New York City is filled with incredible activities to do. I grew up about an hour away from this monstrous city and never fully appreciated it until I moved away. Visiting the top of the Empire State Building was always on my bucket list to do yet I had never gotten around to it until this year. Imagine how excited I was to finally experience it! The views of the city are completely stunning while the architecture and history behind the entire building is an experience within itself. Today, I am here to share everything that a visitor needs to know about this amazing experience based on my recent visit and why I believe it is something that everyone should do at least once in their lifetime.
When did I visit? February 2017, a Saturday, about 2 pm. Judging from what I have seen on the internet about crowds and wait times, this was definitely an off-season time and a great day to visit.
How long did I spend there? About 2 hours.
Was it worth the price? Yes, 100% worth it.
Would I go again? Yes!
Alright, let’s dive into detail about the endeavor. I’ve also included the time spent at each step of the journey. (I just realized that the Empire State Building website actually tells you how long the wait time is to get to the observation deck at any given moment. This may be helpful for anyone planning a trip in the future. Wish I knew about it when I went!)
Approx. 20 minutes
There is intense security that all visitors must go through in order to embark on the Empire State Building visitor experience. The security is very similar to the security that one must go through at airports. All backpacks and bags will be sent through machines and people will go through the scanners. Seriously, it’s very similar to the security at the airport – be prepared and ready for this. The lines moved pretty fast through security, however. I’d say it took about 20 minutes for us to go through the line. Again, we visited in the middle of winter so this is probably really unlikely during the summer when there are a lot of tourists and more kids are off from school.
Approx. 5-10 minutes
As I said above, the tickets were a bit expensive but worth the experience. There is a variety of different ticket purchasing options including Express and VIP choices and discounts offered to seniors and military members with ID. Adult tickets cost $34 for a trip to the 86th floor main observation deck or $54 to both the 86th floor as well as the 102nd floor top deck. Tickets can be purchased online ahead of your visit or on-site. We purchased our $54 tickets to the 102nd floor on-site. The whole process to purchase our tickets took about 5-10 minutes but would probably take much longer had it been a busier time of year.
Was it worth it to go to the 102nd floor? Yup, especially if this is probably the only time you will be visiting. An extra $20 gets you slightly better views of the city as well as the experience of riding in the original Empire State Building elevator and feeling like you are truly on top of the world.
Should you purchase tickets in advance? While we did not do this, if you know that you are definitely planning on visiting, then this is a good option so you do not have to wait in the ticket line. I say go for it.
Do I think it is worth it to get the VIP tickets? No, not unless you know you are visiting at a really busy time and don’t mind spending the extra cash. Waiting in line for the elevators really was not that bad, especially since there were signs and TV screens with information to read throughout. I personally do not think the VIP tickets are worth it.
The 80th Floor:
Approx. 20 minutes
The 80th floor is the first and last stop that everyone makes, no matter what ticket type you bought. I really enjoyed this floor and I am not sure why I never heard of it before visiting! This floor is composed of an exhibit about the history of the building as well as a gift shop that you must pass by in order to exit the floor and head back down to the lobby. In all honesty, I thought that this was the main observation deck at first since the views on this floor are also incredible. I did not buy anything from the gift shop except a bottle of water. There was, however, a lot of interesting finds including paintings and replicas of the building. Overall, this was a great floor to stop at leading up to the main observation deck.
The 86th Floor – Main Observation Deck:
Approx. 30 minutes
The 86th floor is the stop that everyone waits for. The deck has a fenced-in outdoor viewing area, providing amazing views of the city from every direction. Since it was February, I thought it was going to be freezing cold but I was pleasantly surprised that there were heaters up there blowing hot air on guards and visitors to make it warmer and totally bearable. Luckily, when we visited there was little wind that day as well though my hands did get really cold after taking pictures for a while. The main observation deck is the best site for taking pictures of the city from inside the Empire State Building since it is outdoors and the reflections from the windows do not interfere. Overall, we spent the majority of our time on this floor.
The views allow you to see plenty of iconic locations such as Macys, One World Trade Center, the Pepsi Cola sign in Queens as well as many others. Seriously, seeing the city from this perspective is a stunning and unmatched experience. While these photos came out great, they do little justice to conveying what the experience is actually like in person.
The 102nd Floor – Top Observation Deck:
Approx. 20 minutes
The grand finale. The 102nd floor costs $20 extra to visit but in my opinion, is worth it. While much smaller than the main observation deck, the top deck gives slightly better views of the city and a unique perspective. Plus, it is totally awesome to be able to say you were essentially in the very top of the Empire State Building. The entire deck is indoors and I found it really interesting that the elevator that takes you there is the original elevator installed, according to our elevator attendant. Besides more breathtaking views, there is not much else to see on this floor so we did not spend as much time here as the previous deck. Still, it was a great experience and I would recommend it for one time visitors.
If I were to go again to the Empire State Building, I would visit at night or for the sunrise. A quick google search reveals that the city lights look absolutely amazing from the observation deck at night while I imagine being there for the sunrise would be completely magical. Additionally, I would purchase tickets online the day before so I do not have to wait in another line once I got there. All in all, the Empire State Building is one NYC site whose stunning views and rich heritage should not be missed.