The Empire State Building is one of the most iconic landmarks in the entire U.S., and it’s impossible to think of New York City without seeing this massive skyscraper looming over Midtown, one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan. Of course, it’s even better to visit the Empire State Building and see it for yourself, as this is one of the top things to do in NYC.
Every time we visit the Big Apple, we’re always amazed by the size and height of the Empire State Building. Not only that, but this Art Deco skyscraper holds nearly 100 years of history, so it’s one of the most famous buildings in NYC.
Since this is a popular tourist attraction, you must plan your visit and purchase tickets to the Empire State Building in advance. In this guide, I’ll share everything you need to know, including the Empire State Building hours, tours, and more. For example, there are different ticket options as well as New York city passes that include this famous landmark. I recommend the New York Pass, but you can look through all the passes in our article.
Guide to visiting the Empire State Building observation deck
You’re probably excited to visit the Empire State Building, but keep in mind that you can’t just walk in and go up to the observatories. Don’t worry, because I’ll share all the info you need to get your tickets for the Empire State Building and maximize your time at this incredible attraction.
In this guide, I’ll share the most important information about this NYC landmark, including:
- Empire State Building ticket options
- Empire State Building hours
- Empire State Building tours
- Other places to visit inside the Empire State Building
Empire State Building ticket options
As one of the best observation decks in New York City, the Empire State Building is wildly popular, so purchasing tickets in advance is a must-do. There are several different ticket options and packages depending on which Empire State Building observatory you want to visit.
Empire State Building 86th floor
The 86th-floor observatory of the Empire State Building is known as the Main Deck and is 1,050 feet high. It’s famous for its appearance in several movies and TV shows and seeing it in person is even more breathtaking.
This open-air, wraparound deck gives you 360° views of New York City, the Hudson River, and beyond. On clear days, you can even see New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Connecticut! Again, you need to purchase Empire State Building tickets in advance, so get your skip-the-line ticket as soon as possible.
Empire State Building 102nd floor
For the best views from the Empire State Building, you must visit the 102nd floor. From up here, you’ll be 1,224 feet high and able to see up to 80 miles into the distance. It’s the ultimate panoramic view of New York’s bridges, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, and other iconic sights.
After checking out the 86th floor, take a glass elevator to the highest Empire State Building observation deck. The 102nd floor was recently renovated and features floor-to-ceiling windows, so the experience is incredible.
Best of all, with this ticket, you can select the upgrade option to see both the 86th and 102nd-floor observatories.
Attraction passes that include the Empire State Building
If you’re going to be in the Big Apple for a couple of days and you want to see several popular landmarks, it’s worth getting a New York city pass. There are different tourist cards available, although we recommend the New York Pass since it offers a variety of options depending on the length of your trip.
All of the passes include access to the Empire State Building’s 86th floor, and the New York Pass gives you a discount if you want to also visit the 102nd floor. We have a complete guide to these attraction passes that breaks down the cost savings, but I’ll tell you here that it’s a great value, especially if you want to see other observation decks in NYC like the Top of the Rock.
Empire State Building hours
Before you purchase tickets for the Empire State Building, you should consider the hours of operation. This way, you can select the best time slot to visit the Empire State Building, based on your itinerary and preferences.
Currently, the Empire State Building’s hours are 10 am to 12 am, and the attraction is typically open 365 days a year. Most people spend about 1 to 1.5 hours here, so keep that in mind when planning your visit.
Visiting the Empire State Building at night
While the view from the Empire State Building is gorgeous any time of day, many people prefer visiting at sunset or after dark. Capturing the iconic view from this skyscraper is one of the best things to do in New York City at night, especially with your special someone!
If you want to go to the Empire State Building at night, I recommend booking this combo ticket that includes a morning visit and a nighttime visit. That way, you get the best of both worlds.
Empire State Building tours
Many tourists opt for a self-guided visit to the Empire State Building, either with their 86th-floor ticket or 102nd-floor ticket. Both options include the exhibits on the 2nd and 80th floors, which I’ll talk about later.
If you prefer to do a tour of the Empire State Building, consider this VIP guided tour. It’ll grant you access to the secret VIP entrance, which leads to the Art Deco Lobby. Then, head to the Celebrity Green Room, where you’ll enjoy champagne, coffee, tea, and snacks. Browse the Celebrity Walk exhibit, which details the famous figures who have visited this iconic skyscraper.
Then, you’ll meet your tour guide, who will lead you to the 86th-floor observatory, all while sharing unique insights and info about the building’s architecture and design. This 1.5-hour tour is reserved for small groups and includes skip-the-line access and a complimentary souvenir photo.
View from the Empire State Building
The Empire State Building’s observation decks provide some of the best views in all of New York City. As I said before, you’ll get magnificent views no matter when you go, although I think the best time to visit the Empire State Building is at sunset, so you can admire the golden glow over Manhattan. After dark, the entire city lights up, creating a glittery landscape. It’s no wonder is one of the top couples’ things to do in NYC.
To be fair, if you visit during the daytime, you can better distinguish all the sights, including the Hudson and East Rivers, the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, and the Statue of Liberty. You’ll also be able to see prominent skyscrapers like the Flatiron Building, the Chrysler Building, One World Observatory, and the Rockefeller Center. With some luck, the skies will be clear, and you can gaze up to 80 miles into Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Other places to visit inside the Empire State Building
While most people come to see the Empire State Building’s observatories, that’s not all that this landmark skyscraper has to offer. Below are some more things to do at the Empire State Building, including places to eat and shop.
Exhibits and route through the Empire State Building
Regardless of the Empire State Building ticket you purchase, you’ll have access to the exhibits on the 2nd and 80th floors. I recommend stopping by to learn more about the history of this skyscraper, from its construction to opening day in 1931 to its most recent renovations.
One of the exhibits contains a replica of the skyscraper’s original Otis elevator while another is dedicated to the building’s sustainability and energy conservation efforts. The Artistry in Light section is where you can watch a short film detailing the technology involved in the attraction’s light-and-sound shows.
Another small theater shows hundreds of clips featuring the Empire State Building’s cinematic and pop culture history, including celebrities and public figures who have visited the landmark over the years. There is even a gallery with a King Kong installation, portraying the massive gorilla’s hands crashing through the building’s walls.
Up on the 80th floor, look through the viewfinders, then snap an Empire State Building photo with one of the bronze sculptures depicting 1930s construction workers. The fun doesn’t stop there, of course, because then it’s time to ascend to the 86th-floor observatory.
Empire State Building restaurants
There are a few restaurants in the Empire State Building, so if you want to make it a date night, you won’t have trouble finding a place for dinner. For example, the STATE Grill & Bar serves lunch, dinner, and cocktails, as well as prix fixe menus. Another place is Tacombi, a Mexican restaurant serving authentic Mexican tacos and margaritas.
There are also more casual, fast-food options like Chipotle and Starbucks. Some highly-rated restaurants near the Empire State Building include Antoya Korean BBQ and Fine & Rare, where you can get classic American favorites while listening to live jazz.
Shopping at the Empire State Building
If you want to pick up some souvenirs during your visit to the Empire State Building, you can check out the gift shop on the 80th floor. Also, the Empire State Building is on 5th Avenue, the most famous shopping street in NYC. So, you’ll be close to all kinds of luxury shops like Banana Republic, Armani, Swarovski, Zara, Urban Outfitters, and Macy’s flagship store.
Empire State Building history and facts
As you go inside the Empire State Building, you’ll find exhibits and photos commemorating its history. I recommend checking out these interesting displays, although I’ll give you a glimpse of what to expect below.
Empire State Building history
Before the Empire State Building was built, the area was the site of the Waldorf Astoria hotel. However, the hotel became less popular with New York’s upper class by the 1920s, so the plan was to replace it with a corporate office building.
In early 1930, construction on the Empire State Building began. It took a little over a year to complete the project, but its opening coincided with the Great Depression, so only a small fraction of the office space was rented out.
To help drum up more tenants, the owners began advertising the Empire State Building’s height. This attracted lots of tourists who wanted to visit the Empire State Building’s observation decks, and the skyscraper became more of a tourist attraction.
Empire State Building construction
Construction on the Empire State Building began on March 17, 1930, and it took just one year and 45 days to complete the structure. It took over 3,500 workers to build the steel skyscraper, which cost nearly $42 million.
Empire State Building height
The Empire State Building’s 86th-floor observatory is 1,050 tall, while the 102nd-floor observation deck is 1,224 feet tall. The roof of the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet above the ground, while the tip hovers 1,454 feet tall.
Empire State Building lights
Since 1977, lights on the façade have lit up the Empire State Building at night, usually on holidays. In 2012, the bulbs were replaced with 1,200 LED lights, allowing for millions of color combinations and patterns that synchronize to music.
Empire State Building in movies
Besides its references in TV shows and books, the Empire State Building has been featured in dozens of movies. The most famous appearance was in 1933’s King Kong, when the giant gorilla climbed to the top of the skyscraper. The building was also featured in Sleepless in Seattle, Independence Day, and Spider-Man.
Hotels near the Empire State Building
The Empire State Building in NYC is centrally located in Midtown Manhattan, one of the best neighborhoods in NYC, so it’s close to all kinds of shops, restaurants, and hotels. If you want to stay in this part of town, these are the best hotels near the Empire State Building:
- Hilton Garden Inn West 35th Street – This clean hotel is a block from the Empire State Building, giving you great views of the attraction from your room.
- MOXY NYC Times Square – In addition to its free coffee, Wi-Fi, and gym, this hotel is home to Magic Hour, one of the best rooftop bars in NYC where you can see the Empire State Building.
- U Hotel Fifth Avenue – This is a boutique hotel next to the Empire State Building, featuring Italian marble bathrooms, 24-hour concierge service, and beautiful views.
For other accommodations in Midtown and the rest of Manhattan, look at our guide on where to stay in New York City.
Empire State Building FAQs
If you still have questions about New York’s Empire State Building, here are the answers to some commonly asked questions.
Construction began on March 17, 1930, and the building opened on April 11, 1931.
The skyscraper, which was intended to be the tallest in the world, was built for corporate office space.
The Empire State Building is in Midtown Manhattan, at 20 West 34th Street, NYC.
The total height of the Empire State Building is 1,454 feet.
The Empire State Building has 102 floors, although there is a secret 103rd floor that’s inaccessible to the public.
Most of the Empire State Building’s floors are still used as office space. The second and 80th floors contain exhibits, while the observatories are on the 86th and 102nd floors. The lobby is designed in the Art Deco style and is accessible to the public.
To avoid long lines, plan to visit the Empire State Building when it opens at 10 am or right before it closes, around 11 pm. That said, for the most beautiful views, go just before sunset.
People usually spend an hour to an hour and a half touring the Empire State Building.
The lights on the Empire State Building change to commemorate holidays and special events. The computerized lights have over 16 million colors.
That’s it for this guide to the Empire State Building. I hope you found all the information you need to plan your visit, but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment. Have a wonderful time at this manmade wonder!