Inside Empire State Building – what to expect on a tour

Inside Empire State Building

A New York vacation is not complete without visiting the world’s most famous building – Empire State Building. 

The historic structure isn’t just about the stunning views from its observatories. 

In this article, we share what to expect inside during your Empire State Building tour.

1. Can you go inside?
2. Empire State’s entrance
3. What’s inside Empire State
– The Lobby
– 86th floor observatory
– 102nd floor observatory
– Site in 1920s
– Construction exhibit
– Opening Day
– Modern Marvel
– Otis Elevators
– Urban Campus
– Most Famous Building exhibit
– King Kong’s Escape
– Celebrities Galore
– Artistry in Light
– Stephen Wiltshire’s Drawing
4. Free entry
5. Empire State tickets
6. Restaurants inside Empire State

Can you go inside the Empire State Building?

Yes, even if you don’t work in one of the many offices in the Empire State Building, you can enter as a tourist. 

Visitors who only want to explore the building’s lobby don’t need to purchase any tickets. 

Why the lobby, one may wonder. 

That’s because Empire State Building’s lobby is one of the few interiors in New York to be awarded a historic landmark’s stature by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

However, if you want to visit the observatories on the 86th and the 102nd floor or see other exhibits, you must buy Empire State Building tickets.

There are two kinds of experiences – the Standard ticket and the Express ticket.


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Empire State Building’s entrance

Till late 2018, both the visitors to the observatories and the building’s tenants would use the entrance on 350 Fifth Avenue, which was an inconvenience for all.

Empire State Building entrance at Fifth Avenue
The 350 Fifth Avenue entrance leads to the Art Deco lobby. Image: Wikimedia.org

Now tourists going up the observatories must enter Empire State Building through the 20 West 34th Street entrance.

The new entrance provides visitors to the Empire State Building’s Observation decks a better and seamless entry. 

Empire State Building new entrance
The lobby that greets visitors the visitors at the new Empire State entrance. Image: Esbnyc.com

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What is inside the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building isn’t just about the two observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors. 

Many other exhibits are located on the 2nd and the 80th floor of the building, open to all ticket holders. 

1. The Lobby

Since 2018, the Empire State Building has two lobbies – the new one from where visitors to the observatories get in and the Fifth Avenue lobby, which caters to the building’s tenants. 

Before 2018, visitors would first explore the historic lobby and then take elevators to the 86th-floor observatory. 

Empire State Building's Lobby
Empire State Building’s art deco lobby. Image: Esbnyc.com

Now, they get to see the Art deco Fifth Avenue lobby at the end of their Observatory visit. 

This lobby’s backdrop is an image of the Empire State Building itself, with beams of light radiating from the building.

Do look up at the ceiling to see the gold-leaf-on-canvas abstraction of planets and stars. 

2. Main Deck – 86th Floor Observatory

This deck is the highest open-air observatory in New York City.

All the ESB ticket holders get access to the Main deck observatory.

High-powered binoculars help visitors get a closer look at the city.

In recent years radiant heaters have been added to warm up the space a bit.

To spend time at the Main Deck, visitors must purchase either the Standard ticket or the Express ticket.

3. Top Deck – 102nd floor Observatory

To get to the 102nd-floor observatory, visitors take a lift from the 86th floor. 

The Top Deck is much smaller and completely enclosed.

It has huge glass windows through which you can see a beautiful panoramic view of New York City.

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

From this Empire State Building observatory, you can see approximately 130 kms (80 miles approx).

Visitors can’t book tickets to the Top Deck online. They must first purchase either the Standard ticket or Express ticket to get to the observatory on the 86th floor and then upgrade. 

4. The site in 1920s

Empire State Building now stands where once stood the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. 

William Waldorf Astor had started the Waldorf Hotel at the site in 1893. 

Four years later his cousin, opened the Astoria Hotel next door.

Together they had 1,300 bedrooms, making it the largest hotel in the world at the time. 

However, by the 1920s was dated, and by 1929 they decided to close down.

Soon enough, the Empire State Building took its place. 

The ‘Site in 1920s’ exhibit uses a black-and-white panoramic image of Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to show the site even as the Empire State Building’s construction began.

Empire State's site in 1920s
Image: Esbnyc.com

Through building surveyors, visitors can also look in and see the New York City streets of the late 1920s come to life in full color.

5. Construction exhibit

Lewis Hine was an American sociologist and photographer who got commissioned to document the Empire State Building’s construction. 

He photographed the workers during the construction process, and most of his photographs are legendary. 

He is known to have hung in a specially-designed basket up to 300 meters (1000 ft) above Fifth Avenue to get into vantage positions for clicking his photographs. 

‘Construction’ exhibit is inspired by Lewis Hine and his work.

Construction exhibit at Empire State
Image: Esbnyc.com

Visitors get to stand amongst all the live-action surrounded by ironworkers, engineers, and masons shouting over the din of machinery, moving steel beams into position, etc. 

A few bronze sculptures of workers are great selfie opportunities. 

In this section, you also see the three models of Empire State Building models in different stages of completion.

6. Opening Day

Opening Day of Empire State Building
Image: Esbnyc.com

This may be a small exhibit, but it is an important milestone in the Empire State Building’s history. 

Notice the excitement around as a newsboy holding the day’s newspaper announces the Empire State Building’s opening in the streets of 1930’s New York City.

7. Modern Marvel

This is also known as the Sustainability Exhibit.

Modern Marvel exhibit at Empire State

In 2009, the Empire State Building decided to use state of the art technology to reduce energy usage and carbon emissions.

Image: Esbnyc.com

In a fun way, the Modern Marvel exhibition helps the visitors understand how the ESB went about this project.

8. Otis Elevators

At this exhibit, you will see the building’s original mast car that took guests from the 86th to the 102nd floor till 2018. 

Otis elevator at Empire State
Image: Otis Elevator Co

Otis also uses this exhibit to showcase how its latest lift technology manages to transport more than 10 million tenants and observatory visitors every year.

Visitors can experience the simulation of an actual elevator shaft, the building’s extraordinary height, and the distances the elevators travel.

This section of the Empire State Building is a tribute to Otis, without whom the building’s towering height wouldn’t have been possible. 

9. Urban Campus

Touristy visitors only manage to see the five floors of the Empire State Building – 

  • The Lobby
  • Second floor, which has some exhibits
  • 80th floor, which has more exhibits and the gift shop
  • 86th floor, which has the Main Deck
  • 102nd floor, with the Top Deck

There are almost 100 more floors, which they can’t access.

Urban Campus at Empire State
Image: Esbnyc.com

The Urban Campus exhibit offers a peek into some of the significant companies that have an office in the building, the amenities they have, and the building’s hidden views as seen by the people working there.

9. World’s Most Famous Building

Empire State Building has been the most famous building for such a long time that it has been featured in numerous movies, commercials, TV shows, comics, games, etc. 

How can we forget An Affair to Remember, which further inspired Sleepless in Seattle?

World's Most Famous Building exhibit
Image: Globest.com

Seventy-two screens and a 180-degree surround-sound theater showcases the Empire State Building’s place in pop culture using more than 600 short clips from these mentions. 

10. King Kong’s Escape

The most popular use of the Empire State Building in a movie was for the 1933 film titled King Kong. 

It was also one of the first times the historic building was an integral part of a movie – just three years after the inauguration.

In the movie King Kong, the giant ape climbs to the Empire State Building’s top to escape his captors.

King Kong's Escape at Empire State Building
Image: Esbnyc.com

This exhibit tries to recreate his escape, and you can experience it from inside an office room. 

The giant ape’s fingers pierce the walls as he holds on to the building and dodges vintage fighter planes. 

Visitors can touch his hands, to feel him growl in anger. 

Planes circle outside the office windows, just as they did in the original 1933 film.

11. Celebrities Galore

The Empire State building’s 86th Floor Observatory gets many celebrities. 

Some visit to see their favorite city’s views and some to promote events through the building’s night lights. 

Empire State Building at night is a different experience altogether.

Celebrities Exhibit at Empire State Building
Image: Esbnyc.com

This exhibit showcases some of the most-famous visitors with their images and signed memorabilia adorning the walls.

12. Artistry in Light

Since 1976, the Empire State Building’s night lights have enhanced New York City’s skyline.

Every day the color of the lighting is different and has a cause they support or endorse. 

This exhibit shows you how these music-to-light shows get created through a short film narrated by world-renowned lighting designer Marc Brickman.

13. Stephen Wiltshire’s Drawing

Stephen Wiltshire is a British autistic architectural artist known for drawing a landscape from memory after seeing it just once.

In 2017, he took a 45-minute helicopter ride above Manhattan and then drew an incredibly detailed landscape drawing. 

This mind-blowing piece of art is on display inside the Empire State Building. 

Recommended Reading: Best time to visit Empire State Building


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Entering the Empire State Building for free

There are three ways to enter the Empire State Building without buying its tickets. 

Admission to Empire State Building’s 86th-floor observatory is included for free with New York Pass and New York City Explorer Pass.

With the New York CityPass visitors get to explore the Empire State Building for free of charge, twice – during day time and at night.

These discount passes bundle many attractions and tours together and help you save up to 55% of ticket prices.

If you are in New York for a long holiday or visiting as a big family or group, these discount passes are highly recommended.

Besides helping you save money, these passes also save time because they offer skip-the-ticket-line privileges at most attractions. 

Besides the Empire State Building, all the three passes also offer free entry into Top of the Rock, yet another New York observatory. 

Kids under the age of six years of age can also enter the iconic building for free as long as a ticket-holding adult accompanies them.  

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


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Empire State Building tickets

There are four types of experiences that the Empire State Building offers – 

1. Standard ticket

This is the cheapest and the most popular way to get inside the Empire State Building. When you book a Standard Ticket online, it helps you skip the long lines at the ticket counter and waltz into the building. 

You can choose the time of the day when you want to visit. 

Adult ticket (13 to 61 years): $45.73
Seniors ticket (62+ years): $43.55
Child ticket (6 to 12 years): $39.20
Infant ticket (less than 5 years): Free entry

2. Express ticket

This is the premium experience, and when you book an Empire State Building Express Ticket, you skip the line at the ticket counter, the line at the security check, and the line for the elevators to go up. 

The Express ticket is priced at $85 for all visitors above five years of age. 

You get to choose the time of your visit.

3. Sunrise tickets

If time and money are not a problem, we recommend the Empire State Building’s sunrise tickets.

Visitors can only book this ticket for the sunrise time of the day. 

This ticket helps you see New York with all the lights on, then you enjoy the sunrise view and finally explore the city in full daylight.

The Empire State Building’s Sunrise ticket costs $125 for all visitors. There are no discounts. 

4. Day and night ticket

If you aren’t particular about the sunrise, book the AM/PM Experience Ticket

The AM/PM ticket allows you to visit the Empire State Building’s Observatory once during the day and once during the night. 

You can decide when you want to visit the Empire State Building, as long as both the visits are on the same day. 

Adult ticket (13+ years): $66.40
Child ticket (6 to 12 years): $56.60
Infant ticket (less than 5 years): Free entry

102nd floor observatory tickets: Visitors can’t book tickets to the 102nd floor observatory in advance. However, if you like what you see from the 86th floor, you can upgrade your experience by paying $20 per person and visit the 102nd-floor observatory. 


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Restaurants inside the Empire State Building

The iconic New York building has food and drink options for all kinds of visitors. 

1. State Grill and Bar

This fine-dining option is at 21 West 33rd Street, New York 10118. Get Directions

The restaurant serves American, Contemporary American, Steak for breakfast, lunch & dinner.

Timings

Breakfast: Monday to Friday, 7.30 am – 10 am
Lunch: Monday to Friday, 11.30 am – 3 pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday, 5 pm – 10 pm

The dress code at the restaurant is Smart Casuals.

2. Tacombi

Tacombi is a popular chain of restaurant which aims to spread Mexico’s culinary traditions.

One of their branches is at the Empire State Building. Get Directions

It is the best place to try out home-style Mexican cuisine served in the form of a taco.

Timings

Sunday to Thursday: 11 am to 11 pm
Friday to Saturday: 11 am to midnight

Besides State Grill & Bar and Tacombi, the Empire State Building has many other options. 

If you need a quick bite before your trip to the observatory, drop in at either Chipotle, Chop’t, or Sushi-teria on the ground floor. 

If you prefer a quick pick up, opt for Starbucks or Juice Press.

Recommended Reading: Empire State Building facts

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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