The Empire State Building is arguably the most renowned skyscrapers in New York and one of the most popular sights of the city. Located in the heart of Manhattan, it is an iconic symbol of the city. One of the many reasons for the fascination the Empire State Building is its lighting. Every night, the top of the building lights up in a variety of colors. This gives the Empire State Building a different look every day meaning that you cant grow tired of the beautiful building at night. The Empire State Building should definitely be included on any to do list! It even has its own zip code (NY 10118)!

Everything you need to know about the Empire State Building – tickets, hours of operation, the observation platforms, how to get to the Empire State Building, and how to avoid long wait lines – is covered in this article.

History of the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building was designed by architect William F. Lamb of Brooklyn and erected within a construction period of only 18 months. The official grand opening took place on May 1, 1931. The architectural style of the building is Art Deco which is continued on the interior. The inside of the famous building is nothing short of amazing – the lobby, for example, is completely clad in marble.

Height of the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is 1453 feet tall and, from its opening to 1972, reigned as the tallest building in the world for more than forty years. The height is measured from the ground to the tip of the lightning rod (the building itself  is 1250 feet tall). Until the opening of the former World Trade Center, the Empire State Building was also the tallest building in New York. Following the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11, it became the dominant building of the New York skyline and is now only surpassed in height by the new One World Trade Center. The Empire State Building is also famous for its annual stair race – the Empire State Building Run-Up, which is a tradition that began in 1978. The goal is reaching the observation platform on the 86th floor by running up the stair well. Participants must conquer a total of 1,576 stairs – Crazy!

Operating hours of the Empire State Building

The hours of operation of the observation platform are easy to remember. Rain or shine, hours of operation remain the same. The Empire State Building opens in the morning at 08:00 am and closes at 02:00 am at night. Important: the last elevator up leaves the lobby at 01:15 am.

Location of the Empire State Building

Generally speaking, you cannot miss the Empire State Building – it stands tall above the other buildings and is easy to locate due to its distinctive top. Especially in the evenings and at night: just keep your eye out for its gleaming, illuminated top section.

The exact address of the Empire State Building is 5th Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets in midtown. It is centrally located in Manhattan and is only a few minutes walking distance from many other famous spots such as Herald Square, home to the worlds’ largest store department store Macy’s, (5 minutes), Times Square (14 minutes), Madison Square Garden, and the Flatiron Building (both approx. 11 minutes walk away).

How to get to the Empire State Building

The subway Lines m f b stop one block away at the “34th Street Herald Sq.” station. Another option is to take the green subway Line 6, which stops 2 blocks away at the “33rd Street” station on Park Avenue.

Once you arrive at the Empire State Building, you may often run into long queues. That does not necessarily mean that the observation platform will be completely packed however. The reason for the long line is often the security check that everyone has to clear before entering the lobby. Only a limited number of people are allowed to be in the lobby at one time.

Illumination of the Empire State Building

What makes the Empire State Building truly special is its top. Every day, it shines in new colors: usually in three levels. The lower section, middle part, and the antenna can all shine in different colors. The illumination is often in the theme of current events, for example the Superbowl winners.

The colors are also often matched to special events and holidays. When Germany won the World Cup 2014, the Empire State Building was illuminated in black, red, and gold!

Other popular colors of the Empire State Building 

  • Red on Valentine’s Day (February)
  • Green on St. Patrick’s Day (March)
  • Red / White / Blue on national holidays such as the 4th of July – Pink for Christopher Street Day
  • Blue / White during home games of the New York Yankees (baseball)
  • Red / Green for Christmas
  • Black / Red / Gold for the Steuben Parade

Empire State Building

The Empire State Building Observation Deck – New York’s highest open terrace

Every year, 3.5 million people visit the Empire State Building and its two observation platforms – only Times Square gets more visitors!

The observation platform – also called observation deck – is on the 86th floor and soars 320 meters above the streets of the city – this height gives you stunning views of New York City. When it is really clear, you can see as far as 50 miles and enjoy the amazing 360º view!

Empire State Building tickets for the 102nd floor

You can also go higher and take the elevator to the 102nd floor. Tickets are approx. $20 extra. In our opinion, visiting the 102nd floor is not worth it. There are several reasons: first, this floor does not feature an open platform but only an area enclosed with windows that often produce a lot of glare. To be completely honest: the extra meters in height do not make a big difference in terms of the view.

You can read about our experience on the 102nd floor and see our pictures in this article.

Empire State Building tickets

If you have not already bought tickets, you can buy them at the ticket counters inside the Empire State Building. Budget ample time for this however, the ticket counter generally always has a 1 hour queue.

It is much better to buy the tickets in advance – and avoid the long lines!

Our first tip: buy tickets online! Tickets are cheaper and you don’t have to stand in line at the ticket counter! You can then use the tickets any time. You do not have to specify a specific date or time for your visit.

The Empire State Building without the wait

If you bought your tickets for the Empire State Building and its observation deck in advance – or you have one of the 3 New York sightseeing passes – you won’t have to wait in line at the ticket counter and can proceed straight to the security check. There are also Express Tickets that allow you to go directly to the elevators — once you pass through the security check, which you cannot skip.

Buy Express Tickets

See if one of the sightseeing passes makes sense for you!

Our tip: Get yourself a NYC Pass. You pay a fixed price and can then enjoy many attractions and tours in New York without paying for entry tickets separately (you can save up to 70% compared to regular ticket prices in this way!). The tickets for the Empire State Building are included in all three passes.

We bought the New York Pass, which included the Express Tickets and could thus bypass the queue to the ticket counter. This saves you some serious time. You can buy the New York Pass here. A comparison of the three passes is available here.

Empire State Building included in the New York Passdabei1More about the New York PassCompare Now
Empire State Building included in the CityPASSdabei1More about the CityPASSCompare Now
Empire State Building included in the Explorer Passdabei1More about the Explorer PassCompare Now

Ticket Prices

Empire State Building tickets start at $28 for children (age 6-12), adults pay $34. Seniors receive a discount of approximately 10% meaning Tickets for seniors cost $30 (age: 62+).

Buy Tickets Here

We recommend “Empire State Building Tickets – Observatory and Optional Skip the Line Tickets” that you can buy here starting at 34 USD.

Empire State Building prices and hours of operation

Here is an overview of the price structure and the hours of operation of the Empire State Building and observation deck:

Hours of operation:daily, 08:00 am to 02:00 am (last elevator leaves lobby at 01:15 am)
Price per adult$34
Price per child (age 6 – 12)$28
Price for seniors (age 62+)$30

Buy Tickets Now

Special days at the Empire State Building

Valentine’s Day on the Empire State Building

This is an especially romantic day, and the top of the Empire State Building is fully illuminated in red – the color of love. The observation platform is a wonderful place to let your thoughts wander as a couple and gives you an experience that you will look back on fondly for a long time!

Proposal on the Empire State Building

Do you want to ask the question of all questions? There probably is not a better place in New York City for a marriage proposal than the observation deck of the Empire State Building! My tip: propose on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. Because on those days, there is a saxophone player who will provide the perfect, romantic atmosphere (from 9:00 pm to 01:00 am)! If you would prefer a little more privacy, avoid the peak times and come to the Empire State Building late in the evening. Good luck!

FAQ about the Empire State Building

When is the best time to visit the Empire State Building? 

If you want to avoid a long queue, it is best not to come during peak visiting hours. From 8:00 am to 11:00 am, crowds are fairly light. Based on our experience, late afternoon or late evening are also good options. Even if you decide to visit the observation deck of the Empire State Building at the spur of the moment, you can avoid waiting for a long time by either buying tickets in advance or buying one of the three New York sightseeing passes. You pay a fixed price and can then enjoy many attraction and tours in New York free of charge (you save up to 70% compared to purchasing regular tickets separately!). The ticket for the Empire State Building is included in all three passes, so it is basically free! Here you will find a comparison of the three passes.

 

Can I take a wheelchair or stroller to the observation deck of the Empire State Building? 

Yes, that is not a problem. Elevators take you straight to the top – where everything is wheelchair-accessible (including the bathrooms).

Where is the entrance? 

The entrance is located on 5th Avenue between 33rd and 34th Street. You can easily recognize Empire State Building employees by their burgundy colored uniforms. Can I use my ticket multiple times? No. Tickets are only valid for one visit. My tip: go in the late afternoon. Then you can watch the slow transition of New York during the day into the New York of the night. Those are two highly distinct impressions – really nice!

Images of the Empire State Building

Up to 15% Discount on Tickets

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Budget tip!

The popular observation platform of the Empire State Building is included in the New York sightseeing passes!


Header image: Glenn Beltz / Flickr CC

The Empire State Building
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