Five Tips for Exploring the Empire State Building in New York City

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The #1 attraction in America according to TripAdvisor, the Empire State Building is home to 1,000 businesses and offices (it even has its own zip code!) but also attracts over four MILLION visitors every year. Now the 6th tallest building in America and the 43rd tallest building in the world (as of 2023), the Empire State Building stands 1,250 feet tall (not counting the antenna at the top). 

Originally built from 1930 to 1931, the Empire State Building has undergone several additions (the antenna in 1950, colored flood lights in 1976, and environmental friendly updates in the 2010s) and renovations (a massive renovation in 2006, the 2018 addition of the 34th Street entrance, and the 2019 unveiling of the 2nd and 80th floor exhibits) which allow guests several ways to explore the space (on up to four levels!) and learned about the building’s impressive history. On a clear day, the views from the 86th floor extend as far as six states.

Five Tips for Exploring the Empire State Building:

  1. Plan ahead and get there early: Book tickets ahead of time online. We suggest going first thing in the day and getting in line early. Ticket times usually begin at 10am, but they start the screening and entrance process at 9:30am. We arrived at 9am and were first line, but by 9:20am there were easily 100 people in line behind us. Lines form outside in the designated path closer to the street and next to the bodega. We’ve read that there are smaller crowds during the 12-2pm lunch time frame. Going at night will offer another unique perspective. Check here for up to date hours and ticket information and here for special experiences and add on adventures. 
  1. Dress (and pack) appropriately: Security checks will require guests to take off anything with metal and empty their pockets. It’s much colder (and misty!) 86 stories up, but there are heaters installed around the walking perimeter at the 86th floor Observation Deck. Also consider bringing gum or mints to help with popping ears on the elevator ride. 
  1. Take lots of photos: There are team photographers who will take guests photos after the security check and ticket check in, and guests can purchase those photos at the end of the experience. However, guests are not required to wait in line for those photos. Guests can take plenty of photos through the experience- make sure to have fun with the King Kong display, peek through the barriers of the 86th floor Observation Deck, and check for seasonal displays (we visited at the very start of the holiday season).
  1. Learn about the history of the Empire State Building: The 2nd floor exhibition galleries include black and white images of the site before the Empire State Building was built; copper building models of various stages of construction; a Model Marvel exhibit explaining the sustainability efforts; a feature of the Otis elevators; a 72 screen, 180 degree theater showcasing films including the Empire State Building; and an interactive exhibit featuring King Kong. A stop on the 80th floor includes a series of viewfinders that show film footage of activities at local sites like Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, and the United Nations.  Check here to download the free, self guided audio tour before your visit. 
  1. Leave time for a little shopping: Guests must pass through the Official Store at the end of the experience. There are the traditional tchotchkes and gifts, but also tons of specialized apparel and souvenirs for films that feature the Empire State Building, holiday themed items, and even Empire Sweets.  There are also several dining options, including Starbuck, Tacombi, State Grill, and several quick service options. 

Looking for other adventures in New York City? See our full City Guide here, our favorite restaurants in New York City here, and our index of all of our NYC posts here. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and X

Disclosure: Our family was given a media pass to explore the Empire State Building. All opinions expressed are my own. 

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  1. I visited the Empire State Building around 30 years ago before many of the taller towers around the world had been constructed so it was a real treat to be so high! Great guide for first-time visitors.

  2. I visited the Empire State Building many, maaany years ago and would love to go back. Solid info for when I do end up going. Thanks a lot!

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