Whether you're trying to decide which observation deck to visit in New York City, or you just want to know what to expect when visiting Top of the Rock, we can help!
In this post, we'll include a lot of helpful information that our tour guides have compiled about how to get to Rockefeller Center, what to expect, and other important details.
We also include useful advice and recommendations from our New York Travel Tips group on Facebook, allowing you to get a real sense for how people feel about this attraction after visiting.
- Plan Your Visit
- Top of the Rock Exhibits
- Why Choose Top of the Rock
- Top of the Rock History
- Tips From Locals and Travelers
- Top of the Rock Tickets and Discounts
PLAN YOUR VISIT
Top of the Rock is located 850 feet (260 m) above street level and has been offering stunning panoramas of the city since 1933 that include Central Park and the Empire State Building and more.
It's a wonderful experience but it will be even better if you do some planning in advance.
In this section, we cover how to get here, the best times to come, exhibits, and prohibited items.
How to get to Rockefeller Center
The closest subway is the B, D, F, and M trains to 47-50 St, Rockefeller Center.
Other trains nearby are the 1 train at 50th Street and the N, Q, and R trains at 49th Street.
The main entrance to Top of the Rock is on 50th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.
You can use this Google link to get exact directions from your departure location to Top of the Rock.
If you are new to the NYC subway, then you might find the following posts helpful:
TIP: If you are considering a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket, keep in mind that all such buses stop at Rockefeller Center.
What to Expect
Top of the Rock is open 365 days a year, 7 days a week. They open at 8 a.m. and close at 12:30 a.m. (the last elevator up is at 11:55 p.m.).
According to several visitors, lines at Top of the Rock are typically very short and manageable. Guests report an average wait time of 0-15 minutes depending on crowd size.
In comparison, you might spend up to an hour in line waiting to see the observation decks of the Empire State Building.
For a more in-depth look at the differences between these attractions, make sure to check out our comparison.
Customers who went to Top of the Rock indicate that it is normal to spend anywhere from 1-2 hours on average at the observation deck.
Once you enter Top of the Rock, you can stay for as long as you wish.
It is recommended to set aside at least an hour for this activity.
Sunset is the most popular time to visit. You should expect longer lines and larger crowds from the hours of 3 pm - 8 pm (20:00).
If you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting between the hours of 8 am - 11 am or 8 pm - 11 pm (23:00).
We recommend purchasing flexible date tickets with 24-hour free cancellation so that you can get a good idea of what the weather will be like before committing.
You might be able to save money on your tickets by buying them ahead of time (read about discounts above).
But keep in mind, that those tickets may not have a 24-hour cancelation policy.
Exhibits at Top of the Rock
When you arrive at Top of the Rock, you’ll discover several exhibits on your way to the three observation decks.
These exhibits, (with the exception of the Joie Chandelier), are only accessible on your way to the top.
You cannot reenter to see these exhibits so enjoy them along the way.
When you enter the building at the 50th Street entrance your eyes will immediately be drawn to the incredible chandelier made of 14,000 Swarovski crystals hung along in 450 cascading strands.
This is one of the largest and most impressive chandeliers in the world. From upside down, the Joie Chandelier looks like Rockefeller Center.
After passing through security scanners, you are led to the mezzanine where you will find yourself in a long corridor.
This corridor leads to a larger exhibit area, similar to a museum with artifacts and walls covered with mural-sized photographs and information about the history of Rockefeller Center.
Even if you are excited to get to the observation deck, spend a little time learning the very interesting history of Rockefeller Center.
On the mezzanine level is this optional interactive exhibit inspired by Charles C. Ebbets’ world-famous 1933 photograph, Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.
This iconic photograph shows the original construction workers sitting on a steel beam, comfortably eating their lunch, while 850 feet (259 m) above street level!
The exhibit has a replica of the beam where, if you choose, you can sit and pose for a photo from the staff photographers.
There is a green screen so that the final product of your photo shows you on the sky-high beam way above the city.
You are not obligated to buy the photograph. When you reach the 67th Floor, you will be able to view your photo and decide if you would like to purchase it or not.
The mezzanine exhibit hall leads to a small seatless theater showing a looped short presentation about Rockefeller Center and the history of NBC.
If it is a crowded day, you may have to wait in the theater as the staff leads limited size groups of people to the elevators to the top.
The process is very smooth. Expect to wait about 10 minutes when it is very crowded.
If it is not crowded, you can head straight to the elevators, or watch the short presentation in the theater.
TIP: You can get free wifi here!
This is not your typical elevator. The Sky Shuttle elevators take you to the 67th floor in under a minute.
Along the 42-second journey, you will see historic images from the 1930s until today projected onto the ceiling. It's colorful, fun, and fast!
67th Floor Deck
This deck is entirely enclosed with windows which is great if you end up with bad weather.
You still get great views without being uncomfortable in the rain, sleet, or snow!
If you plan to take pictures through windows, try not to wear white that day. This way you can minimize any reflections of yourself.
The picture below is from behind the glass windows. It still looks quite good!
Also on the 67th floor is the Radiance Wall, covering several walls.
It is an unusual piece of art featuring a variety of glass panels with blown glass, crystal clusters, and fiber-optic lighting.
Guests who choose to take a little more time might even spot a few interesting shapes on the wall.
69th Floor Deck
This deck is outdoors with glass enclosures but still fine for taking clear photos.
You will also find the Breezeway, a small room that connects the south side and the north side of the deck.
It features a display full of LED lights.
Upon entering, you will be assigned a color that will follow you around the room.
As you move, your color will light up. It is especially fun if there are a few people in the space.
About every 30 seconds, all the lights along the walls and ceiling start flashing, like a dancing rainbow.
70th Floor Deck
This is the top at 850 feet (259 m) above street level.
This deck is completely outdoors without any glass enclosures - a photographer's dream come true.
With 360-degree views of New York City, it is a wonderful place to stay a while.
There are some benches to sit on, relax, and be mesmerized by the views before heading back down to the busy streets below.
Be sure to check out our post on the 28 best views of NYC.
Security and Prohibited Items
All visitors must go through a security check.
There are several items you cannot bring with you to the Top of the Rock. Most of these items are prohibited to keep everyone safe and secure.
- Glass Bottles
- Flammable Liquids
- Professional Cameras
- Food & Drink
The following items are allowed:
- Collapsible Strollers
- Service Animals
- Small Bags
- Some Luggage (there are local shops where you can store your luggage for $6/piece/day)
WHY CHOOSE THE TOP OF THE ROCK?
There are a few different observation decks to choose from in New York City. With a variety of options to consider, some visitors have trouble deciding on just one.
With that in mind, let’s talk about some of the reasons you might want to consider Top of the Rock over its competitors.
While this section is based on the thoughts and opinions of our New York tour guides, you can find even more advice in our section covering tips from locals and travelers.
Although these are wonderful and historic locations to visit, there are some clear advantages to choosing Rockefeller Center instead.
Much Less Crowded
While you might have to wait in line for up to an hour at the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock usually doesn’t have long lines or unreasonable crowd sizes.
This makes it a lot easier to visit and enjoy your experience without worrying about long waits or too many tourists.
Great All Year Long
The Empire State Building charges an extra $20/per person to reach its higher, enclosed observation deck.
You’ll find both open and enclosed decks at Top of the Rock included in the price of a standard ticket.
This makes a big difference during the colder and hotter months.
See the Empire State Building and One World Observatory (Freedom Tower)
One thing you can’t see from the Empire State Building's observation deck is the building itself! Same for One World Trade Center.
You'll also see sites such as the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, and many other notable landmarks along the NYC skyline.
Going to the Top of the Rock allows you to get photographs of these two world-famous buildings.
Top of the Rock is one of the very best locations in NYC for photography!
See Central Park
In addition to offering an awesome look at historic landmarks in New York City, Top of the Rock also has one of the best-unobstructed views of Central Park from above.
Experience one of the most famous parks in the world from an entirely different point of view.
Get More Done
Thanks to the short waits and timed tickets, you can actually plan on spending at most 2 hours at Top of the Rock without worrying about this activity taking too long.
As a result, it’s much easier to plan other activities for the day and rest assured that you probably won’t be late or run out of time.
If you need more help deciding which observation deck to visit, check out our comparison of all three locations.
If we have convinced you to visit Rockefeller Center, then visit our ticket and discount sections of this post.
And remember, several tourist discount passes include both the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock as well as One World Observatory at the World Center, so you may not need to choose one over the other.
ROCKEFELLER CENTER TOURS
A behind-the-scenes look at some of your favorite NBC shows. We give you tips to help plan your visit as well as analyze the reviews left by previous tour attendees.
Discover the history, art, and architecture of this grand city space.
The tours will be every 30 minutes from 10 am to 7:30 pm, excluding 6 pm and 6:30 pm (18:30), and cost $25/person (with the discount).
Read our post which reviews this tour, which also provides a free, self-guided version.
The tour is included for free with both the New York Pass and Explorer Pass.
Inside look at this majestic Art Deco treasure. Tickets cost $31/per adult and $27/per child (with a discount).
ROCKEFELLER CENTER - A BRIEF HISTORY
Be sure to read our self-guided tour of the art and architecture of Rockefeller Center.
This beautiful Art-Deco complex was built in the 1930s by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
He originally acquired the land because he had promised to build a new opera house for the Metropolitan Opera Company, which was looking to move further uptown.
Rockefeller took out a 27-year lease on the property (with the option for three, 21-year extensions).
After the stock market crash of 1929, the Metropolitan Opera started to stall, wanting to hold out for a better lease.
Rockefeller decided to commence building the complex without them.
He then began what would become the most expensive private building project ever undertaken in modern times.
Over 40,000 people were employed during the construction, which was completed in 1939.
The complex today encompasses 22 acres and has more than 8,000,000 square feet of interior space. Today it is a favorite spot to visit for visitors, particularly during the holidays.
Rockefeller Plaza hosts the famous annual Christmas tree, which ranges in size from 60 to 100 feet tall from year to year and is covered with over 30,000 LED lights!
The tree is positioned in front of the central feature of Rockefeller Center: the GE Building. The GE Building is located at 30 Rockefeller Center, or “30 Rock.”
Tips From Locals and Travelers
If you're looking for helpful advice about visiting Top of the Rock, make sure to check our New York Travel Tips group on Facebook.
Many of the members using this group are either locals or travelers themselves, and they often do a much better job of letting you know what to expect than even we could!
Here are a few examples of helpful advice you can find on our Facebook group.
There are so many observation decks in New York City that it can be difficult to pick just one.
Many travelers are curious about whether or not it makes sense to visit multiple locations, and some of our New York Travel Tips members actually indicate that it does!
Jessica notes that each deck has its own vibe and a unique view of the city, ensuring your experience will be different at each attraction.
While some prefer the Edge over Top of the Rock, others insist that Edge is far too busy and it's a lot quieter at Rockefeller Center.
That said, this comment was made shortly after the Edge originally opened their doors, so it's likely not as frequently busy today as it was at that point in time.
As Siân notes (and reveals through their photos), Top of the Rock actually offers one of the best views of the Empire State Building after dark.
If you're looking for one of the best observation decks to visit at night, many guests recommend this one.
Another popular time to visit is during sunset, but sometimes it can be difficult to figure out when to visit to catch this event.
Heather isn't the first in our Facebook Group to note that if you want to catch sunset at Top of the Rock, you should get tickets for well before the sun actually sets.
The reason for this is that it can take 15-30 minutes just to get up to the observation deck (depending on how busy it is), and if you show up directly at sunset, you probably won't make it up in time.
For even more helpful advice, make sure to check our New York Travel Tips group and perhaps even ask some questions of your own!