Picture of the Empire State Building and New York City skyline
New York City’s Empire State Building at dusk
One of New York City’s most iconic landmarks, the Empire State Building is definitely a sight to see! If you’re visiting New York for the first time, seeing the top of the Empire State Building is almost a rite of passage. There are millions of people from all over the world who come to Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue with the same idea in mind every day, which means the lines can get quite long.

For those of you determined to see the glorious Art Deco building, we’ll give you some practical visitor information with tips on how to avoid the lines, so you can make the most of your visit to the Empire State Building!

History of the Empire State Building

A Black-and-white image the Empire State Building during its construction
A view of the Empire State Building in New York during its construction
In the first decades of the 20th century, New York City was gripped by a competition to construct the world’s tallest building. Work on the Empire State Building began on March 17, 1930, as did construction on two other buildings vying for the title: 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building.

When the Empire State Building was completed in 1931 it won the title for the tallest building. Stretching 1,250 feet (381 meters) it was the tallest building in the world for 40 years.

The building became even taller in 1950 when it received a new TV and radio antenna, adding 217 feet (66 meters) to the building’s height. Besides broadcast stations, the building also houses many offices, and shops on the ground floor. In fact, the Empire State Building is so grand, it even has its own zip code!

Throughout the years the building has become one of New York City’s most recognizable landmarks. It has been featured in over 250 movies, including King Kong, An Affair To Remember, Sleepless in Seatlle and more recently Percy Jackson.

The Empire State Building also appears regularly in episodes of TV series such as Friends, Sex and the City and How I Met Your Mother.

Empire State Building Practical Visitor Information

Picture of a mural depicting the Empire State Building in New York City
A mural in the lobby of New York City’s Empire State Building
If you want to visit the Empire State Building, you can easily get there by taking the NYC subway. You can catch the 1, 2 or 3 train to Penn Station/34th Street and walk east two blocks, or you can take the B, D, F, M, N, Q, or R trains to 34th Street/ Herald Square and you’ll see the Empire State Building rising up right above you to the east as you exit the subway. The entrance to the ESB is on Fifth Avenue between 33rd Street and 34th Street.

The Empire State Building is open 365 days of the year from 8 am to 2 am, and basically gets crowded every day. Less crowded times are early in the morning or very late at night. If you’re not a big fan of lines consider buying your tickets online at the Empire State Building’s official website. You don’t have to select a time of visit and the tickets remain valid for a year, so you can plan your visit whenever you want. Do keep in mind that there’s still the security line and elevator line though. If you also want to skip these lines (and feel like a VIP), you can buy an express ticket for an additional fee.

Inside the Empire State Building

Panoramic image of Manhattan seen from the Empire State Building
View of Midtown and Lower Manhattan from the Empire State Building in New York City
As of October 2012, regular tickets to the main deck (86th floor) are $25. Here you’ll find the famous outside observation deck with 360-degree views of New York City. If you also want to go up to the top deck (102nd floor) you have to pay an additional fee. A combination ticket for both decks costs $42.

On the top deck you’ll find a viewing area surrounded by glass windows. You’ll be able to see a lot further, but if you want to take pictures it’s better to do this from the 86th floor as you’ll have no reflection from windows. Do note that you’re not allowed to take tripods up to the deck.

Picture of the Empire State Building and Manhattan by night
The Empire State Building lights up the Manhattan sky
Tickets to the Empire State Building are only valid for one visit, so if you want to have a view of New York City during the day and see what it looks like at night, plan your visit for the late afternoon. By the time you get through the lines you’ll be able to catch the sunset and if you stick around after that you can see the whole city light up beneath you. When it gets dark the Empire State Building itself is also lit up by floodlights. Often the selection of lights reflects a particular event on that day. For example, the building is bathed in red and green for Christmas, and in orange, blue and white whenever the New York Knicks have a home game. You can check the Empire State Building website to see what the lighting occasion is on a particular day.

For the kids there’s a fun extra attraction located on the 2nd floor of the Empire State Building called the New York Skyride. This motion simulator attraction takes you on an aerial tour over the city. For the adults there’s also an interesting permanent exhibition on the 80th floor. This installation shows the engineering and construction process of the Empire State Building, and is free if you’ve purchased an Observatory ticket. The official gift shop is also located on the 80th floor. Lastly, in the lobby of the Empire State Building you’ll find restaurants, shops and cafes such as Starbucks for some refreshments.

Explore Midtown Manhattan

The Empire State Building is located right in the middle of bustling Midtown, Manhattan. Shopping possibilities around the tower are endless: if you walk north from the tower along Fifth Avenue you’ll come across stores of every size and budget.

Image of Midtown Manhattan’s Macy’s and Herald Square seen from the Empire State Building
Macy’s and Herald Square in Midtown Manhattan seen from the Empire State Building
One block west from 5th Avenue on 34th Street lies Herald Square, which is also surrounded by big chain stores and the flagship store of Macy’s, which occupies an entire block! To find out more about Herald Square and the surrounding area, check out our Herald Square video tour.

There are also many options for lunch or dining near the Empire State Building, as Korea Town with its many authentic restaurants is located just a block away. If you want to take the time to fully explore the neighborhood surrounding the Empire State Building, we have many vacation rentals available in Midtown, Manhattan where you can enjoy staying in the heart of New York City!

Have you ever been atop the Empire State Building?