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.
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.
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.
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.
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.