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Is The Empire State Building Worth It? Pros & Cons

Thinking about visiting the Empire State Building in NYC? 

Well, hold onto your pretzels because I’m about to answer the ultimate question: Is the Empire State Building really worth all the hype?

I’ll be spilling the beans on if it’s worth the money and if it should be at the top of your NYC to-do list.

I’ll also be covering if it’s worth paying extra for the 102nd floor and the express pass.

Let’s jump straight in…

Empire State Building – Worth It or Not?

In my opinion, the Empire State Building is totally worth visiting if you’re in New York. 

Not only is it one of the world’s most iconic buildings, it’s been featured in numerous films, offers one of the best views of the city and it’s a piece of living history.

Having said that, it is pretty expensive and extremely popular so it can get very crowded.

Here’s an overview of the pros and cons:

Pros & cons list on if the Empire State Building is worth visiting.
Pros & cons list on if the Empire State Building is worth visiting.

In the rest of this guide, I’ll be delving further into each of the above to help you decide if the Empire State Building is really worth a visit or not.

Insider Tip

I’d highly recommend booking your Empire State Building ticket on Viator over the official website and here’s why…

Tickets purchased on the official website are non-refundable and it’s difficult to amend the time/date of your visit.

Tickets booked on Viator cost exactly the same but also come with free cancellation and it’s super easy to amend the ticket time/date.

Book Empire State Building Ticket on Viator

Let’s now find out if the Empire State Building is really worth your time and money…

Iconic Views

View from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.
View from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

Standing at the top of this legendary skyscraper rewards you with panoramic views of the city that never sleeps. 

The skyline, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge and the Hudson River all unfold before your eyes.

On a clear day, you might even catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty standing tall in the distance, a symbol of freedom and hope. 

And let’s not forget the Chrysler Building, another architectural marvel, standing in the distance like a friendly rival.

Whether you visit during the day to see the city in its full, sprawling glory or at night to witness the city’s transformation into a sea of lights, the views from the Empire State Building are nothing short of mesmerizing

It’s a chance to truly understand just how big the city really is and how its numerous neighborhoods fit together like a mosaic.

Historical Significance

Information about the history of the building from the Empire State Building Museum.
Information about the history of the building from the Empire State Building Museum.

The Empire State Building is a living piece of New York’s history, having once stood as the world’s tallest building for nearly four decades. 

Exploring its Art Deco architecture and rich heritage is a real treat for history buffs.

As the nation grappled with economic turmoil back in the 1930s, the Empire State Building emerged as a symbol of resilience and determination. 

Its construction employed thousands of workers during a time when jobs were scarce, providing a lifeline for families struggling to make ends meet. 

It represents human ambition, innovation and the desire to reach new heights – both literally and metaphorically.

But its historical journey doesn’t end there. 

The building has also played witness to numerous significant moments in American history, from welcoming home World War II soldiers to serving as a beacon of light during dark times. 

Movie Magic

Movie posters featuring the Empire State Building.
Movie posters featuring the Empire State Building.

Lights, camera, action! The Empire State Building isn’t just a towering skyscraper, it’s also a movie star

With a cinematic resume as impressive as its height, this iconic skyscraper has graced the silver screen in countless films and TV shows.

Remember the heartwarming scene in “Sleepless in Seattle” where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s characters finally meet at the top of the Empire State Building’s observation deck? 

That’s just the tip of the iceberg!

And who can forget the giant ape himself, King Kong, perched on top of the Empire State Building, swatting at fighter planes in the 1933 classic (or the 2005 remake)? 

But the Empire State Building isn’t stuck in the past. It continues to make cameos to this day.

In “Elf”, Buddy the Elf embarks on a quest to meet his birth father and where does this meeting take place? 

You guessed it – the Empire State Building!

Bucket List Moment

View of the Empire State Building from outside.
View of the Empire State Building from outside.

The Empire State Building is like the Mona Lisa of New York City – an iconic masterpiece that’s as synonymous with the city as pizza slices and yellow cabs. 

And guess what? You’re about to have your very own “I was there!” moment.

When those doors open onto the observation deck, you’re not just seeing the city – you’re becoming a part of it. 

The energy, the rhythm, the sheer “Wow, I’m actually here!” feeling – it’s electric.

Visiting the Empire State Building isn’t just about checking off a touristy to-do – it’s about connecting with the millions who’ve stood where you stand and gazing at the same view that’s captured hearts for generations.

This is your chance to tick off a quintessential New York experience from your bucket list!

Crowds

Crowds on the 86th floor observation deck at the Empire State Building.
Crowds on the 86th floor observation deck at the Empire State Building.

Alright, let’s talk candidly: when it comes to the Empire State Building, it’s not exactly a secret hideaway. 

This iconic skyscraper isn’t just popular – it’s the star of the show and everyone wants a piece of the action. 

Be prepared to share your view with a ton of fellow visitors and spend a lot of time in lines.

The observation deck itself can also be very crowded. You may have to wait for people to move out of the way so you can stand by the edge and take in the magnificent views for yourself.

Pricey Tickets

Empire State Building ticket prices. Screenshot taken from official website.
Empire State Building ticket prices. Screenshot taken from official website.

The admission tickets are pretty pricey, especially if you opt for the 102nd floor ticket or an express pass.

Even the most basic ticket still costs $47 dollars per person!

Here’s an overview of the prices:

  • 86th Floor Observatory – $47.91
  • 102nd & 86th Floor Observation Decks – $86.02
  • Express Pass (86th & 102nd Floors) – $129.56

*All prices include tax.

Although it’s pretty expensive, try to remember that you’re not just paying for a view, you’re paying for a slice of history, a taste of movie magic and a memory that’ll outshine any souvenir. 

Sure, admission tickets might be on the higher side, especially if you’re eyeing those express passes.

But before you break out the calculator, consider this: how often do you get to stand on top of one of the world’s most famous landmarks and would you regret it if you didn’t?

And here’s a tip for budget-conscious travelers: purchase a New York Pass to save on pricey admission tickets. 

The New York Pass includes admission to over 100 of New York’s top attractions including the Empire State Building.

If you’re planning on visiting multiple attractions then this pass could save you hundreds of dollars on admission tickets.

Weather Woes

View of the Empire State Building on a cloudy day.
View of the Empire State Building on a cloudy day.

Mother Nature isn’t always on your side. Fog, rain or clouds can obstruct your view so checking the weather forecast beforehand is essential.

But don’t let that rain on your parade (pun intended) because you can easily amend your ticket time or date if you book with Viator.

On a clear day, you can see up to 80 miles and you’ll see all of NYC’s most famous sites including the Statue of Liberty.

On a cloudy day, you won’t see as much and it could even hide Lady Liberty from view. 

It’s still an epic experience but you’ll be paying the same price and in all honesty, the view just isn’t anywhere near as good on a cloudy day. Having said that, it’s still pretty amazing.

Time Commitment

Long queue waiting for the observation deck at the Empire State Building.
Long queue waiting for the observation deck at the Empire State Building.

Waiting in line and soaking in the views can take up a good chunk of your day. If you’re on a tight schedule then you may have to forfeit other attractions in place of this one.

During peak season, when tourists are swarming the city like bees to honey, the lines can be quite the spectacle. 

Now, how long you’ll wait depends on a few things: the time of day, the day of the week and the season itself.

Mornings tend to be a little less congested, and if you’re an early bird, you may even be able to bypass the queue entirely!

Midday crowds can be a bit more bustling, and as the afternoon rolls in, lines get super long. 

If you’re aiming for sunset then brace yourself for enormous queues as everyone wants that golden-hour glow.

On a busy day, you might spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour in line before you even step into the elevator.

Similar Alternatives

View of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock.
View of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock.

NYC boasts many other breathtaking skyline views like the Top of the Rock and the One World Observatory. 

Exploring alternative options is often a great way to save time and money.

Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center)

If you’re looking for a different perspective of the city, consider heading to the Top of the Rock.

Perched right at the top of the Rockefeller Center, this observation deck offers stunning 360-degree views that include the Empire State Building itself. 

Plus, it’s spread across three levels meaning you can capture different angles of the city and people are more spread out so it feels less busy.

Another plus is that it’s a few dollars cheaper than the Empire State Building ticket.

Book Top of the Rock Tickets

One World Observatory (One World Trade Center)

For a mix of breathtaking views and important history, head to the One World Observatory

Located in the One World Trade Center, this observatory not only provides panoramic views of the city, it also offers a tribute to the events of September 11, 2001. 

It’s a chance to honor the resilience of New York and take in the city’s skyline.

It’s also a few dollars cheaper than the Empire State Building which is a plus.

Book One World Observatory Tickets

Verdict – Is the Empire State Building Really Worth Visiting?

View from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.
View from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

Whether the Empire State Building is worth a visit or not completely depends on your priorities. 

If you’re seeking a quintessential New York experience with historical charm and unforgettable views, it’s a must-do. 

However, if you’re short on time or prefer less crowded spots, exploring other viewpoints might be equally fulfilling.

Is the 102nd Floor of the Empire State Building Worth It?

View from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building.
View from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building.

In case you didn’t know, the Empire State Building actually has two different observation decks – one on the 86th floor and one on the 102nd floor.

The 86th floor is included in the standard ticket but you’ll have to pay extra to access the elusive 102nd floor.

If money isn’t an issue then the 102nd floor is totally worth it as you’ll get a slightly better view and it tends to be less busy compared to the 86th floor.

If your budget is tighter then it’s probably not worth it. The view isn’t that much better and you’ll still get mostly the same experience from the 86th floor.

Firstly, let’s talk prices: the standard 86th floor ticket is $47.91 whilst the 102nd floor ticket is $86.02. That’s a lot extra for a very similar view.

You will get a slightly more elevated view of the city (it’s around 16ft higher) but, in all honesty, you probably won’t notice much difference.

I personally loved that the 102nd floor was way less busy than the 86th floor so you’ll definitely get a more calm experience.

I did find the 86th floor to be quite overwhelming with the amount of people there and it took a while to even get the chance to stand at the edge to enjoy the view.

If you’re still struggling to decide I wrote an entire guide comparing the 86th and 102nd floors.

Is the Empire State Building Express Pass Worth It?

Queue at the Empire State Building waiting for the observation deck.
Queue at the Empire State Building waiting for the observation deck.

If you’re short on time and don’t mind paying a bit of extra money then the Empire State Building Express Pass is definitely worth it as it allows you to completely bypass the queue.

Unless you arrive as the doors open, you’ll likely spend between 30 minutes and an hour waiting in line to head up to the observation deck.

If time is of the essence then consider purchasing the Express Pass which costs $129.56 per person (including tax).

This ticket allows you to skip the queue and gives you access to both the 86th floor and the 102nd floor.

If you’re planning a visit at peak times, especially sunset, then the Express Pass could be worth it as you’ll save yourself at least an hour of time (sometimes more).


And that’s it!

That’s all of my thoughts on if the Empire State Building is worth visiting. 

My final verdict is that the Empire State Building is a must-do if you’re visiting New York City. 

Yep, it’s pricey but it’s also one of the world’s most iconic buildings and visiting it will allow you to check something iconic off your bucket list.

Need help with directions? You may find this guide on how to get from Times Square to the Empire State Building useful.

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Megan Jones is a travel expert and founder of Traveller's Elixir who has been travelling the world full time since 2021. Megan's travel tips been featured in numerous media outlets including Metro, Timeout, Thrillist and more.

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