The Empire State Building: On Top of NYC

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There were few attractions we wanted to do in New York City: we mostly wanted to discover Manhattan by foot and see all the famous landmarks scattered around the island. But climbing on top of an iconic skyscraper was high on my to-do list, despite the warnings regarding the legendary lines to make it to the observatory deck.

Our first choice was the mythic Empire State Building, the 102-story skyscraper located on Fifth Avenue (Plan B was the Rockefeller Centre). Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Empire State Building is again the tallest building in New York, and I couldn’t wait to see it up close.

With its antenna, the American cultural icon (King Kong, anyone?) is easy to spot in NYC’s skyline, but you don’t realize how tall it is until you reach the 86th floor. From street level, it doesn’t look that impressive.

We wandered inside the lobby. Much to our surprise, there was no line on the sidewalk. We started queuing after the first elevator and I asked one of the employees how long the wait was. “About fifteen minutes,” he replied. Feng and I looked at each other. “Let’s go now, then!” It was noon and we figured a lot of tourists were having lunch or enjoying their day outside.

We queued for tickets to the 86th floor, and then were taken through security—that took about twenty minutes. Then, we bumped into another queue—to the elevators, we assumed. It was moving quite fast but there were still a lot of people in front of us. Turned out that this queue was moving slowly because everyone “had” to have their picture taken, a pricey souvenir then sold $20. We declined, and so did a lot of people.

Eventually, we were packed into a small elevator. I looked at the numbers above the door as we climbed: “1, 2, 3…20…30…70…80”. With a loud “ping”, the doors opened at the 80th floor and I cleared the pressure in my ears.

From there, we were taken through a lobby (no view here, the windows were plate glass) and joined another queue.  “Holy shit,” I complained. “This place is a maze, are we actually going to make it to the top?” It did feel claustrophobic inside, and I can’t imagine how long the wait can be when it’s actually busy! Now, the warnings about the lineups made sense.

Eventually, we were invited to step into an elevator that took us to the 86th floor, where we exited and stepped onto the observation deck. It offered impressive 360-degree views of the city… but we had to fight our way to it, it was jam-packed! I have never experienced such a large crowd on top of a building, including at the CN Tower in Toronto!

Nonetheless, it was worth the wait. The views were amazing, despite the hazy day.

You can see the set of pictures taken in the U.S.A. on Flickr.

The Empire State Building on Fifth

In The Elevator… Up To The 80th Floor

Manhattan’s Skyline

Lobby of the Empire State Building

Flags on Top

Manhattan’s Skyline

Manhattan’s Skyline

The Statue of Liberty in the Distance


On Top

The Flatiron Building

Hudson River

Central Park

Central Park

Manhattan’s Skyline

Manhattan’s Skyline

Manhattan’s Skyline

People Down Below…


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. When I was there in 2000 I don’t remember we had to wait much or that it was jammed packed. I do remember how amazing the view was at night 🙂

  2. That sounds like an odysey! I’m glad that the view was worth the waiting. when I went to NYC last january, there were no queues – it might have been because it was about -15 degrees outside though. It was the coldest I had felt in my life so far. But the views of sunset over Manhattan’s skyline covered in snow… was definitely worth it!

  3. Ah yes, the requisite view from the top. In 2007, I actually chose your Plan B; we went to the Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center after watching a play. And we did it at night too, so the scenery was quite different.

    Incidentally, I was right next to the Empire State Building for almost a week last March, as the CUNY Graduate Center is across the street, which was hosting a conference where I had a presentation. And since I am in New York City right now visiting my sister, I also walked past it yesterday! 🙂

    • Must be nice to see the skyline at night too! I kind of wanted to see Manhattan during the day, but I would have gone back at night if we had had a chance.

  4. Wow, great bird’s eye views!
    It is one of those “must dos”…
    Since you brought up film(Ghostbusters), I think of “Sleepless in Seattle” and the meeting of Tom Hanks & Me Ryan up there. Classic chick flick! 🙂

  5. The views look incredible! Interesting about the security check (although I guess it makes sense). I would have passed on the $20 photo as well.

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