For a lot of people visiting New York, one of the top things to do on their list is visit the Empire State Building as it gives such a great view of the city. Top of the Rock is an alternative attraction with similar views, so I thought it would be a good idea to compare the two attractions as most people do one or the other rather than both.
I wanted to do both so I could see the difference myself. I did Top of the Rock on my second night, and Empire State Building the morning after. This gave me a really wonderful experience of seeing the city in all its glory at night as well as in the daytime. I loved the view I got in the morning, but seeing the city lit up at night was indescribable, I couldn’t say which time of the day I would suggest over the other!
Empire State Building
I went to the Empire State Building on a bright morning, so naturally half of the city decided to do the same. Despite it being busy, I still managed to get some great views! My GoCity card (mentioned here) gave me fast track through security and some of the queue which was definitely a plus considering how busy it was! The line just to get into the building was a solid half an hour wait which you have to do regardless, so be prepared to add an hour to your expected time allowance to allow for getting into the building, through security and back down again.
The 86th floor observation deck is included within the standard admission price, which gives an incredible 360º views of NYC, but it is possible to buy your way up to the 102nd level of the building. In my opinion, the views are good enough from the lower level to not need to buy the higher one. The one possible advantage I can think of is the number of people you have to navigate around to get good pictures. However, if you don’t mind being patient and moving into smallish gaps to get your perfect shot, I wouldn’t bother. The levels are protected with fencing, so getting unobstructed photos is relatively easy between the gaps. There isn’t a set time limit that you have to stick to when looking around, so you can take it all in and take pictures when you can.
One thing that stood out to me was the availability of ramps to allow for disabled access on the 86th floor, as well as lifts to every level. There were some steps down to the main deck, so this was encouraging to see!
Top of the Rock
The Rockefeller Centre is less busy than the Empire State and not as high up (67th, 69th and 70th floors, all with lift access) , but still has a good view of the city. There are several levels open to everyone unlike the Empire State Building, and it doesn’t provide 360º views on every floor, but give perfect views nonetheless. As I went at night, it was very quiet so I can’t say how busy it is usually, but I got to the top, through security and back down again within an hour and a half, with plenty of time to look around.
Instead of fencing, the two lower floors have plastic paneling which gives you totally unobstructed views, but can pose a problem for photos due to reflections. There are small gaps where the panels meet that a phone can fit through, but the only truly unobstructed views are on the open 70th floor deck, which is significantly smaller, but gives wonderful views of the city.
The other big plus of Top of the Rock is that you can see the Empire State Building in all its glory, which you can’t do from the top of it!
If you have the time and funds, I would wholeheartedly say visit both sites as they both have rich histories which are detailed in exhibitions and information boards throughout the queuing areas. However, if you only have the time/funds to do one, I would say go to the Empire State Building for views, but go to Top of the Rock if you don’t want to wait in queues that wrap around the block.