Empire State Building observation decks – what to expect, tickets, facilities

Empire State Building observation deck

Empire State Building in New York is the world’s most famous building. 

The massive Manhattan building was the world’s tallest from 1930 to 1972 when the World Trade Center took away the title. 

Today more than 4 million visitors take its super-fast elevators every year to reach the observatory and see stunning views of New York.

In this article, we share everything about the Empire State Building’s observation decks. 

1. Where are the decks?
2. 86th floor observatory
3. 102nd floor observatory
4. 86th floor or 102nd floor?
5. 103rd floor VIP Balcony
6. 104th floor hatch
7. Time needed to explore
8. Visitor facilities
9. Observation deck FAQs

Where are the observation decks?

Of the numerous New York observatories, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory, and Empire State Building are the most popular. 

The iconic Empire State Building observation decks see more than 4 million visitors annually, while the other two get 3 million each. 

Empire State Building has two observatories – one on the 86th floor and another on the 102 floor. 

Observation decks at Empire State Building
Shanmugapriya / TheBetterVacation

And one private balcony on the 103rd floor, where only celebrities are allowed.


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Empire State Building 86th floor

An Otis elevator takes visitors to the observation deck on the 86th floor, in less than a minute. 

Situated at 320 meters (1,050 feet), the 86th-floor observatory wraps around the building’s spire, providing 360-degree views of New York, Brooklyn, Queens, etc.

Aerial shot of 86 floor observatory in Empire State
In pic, an aerial view of Empire State’s 86 floor observatory. You can spot the visitors going all around the building, in the outdoors deck. Image: Paul Seibert

This open-air viewing platform is also known as the Main Deck. Even though it is open, radiant heaters keep it warm during winter. 

On the clear days, visitors get to see up to five states, offering glimpses of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Delaware.

Check out the video below to know what to expect on the Main Deck of Empire State –

Tickets for Empire State Building 86th floor

Military personnel in uniform and kids five years and below can get to the 86the Floor of the Empire State Building for free. 

Everyone else must purchase a ticket to explore this NYC landmark.

Visitors must choose from two types of Empire State Building tickets – the Standard and the Express. 

The Standard tickets help you skip the long lines at the ticket counter, but the Express tickets allow you to skip all the three queues – at the counter, security, and elevators. 

Standard ticket prices

Adult ticket (13 to 61 years): $45.70
Seniors ticket (62+ years): $43.50
Child ticket (6 to 12 years): $39.20

Express ticket costs $85 for every visitor six years and above. 

Besides the observatories, both tickets get you access to all the exhibits at Empire State Building.


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Empire State Building 102nd floor

Situated at 381 meters (1,250 feet), the 102nd-floor observatory is the highest visitors can go in the Empire State Building. 

This enclosed viewing platform is sixteen stories above the 86th-floor observation deck and accessed through a one-of-a-kind glass elevator. 

In 2020, the top most observatory at Empire State got a facelift.

Large floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides give visitors a 360-degree view of the city. 

From the Empire State Building’s highest observation deck, you can see up to 130 kms (80 miles) into the distance.

Tickets for Empire State Building 102nd floor

You can’t purchase tickets to the Empire State Building’s deck on the 102nd floor in advance. 

You must first purchase a Standard ticket or an Express ticket to go up to the observation deck on the 86th floor. 

After taking in the views from the lower floor, you can choose to upgrade your experience and visit the upper floor as well. 

The 102nd-floor upgrade at Empire State Building costs $20 for every visitor, irrespective of their age. 

Recommended Reading: Visiting Empire State Building after dark


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Empire State Building 86th floor or 102nd floor

Frankly, it is not a question of the 86th floor or the 102nd floor. 

Empire State's Main Deck vs Top Deck
All tickets allow access to the Main Deck on the 86th floor. Once you are at Empire State Building, you can also upgrade to the the Top Deck on the 102nd floor – so you get to see New York Skyline from two heights.

Visitors usually wonder if the observation deck on the 102nd floor is worth the extra effort and money. 

It may be 16 floors higher, but is the view from the 102nd floor better?

If you have time on your hand, and money isn’t an issue, our quick answer is, “Yes, Empire State Building’s 102nd-floor observatory is totally worth it!”

If you can’t manage cold, the upper observatory makes sense yet again. 

Even though the 86th-floor platform has radiant heaters, it can get freezing since it is an outdoor area. 

Visitors who would instead prefer a warm experience upgrade to the 102nd floor and take in the views. 

However, visitors who thought the upper floor views would be even more fascinating from what they saw from the 86th floor were disappointed. 

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


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Empire State Building 103rd floor

While the 102nd floor is the ‘official top floor’ of the Empire State Building, just above it is the 103rd floor, open to a select few. 

It is an open-air area, protected only by a small ledge and low railing.

This floor is located in the metal mast on top of the tower, originally supposed to be a mooring point for Zeppelins.

Many believe that the 60 meters (200 feet) long metal mast was added to the building so that Empire State Building could be significantly taller than the Chrysler building. 

Numerous celebrities have made it to this 103rd floor, which is more of a balcony with no safety measures.

Neil Harris Patrick on 103rd floor
Hollywood actor Neil Harris Patrick on the 103rd floor of Empire State Building. Image: ESB
Nina Agdal on 103rd floor balcony
Nina Agdal, a Danish model who is a regular on Sports Illustrated, enjoys the 103rd floor balcony of New York’s iconic building. Image: ESB
David Beckham on Empire States 103rd floor
David Beckham enjoys a VIP visit to the Empire State’s highest balcony. Image: ESB

The view from this small space is vertigo-inducing. 

To get to this building floor, you can contact the officials with a marketing idea, a PR pitch, or a news story angle. 


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Empire State Building 104th floor

Believe it or not, but the Empire State Building does have the 104th floor.

Both public and celebrities can’t go up to here, which is less of a floor and more space to step out of the building. 

To get to the 104th floor of the Empire State Building, one must climb a few steps from the 103rd floor, and then open a hatch and step out. 

Only engineers or maintenance workers get to this floor, and that too when they are harnessed to the building.

104th floor of Empire State
‘CBS This Morning’ co-host Tony Dokoupil steps outside the hatch while he is harnessed to the building. Image: Cbsnews.com

Fair to say that this is literally, Empire State Building’s top floor.


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Time needed to explore the decks

Empire State Building’s tickets don’t have any time limits. 

Once you are inside, you can stay for however long you want. 

Visits to the Empire State Building’s observation deck on the 86th floor usually take an hour. If you plan to visit the deck on the 102nd floor, you will need another half hour. 

There are long waiting lines during the peak tourist season (May to September) to buy tickets and enter the elevators. 

Buying the Regular Tickets helps you skip the lines at the ticket counter, and purchasing the Express Tickets online allows you to cut both the ticket counter lines and also the queue at the elevators. 

Tip: Check out the best time to visit Empire State Building


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Visitor facilities at ESB’s observatory

There are no guided tours at the Empire State Building’s observation decks.

However, you can download the free multimedia tour app, which is included in every admission to the attraction.

You can download the app for free for your Android phone or iPhone before the visit or download it on-site via their free wifi. 

Both the ESB observation decks have powerful binoculars for visitors to take in the unobstructed views in all directions.

Restrooms are available only on the 86th floor.

There is no restaurant or food and drink stalls at the 86th and 102nd-floor observatories. 

However, if you want, there are plenty of food options to choose from on the main concourse at the lobby level. 


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FAQs about the observation decks

Here are a few questioned visitors to the Empire State Building usually have –

  1. How many floors does the Empire State Building have?


    Officially the Empire State Building has 102 floors, including the 13th floor, which many buildings skip to avoid the anxiety associated with the number 13.

    However, they also have two other floors – the 103rd floor with a balcony open only to celebrities and the 104th floor, which is more like the building's terrace. 

  2. When is the Empire State Building observation deck open?


    Empire State Building opens at 8 am and closes at 2 am in the night, every day of the year.

    The elevator's last trip up is at 1:15 am, after which it is shut down for the day.

  3. How much is the observation deck at Empire State Building?


    The Empire State Building's Standard ticket, which helps you skip the long lines at the ticket counter, cost $45.70 for all visitors aged 13 to 61. 

    Seniors aged 62 and above pay a reduced rate of $43.50 while kids 6 to 12 years old pay $39.20 for their observatory visit.

    The Express ticket, which lets you skip the lines at the ticket counter, security check, and elevators, is priced at $85 for all visitors six years and above. 

    Kids five years and below enter for free.

  4. How late can you go up the Empire State Building decks?


    Empire State Building is open till 2 am in the night, and the last elevator trip up is at 1:15 am.

    That means if you have already bought your tickets online, you can be at the attraction's entrance by 1 am and still make it. 

  5. What is on the 86 floor of the Empire State Building?


    The 86 floor of the Empire State Building has an open-air but heated viewing platform, from where on clear days, visitors can see up to six states.

    Almost every visitor to the Empire State Building steps onto the 86th floor.

  6. What is on the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building?


    The 102nd floor of the Empire State Building has an enclosed observation deck with large floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides, giving visitors a 360-degree view of the city. 

    This is the highest observatory in the building, and visitors access it through a one-of-a-kind glass elevator. 

  7. What is on the top floor of the Empire State Building?


    For regular visitors, the Empire State Building's topmost floor is the 102nd floor with the highest observatory.

    However, above that is the 103rd floor, which is open only to celebrities.

Fun Reading
Empire State Building trivia
Wild animals on Empire State

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