The Empire State Building is a renowned skyscraper in New York City. It’s home to a popular observation deck on the 86th and 102nd floor. The iconic building changes colors to recognize holidays and it’s open everyday with tickets starting at $44 for adults.
In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know for visiting the Empire State Building including tips we learned during our trip.
Our NYC Experience
Kristen is a New York state native and we lived in NYC for a few months in 2021. We chose to move to the city so we could create the best possible content because you can’t just visit New York City for a weekend and claim to be an expert. Read more about us.
While we no longer live here, we still travel to the city every year because it’s one of the best places to visit in the USA. We’ve visited the Empire State Building multiple times over the years. It’s one of the most iconic things to do in New York and it shouldn’t be missed.
What Is The Empire State Building?
The Empire State Building is a world famous 102-story skyscraper located in Midtown Manhattan. It was constructed in the early 1930’s within a recording breaking 410 days.
When this building was completed in 1931, it was the tallest in the world and the first to be built over 100 stories high. Today, it’s the 8th tallest building in New York City, but it still holds the reputation as one of the best observation decks in the city.
The top floor reaches a height of 1,250 ft (381m) while the spire and antenna continue to 1,454 feet (443m). This is such a large complex, it even has its own zip code (10118). There are no apartments or residences in the building, but there are numerous office spaces, shops and restaurants.
Travel Tip: To visit the 102nd floor observatory, you would have to climb a total of 1,860 steps.
The Empire State Building is located at the heart of Manhattan on 34th St and 5th Ave. If you head southwest through Manhattan, passing Times Square and Bryant Park as far as W 34th St, you’ll find this NYC historic landmark and centerpiece.
Access to the building entrance is on W 34th Street, half way between 5th and 6th Avenues. Be sure to look up when you arrive and take in the stunning views from the street. It’s open every day of the week, but the hours of operation vary by day. You can visit the official page here for exact times.
- Address: 20 W 34th St., New York, NY 10001
- Location: Google Maps
You can get to the Empire State Building observation deck in many different ways including subway, bus and car.
Here are subway options:
- 1, 2, 3 and A, C, E lines: Take the train to 34st Street – Penn Station. From here, it’s a 5 minute walk.
- N, Q, R, W and B, D, F, M lines: Take the train to 34th Street – Herald Square Station. From here, it’s a 5 minute walk.
- 4, 5, 6 and 7 lines: Take the train to Grand Central Terminal. From here, it’s a 10 minute walk.
Here are bus options:
- W 34 St and 5th Ave: QM10, QM12, QM15, QM16, QM17
- 5th Ave and W 34 Street: BxM7, BxM18, X27, X28, X37, and X38
If you’re visiting with a car, there are multiple parking garages nearby but rates, availability and space may vary. You can also try Uber, Lyft or taxi but this might not be the most cost effective option.
Empire State Building Tickets
You’ll need a ticket to visit the Empire State Building. There are two main ticket options, but if you choose to visit during a sunset time slot, tickets will be an additional $10 for the 86th floor and an additional $13 for the 102nd floor.
Both tickets include entry to all exhibits located on the 2nd and 80th floors. So the main decision you’ll have to consider is what floor you want to visit, the 86th or the 86th and 102nd floor observatory.
- 86th Floor – Access to the open-air observatory on the 86th floor. Online tickets begin at $44 for adults and $38 for children (ages 6-12) for day time tickets.
- 102nd + 86th Floor – Access to the open-air observatory on the 86th floor + Indoor platform on the 102nd floor. Online tickets begin at $79 for adults and $73 for children (ages 6-12) for day time tickets.
In addition to tickets for the observation deck, you can also purchase an experience. These include tours and special occasions. Click here for more information. If you’re a Starbucks lover, you might want to check our the sunrise experience with Starbucks Reserve.
Travel Tip: Children ages 5 and under can visit for free. Seniors aged 62+ will also receive a small discount.
Where To Purchase Tickets
There are many ways to purchase Empire State Building observation deck tickets. You can buy directly from the official website here or onsite at the bottom floor. You can also purchase an entry ticket through:
Travel Tip: If you book with the official website, you’ll pay $4.35 (86th floor) or $8.60 (102nd floor) for tax and a $5.00 processing fee. Click on the orange links to compare prices and reviews to see if you can beat it.
If you plan to visit several of New York City’s top attractions, we recommend you consider purchasing an attraction pass. We used a New York CityPASS to visit this observation deck, but it’s included on every pass option.
We recommend the NY Sightseeing Pass because it’s extremely easy to use while offering both flexibility and big savings. The Empire State Building is included with this pass and we have an exclusive 5-10% discount just for our readers.
Want To Save Money In NYC?
Use the button below to claim 5-10% off any NY Sightseeing Pass.
You can also read our detailed attraction pass comparison for NYC to help you decide which New York pass you should purchase for your visit.
Travel Tip: If you visit the Empire State Building with a NY pass, you won’t have to pay the extra charge for the sunset time slot. One of the passes even lets you visit twice in the same day.
Empire State Building Walkthrough
At the Empire State Building, you’ll walk through multiple exhibits and learn about the history of this building and New York City. It’s a one-way system so once you leave a room, you won’t be allowed to go back.
If you have a sunset ticket, keep an eye on your timing. There are numerous things to see and you might want to give yourself extra time to see the exhibits since they are included in your ticket price.
In this next section, we’re going to give you a detailed walkthrough including the best things to do at the Empire State Building and exactly what you can expect.
1. Ticket Entrance And Security
As you enter through the street level entrance, you’ll have to pass through security and an automated ticketing area. If you’ve already purchased tickets online, you can bypass most of this line.
Before getting to the observatory at the top, you’ll be directed to informational exhibits on both the 2nd and 80th floors. On your way up to the second floor exhibits, you’ll pass by a large image of the Empire State Building. Ask the group behind you to take a photo and do the same for them.
2. 2nd Floor Exhibits
We can tell you from experience, the exhibits here are the best out of all New York City’s observation decks. Take your time as you wander through both of these floors.
There are a total of 9 exhibits on the second floor. You can also opt to download the free self-guided audio tour with the free Wifi onsite. Below you’ll find the exact order of the exhibits on the 2nd floor:
- The Site In The 1920s: Black and white photographs show the original building site where the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel originally stood.
- Construction: Various bronzed statues of the iron workers are placed throughout this space as you walk around to learn about the construction of the building.
- Opening Day: This showcases various newspaper prints and images from the opening day.
- Modern Marvel: Lean how this building strives to lead the way in sustainability and energy efficiency.
- Otis Elevators: A model of the original mast car along with stories about present day technology.
- Urban Campus: Explore the workplaces, amenities and the hidden views inside the building.
- World’s Most Famous Building: A surround-sound theater features numerous media highlights of the Empire State Building over the years.
- Kong: Take the opportunity to step inside King Kong’s hands and you may even feel the building shake.
- Celebrity: Pictures of A-list celebrities and famous visitors who have climbed to the top of the observation deck.
Further Reading: Best museums in New York City
3. Elevator Experience
After the exhibits on the 2nd floor, it’s now time to ride the main elevator. A large classy lift will transport you to the 80th floor in less than one minute.
As the elevator gains elevation, an animated movie is constructed around you. The familiar iron workers from the 2nd floor exhibit swing on metal beams while tossing hot rivets into the air surround you on the way up.
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4. 80th Floor Exhibits
Once you come out of this elevator, you are now on the 80th floor. You’ll walk past a small observatory area with windows, but don’t worry because the best views are yet to come. This is a great place to take a small rest if you need a minute before continuing on.
As you continue along the 80th floor, you walk through many more exhibits. Here is the exact order of exhibits on this floor:
- NYC Above And Beyond: In partnership with NYC & Company, this interactive exhibit helps you plan a New York City itinerary.
- Artistry In Light: A short film about the famous light shows and how they are created.
- Stephen Wiltshire’s Drawing: British artist, Stephen Wiltshire took a 45-minute helicopter ride over NYC in 2017 and then drew the entire skyline from memory.
- Scenes of NYC: Peak through the famous viewfinders to see panoramic views of the city.
After you finished the last exhibit on the 80th floor, a standard elevator will take you 6 floors up to the open air viewing platform on the 86th floor.
5. 86th Floor Observatory
After two floors of exhibits and two elevators, you’ll arrive to the crescendo of the Empire State Building, the main observation deck. This floor provides visitors with both an outdoor and indoor viewing platform with 360° views.
The 86th floor is square shaped with a fairly narrow observation deck and it can be quite crowded if it’s busy. We visited New York City in winter so there were heaters on the ceiling emanating a bright red glow you can see in most of our photos.
A metal mesh fence surrounds the entire observation platform. But the spaces are large enough, you can take unobstructed photographs. Several viewfinders are located in the outside viewing area and they point directly at many of NYC’s famous landmarks.
Here is what you can expect to see on the 86th floor 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.
6. 102nd Floor
A glass elevator will bring you up the last 16 floors to the top deck. 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. While this floor is higher, there is no outdoor viewing platform which makes it difficult to take photos without glare.
Further Reading: 100+ quotes about New York City
After taking in the incredible views, you might have worked up an appetite. There are many dining options located on the ground floor including both fast and sit down service food options. You don’t need a ticket to enter this dining area.
If you’re looking for table service:
- STATE Grill & Bar – Breakfast, lunch and dinner options along with observatory lunch or dinner which can be purchased in advance.
- Tacombi – 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 nearby.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit the Empire State building is one to two hours before sunset. This is the perfect time of day because you’ll be able to see the skyline in the daytime, while the sun sets and at night. Golden hour offers the softest light which is the best time of day to take photos.
However, this is also the most expensive and busiest time to visit. If you want to avoid the crowds, we recommend you visit early in the morning or after the sun has set. There is no limit to how long you can stay at top so you can really use this to your advantage.
We’ve visited multiple times of day including sunset, night and early morning around 10:00am. The crowds were much smaller in the early morning and later at night after the sun had gone down.
But sunset is a special time. You’ll see the sun set behind the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan with stunning colors over Chelsea and New Jersey as well. However, a night visit offers a chance to see the New York Skyline shinning bright with lights from every angle.
Travel Tip: Due to the numerous exhibits, you need to add extra time if visiting during sunset. So if we were to visit again, we’d book about 2 hours before sunset to give us time to see all the exhibits. If you don’t really want to see the exhibits, you can ignore this tip.
Tips For Visiting
We’ve covered everything you need to know in this guide, but here are a few important tips for your visit:
- Purchase your tickets in advance – If you want to visit at sunset, you’ll need to purchase tickets online well in advance to secure your time slot.
- Take your time – This observation deck offers the best exhibits so don’t rush and keep in mind it’s a one-way system.
- Tower Lights – The Empire State Building is lit up throughout the year to recognize holidays and special events. To see information about the lights, click here.
- 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.
- 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.
Pros And Cons
We personally enjoyed our visit to this observation deck, but there were a few negatives to visiting too. Here are a few pros and cons to help sway your decision:
- 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° Manhattan street views
- Ability to take photos with unobstructed views on the 86th floor (have to put phone or camera through metal mesh fencing)
- 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’re at the top of it
- Underwhelming elevator experience
- Most expensive NYC observation deck and extra fee for 102nd floor
We like this observation deck because it’s an iconic New York City experience and features some of the best exhibits in the city. You can’t mention New York without the Empire State Building so it’s certainly something any first timer to the city should add to their bucket list.
So is the Empire State Building worth it?
Yes, the Empire State Building is worth it because it’s one of the original observation decks in the city along with Top of the Rock. According to TripAdvisor, this experience is consistently rated a 4.5/5.0 with thousands of positive reviews. We completely agree with these ratings, but we don’t like how much this experience costs.
On of the best parts about visiting the Empire State Building is the unique street view you get looking down from the 86th floor observation deck. But compared to newer and modern decks in the city, it can feel quite dated and old.
Further Reading: Empire State Building vs. Top of the Rock
An average visit usually lasts around 60 minutes, but if you want to read through most of the exhibits we recommend about 2-3 hours.
Empire State Building Photos
We took many photos at this observation deck because it’s such an iconic experience. Here are a few of our favorite images to inspire your visit:
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We hope this guide to helps with planning your visit to one of New York’s original observation deck!
Please let us know if you have any questions about this observation deck or New York City in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Where Are Those Morgans has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications. Read more about us.