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Empire State Building vs Top of the Rock | BUG Blog

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Empire State Building vs Top of the Rock

February 5th, 2010 by Tim Uden

New York City is a city of high-rise buildings and a visit here wouldn’t be complete without going to the top of one of them. Visitors to the city have a choice of two: the Empire State Building and the GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (Top of the Rock). Read on and we’ll help you decide which is best.


At the Empire State Building you’re queuing for what seems like hours. There is a queue to get in the building, a queue for the lift, a queue to buy tickets, a queue for the second lift and a queue to get on to the observation deck.

In contrast you book your ticket for Top of the Rock online for your chosen timeslot, and then you turn up and take the lift to the observation deck.


The multiple queues and the fact that it is simply a more famous building mean that the Empire State Building is much more crowded. Top of the Rock is simply less crowded.

The hard sell

A visit to the Empire State Building means having to fend off pushy sales people that try to sell you photos and audio tours. In contrast, you can download the audio tour free from the Top of the Rock’s website if you book your tickets online.


The Empire State Building is a more famous building. But you can’t see the Empire State Building when you’re on top of it.

The GE Building at the Rockefeller Center (Top of the Rock) may not be as famous as the Empire State Building. King Kong never climbed up it, but it is still a well-known building that has been immortalised both by a TV show (30 Rock) and the famous photograph showing construction workers eating lunch on a girder.

The view

Most people agree that the view is better from Top of the Rock. Even though you’re 10 floors higher up on the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock is better located to offer unobstructed views of Central Park and a more complete view looking south down Manhattan that includes both Midtown and Downtown Manhattan.

The Empire State Building is on 34th Street at the southern end of Midtown Manhattan so you have to look in one direction to see Midtown and the other direction for a view of Lower Manhattan. From the Top of the Rock you see Midtown and Lower Manhattan in the one view, and looking north you see an unobstructed view of Central Park with the top 10 blocks of Midtown in the foreground.

Overall presentation

Both buildings date from the 1930s, but the Empire State Building just feels more dated while the Top of the Rock has been recently renovated and is generally a much nicer experience.


Admission to either observation deck costs around the same. It costs $20 ($22 if you book onine) to get to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building and $21 ($19 if you book online) to visit the Top of the Rock observation deck in the GE Building.

More expensive packages are also available. For instance, once at the 86th floor of the Empire State Building you can pay an additional $15 to go up to the 102nd floor observatory and the Empire State Building has an Express Pass that costs $45 and lets you jump the queue. The Top of the Rock has a Sunrise Sunset package that costs $30 and lets you visit at sunrise and make a second visit later the same day.

Which is best?

In conclusion, it’s a no-brainer. Go to the Top of the Rock and enjoy the view. If you have money to burn (or a New York Pass, which is good for free admission to both), then go up the Empire State Building as well and decide for yourself which is best.

View of Empire State Building from Top of the Rock observation deck in the GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City

Tim Uden reporting from Kilcunda, Australia
  • vidmap

    Top of the Rock sounds best, but why not do both?

  • frank

    My family and I have done both and I concur that the Top of the Rock is the choice to make. We were there last week on a Wednesday and went right up without a wait. Actually there around 8:00 and got to see the sun setting over the Hudson. If you havn't done so, everyone must go to the top of the Empire State Building, but be prepared for long lines.

  • Debie

    I felt taken at the Empire State Building. The ticket agents outside the Building sold me a ticket to “jump the queue” and see a film about the building and the skyline. It was a horrible old grainy film. I stood in no less than 5 lines on the way up and one of them was on the 80th floor, took 45 min. and we stood crammed in ropped off lines with frosted windows all around so we could not see out. It was a horrible experience and I felt it was a scam. Yes, I am sure “Top of the Rock is the better choice.”

  • The_sparkzz

    top of the rock,ROCKS..!!

  • Mike Greendoner

    I did Top of the Rock, my priest did Top of the Empire state building, and my Deacon did “Top of the World” Back on my birthday, exactly one week before 9 11, I was only 4 when the towers went down. Unfortunately, my deacon said that top of the world was the best one by far, since the view was the highest in the city. But out of the three, since he had done all three of them, he said top of the rock was the 2nd by a slim margin of “Top of the World”. I wonder if any of you people went to the top of the world trade center?

  • Ludakirk

    Nah, Rockefeller ain’t nothin’ compared to the Empire State. No one says they went to NY and went up the Rockefeller. After goin’ all that way, experience the real thing, or not.

  • Alexandra

    I went to New York in February last year and in my opinion, the rock is much better. Even if you think the Empire State is more ‘iconic’ or whatever, you can’t see the Empire State when you’re on it, as mentioned, yet you have a fantastic view of it, and of the rest of the city, from the top of the rock. But I suppose, you can hardly go back home without having gone to the Empire State :)n nBut why not do both, if you have the time and money. I mean, you’re in New York, might as well :)n

  • Lrahlfs

    I went to what was then called the “RCA Building” in 1964 while on a tour that went to the World’s Fair.  We didn’t go to the Empire State Building & have always wondered if I had missed anything, I now know I didn’t.  Of course, having been born & raised in San Diego, I didn’t care if I went to the Empire State Building.  Most of our “tall” buildings hadn’t been retro-fitted for earthquakes then so didn’t relish going up much over 10 stories!  But now, 48 years and a few earthquakes later our buildings stand up to the worst of Mother Nature & we don’t even notice the quakes these days.  And my Granddaughter lives in New York so I may even get back there one of these days, now if I can only get over my fear of flying!!

  • Massound

    If ever you buy an express ticket to the state empire building, make sure you do a dance all the way past all the queued up people.. act as though your royalty or someone really famous.. Offer to sign autographs.. I pity anyone who goes there and can’t afford a express ticket.. I am naturally impatient nd I’m sure waiting 2 hours would have ruined my experience.. Otherwise it was ok.. 47.50 to catch an elevator to the top was a bit of a rip off.. But then again, when is a tourist not shafted in as many ways as possible..

  • marsha galasso

    the rock is much better

  • Sjoerd Gabeler

    I went to New York last Christmas and a second time in August. Visited the GM building as well as the Empire State during my first visit and although both offer great views I really preferred the former one. That’s why I decided to only visit the Top of the Rock when I came back to the City (being there with my family the second time I didn’t have as much money to spend). I would recommend Top of the Rock to anyone who doesn’t have money to burn.

  • MBipson

    you don’t actually have to book online, just turn up, pick up a ticket and turn up at the designated time

  • Bee

    I did go to Top of the World and it was amazing! Still have my original admission ticket :)

  • Jaime Müller

    I’ve been to both sights and I should say, you are right. TOP OF THE ROCK is much better choice!