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Best time to visit Empire State building – to avoid crowd, for sunset

The Empire State Building gets more than four million visitors annually and is one of New York City’s most popular attractions.

No holiday in New York is complete without going up the Empire State Building to see the city’s skyline in all its glory.

With so many making a beeline for the skyscraper, what’s the recommended time to visit the Empire State Building in 2023?

Well, it depends on what you expect from your visit to the world’s most famous building.

Best time to avoid the crowd

Long queues in Empire State Building
Long queues are a regular feature at Empire State. In the pic, people are waiting to buy their tickets and/or their turn to go up the elevators. Image: Sightseeingscientist.com
Crowd in Empire State Building Observation Deck
During summer months or weekends, even the observation decks get crowded. Image: Andrea-jordan.com

The best time to visit the Empire State Building is as soon as it opens at 10 am, after which the lines start getting longer.

If you can’t make it in the morning, the next best time is from 3 pm to 5 pm before the crowd gathers to see the sunset views.

If you visit during the early morning or late afternoon, you can explore both the observation decks (86th floor and 102nd floor) and the exhibits inside the Empire State at leisure.

Mondays and Tuesdays are usually quiet, and the Empire State Building would be an excellent choice to visit on these days.

Weekends, especially Saturdays, are the busiest days. It is also better to avoid public holidays, school holidays, and summer months.

Since the 86th-floor observatory is open-air, it gets chilly during late winter, attracting a smaller group of people. If the cold isn’t a bother for you, it is a great time to visit.

How to skip the lines

When you visit the Empire State Building, there are three lines you stand in and wait for your turn.

Line 1: The queue at the ticketing counter

Line 2: The queue at the security check

Line 3: The line in front of the elevators

Empire State Building’s standard ticket helps you skip the first line, and the Express ticket helps you skip all three lines.

Type of Empire State Building ticket Cost
Standard ticket (86 floor) US$48
Express ticket (86 floor) US$91
Day & Night ticket (86 floor) US$70
Sunrise ticket (86 floor) US$147
All Access Tour US$543

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Best time to see the sunrise

The best time to visit the Empire State Building if you want to see the sunrise over New York is 5 am.

The ESB gates open for a limited set of 100 people at 5 am before they open for the public. The Sunrise ticket costs $147 per person.

Visitors are allowed to enter the 86th-floor observatory 30 minutes before sunrise.

The Big Apple Pass includes tickets to a 60-minute Statue of Liberty cruise, the Empire State Building, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You also get a 10% discount code, which you can use (five times!) to get discounts on future purchases.

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Best time to see the sunset

There is no specific time to see sunset views from the Empire State Building’s observation deck

Sunset at Empire State Building
Sunset at Empire State Building. Image: Johannes Hurtig

You must find out the time the sun will set on the day of your visit and book a Standard ticket at least 45 minutes earlier. 

If you are at the attraction 45 minutes before sunset (with an online ticket), you can reach the 86th-floor observatory by the time the sun goes down. 

Visual Story: 15 must-know tips before visiting Empire State Building

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Best time to visit at night

New York looks stunning from the Empire State Building at night, especially from the ESB observatory on the 102nd floor.

The perfect time to enjoy the Empire State Building at night is after 9 pm.

Empire State Building after dark
Image: Andreas Kruck

The last elevator up to the observatory leaves 45 minutes before the closing time for the day.

Reaching the Empire State after 9 pm means you can enjoy both the world’s most famous building and a night out in the city.

Crowds are minimal after 9 pm, and it takes less than 20 minutes to get to the top.

From Thursday to Saturday, between 9 pm and 1 am (and till midnight during winter), a live saxophonist is available on the 86th-floor observatory.

If you are a couple looking for some romantic moments, we recommend nighttime.

There are two ways to visit the Empire State Building at night.

  1. Book a standard ticket for after 8 pm.
  2. Book an AM/PM ticket, which allows you to visit once during the day and once at night.

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Best time to take photos

Photographers love the Empire State Building because its observation decks provide a 360-degree view of the city.

If photography is your objective, make sure to check the weather.

Cloudy days result in bad photographs.

If you want to capture the Manhattan Skyline from ESB, there is a well-known ‘secret’ – visit the building just before the sunset.

You will be able to capture the city’s views in daylight, during sunset, and finally at night when the lights come up.

To be on the safer side, we recommend you buy Express Ticket online, which allows you to skip all the lines and be there in time for the sunset.

Wire mesh protection on Empire State Main Deck

Selfies with the city view in the background are a bit difficult to shoot from the 86th floor because of the wire mesh, which acts as protective fencing all around.

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Best weather to visit Empire State

The views from the Empire State Building are the best on sunny, clear days when the visibility is maximum. 

Since the 86th observatory is an outdoor attraction, it gets a lot of visitors on sunny days. 

If you happen to visit on a foggy, rainy, unclear day, you are sure to be disappointed because of the low visibility.

View from Empire State Building in bad weather
View from Empire State Building on a foggy, rainy day. Image: Kyler Boone

It is better to check the visibility in New York City before booking your ticket. 


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The travel specialists at TheBetterVacation.com use only high-quality sources while researching & writing their articles. We make every attempt to keep our content current, reliable and trustworthy.

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This article was researched & written by

Edited by Rekha Rajan & fact checked by Jamshed V Rajan

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