While you can't truly call the Empire State Building a free NYC attraction, you can enjoy the iconic building for free on a number of levels. It's true that to go to the top it will cost you $20 a pop, you can go into its lobby for free and obviously view if from afar from many vantage points around the city. One of the best is from the Brooklyn Bridge at dusk. Noted for being the world's tallest building for over 40 years, the famed Art Deco skyscraper gained perhaps its greatest notoriety when Hollywood's mythic King Kong climbed to its top forever cementing its being not only NYC's icon but perhaps the symbol of the entire United States.
The Weather Lady said it was going to be a beautiful day, so we went to the Empire State Building.
The one thing you need to be prepared to do when you go: wait. You will need to wait in line to go through security, then wait to get tickets, then wait to get on not one but two elevators, to get to the 86th Floor Observatory. You also have the opportunity to go up to the 102nd Floor, but that involves an additional cost and another wait to get on yet another elevator.
Cost of a ticket to the 86th Floor (including taxes and "surcharge") is $22 for adults, $20 for Seniors and children 12-17 years old, $16 for children under 12. You can save a bit of time by purchasing tickets online and printing them out yourself. This allows you to skip the ticket line after you pass security. If you have more money than time, you can purchase an "Express Pass," which also allows you to cut in front of the elevator lines. Cost for this option is $49 for all ages, including taxes and "surcharge."
Despite all of the waiting, the view from the 86th floor is definitely worth it if the weather is good. You can also shorten your wait times a bit by arriving early in the morning. If you want to go higher, you can purchase tickets to the 102nd Floor outside the elevator on the 86th Floor (credit cards only, cost $15 per person). It's fun, but the observatory is enclosed in plexiglass marred by "scratchiti." As such, it's probably not worth the extra cost and time.
The Empire State Building is open 365 days a year, from 8AM to 2AM. Last elevator up is at 1:15 AM.
I know that this isn't necessarily a universally held opinion but, for me, visiting the Empire State Building is one of those 10 things to do before you die activities. The view from the top is superior to Top Of The Rock as, being in midtown, you get a much clearer view in every direction. It is quite possible to see Shea Stadium to the east, Giants Stadium to the west, Coney Island to the south and, on a clear day you can even see the Tappan Zee bridge over the Hudson and that's in Tarrytown some 23 miles away! You also get a great view of the Chrysler Building which is obscured from view by the ugly MetLife Building if you're standing on Top Of The Rock.
Besides the view, there's the history and the wonderful films that have used the ESB. From "An Affair to Remember" to "Sleepless in Seattle". Stand at the top and I defy you not to be moved!
Now, don't get me wrong, TOTR should also not be missed. It has a wonderful view of Central Park and, of course, the ESB and the whole experience of getting to the top is so much more civilised although I noticed a decidedly more civil attitude displayed by the staff at ESB than I have noticed before. Perhaps they're getting the message that there's competition out there!
So, how do you achieve the impossible - get to the top of each without paying too much and not queueing for hours? Here's how we did it. Plan to visit the ESB first thing in the morning. We arrived at 07:45 and were third in line. They don't open the escalator up to the ticket office until 08:00 but we were at the top by quarter past (this was in May this year). If you buy online, you have to collect your ticket at the sales office and you need to be able to show your credit card that you used or else, like the person who was at the front of the queue when we arrived, you'll have to go back to your hotel and collect it! We bought our tickets there and then. There's no need to go for the CityPass or the express option and you definitely DON'T want to pay extra for the 102nd floor even if it is open. It's small, you have to look through fairly small windows and the view is actually no better than from the observation deck.
As for TOTR, plan to go about 30 minutes before sunset - that way you can watch as the city changes from day to night and thousands of lights in almost every building come on and transform Manhattan into a wonderland of twinkling lanterns! There is no problem with queueing and, if you go here: http://www.theatermania.com/extras/TopOfTheRock/ you'll get a voucher saving you $3 off each pass.
I've just come across a voucher scheme on offer from Expedia for the ESB that you might like to check out: http://www.expedia.co.uk/pub/agent.dll?qscr=tsdt&stat=5&flgc=0&loid=178293&ofid=4032&wtid=28 It looks good but I haven't read all the small print!
One final point (if I need to convince you!). One of my favourite guide books (Not For Tourists) has this to say, "Some New Yorkers think it's hip to have never been to the Empire State Building. These people are idiots" I absolutely agree.
Bought two tickets for the Empire State Building on-line a month in advance and headed off with the printouts like the smuggest man in Christendom.
Two hours later, and still in a queue, I pondered to myself, "Why the f**k did I bother?".
I wasn't the only one who fell foul of the door Nazi either, as time and again people arrived at the front, internet tickets in hand, only to be shown to the back of the 2 block queue with a bemused look on their little faces.
Awesome building and view, but the wait is excruciating.
Also (and especially after 9/11), as the management clearly realise this is now in the top 3 "MUST SEE" attractions in New York, they have employed the surliest (ie underpaid) staff, and have left the inside go to rack & ruin. Parts of this dilapidated building actually look like the trash compactor from Star Wars.
Like all the big sights in New York these days, expect all but a rear end cavity search to get to the top.
If you've got time, it's worth coming twice (day & night) for two different experiences.
(I dont expect to convince any NY first timers, but The Top Of The Rock (Rockefeller Center) is a much better all round experience at any time of the day AND you can pre-book tickets properly).
DONT BOTHER with the appalling Sky Ride half way up... see my tourist trap tip for further details.
You can't visit New York without taking a bird's-eye view from the Empire State Building. Remember "Sleepless in Seattle," where Meg Ryan walks into the building and takes an empty elevator to the Observatory? Ha! What fiction! Real life people have to wait on incredibly long lines for tickets and then wait on another line for the elevators. You can actually cut the wait time in half if you buy tickets in advance from the ESB's web site. I'd recommend you avoid the "Sky Ride" they try to sell you, I think it's a rip-off.
First, an admission – we didn’t actually go up the Empire State Building on this visit to New York! On our first trip in 1982 we went up everything we could – this, the Rockefeller Center and the World Trade Center. This time, with only a week at our disposal, we decided to be more selective and chose the Top of the Rock for two reasons: firstly, the queues aren’t the problem they are here, and secondly, you get a great view of the Empire State Building from it, whereas of course you can’t get that when you’re on top of it! Despite not going up the building however, we inevitably saw a lot of it, and as it’s one of the city’s main tourist attractions I think it deserves a mention here.
The Observatory is on the 86th floor, 1,050 feet (320 meters) above street level. Over 3.5 million people ascend each year, which explains the aforementioned queues. You can speed things up a little by booking in advance, but you’ll still have to queue for the lifts, so come prepared to wait. There is an additional Observatory on the 102nd floor, for which tickets can’t be bought in advance, so that’s another wait if you want to go higher. Note that this is currently closed for renovations so check the website before you go. And if all this waiting sounds too much, you can buy an Express Pass, which entitles you to go to the front of every line, but this will cost you - $47 at the time of writing rather than the regular adult charge of $20.
If like us you decide not to go up the Empire State Building, do go take a look at it nevertheless. It was built in1930, during the Great Depression, as a deliberate (and successful) attempt to build the tallest building in the city and in the world, an honour it retained until 1972, when the World Trade Center took that honour. Following the destruction of the latter, the Empire State Building again took over as the tallest in New York, but other have meanwhile surpassed it elsewhere in the world. Just the same, while craning your neck to look up at it, you won’t be thinking it’s on the small side!
Make sure you check out the building at night time too, as the floodlighting is very effective. The colours change from time to time, depending on the time of year, current events and holidays etc. For instance, on the 5th November 2008 the building was lit up simply in blue, to celebrate Barack Obama’s victory in the previous day’s US Presidential election.
I had went at a cold time of the year and if its cold on the ground Imagine how cold it is 86 stories up on the outside of The building..lol
It was a great experience and I enjoyed the view.
They also offered a audio host which tell you were what is and info about the city and what you are looking at.(It was 6 US$ and you only need one for the entire family)
I recommend that It be done in the summer time or a at warmer time of the year.
Be prepared to stand in line as even on a cold day there were line ups....
They will also take your pic and give u a coupon so u can pic it up for a price at the end of your visit.
Once at the observation level there were a few gift shops.
Prices for DEC 2006 Observatory was:-
Adults (16-61) $16
Youths (12-16) $14
Children (6-11) $10
Senior (62+) $14
Military (with ID) $14
They also had a Skyride (which is a Imax Type of theather to watch on an 18 feet screen a simulation on the aerial view of the city.)
I wasn't going to do this one as I hate standing in lines and, well, it's one of those really cliche tourist things. Still, as my Other Half pointed out, it IS the ESB and something I'd probably only do once in my life so off we went. About 45 minutes into a long, hot wait I was giving him the evil eye but once we (finally) stepped on onto the observation deck...
... the pictures say it all.
The website has everything you want to know about the history and visiting info of this historic, Art Deco spire so I'll stick to the generals:
Entrance to the building is on 5th Avenue, between 33rd and 34th Streets. There is a separate handicapped entrance (see website).
You will wait through a succession of 3 lines before you reach the 86th floor observatory: security, ticketing and elevators. The longest part of the wait will be inside the building and it was oppressively warm when we were there so you'll probably be shedding your coats (no coat check). Bring something to keep the kids occupied! Cameras and camcorders are, of course, fine but no tripods. Also no suitcases or bottles allowed.
There are several ways to cut the waiting time:
Order tickets in advance from the website - which eliminates the ticket line.
Order Express passes, which eliminates the ticket line and places you at the front of the other two. This comes with a price (around $45) but if you have $$ and don't have time, this is the way to go.
During your wait, they do their level best to sell you add-ons like tickets to a simulated helicopter show (Skyride) or 102nd floor observatory, audio guides and souvenirs.
General admission is, at the time of this writing, about $20 for adults and less for children and seniors (see website). US military, in uniform, and little ones under age 6 are free.
The ESB is open 365 days a year, 8:00AM to 2:00AM. Last elevators go up at 1:15AM.
A note about the illumination: it's normally white but changes per seasonal holidays (like Christmas) and other national/world events. They also occasionally turn it off on foggy/cloudy nights during peak migration season (spring/fall) as the birds are drawn to the lights and can smash into the side of the building.
If you like standing in line and paying an extraordinary amount just to see the city from up above... then Empire State Building, the 381 meters high - (overall height with the 68m long antenna is 448 m) - Art Deco skyscraper is great. Its name comes from the nickname for the state of New York. Since its opening in 1931, it has been visited by 120 million people from Queen Elizabeth of the UK to Fidel Castro and even the soccer star Pele.
Time your visit for early or late in the day -- morning is the least crowded time -- when the sun is low on the horizon and the shadows are deep across the city.
When entering the building you must go through the security check. This consists of a walk-through scanner and baggage check system. You should have a picture ID too.
The major attraction is the 2nd-floor virtual tour simulator, the skyride techno journey.
It is a fun-filled presentation of movie, motion, and sights.
This visual and motion simulation experience allows you to “fly over” 30 sights, New York is famous for, lifting off from the top of the Empire State Building, soar through the Manhattan Skyline, glide past the Statue of Liberty, play in traffic at Times Square, "zoom" through Wall Street and ride the stomach-crunching Coney Island Cyclone. The half hour complete experience includes 2 pre-shows called “I am New York”, on the history of the Building and “Top 10 Things to do in New York”. No photography allowed.
The 86th-floor observatory, 320 meters, is open to the air, but has also an air-conditioned, glass-enclosed area. The 102nd-floor observatory is closed when crowds are too large.
On a clear day you can see approximately 130 km far in five US Federal States (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts). The top of the building is lit up every night in different colors.
The conquest of the stairs of Empire State Building is organized in every years. 1576 stairs of 86 floors wait for the candidates, who undertake to climb up under the possible shortest time onto the peak. The present record is 9 minutes and 33 seconds set up by an Australian professional cyclist in 2003.
Admission: Adult (18-61) $20, Senior (62+) and Youth (12-17) $18, Child (6-11) $ 14 but younger than 6 free, 102nd Floor Observatory is an additional $15.
Express Pass $45 (you will automatically be moved to the front of each and every line.
Lobby: free to the general public.
Observatory hours: Daily 8am - 2am next day. Last elevators go to the top at 11:15pm
The Empire State Building was awesome. You have to go EARLY and yes, you do have to wait in a line. If the line is out the door--dont bother, come back later. If you can get your tickets online, definetly do it. IF YOU'VE BEEN TO EPCOT & DID "SOARING"--DONT BOTHER WITH THE SKY RIDE. ITS SO BAD!!!!! It jerks you around, its not smooth and enjoyable--too many quick flashing, odd angle and distorted pics of the city sights. And especially for the extra money...its not worth it.
One more thing....dont buy the $30 overpriced picture they take of you. They give you a picture card and the prices are a bit more reasonable when you order online.
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