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Which is Best: Empire State Building vs. The Top of the Rock

We had a lot of free time on our recent spring break trip to New York City. My kids wanted to visit some of the more popular tourist attractions, like Times Square and the Empire State Building. On our first full day, we headed to the Empire State Building to take in the gorgeous view (see this post for my tips for visiting the Empire State Building).

Toward the end of our vacation, we visited Rockefeller Plaza and we decided to visit Top of the Rock. We enjoyed both of our visits, but it really does only make sense to do one of them on your family vacation.

So, which one is best to visit with kids – the Empire State Building or The Top of the Rock? Here is my opinion:

This post contains affiliate links. A purchase through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us. All opinions are my own. We paid for our own admission to both the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock.

Top of the Rock vs the Empire State Building - which is the better option for your NYC family vacation?

Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building

The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is an iconic tourist attraction that I think everyone needs to visit at least once. It’s crowded, however – because of its icon status, it gets visitors from all over the world at all times. While you can avoid the crowds by visiting earlier in the day, there is really no true “slow” time. 

We visited right when they opened for the day. While we definitely were able to enjoy all of the views that the Empire State Building had to offer, but we did have to wait at times to squeeze in places. The standard admission (which is comparable in price to the Top of the Rock), is for the 86th floor, where you get 365-degree views of Manhattan.

A VIP experience, as well as a top deck upgrade (102nd floor), are available with your ticket purchase. For our visit, we purchased the standard admission. It was definitely enough for us to get to the 86th floor, and I didn’t feel any need to go up to the top deck. 

Top of the Rock

On our last day of our New York City vacation, we decided to visit Top of the Rock. It’s located in a much more touristy location, so you can combine your visit with our popular things to do in NYC, like Rockefeller Plaza and Fifth Avenue. Because our visit was a last-minute decision, we arrived midday, rather than first thing in the morning. 

We found the Top of the Rock to be crowded as well, but not nearly as crowded at the Empire State Building. We were able to access the elevators to the top quickly, and while we did wait in line, it moved fast.

Your tickets will take you to the 67th, 69th, and 70th floor, and it’s definitely worth visiting all three. Floors 67 and 69 have a clear glass around individual outdoor terraces, so you do need to walk around a bit to get the different views. But, the top floor is open-air, so you get a better view around and can get some great photos. 

While the Empire State Building is indeed higher than Top of the Rock, we did get great views from the Top of the Rock. In addition, we were actually able to see the Empire State Building from Top of the Rock. So those pictures definitely look more like quintessential NYC.

Because it was a shorter line with fewer crowds, we had more time to see other things in the city that day. We didn’t have to spend quite as much time both in line purchasing tickets or going to the top.

So, in the battle of Top of the Rock vs Empire State Building, which one did we prefer? As I stated, I definitely think it’s worth going to the Empire State Building at least once if you haven’t been. It’s an iconic building that should be on any family travel bucket list.

But, we probably had a better experience at Top of the Rock. So, that will be our choice if we decide to go to one of them again. The smaller crowds, combined with the slightly better views, make it a better experience for families.

If you are looking for discounts while you visit these attractions, check out the New York CityPASS. There are two options – the New York CityPASS and the C3.

The New York CityPASS includes admission to the following:

  • Empire State Building
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Choice of The Top of the Rock Observation Deck or Guggenheim Museum
  • Choice of the Ferry to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or a Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise
  • Choice of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum or the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

With the C3 pass, you can choose any three attractions from the following list:

  • Empire State Building
  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck
  • Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
  • The 9/11 Memorial & Museum
  • The American Museum of Natural History
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Museum of Modern Art
  • A Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
  • The Guggenheim Museum
  • A Hornblower Sightseeing Cruises

Do you have a favorite between Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building?

More resources: Read our New York City Travel Tips post here to read hotel, attraction, and restaurant reviews, tips, and ideas.

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