Empire State Building or Top of the Rock?

Which is better for you?

Before any New York visit, most tourists ask themselves, where can I get the best view of New York City? Is it the Empire State Building or  Top of the Rock? Both observation decks promise unforgettable views, but both have their differences.

The Empire State Building is initially higher than the Top of the Rock. The Empire State Building was once the tallest building in the world, with an impressive height of 1454 feet to the top of the antenna. The Top of the Rock is “only” 849 feet high.

Empire State Building or Top of the Rock: The View

The Empire State Building is one of the city’s most popular attractions and landmarks. The view is magnificent and offers a 360-degree view that lets visitors see all of New York. These views make these observation decks in New York one of the best. The city is especially beautiful during sunset because the city slowly turns into a sparkling sea of ​​lights. The only downside is once you get to the top, you will practically be behind a large fence. In order to get a good shot of the city, you would need to poke your camera through the fence so it does not get in your shot. The Empire State Building offers an extra option to go up to the 102nd floor. The views of One World Trade Center (which is home to One World Observatory), Lower Manhattan and Times Square are popular photographs.

The Top of the Rock offers special features that the Empire State Building cannot match. One is that there are multiple viewing levels. Also, there aren’t any large fences, but large see-thru glass walls. The very top level offers a smaller viewing platform but is glass-free. The view of Central Park from the Top of the Rock is indescribable. On top of that, the Top of the Rock offers an unimpeded view of the Empire State Building, which for many of course is part of the cityscape. So, if you want to have a look at the Empire State Building, you should go to the Top of the Rock.

View from the Empire State Building

Empire State Building 102nd floor
View from Empire State Building

View from Top of the Rock

Empire State Building Top of the Rock

Waiting Times – Empire State Building or Top of the Rock?

Waiting times can make or break the experience. At the Top of the Rock, you should not have to expect really long waiting times, which is a big advantage to the very crowded Empire State Building. The only time that the Top of the Rock gets full is during sunset. Apart from this period, you do not have to make a decision when you are going to the Top of the Rock. However, it is important to consider beforehand what you want to see – so the time of the day is very important.

The Empire State Building is usually packed with people especially in the afternoon and weekends. Tourists from all over the world have dreamed of visiting the Empire State Building the mass of people can get frustrating at certain times of the day (from 1:00 pm, weekends and evenings). The Empire State Building and Top of the Rock are open daily, with closing times of 2 AM and Midnight, respectively.

Tickets and entry fees at the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building

Purchasing tickets for both The Empire State Building and Top of the Rock is relatively easy and offers different packages for convenience and time.

Tickets for Top of the Rock

  • Option 1:  Standard ticket – 1 adult / time flexible for $29 (children 6-12 years $18)
  • Option 2:  Premier Pass – 1 adult / time flexible for $34 (children 6-12 years $23)
    This includes entrance to the viewing platform, a souvenir photo and a brochure about the Top of the Rock.
  • Option 3:  Sun & Stars – 1 adult / time flexible for $42 (children 6-12 years for $24)
    This includes the possibility of visiting the viewing platform 2x a day. For example, if you are looking for the best tickets for the best events of the Top of the Rock tour, then why not buy the Top of the Rock tickets?

All tickets can be bought online here. This saves you waiting in the queue at the ticket counter. Express tickets are available for the Empire State Building (so you can easily pass the queue) but, unfortunately not available for the Top of the Rock.


With the New York Pass, the Top of the Rock is already included. You can find out more about the pass here.

Tickets for the Empire State Building

If you are looking for affordable tickets for the Empire State Building (partial discounts of up to 30%), you can find them on this page. It is easier if you buy your tickets online. Here are two useful options:

  • Entrance to the lookout tower of the Empire State Building with Audiotour.
  • Fast access without queues  – Priority treatment for security, ticket and elevator areas on the 2nd, 80th and 86th floor for the Empire State Building viewing platform. Includes Audiotour.

The audio guide has 7, three-minute sequences, which you can play depending on the location. Tickets for the lookout platform on the 102nd floor are available at the map switch on the second floor of the building. Admission costs $ 15.00 in addition to the tickets.


With an express ticket (fast access) you can get in front of the queue to get to the lookout platform. Just a quick note, the number of express tickets is limited.

The tickets are valid for the viewing platform on the 86th floor. The express pass is worthwhile especially during busy seasons such as Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve and other holidays, as well as extended weekends. Also, the Express Pass is recommended for a visit between 11 am and 2 pm and an hour before and after sunset. If you want to go to the 102nd floor, you must buy the tickets separately. Express passes are only available at the Empire State Building itself.


Empire State Building or Top of the Rock? Our conclusion

Both attractions have their advantages. Our favorite is always the Top of the Rock because we think it offers the best view and the waiting times are reasonable. Ultimately, it is pure taste. If you have the time, you can always enjoy both. The experiences are different in each case and New York truly stuns no matter the perspective. We hope this answers your questions. If you have any further concerns, please leave them in the comments.

What is your favorite observation deck in New York? Let us know and write it in the comments!

Profilbild Steffen Kneist
About the author

I'm a true New York fan! Not only have I visited the city over 25 times but also have I spent several months here at a time. On my blog I show you the best and most beautiful spots of the city, so that you have a really good time! You can also find lots of insider tips in our New York travel guide. Also check out my hotel finder for New York!

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