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This post will provide all of the information you need to visit the Empire State Building, including discount and free tickets, which observatory to choose and how to avoid long lines. Click here to purchase tickets now.
TIP: If you are considering the purchase of a New York City tourist discount pass, keep in mind that entry to the Empire State Building is included for free with the purchase of the New York Pass. There are additional discount tickets available.
Express Pass Tickets cost $60 per person and they allow you to skip not just the ticket lines but also the elevator lines.
Express Pass Tickets cost $80 per person.
This ticket is for those who just can’t decide whether to go during the day or the night. For night access, you can enter the ESB after 9 pm (21:00).
TIP: If you are considering a tourist discount pass, then note that the CityPass booklet includes the AM + PM ticket.
There are a number of different ways to get cheap Empire State Building tickets. Most of these discounts will be good for general admission tickets, so anyone who wants an Express Pass will need to upgrade.
And remember, if you are considering the purchase of a New York City tourist discount pass, keep in mind that entry to the Empire State Building’s 86th Floor observatory is included for free with the purchase of the New York Pass.
It is also free “twice” with the purchase of a CityPass booklet, giving you the opportunity to come day and night.
No matter when you choose to visit or which ticket you purchase, it will be important to plan out your trip to the Empire State Building. Lines can be painfully long, but they are avoidable.
In this section, we give tips on what to expect, how to avoid long lines as well as list what you can’t bring into the building.
Be sure to also read our post comparing the Empire State Building with Top of the Rock and One World Observatory.
The Empire State Building is open daily from 8:00 am until 2:00 am. The last admission at night is 1:15 am. This makes the Empire State Building something that you can most any time of the day.
There are two viewing platforms: the more popular and cheaper option is on the 86th floor and the more private and expensive platform is on the 102nd floor. We answer whether the 102nd floor is worth it in the following section.
During peak seasons (summer months and holidays), general admission ticket holders can expect a wait time of 45-60 minutes to get through security and elevator lines to reach the observation decks with a total visit time of approximately 1.5 – 2 hours.
Waits can be even longer during the peak of the peak hours, such as sunset or on days with clear skies that follow cloudy and rainy days. Those purchasing tickets on site have an additional line to deal with.
Express Pass holders (those who can skip all lines) will enjoy an average wait time of between 10-15 minutes on average to reach the observation decks. This ticket is not cheap. Find out about all skip-the-line options and see if they are worth the extra money for you.
If you want to avoid the crowds (and avoid paying for the Express Pass), we recommend visiting between 8am-11am or after sunset when wait times for general admission ticket holders tend to be shorter than the average. There are numerous reviews on Google and TripAdvisor of people saying they arrived at 8 am and encountered no lines at all.
(Tip: We offer several morning walking tours at 9:30 or 10:00 am and several starting at 1 and 2 pm.)
We recommend using Google’s popular time function which tracks phones that arrive and leave the building. You can set it to any day you like.
TIP: If you’re planning to see the Empire State Building at night, consider visiting between the hours of 9pm-1am from Thursday-Saturday. During these hours, a live saxophonist will be on hand to provide wonderful music – and he takes requests.
(Tip: We offer several evening walking tours that end around 9 or 9:30 pm, just in time for a night visit to the ESB)
If you find yourself in a long line, you will have a handheld audio tour to help you understand the building’s history and what you are seeing once you are on the observation decks. The tour is available in 9 different languages including English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch and Portuguese.
Before you arrive at the observation decks, you’ll have the opportunity to explore several exhibits about this National Historic Landmark. Their main exhibit is called “Dare to Dream”, and it provides several important details about the construction and history of the Empire State Building.
The newest exhibit focuses on the sustainability efforts which are being made to decrease the amount of energy used by the building. Many guests have reported that this area is very well laid out and it provides a lot of useful information. If you want to learn more, you can also use the free audio tour to discover additional information.
Guests are allowed to bring in smartphones, small cameras, baby strollers (folded on observation decks), as well as purses and small bags, such as backpacks. There is a list of prohibited items which all visitors should keep in mind.
Be sure to read our post on luggage storage in NYC for ideas of where to store large prohibited items. Prices are just $2/piece/hour or up to $6 for the day.
The Empire State Building is located between 34th and 32nd Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues.
You enter the building at 20 West 34th Street between 5th and 6th Aves. We recommend that you use this Google map for directions to the Empire State Building from anywhere in the city.
If you’re already planning to use a hop-on-hop-off bus service, you should know that most of them make stops on 5th and 6th avenue and include ESB in some packages. Take a look at our New York bus tours comparison post for more information.
The Empire State Building sells both a general admission ticket and a skip-the-line ticket known as the Express Pass. During peak hours and especially in popular seasons, the more expensive Express Pass can be a useful option to avoid waiting in line for too long especially if you can’t make the off-peak times.
However, the Express Pass is pretty expensive, an extra $23/person, and maybe a bit too costly for most visitors. On most days of the week, you could avoid long lines between 8 am – 11 am as well as between just after sunset and 2 am.
NOTE: The Express Pass is not to be confused with what some tourist discount passes call “skip-the-line” (these passes only let you skip the ticket office line). However, if you have a tourist pass, you can upgrade to the Express Pass.
Express Pass is Worth It
Almost every review for this skip-the-line service is positive. Several guests even went so far as to suggest that the Express Pass is an absolute must. According to many visitors, the lines can get pretty long during busy seasons and this is an excellent option to skip those lines and get to the observation deck as quickly as possible.
Not Always Necessary
Some reviewers indicated that the Express Pass isn’t always necessary. If you plan on visiting either during a slow period or season, you might be able to reach the observation deck nearly as fast with general admission as you would with this skip-the-line option. Consider when you are going to the Empire State Building before buying your ticket.
A few customers were very confused about how to use the Express Pass. While some guests couldn’t find the signage indicating where they needed to go, others were unhappy with people in the general admission line who got upset at them for trying to move ahead. All things considered, it would appear that at least a few dozen people were unimpressed with their experience.
In addition to the question of Express Pass or no Express Pass, visitors to the Empire State Building also need to choose whether or not to pay the additional $20/ticket to visit the 102nd-floor observatory. All ticket include the 86th floor.
On the 86th floor, you will be 1050′ (320 m) above the street. The 102nd floor is 1250′ (381 m) above ground. While that is a considerable distance, it’s important to note that many visitors who visited both observatories didn’t feel like the view on the 102nd floor was worth the extra money. The 86th floor is open-air and larger.
The 102nd-floor observatory is enclosed and several complaints include dirty windows. However, many of these people also stated that they just had to go to the very top of the Empire State Building, something we think many of you may fall victim to.
With this said, many people appreciated the more intimate feeling on the higher floor. In winter, it’s nice to be in an enclosed, warm space.
However, keep in mind, you could use that extra $20 to purchase tickets to Top of the Rock or One World Observatory and get an additional perspective.
With three different observation decks in New York City, you might be wondering whether or not you should visit the Empire State Building. The attraction gets overall great reviews. Some guests are going to go no matter what, but others might want to consider factors such as wait times and weather before deciding.
With that in mind, let’s discuss a few reasons to plan for a trip to this historic site.
Incredible Views of NYC
Tourists and locals alike often report that the Empire State Building provides one of the best views in New York City. The highlight is its central location in Manhattan. Although you can also get a good look at the city from either Top of the Rock or One World Observatory, several visitors indicate that there’s nothing quite like the view from this beloved NYC landmark.
Though, one drawback is that visitors to Top of the Rock really like the view of the Empire State Building and Central Park that is really missing at the ESB.
Worth the Wait
Even though a lot of visitors report that it can take a while to reach the top, the Empire State Building still enjoys one of the best ratings for any attraction in New York City. This graceful skyscraper was the tallest building in the world for 41 years and is an icon to many all over the world, so it’s no surprise that many reviewers indicate that the experience of visiting this observation deck is well worth the wait that you might have to endure.
Great for History Buffs
Whether you’re interested in the overall history of New York or you just want to see the site where several famous films have been shot, a trip to the Empire State Building is a must. This skyscraper is a National Historic Landmark and it is one of the many locations that has become an unforgettable and recognizable icon of NYC.
In addition to everything else, travelers also suggest that the exhibits on display are very interesting. Guests seem to appreciate all of the information that they provide about the construction of this modern marvel. According to several reviews, this area is very clearly laid out and provides plenty of details about the Empire State Building.
Extended Night Hours
Once the sun goes down, the Empire State Building becomes one of the best places to visit in New York. Not only are the lines typically much shorter, but the views of a famous city glimmering with lights are also quite impressive.
Unlike all of the other observation decks in NYC, the Empire State Building is open until 2 am every night. Visitors can enjoy the views for 2 hours longer than at any other location, which is definitely a great option for night owls. Many reviewers indicate that a nighttime visit is definitely worth consideration.
Al Smith, the skyscraper race, and the audacity to do grand things
Two men were especially important in the construction of the Empire State Building. The first was William Frederick Lamb, the designer of the building – a Brooklynite who had studied Beaux Art architecture in Paris.
The other man was former New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, who was the chairman of the construction company. Alfred Smith had born witness to daring construction projects, such as the Brooklyn Bridge or the NY mass transit system. His confident attitude reflected the spirit of an era that was quickly being replaced during the Great Depression. As an Irish-Catholic himself, he ordered the symbolic start of the construction to be March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day.
About 3,400 workers mostly European immigrants and Mohawk ironworkers from the Montreal area finished the construction in less than 14 months. When the Empire State building with its 1250 feet (381 m) was completed in 1931 it stood the tallest building for 40 years, surpassing the Chrysler Building, as well as 40 Wall Street Building in height, once the spike was added to the final structure.