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

Best time to visit Empire State Building

Empire State building gets more than four million visitors annually and is one of the 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?

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

Best time to avoid the crowd

The best time to visit the Empire State Building is between 8 am to 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.

During these times you can have a quieter and more private experience even on popular days.

If you visit during early morning or late afternoon, you can explore both the observation decks and the exhibits inside Empire State at leisure.

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

How to skip the lines

When you visit 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 skip all three lines.

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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 it opens for the public. The Sunrise ticket costs USD 100 per person.

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

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 sun will set on the day of your visit and book a Standard ticket for 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. 

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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 at 1:15 am, and reaching 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 to 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 night time.

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 the protective fencing all around.

Recommended Reading
Empire State Building or Top of the Rock
Empire State Building or One World Observatory

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Best weather to visit Empire State Building

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 land up 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. 

Recommended Reading
Empire State Building facts
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Popular attractions in New York

# Empire State Building
# One World Observatory
# Top of the Rock
# Statue of Liberty
# Metropolitan Museum of Art
# 9/11 Memorial and Museum
# Museum of Modern Art
# Intrepid Museum
# Guggenheim Museum
# BlueMan Group NYC
# Spirit of New York Dinner Cruise
# New York Helicopter tour

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