Built in just over one year at the start of the 1930s, the Empire State Building cemented its place in history by edging out the Chrysler Building for the title of tallest building in the world. It lost the title decades ago, but the Art Deco skyscraper remains one of the most iconic tourist spots in Manhattan.
Construction began on March 17, 1930, and President Herbert Hoover officially opened it on May 1, 1931. Initial plans for the skyscraper were quite modest, but the “Race into the Sky” was just too much to resist and plans were revised to make it the 103-story, 1,250-feet-tall monolith we know now.
It may have its own ZIP code (10118), but it’s easy to add the Empire State Building to any tourist itinerary. Here’s how to make the trip up unforgettable.
The Empire State Building is open 365 days a year, from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., with the last elevator to the observatory leaving at 1:15 a.m.
If you want to avoid long lines and crowds, plan to go very early or very late. Tickets are required for access to both the 86th floor and the 102nd floor observation deck, but if you don’t want to wait in multiple lines, you can buy them in advance online.
Visitors can choose from a number of different ticket options, from only access to the 86th floor to a premium option that includes a 90-minute private tour. (Prices start at $36 for adults, $30 for children and $34 for seniors.)
To get there, take the 1, 2, or 3 to 34th Street/Penn Station or the B, D, F, M, N, Q, or R trains to 34th Street/Herald Square and walk to the entrance on 5th Ave between 33rd and 34th Streets.
Security is tight — the process is similar to what one would encounter at an airport — so expect to wait for that and in another line for the elevator (plan to use the second-floor restrooms before you get in this line!).
If you’re with an impatient type, express passes are available for an additional fee.
Did you know
The balcony on the 103rd floor is only open to VIPs, such as tennis star Michelle Wie.
Adam Hunger/Getty Images
The Empire State Building has been a pop culture staple for nearly 90 years; from King Kong to Elf, it’s made countless appearances in movies and TV.
It’s also a wedding venue for a few lucky couples every year: the only day it hosts ceremonies is Valentine’s Day. And if you’re planning a proposal, there’s a saxophonist on duty from 9 p.m. to midnight from Labor Day (the beginning of September) to Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) and from 10 p.m. -1 a.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
And like any must-see spot in NYC, there are VIP-only areas, including the observation deck on the 103rd floor. Don’t get too jealous of celebrities like Tom Cruise or Taylor Swift — the narrow outdoor terrace would give anyone vertigo.
Those top two floors of the Empire State Building were also supposed to have a very different purpose, at least in theory. In 1929, one of the men funding the project announced that they planned to add another 200 feet to the building’s height to accommodate a dirigible docking station. Ultimately, only one privately owned airship ever managed to dock there in 1931, for a mere three minutes in high winds.
From the ground
For those with a fear of heights — or an aversion to lines — there are still many ways to enjoy excellent views of the building and the Manhattan skyline. You can purchase an NYC ferry ticket ($2.75) and ride from downtown Manhattan or Brooklyn up the East River to 34th Street, which offers an excellent skyline view with the ESB and the Chrysler Building in prime positions.
If you’re out and about at night, be sure to check the Empire State Colors Twitter account to find out what colors will be lighting up the building at night and what those colors honor. The first time colored lights were used was to announce that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had won the 1932 presidential election.
Where to eat nearby
Midtown Manhattan is not known for its restaurants, but there are still many excellent dining options in the area.
If you’re up for a bit of a culinary adventure, there are a wealth of options in Manhattan’s Koreatown, centered around 32nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Try Turntable Chicken Jazz (20 W 33rd St, New York, NY 10001; +1 (212) 714-9700) for fried chicken and a lively atmosphere, or BCD Tofu House (5W. 32nd Street, New York, NY 10001; +1 (212) 967-1900) if you’re looking for delicious vegetarian options.
The Breslin (16 W 29th St, New York, NY 10001; +1 (212) 679-1939), located in the Ace Hotel, boasts one of the best burgers in New York City, as well as excellent people-watching opportunities in the hotel’s chic lobby bar. The Breslin’s chef, April Bloomfield, is also behind Salvation Taco (145 E 39th St, New York, NY 10016; +1 (212) 865-5800), near Grand Central Station.
Empire State Building, 350 5th Ave, New York, NY 10118
Meredith Clark is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City.
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