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


The 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.

This article covers everything you must know before booking tickets for the Empire State Building observation decks.

Top Empire State Building observation decks Tickets

# Empire State Building’s 86th floor

# Express Entry tickets

# New York CityPASS

Where are the observation decks

Of the numerous New York observatories, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory, Edge at Hudson Yards, 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

Guests can book the Standard Entry ticket or the Express Entry ticket to the 86th-floor observation deck.

Guests who want to visit the observatories on both the 86th floor and 102nd floor can book a Standard Entry ticket or an Express Entry ticket and spend some extra bucks at the attraction to get an upgrade. 

There is also one private balcony on the 103rd floor, where only celebrities are allowed.

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Empire State Building’s 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 outdoor 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 clear days, visitors 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 86th floor

Military personnel in uniform and kids five years and below can get to the 86th 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 three queues – at the counter, security, and elevators. 

Standard ticket prices

Adult ticket (13 to 61 years): US$48 to US$51
Child ticket (6 to 12 years): US$42 to US$45
Seniors ticket (62+ years): US$46 to US$49

Infant ticket (up to 5 years): Free

Express ticket costs US$91 for every visitor six years and above. 

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

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

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Empire State Building’s 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 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 km (80 miles) into the distance.

Tickets for 102nd floor deck

Guests can purchase Standard Entry tickets or Express Entry tickets for the 86th-floor of the Empire State Building deck and upgrade it once at the venue to include access to the 102nd-floor deck.

This upgrade will cost you some extra money for every visitor, irrespective of age.

Recommended Reading: Visiting Empire State Building after dark

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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 the Empire State Building, you can also upgrade to the Top Deck on the 102nd floor – so you get to see the 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 hands, and money isn’t an issue, our quick answer is, “Yes, the 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 than 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-meter (200-foot) long metal mast was added to the building so that the 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 the 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, the Empire State Building does have the 104th floor.

Both the public and celebrities can’t go up 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, 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

It is fair to say that this is literally the Empire State Building’s top floor.

With the New York CityPASS, enjoy prepaid admission to five of NYC’s top attractions and save 40%. Visit two New York icons – The Empire State Building and the American Museum of Natural History- alongside options like the Statute of Liberty and more.

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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 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 are 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 Empire State Building observation decks

Here are a some questions visitors usually ask before booking tickets for the Empire State Building.

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.

When is the Empire State Building observation deck open?

The timing varies with the seasons. The elevator’s last trip up is 45 minutes before the closer for the day, after which it is shut down for that day. Usually, entry begins at around 10 am and stays open till 10 pm, with some exceptions when it stays open for longer.

What is on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building?

The 86th 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.

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. 

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, which has 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


# Esbnyc.com
# Wikipedia.org
# Newyorksightseeing.com

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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# One World Observatory
# Top of the Rock
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# American Museum of Natural History
# Edge Hudson Yards
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This article was researched & written by

Edited by Rekha Rajan & fact checked by Jamshed V Rajan

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