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New York City Sights

Empire State Building

  • 350 5th Ave. Map It
  • Building/Architectural Site
  • Fodor's Choice

Updated 02/24/2014

Fodor's Review

With a pencil-slim silhouette, recognizable virtually worldwide, the Empire State Building is an art deco monument to progress, a symbol for New York City, and a star in some great romantic scenes, on- and off-screen. Its cinematic résumé—the building has appeared in more than 250 movies—means that it remains a fixture of popular imagination, and many visitors come to relive favorite movie scenes. You might just find yourself at the top of the building with Elf

look-alikes or even the building's own King Kong impersonator.

Built in 1931 at the peak of the skyscraper craze, this 103-story limestone giant opened after a mere 13 months of construction. The framework rose at an astonishing rate of 4½ stories per week, making the Empire State Building the fastest-rising skyscraper ever built. Unfortunately, your rise to the observation deck might not be quite so record breaking.

There are three lines to get to the top of the Empire State Building; a line for tickets, a line for security, and a line for the elevators. Save time by purchasing your tickets in advance (esbnyc.com). You can't skip the security line, but you can skip to the front of both the ticket line and the line for elevators by purchasing an Express ticket ($50). If you don't want to pony up for express service, do yourself a favor and skip that last elevator line at the 80th floor by taking the stairs.

If this is your first visit, keep yourself entertained during your ascent by renting a headset with an audio tour by Tony, a fictional but "authentic" native New Yorker, available in eight languages.

The 86th-floor observatory (1,050 feet high) has both a glass-enclosed area (heated in winter and cooled in summer) and an outdoor deck spanning the building's circumference. Don't be shy about going outside into the wind (even in winter) or you'll miss half the experience. Also, don't be deterred by crowds; there's an unspoken etiquette when it comes to sharing the views and backdrop, and there's plenty of city to go around. Bring quarters for the high-powered binoculars—on clear days you can see up to 80 miles—or bring binoculars of your own so you can get a good look at some of the city's rooftop gardens. If it rains, the deck will be less crowded and you can view the city between the clouds or watch the rain travel sideways around the building from the shelter of the enclosed walkway.

The views of the city from the 86th-floor deck are spectacular, but the views from 16 stories up on the 102nd-floor observatory are even more so—and yet, fewer visitors make it this far. Instead of rushing back to elevator lines, ask yourself when you'll be back again and then head up to the enclosed 102nd floor. The ticket for both the 86th-floor and 102nd-floor decks costs $44, but you will be rewarded with peaceful, bird's-eye views of the entire city. Also, there are fewer visitors angling for photo ops, so you can linger a while and really soak in the city and experience.

Even if you skip the view from up top, be sure to step into the lobby and take in the ceiling, beautifully restored in 2009. The gilded gears and sweeping art deco lines, long hidden under a drop ceiling and decades of paint, are a romantic tribute to the machine age and part of the original vision for the building.

NY SKYRIDE. Although some parents blanch when they discover both how much it costs and how it lurches, the second-floor NY SKYRIDE, New York's only aerial virtual tour simulator, is a favorite of the 7- and 8-year-old set, and it's cheaper than an actual aerial tour of New York. Narrated by actor Kevin Bacon, the ride takes the viewer on a 30 minute virtual tour of New York, soaring by the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Times Square, Yankee Stadium, and other top attractions along the way. There's also a brief but poignant trip back in time to visit the World Trade Center's Twin Towers—a sight sure to drive you straight into the arms of the first I [Heart] NY T-shirt vendor you see when you leave the building. It's a fun way to get a sense of the city's highlights, though teenagers may find the technology a little dated. When you purchase a Skyride–Empire State Building combo ticket (at significant discount online), you'll visit the Skyride first and then join the line for the observation deck at the elevators, skipping up to half the wait. Empire State Building, entrance on 33rd St., 10118. 212/279–9777 or 888/759–7433. www.skyride.com. $42 ($29 online); $59 ($49 online) combo Skyride and observatory. Daily 8 am–10 pm.

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Sight Information

Address:

350 5th Ave., at E. 34th St., New York, New York, 10118, United States

Map It

Phone:

212-736–3100; 877-692–8439

Website: www.esbnyc.com

Sight Details:

  • $27; $44 for 86th–fl. and 102nd–fl. decks
  • Daily 8 am–2 am; last elevator up leaves at 1:15 am

Updated 02/24/2014

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Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating

By dlmilli

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Jul 25, 2012

Empire State Building Review

Not worth it. Spent over an hour in line despite buying tickets in advance. Same last time I went a couple years ago. By the time you get to the top you won't want to be there anymore. Go to top of the rock instead. By the way, what is bittersweet about this one again being NY's tallest building? The bitter is so bitter I can't even consider the mildly sweet.

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Jul 9, 2010

Empire State Building Review

The Empire state building was completed on May 31st 1931. There was a problem for its opening due to the Great Depression and it wasn't an easy place to get by public transportation. So thats why very few offices rented the spaces inside. The 102th floor was going to be a place for air ships to land to transport passengers but it proved to be too dangerous due to the large size of the ships.

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Dec 14, 2008

Great building with a worthy view

One of Manhattan's must-see buildings (and given how tall it is, you won't likely miss it). Less graceful than the Chrysler Building, but elegantly understated given how big it is and just about as marvelous, with a nicely detailed lobby inside. The view is very good on clear days, but be prepared for horrific long lines unless you buy tickets ahead of time, and expect to pay plenty regardless. Still, it's a must.

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May 15, 2007

Welllllllllllllllllll...............

If you like standing in line and paying an extraordinary amount just to see the city from up above... then it's great... It's a little too pricey and you can't see as much as you would think...

By Jessie

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Nov 19, 2005

I Won't Ever Forget It

I went fairly late at night, but it was amazing to see the city lit up and extending as far as I could see. My pictures didn't turn out very well, but the image will be in my mind forever.

By Jack

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Oct 9, 2003

The ultimate "High"

We enjoyed the beautiful art-deco building in late September. Lines were not long, and we walked the last six floors (from 80 to 86) which saved ten minutes or so. View from the top is amazing, almost hypnotizing. You're so high you only hear a muted hum from below, no car horns or sirens are evident. This is a must for first-time visitors.

By Kevin

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May 30, 2003

Empire State Building: A "Tall" Tale in Itself

The Empire State Building is great. One of the longest lines for an attraction I've ever seen, but definitely worth the wait. Surprisingly, the line seems to go by very quickly. And once you get to the top and see the amazing New York skyline, you will definitely realize that it's worth it all. :-)

By Daniel

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Apr 24, 2003

Best view in New York!

If you've never been to the top on a clear day - your missing a treat. Best to go around sunset - you can get a bit of the day and of the night if you stay up long enough...

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