Top of the Rock or The Empire State Building?

View of the New York City from Top of the Rock.
View of  New York City from Top of the Rock. Photo Credit: Kyle Sanok/Let’s Go! 
View of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.
View of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck. Photo Credit: Kyle Sanok/Let’s Go!

When visiting New York City, there’s one essential question: Top of the Rock or The Empire State Building?

If you can only choose one, my answer is Top of the Rock. But before you quit reading and purchase a skip-the-line Top of the Rock ticket, hear me out. This was a tough decision, but my rationale essentially boiled down to views versus history. As an icon, the Empire State Building has asserted itself into almost every New York City postcard. In 2011, a Flickr study even announced that it was the most photographed building in the world, and, with a stunning art deco exterior, it’s easy to see why. The interior further adds to the iconic experience, reminiscent of The Great Gatsby. It’s gilded everything. When inside or atop the Empire State Building, visitors interact with history, learning about the construction, use, and influence of the building.

Top of the Rock: The Experience

Let's Go! Researcher-Writer, Kyle Sanok, on the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.
Let’s Go! Researcher-Writer, Kyle Sanok, on the Top of the Rock Observation Deck. Photo Credit: A friendly stranger.

The Rock, as the Top of the Rock is commonly referred to, on the other hand, is newer age. A modern lobby and interior whisks large groups of travelers to the top of the building through elevators with glass ceilings—exposing the elevator shaft above. Then once at the top, the first indoor area lacks any information or history panels but instead boasts vaulted ceilings, open windows, and a minimalist interior to display the main attraction: the view.

30 Rockefeller’s less prominent positions in the New York skyline allows its visitors to capture just about everything in NYC you care about. Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Freedom Tower, and even the little Statue of Liberty way in the distance (which is always a letdown when viewed from Manhattan in my opinion—you have to actually make it out there!).

View of the glass surrounding the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.
View of the glass surrounding the Top of the Rock Observation Deck. Photo Credit: Kyle Sanok/Let’s Go! 

Also at the top, the two buildings have different ways of displaying the city below. The Empire State Building has a fence that surrounds the outdoor deck, meaning when you take that picture with the skyline, the metal railing will be behind you. However, the Top of the Rock Observation Deck uses glass panels as a guard from the city below, making for more stunning and clear photos of the city below. Also at 30 Rock’s tallest observation deck, there are no barriers as it sits back from the other two observation decks below (so you’re still safe), meaning photos of the skyline truly become unrestricted.   

For more insider information on popular tours in NYC, check out our other blog posts!

Written by: Kyle Sanok, a Let’s Go! researcher-writer

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