Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building: Comparing the Differences Between the Two Observation Decks

What’s the difference between Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building?

Both are historically and culturally important buildings that offer some of the best New York City skyline views, but the two experiences are very different.

For example, although the Empire State Building might be the most iconic building to populate the New York City skyline, keep in mind you don’t have much of a view of it from the building itself (same goes for Top of the Rock).

We’ve put together a list of the key similarities and differences between the two attractions broken down by:

  • What’s Included with General Admission
  • Location
  • Scenic Views of New York
  • Tips for Visiting

large-image-top-of-the-rock-vs-empire-state-building-observatory-views

 What’s Included with General Admission:

For the best views, head to the Top of the Rock one hour before sunset (the golden hour)

For starters, both Empire State Building tickets and Top of the Rock tickets are available with the New York City Explorer Pass.

This means you can visit BOTH attractions for one price, which can save you up to 50% vs paying separately at the ticket gates.

Both observation decks feature educational exhibits and experiences as part of general admission, here’s a summary of what each experience includes:

Empire State Building General Admission:

  • Access to the Main Observation Deck, a 360-degree, open-air 86th Floor Observation Deck
  • Admission to The Empire State Building Experience, including the Sustainability and Dare to Dream exhibitions
  • Self-guided multimedia tour that helps identify landmarks in the skyline
  • There is no timed entry so you are free to use your pass at any time during opening hours.

*Not included: the higher 102nd Floor Observatory and an Express Pass are available as ticket upgrade options.

Top of the Rock General Admission:

  • Access to three floors of indoor and outdoor observation decks on the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors
  • Sky shuttle elevator ride up to the top with light show
  • Admission to exhibits that feature Top of the Rock and Rockefeller Center history and the interactive Beam Walk that simulates what it’s like to walk on a construction beam 69 floors above Manhattan
  • Present your pass at the ticket office one day before you intend to visit for guaranteed timed entry.

Location:

Where is the Empire State Building compared to Top of the Rock?

Both buildings are located in the middle of Manhattan near other popular attractions, but the two buildings are about one mile apart.

Top of the Rock: Top of the Rock is located farther north in Manhattan closer to Central Park and Times Square, arguably offering better views of both.

Empire State Building: the Empire State Building is located farther south in Manhattan closer to the Financial District, water, and the One World Trade Center, arguably offering better views of both.

Comparing the Scenic Views:

The views from the Empire State Building vs. Top of the Rock facing south

South facing views from Top of the Rock (left) vs Empire State Building (right)

The biggest difference between the views from each building’s respective observation deck is the view of the actual buildings themselves; if you want one of the best views of the Empire State Building, head up to the Top of the Rock, if you want one of the best views of Rockefeller Plaza, head to the top of the Empire State Building.

The images above compare the views from the Empire State Building vs the Top of the Rock looking south.

View from the Empire State Building:

The observation deck in the Empire State Building is slightly higher than the Top of the Rock one at 1,050 feet above ground. The building is located further south in Manhattan, so offers better views of the cluster of skyscrapers near the water in the financial district.

Landmarks you can see from the Empire State Building:

  • Rockefeller Plaza Center, Chrysler Building, One World Trade Center (closer views than at Top of the Rock), Central Park (farther views than from Top of the Rock), Times Square, Statue of Liberty (closer views than at Top of the Rock), the Brooklyn Bridge, and more.

View from the Top of the Rock:

Slightly lower than the Empire State Building observation deck, the deck at Top of the Rock is 800-feet above ground. The building is located further north in Manhattan, so offers better views of Central Park.

Landmarks you can see from the Top of the Rock:

  • Empire State Building, Chrysler Building (partially obscured), One World Trade Center (farther away than at Empire State Building), Central Park (closer than from Empire State Building), Bank of America Tower, Flatiron Building, and more.

Tips for Visiting the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock:

Empire State Building Tips:

  • To beat the crowds, it’s best to visit early in the morning (between 8:00 am and 11:00 am) or late in the evening (10:00 pm or later).
  • Plan to spend 2-3 hours visiting the Empire State Building.
  • If you want to catch the sunset, plan to get to the top well before – the hour before sunset is best for pictures, too!
  • Kids under six years of age can visit for free with an accompanying adult. Strollers are allowed, but you must be able to fold it before taking the elevator ride up.
  • Prepare for the security line and help speed up the process by making sure you don’t have any prohibited items.
  • Dress for the weather and remember it’s colder and windier up there.
  • Bring a camera and binoculars to capture the best views.
  • Check out our post for even more Empire State Building tips for visiting.

Top of the Rock Tips:

  • To avoid the largest crowds, plan to visit Top of the Rock early in the morning. Weekday visits tend to be less busy, too.
  • Plan to spend at least 1 hour visiting the Top of the Rock and take your time at the exhibits, once you pass through,  you cannot go back to the exhibits.
  • Entry tickets are timed, bring your pass to Top of the Rock in the morning to reserve timed ticket for later in the day for the best chances of going up during your ideal time.
  • If you want to catch the sunset, plan to get to the top well before – the hour before sunset is best for pictures, too!
  • Download the Top of the Rock app for a skyline guide that identifies what buildings you’re looking at and has audio tours you can listen to.
  • Dress for the weather and remember it’s colder and windier up there.
  • Bring a camera and binoculars to capture the best views.
  • Check out our post for even more Top of the Rock tips for visiting.

In Summary:

Both attractions offer a unique experience and are extremely popular, but the biggest difference is probably the view from the observation decks. So if you have to choose just one to visit, go based on the view you prefer to get.

If you’re more interested in seeing the Empire State Building, go to Top of the Rock. If you want to see Top of the Rock and learn more about the Empire State Building itself, go to the Empire State Building.

 Save on Admission (& Visit Both!)

Instead of choosing between the Empire State Building vs. Top of the Rock, get a New York City Explorer Pass and save up to 50% off combined admission when you visit both.

The New York City Explorer Pass includes admission to your choice of other top New York City attractions, like the Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus Tour, Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Immigration Museum – Ferry Ticket, The MoMa, The Met, 9/11 Tribute Center & Walking Tour, and lots more.

Enjoy!

New York City Explorer Pass

The information contained in this post, to the best of the author's knowledge, was accurate at time of publishing. We do our best to ensure and maintain the accuracy of this information.

Comments

  1. LoriG says

    One thing that was neglected in this article was the cost. The Empire State Building is about $20 more for the basic ticket. Also, while the Top of the Rock has a timed ticket, the ticket for the Empire State Building is good for anytime during the day. The later point wasn’t clearly stated.

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