Empire State Building
Top of the Rock

So you want a nice view of the city from above but you can’t decide whether to see it from the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock?

The Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building have a lot in common.

Both are famous buildings located in Midtown Manhattan between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Both have open-air observation decks that are open to the public at nearly equal prices.

And lucky for you, both offer breathtaking views of the New York City area that do not disappoint!

Empire State Building at Night GE Building at Rockefeller Center

Empire State Building vs. Top of the Rock

Despite the fact the buildings are only 15 blocks away from each other (about 3/4 of a mile), each offers a view that is surprisingly distinct.

Here are some unique characteristics of each:

Empire State Building

  • Observation deck is 1050 feet above street level.
  • Excellent view of the Chrysler Building (which is partially obscured by another building when looking from the Top of the Rock) and the Flatiron Building.
  • Nice viewpoint for observing the city life below – way below. Watching the taxis on the streets and crowds of people crossing busy intersections gives an interesting feeling of peaceful detachment.
  • The extra 200 feet in height (1050 ft vs. 850 ft) does help you see farther on clear days. You really do feel like you can see forever.
  • Its location farther to the south gets you closer to Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty (keep in mind that they’re still pretty far away).

View from Empire State Building Empire State Building Observation Deck, facing South.

Top of the Rock

  • Observation deck is 850 feet above street level.
  • Exceptional view of the Empire State Building, providing wonderful photography opportunities and a great chance to get a photo of your family in front of the famed landmark.
  • Its location farther to the north allows for a neat view of the Upper West Side and Central Park.
  • Something about the observation deck, or maybe the building itself, makes it more difficult to look directly down at the street life below. The best views are definitely out and across the city.

View from Top of the Rock Top of the Rock Observation Deck, facing South.

Essential New York City Guide Tip
While we could debate all day over which view is superior, it is almost certain that the Top of the Rock will be less of a hassle.

We went to the Empire State Building around 8 a.m. on a Saturday in October, stood in line for an hour as we were herded from one place to another, and then had to fight for viewing and picture-taking space at the top.

We visited the Top of the Rock on a Friday afternoon in September, just before sunset. We were up on the observation deck within about 15 minutes of entering the building (we did not purchase tickets ahead of time). The recently renovated viewing areas have three levels of observation decks, allowing ample room for moving around.

So Our Advice Boils Down to This:

Both views are fantastic.

If you want to say you’ve been to the top of the most famous skyscraper in the world (a building that the American Society of Civil Engineers has called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World), then go to the Empire State Building. If you're more interested in an easier (and likely much quicker) experience, then the Top of the Rock might be your style.

Either way you are in for a treat!

Learn more about each (prices, hours, and more):

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