Ask your average Jane or Joe to name as many top New York attractions as they can in 10 seconds and it’s fairly likely the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building will be first out of their mouths. But how do they measure up? Which has been around the longest and which has stolen the most blockbuster movie scenes? We got up close and personal with these two titans of the Manhattan skyline to find out.
The Statue of Liberty arrived on US shores in 1885, a gift from the people of France. This beautifully rendered copper giant was designed by celebrated sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, with a metal framework by his engineering pal Gustave Eiffel. Yes, that Gustave Eiffel. The statue was dedicated on Liberty Island in October 1886, where she has stood ever since, her gorgeous patina earning her the nickname ‘Green Goddess’. Still the definitive emblem of American freedom after more than 140 years, the statue attracts around 3.5 million visitors every year.
The Empire State Building joined the party a little later, and will reach its centenary year in 2031. Perhaps the most iconic Art Deco building on the planet, it stands at 1,453ft and was the world’s tallest building for over four decades, until topped by the World Trade Center’s North Tower in 1970. No other building has held the record for that long, just one of many accolades held by this monolithic Manhattan masterpiece, which attracts around four million visitors a year, primarily for the birds’ eye views afforded by its observation platforms on the 86th and 102nd floors, some 1,250ft from terra firma.
At the Movies
The iconic status of the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building mean both have featured in countless movies, TV shows and music videos over the years. How many can you think of?
The image of King Kong at the top of the Empire State Building, clinging to his beloved Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and swatting away airplanes like flies before succumbing to their gunfire, is one of the most recognizable in movie history. It’s the Empire State’s mic drop moment, but the Green Goddess is no cinematic slouch either, having appeared on the silver screen many hundreds of times, even as far back as the silent movie era, when she made what is thought to be her debut alongside Charlie Chaplin in 1917’s The Immigrant.
As a proud symbol of American freedom, Lady Liberty has also done innumerable stints in disaster movies, representing hope – or the fall of humankind. We’re talking the haunting image of the statue half-buried in sand in the closing scenes of Planet of the Apes as well as appearances in – deep breath – Independence Day, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow, Cloverfield and, um, Sharknado 2.
What can you do at the Statue of Liberty?
A trip out to the planet’s most famous torchbearer takes in both Liberty Island (where the statue is located) and its near-neighbor Ellis Island, home of the National Museum of Immigration. And it’s well worth visiting both while you’re here. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the rich history of New York and the USA itself, there’s no better place to start. Photographs, heirlooms and a database of searchable historical records track the history of immigration in the US, and you can even peep into the baggage rooms and dormitories once used by ‘the huddled masses’ who arrived in New York in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Of course, the statue herself is the main event, and there are various options depending on what you want to see. You can book to climb to the top of the pedestal on which Lady Liberty stands, or go the whole hog and climb the 162-step spiral staircase inside the statue for epic views from right up inside her famous crown. Tickets for these experiences are available via the Statue City Cruises website, while a pass from Go City includes your ferry ticket plus entry to the museums, as well as dozens more New York attractions including the Guggenheim, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, and – yep – the Empire State Building.
What can you do at the Empire State Building?
Really the only downside of visiting the observation platforms on the 86th and 102nd floors of the Empire State Building is the fact that those crazy views don’t include… the Empire State Building itself. Instead, soak up some of the best selfie opportunities in town with backdrops that include Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge and many other icons of the New York skyline. The 86th floor is in pole position for photo opps thanks to its open air platform, while the top floor is higher up (obvs) but fully enclosed.
You can pimp up your visit with a range of direct ticket options that includes skip-the-line tickets, premium champagne packages and guided tours of the building, including the incredible Art Deco lobby. Or go straight for the 86th floor with an attraction pass from Go City.
How to get to the Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty’s location on Liberty Island means the only way of getting there is by ferry from Battery Park in Manhattan or the Liberty State Park in New Jersey. All passengers are required to undergo a security screening before boarding, so we’d recommend arriving 30 minutes or so before your planned departure, to avoid missing the boat.
The Staten Island Ferry is another option if you just fancy a close pass (with stacks of great photo opportunities of both the statue and Manhattan skyline) but without actually physically visiting the attraction.
Check out our blog on the best time to visit the Statue of Liberty here.
How to get to the Empire State Building
Getting to the Empire State Building is an absolute cinch. It’s right in the center or the Big Apple and you really can’t miss it; it’s visible from just about everywhere. The nearest metro stations are Herald Square and Penn Station, or arrive in style at the awesome Grand Central, and make the 10-minute walk from there.
Check out our blog on the best time to visit the Empire State Building here.
Save on New York Activities and Attractions
And that concludes our deep dive into the world of the Empire State Building vs the Statue of Liberty. We hope, in the unlikely event that you choose to visit only one of these big attractions, that in some small way our guide can help you make your decision. If not, and if indecision continues to dog you, remember you can easily visit both and save money thanks to Go City’s All-Inclusive and Explorer passes for New York. So what are you waiting for?