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Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building

Do you feel like going up to one of the most mythical observatories in Midtown Manhattan but don't know which one to choose? We compare them!

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

14 min read

Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building

View of New York from the Sea | ©Kevinofsydney

One of the best activities you can do in New York during your trip is to contemplate the city from the heights. In Manhattan there are several skyscrapers whose observatories offer spectacular views of the island from very different perspectives.

The ideal would be to see them all but if your budget is tight or you do not have enough time, to help you in the difficult task of choosing we compare two of the most emblematic observatories in the center: climbing the Empire State vs. climbing the Top of the Rock.

1. Views from the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock face to face

View of the Empire State building from the Top of the Rock| ©halbag
View of the Empire State building from the Top of the Rock| ©halbag

They are the two most legendary observatories in downtown New York because of their antiquity and breathtaking views. Located in Midtown Manhattan, they are the absolute stars of the city skyline. Let's analyze what you are going to see from each one to start deciding which one is more convincing.

The views from the Empire State Building, as seen in a movie

Since it opened in 1931, the Empire State Building has always been a magnet for the curious and tourists. Hollywood contributed to its popularity by making it a star in its films, but the truth is that the panoramic views from its observation deck are enough by themselves to earn it the fame it has.

The Empire State Observatory is divided into two floors (86 and 102). Through its famous binoculars and from the observation deck itself you will see places such as:

Book your tickets for the Empire State Building without queues

The views from the Top of the Rock, a classic

Because of its location in the heart of Manhattan, the Top of the Rock is the observatory most recommended by travelers and the one with possibly the best views at any time of day, although sunset is the preferred time of day for visitors.

From its observation deck spread over three floors (67, 69 and 70) you will have not only the best panoramic view of New York, but you can see Central Park and the Empire State in all its splendor. At the Top of the Rock you will have the feeling of being on top of the world. Everything seems tiny and colossal at the same time when you look at sites such as:

Book your tickets for the Top of the Rock

2. The price, an important factor to go up to the Empire State or Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock tickets| ©HelloTickets
Top of the Rock tickets| ©HelloTickets

You may be sure you want to climb one of the iconic skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan to get a bird's eye view of the city, but do you know how much the tickets will cost or if there are any discounts you can take advantage of?

To help you organize your budget and choose the observatory that best suits your budget, we are going to compare the prices of tickets to the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock.

How much is a ticket to the Empire State Building and are there any discounts or reduced prices?

From 39€ you can get a skip-the-line ticket to the Empire State to go up to the Main Deck, the main observatory on the 86th floor with 360º panoramic views of the New York skyline. In addition, with the free audio guide that includes this ticket you can learn all about this jewel of the Art Deco movement.

If you would like to save a penny with the visit to the Empire State you can take advantage of the reduced rates from 33 € that the viewpoint offers to certain groups such as children from 6 to 12 years or adults over 62 years. Children under 6 years old get in for free.

If you want to know more about this issue, I recommend you to read the post Ticket prices to the Empire State where it is discussed in detail.

How much is a ticket to the Top of the Rock and are there any discounts or reduced prices?

As for the Top of the Rock, from 35 € you can get a ticket without queues to the three floors of the observation deck (floors 67, 69 and 70) to enjoy the magnificent 360º views of Manhattan from a privileged place at the top of the building 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

This ticket also includes access to the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center and the General Electric Building, two very interesting places in the complex that will complete the visit.

The views of New York from the Top of the Rock are amazing, especially at sunset. This is the most popular time, so if you want to go up at that time to see it they charge a $10 supplement.

However, the observatory also offers reduced rates from 31€ to those visitors who are part of certain groups such as children from 6 to 12 years old and those over 62 years old. A small discount that is sure to save you money during your vacation, and kids under 6 get in for free!

I recommend you to read the post Ticket prices to the Top of the Rock to learn more about this topic and so you can better organize the budget of the visit.

3. The Empire State and the Top of the Rock, we compare the height of both observation decks

Top of the Rock terrace| ©HelloTickets
Top of the Rock terrace| ©HelloTickets

The main observatory of the Empire State Building known as the Main Deck is located on the 86th floor of the famous skyscraper and rises to 320 meters high while the Top of the Rock observation deck rises to 260 meters high, between the 67th and 70th floors, on the top of the 30 Rockefeller Plaza building.

A difference of about 60 meters in height that will test your vertigo. To contemplate New York from the heights is a wonderful experience that you should live at least once in your life. Don't let your fear of heights stop you from seeing the city at your feet, here are some tips to help you!

Tips for people with vertigo

If you suffer from vertigo, at the prospect of climbing a skyscraper and confronting heights, your mind may be predisposed to fear. Don't worry, this is very common, but so that vertigo does not condition your visit to the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock, I recommend you put into practice the following tips:

  • Mentalizing yourself about the place you are going to visit will train your brain to control your emotions and transform them into pleasant experiences.

  • Work on your breathing to control anxiety and stress. Practicing deep breathing before climbing a skyscraper will help you oxygenate your brain, release tension and regain calm.

  • Focus on your goal and not on the fear of heights. When you reach it, remember that you have surpassed yourself. Enjoy this success and keep that positive memory to motivate you in the future.

Comparative table of observatory heights

  • Empire State
  • From $ 49
  • Height: 320 meters
  • Observatory: 86th and 102nd floors.
  • Reservation
  • Top of the Rock
  • From $ 44.
  • Height: 260 meters
  • Observatory: 67th, 69th and 70th floors.
  • Reservation

4. What is the climb to the Empire State or Top of the Rock observation deck like?

Time it takes to climb to the top of the rock| ©HelloTickets
Time it takes to climb to the top of the rock| ©HelloTickets

To go up to the observatories of both skyscrapers fortunately you don't have to do it by stairs but both the Empire State and the Top of the Rock have ultra-fast elevators that in a few seconds will take you to the heights.

The ascent of the Empire State

The ascent to the Empire State is done through two different elevators. The first one leads to the 80th floor and a short video about the construction of the building is projected on the ceiling along the way. The second elevator takes you to the Main Deck on the 86th floor where all the fun awaits.

In case you have reduced mobility or come with a person with special needs you should know that the two observation decks of the Empire State Building are accessible to people who need to use wheelchairs. In addition, to facilitate the experience, the observation deck's binoculars can accommodate all visitors.

The ascent of the Top of the Rock

For its part, the Top of the Rock has four Sky Shuttles to go up to the 67th floor where the observation deck is located. These are very modern elevators that travel in less than a minute the distance to the observatory and inside which is also projected on the ceiling a video to liven up the ascent.

The Top of the Rock Observatory is also accessible for people with special mobility needs and Rockefeller Center tour guides can show you the most wheelchair accessible routes inside the building.

5. Where are the Empire State and Top of the Rock located?

View from the Empire State Building Floor| ©HelloTickets
View from the Empire State Building Floor| ©HelloTickets

Both the Empire State Building and the Top of the World are located in Midtown Manhattan, in the heart of New York. The former is located at the intersection of 5th Avenue and West 34th Street while the latter is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, with its entrance on 50th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue.

You can get to both by taking a stroll, the cheapest and most entertaining way to get to know downtown, but if you are pressed for time to see either of these attractions and need to get there as soon as possible then I recommend you take the subway.

These are the main subway lines that will take you to both observatories but if you want to know in more detail how to get to these attractions I recommend you to read the posts about how to get to the Empire State or Top of the Rock.

Comparison of their location and how to get there

  • Empire State
  • From $ 49
  • Address.: 5th Avenue and West 34th
  • Subway lines
  • From 34th - Penn Station (1, 2, 3, A, C and E)
  • From 34th - Herald Square Station (N, Q, R, W, B, D, F and M)
  • From Grand Central Terminal (4, 5, 6 and 7)
  • Reservation
  • Top of the Rock
  • From $ 44.
  • Address.: 30 Rockefeller Plaza
  • Subway lines
  • From 47th-50th Street Rockefeller Center (B, D, F and M lines)
  • From 49th Street (N, Q and R)
  • From 50th Street stop (line 1)
  • Reservation

6. Empire State and Top of the Rock, we compare their architecture

View from the Top of the rock| ©HelloTickets
View from the Top of the rock| ©HelloTickets

Both the architecture of the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock is framed within the Art Deco style, very much in vogue during the 30s of the twentieth century.

A movement that exudes elegance and timelessness and is impregnated with minimalism and sober lines. Without being an industrial style, it is characterized by the use of mosaic and geometric shapes that are repeated, parallel and straight lines as well as plain colors where gold, black, gray, silver and white abound. The ornamentation is scarce without being an industrial style.

Inaugurated in 1931, the Empire State Building was designed by architect William F. Lamb. S, is listed as a National Historic Landmark since 1986 and for nearly 40 years was the tallest building in the world. The Top of the Rock, on the other hand, was designed by architect Raymond Hood, was built in 1933 and has been listed as an American Historic Landmark since 1988.

Although Art Deco is a style that originated in France, it had a great impact on American design and architecture in the first half of the 20th century. The Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock are not the only examples of this movement in New York. They are joined by the Chrysler Building, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the American Radiator Building or the Chanin Building. That's why when we talk about the "Gotham" style it is so easy to imagine the architecture of the Big Apple.

7. We compare the opening hours of the Empire State and the Top of the Rock

Inside the Top of the rock| ©Nick Night
Inside the Top of the rock| ©Nick Night

The Empire State Building is open from 8 AM to 2 AM while the Top of the Rock is open from 10 AM to 10 PM. Both are open every day of the year, so you can choose the time you want to go up.

Both observatories have extensive hours that offer great flexibility for visitors to crown the top of the skyscrapers at virtually any time of the day.

How are the crowds?

Being two very popular tourist attractions there are always plenty of people at the observation decks enjoying the views, so if you want a more intimate experience up there I advise you to go early in the morning or before closing time. You can learn more about the best time to go up these skyscrapers in the Empire State and Top of the Rock posts on this topic.

8. We compare the observation decks of the Empire State and Top of the Rock

View of Time Square from the Empire State Building| ©Hellotickets
View of Time Square from the Empire State Building| ©Hellotickets

There are several coincidences between the two viewpoints. For example, both are two iconic New York observation decks that were built in Art Deco style in the early 20th century and are located in Midtown Manhattan with spectacular views. But what are their viewpoints like, and is the experience the same at each?

If it is the first time you go to New York, I recommend visiting the Top of the Rock because you will have 360º views of Manhattan with the Empire State in the background, something that is not possible from the Empire State itself.

The Top of the Rock observatory is spread over three floors. The 67th floor is almost entirely closed, but the 69th and 70th floors are open to the public. In addition to breathtaking views from any part of the observation deck, this attraction also has other curious entertainments such as the Breezeway room with LED lights that move as you walk by or the Radiance Wall, the work of artist Michael Hammers.

The Empire State Observatory is distributed on two floors, the open-air Main Deck located at 86th floor and the glassed-in Top Deck located at 102nd floor, both with fairly similar views of the New York landscape.

9. Is it possible to eat inside the Empire State or at the Top of the Rock?

Mexican food at Tacombi Restaurant| ©Jessica Fiess-Hill
Mexican food at Tacombi Restaurant| ©Jessica Fiess-Hill

Seeing New York from the heights gives you an appetite. Fortunately, both the Empire State and the Top of the Rock have restaurants inside the skyscraper where you can take a break to refuel.

Gastronomic offer of the Empire State

Inside the Empire State you'll find options for all tastes and budgets. From the healthy salads of Chopt or the most authentic Mexican flavors of Tacombi or Chipotle to dishes prepared in the purest New York style at State Grill & Bar.

If you feel like having a drink inside the Empire State Building, go to the State Grill & Bar restaurant where you can enjoy their Happy Hour in a very cozy atmosphere. Now, if you want to see the Empire State illuminated before you in all its splendor at night, I recommend you leave the skyscraper to go to the rooftop 230 Fifth It is a marvel!

However, if you would like to know other restaurants around the Empire State, I recommend you take a look at the post Where to eat well near the Empire State where you can see more proposals.

Gastronomic offer of the Top of the Rock

The same happens at the Top of the Rock. Without leaving Rockefeller Center you can find a wide variety of restaurants where to have a snack after visiting the observatory such as the artisan bagels from Black Seed Bagels, the delicious sushi from Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar or the rich fried chicken with Asian-American influences from Fuku, among others.

A few floors below the Top of the Rock observation deck, at 65 30 Rockefeller Plaza, is the Sixty-Five Bar, a great place to put the finishing touch to a great day with friends with a delicious cocktail in hand and enjoying the views of New York from its large windows.

However, if you want to take advantage of your visit to the Top of the Rock to visit other restaurants in the area, do not miss the post Where to eat well near the Top of the Rock where you will have more ideas.

10. In short: climb the Empire State or climb the Top of the Rock, we compare the options

Inside the Empire State Building| ©Jazz Guy
Inside the Empire State Building| ©Jazz Guy
  • Empire State
  • From 49
  • Reduced rates: Yes.
  • Height: 320 meters
  • Observation Deck: 86th and 102nd floors.
  • Views: Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, 5th Ave. Hudson River, Bryant Park, etc.
  • Hours: 8 AM to 2 AM.
  • Crowds: High, especially at dusk. Lower early and late in the day.
  • Wheelchair accessible: Yes.
  • Location: Downtown Manhattan
  • Reservations
  • Top of the Rock
  • From 44.
  • Reduced rates: Yes
  • Height: 260 meters
  • Observation Deck: 67th, 69th and 70th floors.
  • Views: Empire State Building, Central Park, OWTC, Hudson River, Hudson Yards, etc.
  • Hours: 10 AM to 10 PM.
  • Crowds: High, especially at dusk. Lower early in the day.
  • Wheelchair accessible: Yes.
  • Location: Downtown Manhattan
  • Reservations

How to choose according to your travel plan

View of the New York night| ©George Bakos
View of the New York night| ©George Bakos

It is not easy to choose just one observatory to climb as each of New York's most famous skyscrapers has a unique perspective of the city.

If you find yourself at the crossroads and not sure which one to choose, then it's a good idea to take a look at your travel plan to help you decide. Here are some hints!

  • If it is your first time in New York: Top of the Rock (you will have a beautiful panoramic view of the New York skyline with the Empire State included in the landscape something that does not happen the other way around).
  • If you have already been more times in the Big Apple: Empire State (it is a classic).
  • If you are on a budget: Top of the Rock
  • If you prefer daytime views: Empire State Building
  • If you prefer the views at night: Top of the Rock (you can also see the Empire State illuminated)
  • If you are short on time: Empire State (has longer hours)
  • If you want to see the sunset: Top of the Rock
  • If you want to take lots of pictures of the scenery: Top of the Rock
  • If you visit New York in winter: Empire State (has heaters in the open-air observation deck on the 86th floor that will keep you warm)
  • If you visit New York in summer: Top of the Rock (it has two open-air observation decks on the 69th and 70th floors where you can catch the breeze).