Without a doubt heading to the top of the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Centre is a must-do when in NYC. Getting a 360° view of the Big Apple from such a height is an amazing experience and the perfect way to view the city’s skyline!

But which one to choose? Rockefeller Center gives you a view of the Empire State building…but do you really want to leave New York not being able to say you went up the iconic Empire State? Here’s my recommendations after having visited both of them on separate holidays within the space of six months.

The cost of tickets for both experiences are very similar so this isn’t really a deciding factor. The Empire State Building will set you back $32* (main floor), while the Top of the Rock is $30*. Buy your tickets online to save time when you visit. I highly recommend buying a timed ticket for the Top of the Rock as this meant we didn’t have to wait in line at all.
*prices current as of August 2015new york cityHEIGHT
The Empire State takes you 86 floors high to the main deck, or you can purchase a different ticket and add on the 102nd floor. We opted to do the whole hog and go all the way up to the top deck. This was unnecessary. The top deck is all enclosed with glass which didn’t have much visibility when we were there as it had been raining, and although we were sixteen floors higher it really didn’t feel like there was much of a difference in the view.

There is only one observation deck at the Top of the Rock and it has you soaring 70 floors high over the city. In my opinion, the difference between the 70th and the 86th floor of the Empire State wasn’t significant enough that I would let this alter your decision.

Both buildings have a different layout at the top which gave different experiences. The Empire State has the main building right in the middle of the viewing area, so you walk around the perimeter. It has a wire mesh the whole way around, which makes it a little difficult to take photos and we found that everyone was jostling to get their camera lenses through the little gaps. The Empire State is a lot further from Central Park than the Rockefeller so if you visit during the day, the view of the park isn’t quite as good.

The Rockefeller Centre felt a lot less crowded, although this could have been more to do with the time of day than anything else. There was a larger main viewing area and most of the perimeter had a very wide ledge on it, rather than having wire mesh. The view of the Empire State Building at night was beautiful and I found overall it was easier to take photos and enjoy the view at the Top of the Rock.new york cityDAY vs NIGHT
We went up the Empire State Building at sunset which I can’t recommend enough. It was the perfect time to allow us to see the city in daylight and be able to spot all the areas we’d explored over the previous few days, and then to watch the city that never sleeps turn from day to night. It was sprinkling with rain and extremely windy but it just meant that we were spoilt with the most incredible sunset!

We visited the Top of the Rock around 8pm when it was already dark, and although it was beautiful to see the city all lit up, it mean that Central Park looked like a big, black hole, and it was harder to get our bearings.

Sunset would definitely be my choice as you get the best of both worlds. There’s no time limit on your visit at either building so make sure you get there nice and early so you don’t miss the sun going down. Take your time and enjoy the breathtaking views of New York City!new york cityOTHER STUFF
1 –
You will go through security screening at both buildings on your way up. Consider this before going and maybe make sure you’ve dropped all that amazing NY shopping you’ve done back at the hotel before visiting!
2 – Lose the tripod. You’re not allowed to take a tripod up the top so make sure you don’t have one with you as there are no storage facilities.
3 – Say yes to the photographer who wants to take cheesy photos of you on the way up and at the top of the Rockefeller Centre! We thought we might as well and we ended up buying digital copies as they were really reasonable for price and we couldn’t get a good photo of the two of us otherwise.
4 – Rug up! It obviously depends on the time of day and year you’re visiting but in the evenings it can get very windy and chilly up there, I went in October and May and it was freezing both times!new york cityWhichever you choose you’re not going to be disappointed. Me? I’d choose the Top of the Rock at sunset, camera in hand and eyes wide open.


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