How to Visit the Empire State Building

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Last Updated on February 23, 2021 by Sophie Nadeau

If you’re anything like me, then one of your favourite things to do when visiting a new city is to get a bird’s eye view of the place so as to really get a layout of the land. Well, one of the best viewpoints in all of NYC is to be found from the Empire State Building Observation Deck! Here’s how to visit the Empire State Building, as well as travel tips and things to know before you go!

Editor’s note: If you are planning to visit multiple NYC attractions, including the Empire State Building, then I recommend buying the NewYorkCityPASS. Find full details here. Otherwise, book your Empire State Building General & Skip-the-Line Tickets in advance here.

How to Visit the Empire State Building

A history of the observation deck at the top of the Empire State Building

First things first: The Empire State Building should not be confused with the Empire Building, which is also found in Manhattan. Built in the Art Deco style and located in Midtown Manhattan, the Empire State Building was constructed between 1930 and 1931.

From when it was built and right up until 1970, the skyscraper was the tallest building in the world. Since 1986, the building has been listed as a national historic landmark. During the planning stage, plans for an observation deck on the 86th floor of the building were drawn up. At the time, the highest observation deck in NYC was that of the Chrysler building, which was located on the 71st floor.

Within years of the completion of its construction, the Empire State Building Observation Deck became a major tourist attraction and still today the building makes more out of visitors to the observation deck than it does from renting out office space!

Indeed, even during the 1930s, it was not unusual for the observatory to be promoted in local newspapers and on railroad tickets. In its first year of operation, the deck made a staggering $2 million. In 2009, the original Empire State Building Observation Deck was renovated and there are now observatories on the 80th, 86th, and 102nd floors.

The main observatory deck, and the one that most visitors make a trip to today is on the 86th floor, and indeed this is the most famous. After all, the deck has been used as a filming location for many a movie and film, including Gossip Girl and King Kong.

Buying tickets for the Empire State Building Observation Deck & Interactive Exhibits

NYC: Empire State Building General & Skip-the-Line Tickets

When it comes to booking your Empire State Building tickets, there are several options on offer. If you are pressed for time, then you’ll want to book yourself a standard ticket. Included in the ticket price is the chance to see the Art Deco Lobby, access to the 86th Floor Observation Deck, and a skip-the-line feature (depending on which ticket option you select). Book your ticket here in advance.

Empire State Building: AM/PM Experience Ticket

If you have a little more time to enjoy views of NYC from above, then you may well want to buy the AM/PM experience ticket, which will allow you to go up the tower twice in one day. This will allow you to see NYC from above both during the day time and during the evening when the lights are twinkling and the city truly comes to life.

Included in the price of the ticket is a barcoded ticket – allowing you to skip the ticket office line, as well as to the 86th Floor Observation Deck twice in one day – once during the day, and again after 9 PM or 10 PM that same night. Book your ticket here in advance.

Tips for visiting the Empire State Building

You should know before you go that you’ll have to be patient in order to finally reach the top of the building! After all, there are several lines to reach the top security check line, the ticket purchase line, and the second elevator line. There were once five lines to reach the observation deck, though renovations in 2019 streamlined the visitor experience, leading to shorter wait times.

Visitors who purchase tickets to reach the top can expect to learn more about the history of the building and its place in New York at interactive exhibits on the 2nd and 80th floors of the building. A free self-guided audio tour is available to download during your visit from the on-site guest Wi-Fi.

If you want to make the most of your visit, and you aren’t planning on purchasing the AM/ PM pass, then I recommend going as early in the day so as to avoid some of the crowds. After all, along with the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center site, the Empire State Building is the most visited attraction in NYC.


The view from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building

Visitors who are lucky enough to ascend to the observation deck on a clear day will soon be rewarded with the only 360 degree open-air view of NYC. The deck is high enough that the view on offer encompasses parts of six states. As well as New York State, visitors can marvel at New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Delaware.

empire state building view

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