Opening Day. Courtesy, Empire State Building. Photo: Evan Joseph
King Kong scaled it. An affair was remembered atop it. Buddy the Elf gallivanted through its Art Deco lobby. The is one of the most recognizable and visited structures in the world, welcoming millions of sightseers each year. And if you haven’t visited since 2019, it’s time to head back. That year the destination unveiled a massive $165 million reimagination of its Observatory Experience, which was just named the by Tripadvisor for the second year running.
You can visit exhibits on the second floor and the newly built 80th floor interactive multigallery museum, as well as the iconic 86th Floor Observatory and the entirely redesigned 102nd Floor Observatory. With floor-to-ceiling windows that frame sprawling views, you can see six states on a clear day—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Delaware.
To help you make the most of your visit, we spoke to an insider, Siobhan McShane. The longtime Empire State Building host gives guided tours of the attraction’s observation decks and historical artifacts. She shared a few of the more exciting and unexpected things you’ll find when you enter what's touted as the "World’s Most Famous Building.” Here are her tips about what you’ll see and how to maximize your visit:
King Kong. Courtesy, Empire State Building. Photo: Evan Joseph
Reservations are required, so save time and money by . Aside from the main observatory options, there are multiple special offerings, such as an All Access tour and Sunrise Experience. All ticket types include the open-air, 360-degree 86th Floor Observatory—the famous site of countless film and television scenes.
“The north and south views are definitely the most popular,” says MacShane, who’s been an observatory host for 19 years. “Guests love to look south to the Financial District and the harbor, and north at Central Park.”
102nd Floor Observation Deck. Courtesy, Empire State Building. Photo: Evan Joseph
“If you’re here, you should go to the very top!” MacShane continues. “The views are truly remarkable. You immediately see the stunning views as the elevator doors open, and it delivers a true sense of awe on guests’ faces as they see the entire city before they even step out of the elevator car.”
Wonder of the Modern World. Courtesy, Empire State Building. Photo: Evan Joseph
While the views are exciting, make time to learn about the building’s storied history. “A lot of people rush through the new museum, which is actually one of the primary highlights of the visit,” says MacShane. “Before the reimagination, the only major part of the attraction was the incredible views, which are still unmatched to this day. The thing that sets us apart from other attractions and observatories, however, is our museum and our history. There isn’t a time limit, so take your time and enjoy it all!”
“Construction” exhibit. Courtesy, Empire State Building. Photo: Evan Joseph
MacShane says people are usually most surprised by the details surrounding the Empire State Building’s construction. “The fact that the entire building was completed in under a year and a month ahead of schedule amazes people,” she says. “Construction started March 17, 1930, and ended March 1, 1931. The building opened May 1, 1931, just 13 months after construction began.”
The building was so high-tech when it first opened that it required changes to local laws. “The law at the time of opening stated that elevators could only go max 600 feet per minute, but ESB’s elevators went 800 feet per minute, so the law was updated,” she says. Also, “Wind tunnels under the building act as cooling for the lower floors. This is still the case today.”
Empire State Building at dusk. Courtesy, Empire State Building. Photo: Evan Joseph
It’s no surprise that people choose the stunning backdrop of the Empire State Building’s views for their most important occasions. “There’s no way I can count how many engagements I’ve seen—it has to be in the thousands,” says MacShane.
“Celebrity” exhibit. Courtesy, Empire State Building. Photo: Evan Joseph
On your way to the 86th floor, you’ll walk through an exhibit filled with photographs of who’ve graced the observatory over the last 92 years. In 2022 alone, about 150 people of note walked the Empire State Building’s halls.