Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building: Which is Better?

Are you looking for the ultimate New York City skyline views, and are you undecided if to have them from the Empire State Building (the most iconic building in the city) or the Top of the Rock (aka the top of Rockefeller Center)?

Good news for you: I am here exactly to help you with this hard decision! In order to solve your doubts, I made this comparison guide between the best observation decks of the big apple: Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building.

We will analyze all the pros and cons of each one and compare many important features like ticket prices, views from the observation decks, location & ease of access, waiting time, reduced rate, and much more!

So start reading this guide to make up your mind… are you ready?

Let’s go!

1. General ticket price

9 Extra options offered Top of the Rock 1

Entry tickets are a very important part of your decision between the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock… which one is more expensive? What parts of the building give you access apart from the observation deck? Which benefits does it include?

I selected the general entry ticket for both of the buildings (always referring to the adult ticket). Let’s compare them!

1.1 Top of the Rock Tickets

A Top of the Rock entry ticket will cost you $40 and give you access to:

  • 3 indoor and outdoor observation decks on the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors
  • A sky shuttle elevator ride to the top of the building with a light show
  • The Mezzanine Exhibit
  • The interactive Beam Walk

1.2 Empire State Building Tickets

The general ticket to the Empire Building costs $44 and will give you access to:

  • The main outdoor observation deck of the 86th floor, giving you 360-degree views of New York City
  • A free download app with a self-guided multimedia tour in 9 languages
  • Access to many interactive and educational exhibits on the 2nd floor (Opening Day, Kong and much more… check out the full list here)

P.S.: If you want to know all about the Empire State Building tickets, where to buy them and some important information, check out this post!

WINNER FOR PRICING: 

The Top of the Rock is definitely the best choice in terms of ticket entry, offering a better cancellation policy at a cheaper price (- $4)!

2. Best views

Since the main reason you are reading this blog is probably to know which building has the best view of the New York skyline, let’s compare the observation decks of both the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock! Which NYC Observation Deck is better?

2.1 Top of the Rock observation deck

1 1 Ticket to Main Deck 86th Floor

Overall building height: 853 feet (260m), until the top of antennas

With a normal ticket to the Top of the Rock building, you will have access to all its 3 observation decks: the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors.

  1. 67th floor: when arriving at this indoor observation deck, you will walk through an enclosed room to a small terrace behind glass barriers with incredible views on Central Park and Lower Manhattan!
  2. 69th floor: this large observation deck has 270-degree views of North, West and South New York City, all from behind glass panels.
  3. 70th floor: this outdoor observation deck is located at the very top of Rockefeller Center, offering the BEST full 360-degree views.

Here are some of the main New York City landmarks you can see from Top of the Rock:

  • Empire State Building
  • Central Park
  • Times Square
  • Chrysler Building
  • One World Trade Center (home to One World Observatory)
  • New York Central Park
  • Bank of America Tower
  • Flatiron Building

Compared to the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock offers better views of: Central Park, Times Square and the Empire State Building (of course).

PRO TIP: during your 1-minute elevator ride to the 67th floor, remember to look up at the glass ceiling, where they project images from the 1930s to the present day!

How to take the best pictures:

If you want to have the best pictures and views of New York City, you’ll need to go up to the Top of the Rock’s 70th floor and walk until the end of the sky deck (far from the steps to the right). Here you will find a flat stone where you can get on and get an amazing shot!

NOTE: The Top of the Rock’s 70th observation deck has large, open-air window barriers, so they can distort the picture a little bit if you want to have crystal-clear photos of the New York skyline: just situate your lens in the small breaks between the barriers (but the view will be more limited).

2.2 Empire State Building observation deck

2.2 Empire State Building observation deck

Overall building height: 1,454 feet (443 meters), counting spire and antenna

The Empire State Building main observation deck is located on the 86th floor and goes all around the building’s spire (you will need to take a second elevator to reach that).

The deck offers you 360-degree views of New York and its iconic landmarks: the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and more. Let’s see the full list:

  • Lower Manhattan
  • Chrysler Building
  • The Edge (Hudson Yards)
  • Grand Central Terminal
  • Fifth Avenue
  • Hudson River
  • Coney Island
  • Bryant Park
  • Rockefeller Plaza Center
  • One World Trade Center (One World Observatory)
  • Central Park
  • Times Square
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Brooklyn Bridge

Compared to the Top of the Rock building, the Empire State Building offers better views of: Statue of Liberty, One World Trade Center and Manhattan.

There is also a newly-renovated 102nd-Floor Observation Deck, where you’ll get even better views of New York City and beyond, including up to 6 US states (Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Delaware)!

This upper floor is not accessible with the general entry ticket, though, so if you want to have this view, you’ll need to purchase a ticket to both observatories or an express pass!

How to take the best pictures:

2 How to take the best pictures Empire State Building

You can take very good pictures from the Empire State Building 86th floor: the observation deck has crisscrossing wiring installed to keep you safe, but if you just place the lens of your camera in the breaks between the wiring you’ll still be able to take a good shot.

A downside to taking pictures on the Empire State Building is that you’ll need to wait quite some time to take your pictures: the building receives 4 million visitors a year vs 2.5 million visitors at the Top of the Rock, so crowds are always there.

If patience is not your main quality, just avoid visiting the Empire State Building at peak hours (from 10.30 am to sunset time), or opt for the Top of the Rock!

Picture TIP for both buildings: The best views of New York are southwest, so if you want to take a picture of that part of the city, avoid the early afternoon, or you will shoot directly into the sun and wait until sunset for the best photos!

WINNER FOR THE BEST VIEW: 

Depends on what you want to see/ or have on your picture:

  • The Top of the Rock has more impressive views of Central Park and the Empire State Building
  • The Empire State Building is higher and has better views of Manhattan and Statue of Liberty, and of other US states on the clearest days!

But if you don’t really care about the specific buildings you will gaze at, the Top of the Rock is the best choice, giving you access to three floors with indoor/outdoor observation decks (instead of just one for the ESB) and a cooler elevator experience.

3. Location and ease of access

New York city Manhattan Fifth Avenue 5th Av

Both the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building are located in Midtown Manhattan, and the two buildings are more or less 1 mile apart, so they both are actually easily accessible.

Let’s see where exactly they are located and how to get there:

3.1 Top of the Rock

Google map location 

The Top of the Rock deck is located at the top of the Rockefeller Center, in the Rockefeller Plaza, between the 5th and 6th Avenue (and on the opposite side of Radio City Music Hall). The building is closer to Central Park and Times Square, so it always offers better views of the 2 of them.

How to get there by metro:

  • Take the 123 or ACE lines, exit at 34nd Street – Penn Station and walk for 5 minutes to the entrance.
  • Take the NQRW or BDFM lines, get down at 34th Street – Herald Square Station and walk for 5 minutes

NOTE: A one-way ride on a subway in New York costs $2.75.

3.2 Empire State Building

Google map location

The Empire State Building is located at the intersection of 5th Avenue and West 34th Street, farther south in Manhattan and closer to the Financial District and the One World Trade Center.

How to get there by metro:

  • Take the B, D, F, and M lines to 47th-50th Street Rockefeller Center and walk for 2 minutes
  • Take the N, Q, and R lines, get off at 49th Street and walk for 5 minutes to the Rockefeller Plaza

WINNER FOR THE LOCATION:

Both the buildings are easily accessible with any kind of transportation options!

4. Waiting Time

4 Top of the Rock Waiting time

Waiting times are a fundamental part of your experience when visiting any attraction. Let’s compare the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building: which one will make you wait less in line?

NOTE: Whether you choose the Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building, always remember to purchase tickets online, otherwise, the waiting times will be way longer than what is stated here below!

4.1 Top of the Rock

The good thing about buying your Top of the Rock’s entry ticket online is that you are granted immediate entry at your scheduled time: if it is particularly crowded, you might have to wait a  maximum of 15 minutes, but never more than that!

4.2 Empire State Building

If you buy a general entry online ticket to the Empire State Building, you’ll need to pass both the security and elevator lines to get to the main observation deck, and this means a total waiting time of 30-45 min (that can turn in even more than 1h during peak times or high season).

PRO TIP: If you want to skip all the lines to the Empire State Building, you can pay more for the Express Pass, which will also give you access to the upper 102nd-floor observation deck.

WINNER FOR SHORT WAIT TIME:

The Top of the Rock is definitely better because it guarantees immediate entry, while access to the Empire State Building takes longer unless you pay extra for an Express Pass.

5. Opening Hours

5 Buying tickets at the entrance Empire State Building

Depending on your flexibility, opening hours might make the difference in your decision between the Top of The Rock and the Empire State Building. Let’s check them both out:

5.1 Top of the Rock

The Top of the Rock Building is open every day of the year from 9 am to 11 pm, with the last entry at 10:10 pm, so if you prefer to see the New York Skyline at night time (without being on a rush), this is a better choice compared to the Empire State Building, that closes earlier.

Best time to visit: visit the Top of the Rock Building in the early morning, at 9am right when it opens, or late at night after 8 pm: both times are magical and you get less crowds!

5.2 Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is open 365 days a year from 9/10 am (depending on the day) to 10 pm, with the last elevators working at 9:15 pm.

The exception to these hours is if you book the Sunrise Experience, which will give you access to the Empire State Building earlier in the morning.

NOTE: Opening hours can constantly change depending on the day and time of the year… so always keep yourself up to date here! 

Best time to visit: If you want to avoid the crowds or wait for less on the lines, you should visit the Empire State Building early in the morning, anytime before 10 am, or after sunset!

OPENING HOURS WINNER:

The Top of The Rock gives you more availability on visiting hours, opening 1 hour earlier and closing 1 hour later compared to the Empire State Building.

6. Exhibits

2 2 All Access Tour Empire State Building.

Which one between the Top of the Rock and ESB offers more and more interesting/ interactive exhibits? Let’s find it out:

6.1 Top of the Rock

The Rockefeller Center actually offers only 2 main exhibits:

  • The Mezzanine Exhibit: In this informative exhibit you will learn facts about the Rockefeller Center, its planning and construction and check out interesting photos and artifacts. The exhibit is located on the 2nd floor.
  • Beam Walk: In this interactive exhibition you’ll feel what it’s like to walk on a construction beam on the Top of the Rock and see the iconic photo of the workers taking a lunch break above Manhattan.

6.2 Empire State Building

The Empire State Building, once the tallest building in the world, is one of the most iconic symbols of New York, so there’s a lot to learn about it.

Located on the 2nd and 80th floors of the Empire State Building, you will find many interesting and interactive exhibits open to any ticket holder. Here below are the main ones, but you can check out the full list here:

  • The Site In The 1920s: Get an overview of how the Empire State Building site was when the Waldorf Astoria Hotel stood on this location, and see the New York City streets during the 1920s.
  • Otis Elevators: Check out a replica of the ESB’s original mast car, a simulation of an elevator shaft, and feel the scary height of the building!
  • World’s Most Famous Building: This 180-degree surround-sound theater will show you the Empire State Building’s place in pop culture through 72-screens, with movies, tv series, etc.

VARIETY OF EXHIBITS WINNER:

The Empire State Building offers way more exhibitions than the Top of the Rock, so if you are interested in deep diving into the culture and history of NYC, this is the best choice for you!

7. Reduced Rates

7 best reduced rates for kids Top of the Rock

Which building has the best reduced rates for kids/seniors/disabled etc.? Let’s compare the reduced rates for the general entry ticket:

7.1 Top of the Rock

Normal entry ticket: $40

  • Child (6-12): $34
  • Senior (62+): $38
  • Infant (0-5): Free

7.2 Empire State Building

Normal entry ticket: $44

  • Child (6-12): $38
  • Senior (62+): $42
  • Infant (0-5): Free

REDUCED RATES WINNER:

Both offer reduced rates for the normal entry ticket

8. Citypasses

3 1 New York City Pass

There are several passes in New York that will give you flexible access to its most popular attractions at cheaper prices, and these all include both the Top of the Rock and Empire State Building.

For this reason, I grouped them here below together, check them out:

8.1 The New York Citypass

The New York City Pass, will give you access to the Empire State Building’s AM/PM Experience and the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, plus to the following attractions:

This city pass costs $129 and you can use it for a 9-day period: if you visit all the attractions included, you will save from $48 to $59 (depending on which ones you choose).

The pass is worth it if you spend at least 3 days in NYC, otherwise, you won’t have time to visit all the landmarks!

8.2 NYC Sightseeing Day Pass

The New York Sightseeing Pass gives you access to the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock, and more than 150 NYC attractions (check out the full list here!) at very special fares.

The pass includes unlimited hop-on and hop-off bus tours, access to 4 observation decks, skip-the-line entrances, and much more.

You can choose the duration of your Pass (from 1 day to 10 days), and the cost will depend on the number of days selected, starting at $144 for 1 day, but you’ll always end up saving up to 50% on admission prices!

For example, if you choose a 1-day pass, you could join the Escorted 5HR Experience Tour, visit the Edge (Hudson Yards) and the Empire State Building (or the Top of The Rock) and save $57 (/$53 if you choose Top of the Rock).

The NYC Sightseeing Day Pass is ideal if you want to visit most of the attractions in New York city and plan your itinerary ahead of time!

8.3 Flex Pass

3 3 New York Flex Pass Big Bus NY Classic Tour

The FLEX PASS offers a similar concept to the NY Sightseeing Day Pass, but instead of the number of days, you will select the number of attractions you want to visit (from 2 to 12) from this list, and it lasts for a period of 60(!) days.

If you are interested in only some specific attractions in New York, this might be the perfect option for you!

Prices start from $74 for a 2 attractions pass, but any option you’ll choose will always be cheaper than the original price. If you visit the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock together, you will save $10.

9 Extra options offered Top of the Rock

Apart from the general admission ticket, both the Top of the Rock and Empire State building offer other ticket options that will give you access to more parts of the building, skip the line entrance, and more. Let’s check them out

9.1 Top of the Rock

  • Express Pass: Get immediate entry at any time on the day, priority elevator access, and a 20% discount at the Top of The Rock gift shop, for $75.
  • VIP Tour: Get expedited security checkpoint, priority access to elevators up and down, a private walking tour of 30 Rockefeller Plaza/ Top of the Rock/ Rainbow Room, and a commemorative pin and photo for $110.

9.2 Empire State Building

  • Express Pass: This ticket gives you access to skip the line’s entrance, and expedited entry to both the Main and Top Decks, located respectively at the 86th and 102nd floors, for $113.
  • Sunrise Experience: Have special access to the 86th-floor observation deck from 5.30 to 8 a.m. and watch the sunrise while sipping coffee or other refreshments from Starbucks, for $125.
  • AM/PM Experience: This ticket gives you the possibility to access the 86th Floor observatory twice on the same day: the first during the day and the second during the night (after 9 pm), for $64.
  • Premium Experience: This guided 90-minute tour, includes a guided visit to the building’s Art Deco lobby, the Celebrity Walk, access to the 86th-floor observatory, and to the exhibits for $175 per person.
  • All-Access Tour: This exclusive package includes VIP entry to the ESB, access to the celebrity green room with snacks and drinks, a private tour through the building, and skip the lines to access the 86th-floor observatory, for $543.
  • Happily Ever Empire: Propose to your special on the ESB! This special package offers a private tour of the building, priority access to the 86th Floor Deck with your own private corner to ask the question and a complimentary bottle of champagne for $1,000.

WINNER OFFERING MORE OPTIONS

The Empire State Building is definitely the one offering more ticket options between the two!

10. Facilities inside/nearby the buildings

7 8 Facilities inside Empire State Building

Let’s compare the facilities for the 2 buildings: do they have handicapped entrances, restaurants, souvenir shops, etc.?

10.1 Top of the Rock

  • Free WiFi
  • Wheelchair-accessible entrance and routes
  • Restrooms (with wheelchair-accessible stalls)
  • Seasonal Ice skating Rink (outside the entrance)
  • Gift shop
  • Shopping options: check out all the shops in the building here
  • Event Spaces: Rainbow Room (for weddings), the Gallery, the Private Dining Room, Bar SixtyFive, all offering stunning views on New York City
  • Restaurants: Pebble Bar for seafood and fancy drinks, Le Rock for french cuisine, or 21 Greenpoint for contemporary food.
  • Parking: on 48th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

10.2 Empire State Building

  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Handicap-accessible main entrance & ramps throughout the building (+ lowered viewing walls and binoculars on the 86th floor Main Deck)
  • Restroom (including handicap-accessible restrooms)
  • Souvenir shop: on the 80th and 2nd floors
  • Walgreens, AT&T store, and a FedEx Express store
  • Restaurants: State Grill & Bar for breakfast/lunch/dinner with panoramic views, Tacombi for Mexican food, Refuel shops for fast snacks and drinks, and Refresh for a smoothie, juice or açaí bowl
  • Parking

FACILITIES WINNER:

Both the buildings have great facilities for visitors, but if you want to do extra activities once you have visited the attraction, the Top of the Rock offers more options!

Verdict – which is better for you in the end?

Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building which is better

Overall, both attractions offer unique and unforgettable views of New York, great facilities, and easy access and can be visited at special prices with the New York City passes… so which one is better for you?

  1. Choose the Top of the Rock if you want to have the Empire State Building on your view/picture, or if you want better value for the money.
    In fact, the attraction offers more observation decks compared to the ESB, fewer waiting times, more flexible hours, and more facilities if you want to spend extra time in the building, all at cheaper ticket prices ($4 less)! 
  1. Choose the Empire State Building if you want to have a higher and better view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty (and of other US states on clear days), access to different types of tickets/packages, and to many interesting and interactive exhibits!
💲 Best for prices: Top of the Rock
🌇 Best observation deck: Top of the Rock
☁️ Best for heights: Empire State Building
📷 Best for photography: Empire State Building
📍 Best for location: Both!
🎟️ Best city pass: Both!
🕖 Best opening hours: Top of the Rock

FAQs about Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building

8 tickets to visit the Empire State Building

⚖️ Which is better Top of the Rock or top of the Empire State building?

It depends on what you’re looking for, but overall Top of the Rock offers better value for the money, giving you access to 3 observation decks, less waiting times, more flexible hours and more facilities at cheaper ticket prices ($4 less)!

❓Is the Top of the Rock the Empire State building?

No, they are 2 different buildings with separate entrances and tickets, but they are both located in Midtown Manhattan ~20 min walking from each other.

🌇 Which has the best views: The top of the Rock or the Empire State building?

It depends on what you want to have in your view: Top of the Rock offers the best views of Central Park and the Empire State Building while the Empire State Building has better views of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and up to 6 US states!

👀 Which are the best observation decks in New York?

The best observation decks to have breathtaking New York City skyline views are the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory and the Edge, offering the best view of the Chrysler Building.

Conclusion

best observation decks in New York

So, have you made up your mind between the Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building? I bet so!

We have just compared all the possible aspects of these 2 iconic observation decks: entry tickets, views, accessibility, opening hours, exhibits, facilities, and much more… so you have everything you need to make the right choice here.

In case you’ll go for the Empire State Building, learn everything about its ticket options on this post!

I hope I helped you with your decision, and if you still have any questions for me, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments below… I’ll answer you as soon as I can!

Enjoy the best views of your life!

Elena


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