A Guide to Visiting the Empire State Building

This was one of my Mom’s requests during our stay in New York City — to go to the top of the Empire State Building. So what did we do on the record-setting coldest day of the year? You guessed it; it was the top of the Empire State Building for us!

The main lobby was lit up for Christmas, so pausing for a quick picture was a must. 💁🏻  💁🏻  📸

empire state building lobby

We went up the small escalator to the next floor where we went through a security line. Since it was a bitter cold day, the lines were very short and moved quickly. 

After passing through security, we waited in another line to buy a ticket. This line was also rather quick. We had two ticket options here: either the 86th floor for $38 or the 102nd, for $58. I had heard the views aren’t much different from the 102nd floor. With the blustery wind, we agreed that the 86th would be plenty for us. We don’t feel that we missed anything and had a great experience from the 86th floor. So if you’re torn, do the 86th — and remember, they have a ticket booth on the 86th if you change your mind.

Empire State Building ticket.jpg

Next we passed through the museum. Here they explained the history and energy efficiency of the building. It was interesting, but the sun was beginning to set, so we rushed through this part, tbh!

Our photo was taken in front of a green screen (which you could later buy) and we were whisked up the final elevator. This one was an express elevator that entertained us with a video screen on the ceiling. It was pretty well done!

empire state building elevator.JPG

We stepped out to a first observation deck where we got our initial glimpse of the skyline. It was breathtaking how far the city expands! We popped open the Empire State Building app and listened to information about the highlights that greeted us to the south. It was great.

empire state building view

We climbed into one last elevator, and finally made our way to the 86th floor observation deck. There is both an indoor observation space, as well as an outdoor space. We took some photos while it was still light out and listened to the rest of the highlights on the app. 

empire state building observation deck

And perhaps even more impressive than the daytime and sunset views? The city all lit up at night. It was spectacular!

empire state building night view

When we had our fill of the view, we got back into the elevator. We wandered through the cute gift shop, and ended up walking out of the lobby by about 6pm. A two hour trip that went by in the blink of an eye, well worth the time and money! Sometimes it’s a beautiful, breathtaking blast to be a tourist in this city! 😎 But brr, it was cold on this particular visit!

What to do before:

  • Decide if you’re definitely going. If so and if the weather looks nice, feel free to buy a ticket ahead of time. Nice weather will likely bring out the crowds and you may save yourself a few minutes of standing in the ticket line. If you’re not sure or if the weather looks questionable, wait and buy your ticket when you go. The lines move pretty fast.

  • Choose your time wisely. I mean this partly for the crowds and partly for the view. We went at about 4:00 PM on a weekday in early January. Sunset was at 4:45 PM that day and the weather was “dangerously cold” according to the local weather report. This combination of factors meant very light crowds and we were at the top admiring the daylight view by 4:30 PM. We took in the sunset, then admired the nighttime glitz and lights, too! It was like three experiences in one, which was well worth it.

  • Download the Empire State Building app ahead of time, open it, and download your language. Be sure to pack your headphones!

A Guide to Visiting the Empire State Building