Visiting The Empire State Building: What You Have to Know

Empire State Building

New York City’s skyline just wouldn’t be the same without the Empire State Building!

The Empire State Building is New York’s most recognizable landmark and visiting the Empire State building is a must for anyone traveling in the city. “It’s nearest place we have in New York to heaven,” says the heroine of the classic film Love Affair (1939), gazing at the building in awe.

If you want to visit the Empire State building it helps to know a little bit about it. We’ve compiled a list of common questions along with the answers so you can make sure that your visit is as easy as it is fun an informative.

How tall is the Empire State Building?

NY's most important landmark

To see the top of the Empire State Building, look up—way, way up…

Named for New York (the “Empire State”), the Empire State Building rises 102 stories—which made it the world’s tallest building for a record 41 years!

The building’s height, including the 203-foot pinnacle, is 1,453 feet (443 meters). The pinnacle is covered with broadcast antennas, and crowned by a lightning rod and a beacon light to serve as a warning signal for aircraft.

The Empire State Building is so big it even has its own zip code (10118!). Primarily an office building, 85 of its stories house 1,000 businesses and approximately 20,000 employees.

If you are visiting the Empire State Building remember that the spaces open to the public are the magnificent three-story Art Deco marble lobby and the observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors.

What’s up with the lights on the Empire State Building?

Empire State Building

The Empire State Building, lit up with red, white and blue for the Fourth of July

Every evening, the building’s top 30 stories are illuminated with colors. These might reflect the season, celebrate a holiday (like the red, white and blue for the Fourth of July, pictured here), or commemorate local sporting teams or worthy causes (pink for Breast Cancer Awareness, etc.).  The lighting schedule can be found here, or try Night Light NYC, a mobile app that includes a 360 degree view of the lighting.

The tower lights are turned off on foggy nights during the spring and fall migratory bird seasons so the birds don’t become confused by the diffused light and crash into the building.

Who built the Empire State Building? And how?

The building was designed in the Art Deco style by the architect William F. Lamb, who drew up plans for the building in just two weeks.

Excavation on the site (the location of the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) began on January 22, 1930. Construction involved 3,400 workers, mostly immigrants from Europe, along with hundreds of Mohawk Native American ironworkers.

The building rose incredibly fast—sometimes as rapidly as a floor a day!—with steel girders still hot from the Pennsylvania mills.

History of the empire state building

Building the Empire State Building. (Photo by Lewis Hine, 1930).

Just 410 days after construction began, the building officially opened on May 1, 1931. The total cost: $40,948,900.

The Great Depression had devastated the business community, so the building was less than half occupied when it opened. Nicknamed “The Empty State Building,” it barely managed to cover expenses with revenue from the observatory. In fact, it didn’t become profitable until 1950!

Today, the building is a designated National Historic Landmark. And in 2007, the building was ranked number one on the list of America’s Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.

How do I visit the Empire State Building?

Visiting the Empire State Building is relatively easy as long as you know when to go (more on that below). The Observatories are open from 8am to 2am, seven days a week. The last elevators go up at 1:15am.

The visitors’ entrance is located on Fifth Ave., between 33rd and 34th streets. All visitors must go through the Observatory security-check line (check here for prohibited items, which include glass containers, cans, professional camera equipment, and large packages or luggage). There are no storage facilities available for personal belongings.

Tickets to the 86th floor observatory cost $32 for adults, $29 for seniors, and $26 for children (aged 6-12; kids under 5 are free). The ticket office accepts cash, American-based travelers’ cheques, and all major credit cards except Diner’s Club.

There are additional charges to continue to the 102nd floor observatory, for the audio tour, or for the the express pass, which allows you to skip some lines. Combination tickets are also available.

What should I keep in mind when visiting the Empire State Building?

empire state building

Want to visit the Empire State Building? There are a few things you have to know. Photo by Pisa Photography

Two factors can affect your visit: the weather (on a clear day, you can see 80 miles and five states), and the crowds (which can make for considerable lines). In general, the least busy times are weekdays before noon, and after midnight. You also can buy tickets online to avoid the long lines to the ticket office.

Want to know how long the wait will be? You can call the Empire State Building to find out wait times, visibility, and other visitors’ information at (212) 736-3100 or toll-free at (877) NYC-VIEW (692-8439).

The Empire State Building is fully ADA compliant, and handicapped restrooms are on the 86th floor Observatory. The entrance for those with disabilities is on 34th Street, between Bank of America and Starbucks. Please note that this entrance is only open Monday through Friday until 6pm.

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  • Hi guys! Nice site! Do you know more blogs on this topic?

  • Thank you for your article! I really enjoyed reading it.

  • Jeff Titelius

    This is by far the best write-up I have ever read on the Empire State Building! I really enjoyed all of the historical references especially the line about the dirigible dock! How fascinating that would have been have conditions favored such travel! Thx for taking me on a wondrous journey thru time to one of my favorite places in the world!

    • Thanks so much Jeff. As a New Yorker, I took the ESB for granted, but became fascinated as I researched for this post. I recently wandered through the lobby (first time in many years) and was awe-struck by the beauty of design and history behind it.

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  • Bob Kramer

    Are you allowed to walk into the Empire State Building (the lobby) and just look around a bit without having to buy a ticket to an observation deck?

    • Michael Valvano

      yes I did so the other day. Just tell the guy at the door that’s what you’re doing. the guy there said “yes come in it’s so beautiful inside come look!!”