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! 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.
Top of the Rock
The Top of the Rock is an observation area that occupies the top three floors of the GE (“30 Rock”) Building in Rockefeller Center. 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 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.
- 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.
The Top of the Rock might be less famous than the Empire State Building, but at 850 feet above street level, it too offers compelling bird’s eye views of the city and is a not-to-be-overlooked tourist attraction.
Its location in upper Midtown Manhattan allows for first-rate views of Central Park to the north and the Empire State Building to the south.
Feel Like You’re on Top of the World
The 67th and 69th floor observation decks have transparent safety glass instead of railings. The safety glass is easy to look through and cuts down on the wind, which can be strong this high in the air.
The 70th floor, which is set back from the 69th floor, is an open-air viewing area with no tall barriers or obstructions. There is no time limit for how long visitors can stay.
Big View, Small Hassle
Because it’s a less popular attraction (for now) than the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock has smaller crowds to deal with. It’s also a great place for photographing the Empire State Building or taking your picture with the famous building in the background.
Empire State Building
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.
- 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).
Essential Top of the Rock Tourist Information
- Adults: $29
- Child (6-12): $18
Tickets can be purchased online in advance or upon arrival. You can save time and hassle by purchasing tickets online beforehand.
Interested in combo tickets? Here are some options worth looking into:
- Statue of Liberty + Top of The Rock – Two great attractions for one reasonable price.
- New York City Pass – Three options for multi-attraction passes.
- Open every day, 365 days a year
- 8 am to midnight, last elevator goes up at 11 pm
The Top of the Rock is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
- By subway, take the F, M, B, or D trains to 47th-50th Street/Rockefeller Center or take the E or M trains to the 5th Avenue/53rd Street station.
- Enter at the main entrance on 50th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.
- Rockefeller Center
- Empire State Building
- Times Square
- Grand Central Terminal
- Bryant Park
- Museum of Modern Art
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.