building
Ticketing machines onsite the Empire State Building

Empire State Building Tickets

You will need a ticket to visit the Empire State Building and there are two main ticket options. But if you choose to visit during a sunset time slot, tickets will be an additional $10 each.

Each ticket type will also include entry to the exhibits located on the 2nd and 80th floors. The main decision you need to make is what floor you want to visit.

  • Main Deck: 86th Floor Observatory – Includes access to the open-air observatory on the 86th floor. Online tickets begin at $44 for adults and $38 for children (6-12) for day time tickets.
  • Top Deck: 102nd and 86th Floor Observatories – Includes access to both the open-air observatory on the 86th floor and the indoor platform on the 102nd floor. Online tickets begin at $77 for adults and $71 for children (6-12) for day time tickets.

How To Buy Empire State Building Tickets

There are many ways to purchase Empire State Building tickets. Compare prices on each platform before purchasing.

You can buy directly from the official Empire State Building website or onsite at the Empire State Building.

Or you can purchase an entry ticket through:

Click on the links to compare reviews and prices for each platform.

We visited the Empire State Building with our New York CityPASS. If this is your first visit to NYC and you are planning to visit the top attractions in New York, this pass is our top recommendation.

The New York CityPASS is a bargain when it comes to the Empire State Building because your pass will let you visit the ESB both during the day and at night on the same day without an extra cost.

If you are a returning visitor to NYC, you might also consider a New York Sightseeing Pass or a Go City New York Pass.

Read our detailed comparison to the New York attractions passes to help you decide which pass you should purchase for your visit to the Big Apple.

Travel Tip: If you have a New York attraction pass, you will not have to pay the extra $10 for a sunset time slot.

Woman waiting in line to have her photo taken at a NYC observation deck
Kristen waiting in line to take a photo at one of the exhibits

Reserve Your Time Slot

No matter how you purchase your tickets, we recommend you buy your tickets online in advance. Sunset time slots at the Empire State Building are extremely popular and can sell out extremely quickly.

If you are using one of the New York attraction passes, you will be able to reserve your time slot in advance or the pass will grant you instant entry.

Special Experiences At Empire State Building

In addition to the two main ticket options mentioned previously in this guide, the ESB also offers tours and special occasion experiences.

  • All Access Tour: This tour is for those who want to visit the ESB like a VIP while sipping champagne. Your visit will begin through the building’s private entrance starting with the celebrity green room and then you will be led through the ESB by your own personal ambassador. 
  • The Premium Experience: This exclusive 90 minute tour is led by an ESB observatory ambassador and is limited to 7 people per group. You will receive priority access as well as a complimentary photograph.
  • Express Pass: Bypass the lines and use the red carpet access directly up to the 86th and the 102nd observation decks. You can purchase tickets for just the 86th or both the 86th and 102nd floor.
  • Sunrise With Starbucks: Experience sunrise atop the ESB from an exclusive vantage point on the 86th floor and avoid the crowds.
  • AM / PM Experience – This ticket will give you access to the ESB twice in one day. You can visit during the day and then later at night to the sparkle of the city lights in Manhattan.
  • Happily Ever Empire – Planning on proposing? Use this VIP proposal package to show your loved one how much they mean to you.
Man taking a photo of an iconic black and white photograph
Mark taking a photo of an old black and white photograph

Things To Do At The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is open 365 days a year from 10:00am-12:00am. This includes all holidays and rain or shine.

Below we will show you exactly what to expect for your visit along with a complete photo walk through of each floor and exhibit.

Ticket Entrance And Security

As you enter the ESB, you will have to pass through a security and ticket line. But if you have already purchased your ticket online, you can bypass this ticket line.

It is important to note the Empire State building also runs on a one way system so once you have passed through a section, you will not be permitted to go back. The only exception to this is the sunrise ticket.

You will also have the chance to snap a photo as you walk up to the second floor with a large image of the ESB. Ask the group behind you to take a photo and do the same for them.

Before you visit the observation deck on the 86th floor, you will be directed to informational exhibits on both the 2nd and 80th floors. These exhibits are open to all ticket holders.

Woman posing for a photo with King Kong
Kristen being pulled away by King Kong

2nd Floor Exhibits

We can tell you from experience, the exhibits at the Empire State building are the best out of all New York’s observation decks.

Take your time as you wander through both of these floors. Here you will learn about the construction of the ESB as well as the history of New York.

On the 2nd floor, there are a total of nine exhibits. You can opt to download the free self-guided audio tour when onsite with the free Wifi at ESB.

Below you will find the exact order of the exhibits on the 2nd floor of the Empire State Building:

  • The Site In The 1920s: This black and white photograph shows the original building site where the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel originally stood.
  • Construction: Sit next to some of the construction workers as you learn about what it took to build the ESB. You will be thrown right into the action and surrounded by iron workers.
  • Opening Day: This exhibit explores many newspaper prints and images from opening day of the ESB.
  • Modern Marvel: Lean how the ESB leads the way in sustainability and energy efficiency.
  • Otis Elevators: This area features a model of the ESB’s original mast car along with stories about present day technology.
  • Urban Campus: This exhibit explores some of the workplaces, amenities and the hidden views of the ESB.
  • World’s Most Famous Building: This surround-sound theater showcases where the ESB has been featured in the media over the years.
  • Kong: Step inside King Kong’s hands as he grabs the side of the ESB. You may even feel the building shake.
  • Celebrity: Many A-list celebrities have experienced the ESB and this exhibit includes many photographs from these famous visitors.
Man smiling and riding the elevator at the Empire State Building
Mark riding the elevator at the Empire State Building

Elevator Experience

After the exhibits on the 2nd floor, it is now time to ride the main elevator. A large classy elevator will transport you to the 80th floor of the Empire State Building in less than one minute.

As the elevator gains elevation, so does an animated movie of the ESB being constructed around you. Familiar New York accents from construction workers swinging on metal beams and tossing hot rivets into the air surround you on the way up.

View once outside the elevator on the 80th floor
80th floor of the Empire State Building

80th Floor Exhibits

Once you walk out of the elevator, you are now on the 80th floor. You will walk past a small observatory area with windows, but don’t worry, the best views are yet to come.

There are many more exhibits for you to experience on this floor. This is the exact order of the exhibits on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building:

  • NYC Above And Beyond: In partnership with NYC & Company, this interactive exhibit helps you plan a New York City itinerary.
  • Artistry In Light: This exhibit features a short film about the ESB’s famous light shows and how they are created.
  • Stephen Wiltshire’s Drawing: British artist, Stephen Wiltshire took a 45-minute helicopter ride over New York City in 2017 and then drew the entire skyline from memory.
  • Scenes of NYC: Peak through ESB’s classic viewfinders to see panoramic views of New York City.

After you finished the last exhibit on the 80th floor, a standard elevator then takes you 6 floors up to the open air 360 degree viewing platform 86th floor.

Man taking a photo through metal fencing at a NY observation deck
Mark taking a photo from the 86th floor

Main Deck: 86th Floor Observatory

At last, you will arrive to the crescendo of the Empire State Building, the main observation deck. This floor provides you with both an outdoor and indoor viewing platform with 360-degree views.

A metal diamond shaped mesh fence surrounds the observation platform with a large enough space to get unobstructed photographs.

Several viewfinders are located on the outside viewing area and point directly at many of NYC’s famous landmarks.

The 86th floor is square shaped with a fairly narrow observation deck, which means it gets tightly packed during peak times.

If you look up, you may notice a red glow emanating from the ceiling which is the direct result of heaters. These are lovely when its cold, but can give your photographs a red tone.

This is what you can expect to see from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building from each direction:

  • Northeast: Chrysler Building, Times Square and Top of the Rock
  • Southeast: East River and Brooklyn
  • Southwest: One World Observatory, Flatiron Building and Lower Manhattan
  • Northwest: Hudson River, Hudson Yards and Edge

If you purchased the 86th observation deck ticket, this is where your tour terminates. But if you purchased tickets to the 102nd floor, you have more to go.

Manhattan skyline from the Empire State Building
Manhattan skyline view from the Empire State Building

Top Deck: 102nd Flood

A glass elevator will bring you up the last 16 floors. This indoor observation deck is completely enclosed with floor to ceiling windows on all sides and sits 1,224 ft over Manhattan.

When the weather is clear, you should be able to see up to 80 miles in the distance. This includes six states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

Keep in mind that while this floor is higher, there is no outdoor viewing platform which makes it difficult to take photos without heavy glare.

 

Restaurants At The Empire State Building

Not only can you take in the beautiful NYC skyline from high vantage points, but you can also dine at the ESB.

There are many dining options located on the ground floor including both fast and sit down service food options. You do not need a ticket to enter this dinig area.

The table service options include:

  • STATE Grill & Bar: This restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner options along with observatory lunch or dinner which can be purchased in advance.
  • Tacombi: This is a Mexican style restaurant featuring homemade tacos made from sustainably wholesome and simple ingredients.

But if you need something faster, you can also find Chipotle, Chopt, Sushi-Terra and a Juice Press.

View of Lower Manhattan with from a NYC observation deck
Lower Manhattan with the sun setting in the distance

Best Time To Visit The Empire State Building

The best time to visit the Empire State building is sunset because you will be rewarded with gorgeous colors highlighting the stunning Manhattan skyline as the sun disappears.

In the far distance, you will see the sun setting behind the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. But as the sun continues to set, you will have colors over Chelsea and New Jersey as well.

Sunset also provides the softest light the day which can help you to achieve better photographs.

Unfortunately, sunset is the most popular time to visit the Empire State Building. We recommend you book your ticket online well in advance to reserve your time slot.

Keep in mind there is no time limit at ESB. You can remain at the top until the sun completely sets so you see Manhattan come to life at night (unless you have a CityPASS to return later in the evening).

Travel Tip: Due to the many exhibits at ESB, you need to add extra time if visiting during sunset. Book about two hours before sunset to give yourself ample time (if you want to explore thoroughly).

Is The Empire State Building Better At Day Or Night?

We visited the Empire State Building two hours before sunset, but we have also visited the ESB around 10:00pm during a night time slot.

The Empire State Building is great both during the day and at night but it depends on what you wish to see.

If you visit the Empire State Building during the day, you will be surrounded by 360 degree concrete, glass and granite skyscrapers. The day light will give you a closer view of Lower Manhattan.

If you visit the Empire State Building during the night, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the New York City skyline shinning bright with lights from every angle.

World's famous building exhibits at the Empire State Building
One of the informational exhibits at the Empire State Building

Is Empire State Building Worth It?

Yes, the Empire State Building is worth it. This is the original observation deck in New York City and should not be missed.

What we really like about the Empire State building is the iconic street view you get from the 86th floor observation deck. There is really no other comparison when it comes to the informational exhibits offered here as well.

Further Reading: Complete guide to the original NYC observation decks featuring the Empire State Building versus Top of the Rock.

Tips For Visiting Top The Empire State Building

Here are a few important tips to consider for your visit:

  • Purchase your tickets in advance online – Sunset time slots sell out very quickly so be sure to book your tickets well in advance.
  • Take your time – The ESB offers the best exhibits out of all the NYC observation decks. Don’t rush through the exhibits because it is a one way system and you won’t be able to return.
  • Bring a jacket or coat – The outdoor viewing platform on the 86th floor can be extremely cold and windy. Make sure you bring something warm so you can properly enjoy the views.
  • The ESB is kid friendly – Children below the age of 6 have free entry as long as they are accompanied by an adult ticket holder.
  • Visit out of season – If you want to avoid the crowds, don’t plan your trip in summer. Instead, consider visiting New York in April or a similar shoulder month.
Man and woman posing for a photo
Mark and Kristen posing for a photo at one of the exhibits

Our Overall Experience

The Empire State Building is an iconic New York City experience. The exhibits are top notch and the views are phenomenal.

A visit to NYC is not complete without a climb up the ESB because this was the original observation deck in the city. A visit here is like stepping back in time and seeing history in the making.

If you have never been to to top of the Empire State Building, it is certainly something you should add to you New York City bucket list.

Pros To Visiting The Empire State Building

  • The oldest and original NYC observation deck
  • Exhibits on 2nd and 80th floor are the best out of all 5 observation decks in NYC
  • Both indoor and outdoor viewing spaces
  • Stunning 360 degree Manhattan street views
  • Ability to take photos with unobstructed views on the 86th floor (have to put phone or camera through metal mesh fencing)

Cons To Visiting The Empire State Building

  • Crowds at any given time can be large
  • Glass windows on 102nd floor are not great for photos due to reflections
  • No view of the Empire State Building because you are at the top of it
  • Underwhelming elevator experience 
  • Most expensive NYC observation deck and extra fee for 102nd floor

Empire State Building Images

We enjoyed our visit to the Empire State Building and took many photos.

Below, you can find a handful of our favorite photos as well as ideas about where to take photos for your visit.

Photos of celebrities taken at the Empire State Building
Large celebrity photographs on the 86th floor
Manhattan street view of Empire State Building lit up at night
Street view of the Empire State Building lit up at night
Sweeping view of Lower Manhattan with One World Observatory
Sweeping views of Midtown and Lower Manhattan from the Empire State Building
Open viewing platform at the Empire State Building
86th floor observation deck at the Empire State Building
Man focusing a camera to take a photo at the Empire State Building
Mark taking a photo of Manhattan from the Empire State Building (strap is around his neck)
Photo exhibit with red carpet at Empire State Building
Photography exhibit at the Empire State Building
SUMMIT One Vanderbilt and Manhattan view from an NYC observation deck
Night view of SUMMIT One Vanderbilt and other Manhattan sky scrappers
Lower Manhattan skyline with skyscrapers from the top of the Empire State Building
Framed shot of Lower Manhattan
Empire State Building in New York City
Empire State Building view from the street
Bronze statues of construction workers at a NYC observation deck exhibit
Construction exhibit with bronze statues
View of Hudson Yards and Edge from an observation deck in New York City
West side of Manhattan from the Empire State Building

Is The Empire State Building The Best Observation Deck In NYC?

Unfortunately, this answer depends on your preferences.

Below is a quick overview for the 5 New York City observation decks (including the Empire State Building).

We understand you may not have time to visit each observation deck so it’s important for you to have all the facts before you make a decision about which one to visit.

  • Edge at Hudson Yards – New York’s highest outdoor sky deck with an optional City Climb experience taking you 1,200 ft above Manhattan.
  • One World Observatory – The tallest observation deck with a different perspective to the others. But while you are closer to Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty, the sunset is much less impactful.
  • SUMMIT One Vanderbilt – The newest addition to New York City’s high vantage points. But this is more than just an observation deck, it’s an entire experience.
  • Top Of The Rock – The shortest and unglamorous option from the outside, but in our opinion, the observation deck with the best view in all of New York City.
  • Empire State Building – The most iconic observation deck filled with history and glamour. The 360 degree view of surrounding concrete buildings is stunning, but it’s the most expensive option.

Can’t make up your mind about which NYC observation deck to visit? Don’t miss our popular guide to the best observation decks in New York City ranked with pros and cons.

View of the Empire State Building from the street
Perspective shot of the Empire State Building between Manhattan sky scrappers

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the ESB!

Why Is The Empire State Building So Famous?

The Empire State Building is so famous because it was the tallest building in the world when it was constructed in 1931. It was also the first building to be built over 100 stories high.

Do People Live In The Empire State Building?

There are no apartments or residences in the Empire State Building, but there are numerous office spaces and suites.

How Long Can You Stay At The Empire State Building?

There is no time limit to how long you can stay at the Empire State Building. An average visit lasts about 60 minutes.

Can You See Central Park From The Empire State Building?

Yes, you can see Central Park from the Empire State Building, but this will be a further view compared to the Top of the Rock observation deck.

Can You Bring A Bag To The Empire State Building?

Small backpacks are allowed at the Empire State Building, but you can not bring suitcases, carry-on luggage or large parcels.

How Many Stories Is The Empire State Building?

The Empire State Building has 102 stories with an additional balcony on the 103rd floor.

Attractions – Here’s our complete roundup of the very best things to do in New York City for all visitors covering free, cheap and iconic attractions.

Itinerary – Our popular 4 days in New York City itinerary helps thousands of visitors plan the perfect visit to New York every year.

Photography – Our guide to the best photography spots in New York City includes over 60 famous photo locations around the city.

Hotels – Here’s our comprehensive guide on exactly where to stay in New York City based on the six popular NYC neighborhoods.

Winter – Are you planning a trip to New York in December, January or February? There are 10 important things you need to know about visiting New York City in Winter.

Best Of New York City

Pizza – Sampling famous New York pizza is unmissable on any trip to the big apple, here’s our popular guide to where you can find the very best pizza in NYC.

Bagels – Bagels are the only thing you should be eating for breakfast in New York! Here’s our roundup of where to find the best bagels in NYC.

Museums – With over 100 museums in NYC it can be hard to narrow down which ones you should visit, here’s our version of the 10 best museums in New York City.

New York Attraction Pass – With so many popular NYC attraction passes how do you choose? In this guide, we give you a detailed comparison for each New York pass.

Want more New York content? Head over to our New York travel guides to explore the Finger Lakes, Adirondacks and the best of NYC.


We hope this guide to the Empire State Building helps with planning your visit to this original observation deck!

Please let us know if you have any questions about the ESB or New York City in the comments below.

Happy Summiting,

Mark and Kristen

Was This Post Helpful? Pin It For Your Visit!

Share this post!