Empire State vs Top of the Rock – Best Views?

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New York City is famous for a number of reasons, none more so than the myriad of skyscrapers that line the illustrious skyline we are all familiar with. The beauty of a skyscraper beside the intricate architectural design that goes into the construction of one of these is the array of breathtaking views available from the summit. Two of the most famous structures in New York City have to be the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock, also known as the Rockefeller Center. Undoubtedly the clash of the titans in the realms of New York City skyscrapers, but which of these two will win when it comes to the best views?

I don’t intend to write a detailed overview of the history or sophisticated design details that went into the construction of these two structures. Instead I want to give you a direct comparison of the Empire State vs. Top of the Rock in terms of which one has the best views/scenery of the surrounding boroughs and beyond.

empire state building vs top of the rock

Whether you are a fan of the Big Apple or simply prefer to avoid the hustle and bustle of New York’s 24-hour vibrant lifestyle, you can still appreciate the splendor on offer when you at the top of one of New York’s tallest structures.

Empire State Building

Once the tallest building in the world, the Empire State Building is one of the most iconic structures throughout New York City. As you climb the 86 floors that take you to the first observatory platform, you really have no idea how breathtaking the views will be around Manhattan and beyond.

empire state vs top of the rock

Neither of us were fortunate enough to visit New York prior to 9/11 so never saw the Twin Towers in person, but we now have the opportunity to see the stunning Freedom Tower that stands proudly in the footprints of the towers.

empire state vs top of the rock

Without doubt this is one of the best views from the Empire State Building as you look across the myriad of neighborhoods that stand between 5th Avenue and Financial District.

empire state vs top of the rock

I would highly recommend taking a moment when you are on top of the Empire State Building to play the ‘spot the skyscraper’ game as you can really pick out some other iconic landmarks around the city. The Chrysler Building, Flatiron Building, Rockefeller Center among many others are all clearly visible but I also enjoyed getting a birds-eye view of the city and seeing how this metropolis typifies urban sprawl!

empire state vs top of the rock

The view of Central Park from the 86th floor is a little restricted, primarily because the 850ft Rockefeller Plaza stands tall and prevents direct viewing of the park. However, you can still capture a scenic view all year round of the magnitude of Central Park.

empire state building at night

We recently visited the Empire State Building twice in one day! Thanks to the awesome CityPASS, you gain entry once during the day and then have the option to make a return visit at night. With the Empire State open until 2:00AM daily, why not take advantage of this great deal? After climbing to the 86th floor during the day and experienced great conditions around New York, we were told during our return visit at night that the views were restricted.

empire state vs top of the rock

We were pleasantly surprised at how much we could still see around the city despite the snow and icy conditions that we were experiencing. Seeing the Big Apple illuminated with the city lights offers a whole new perspective on a ‘city that never sleeps’!

empire state vs top of the rock

Top of the Rock

Just a few blocks away from the Empire State Building is another imperious skyscraper that offers equally stunning views of the New York City region – Rockefeller Center. The Top of the Rock observation deck may not be as high as the Empire State but given it’s location further north in the borough of Manhattan, the views are very different.

empire state vs top of the rock

Heading to the Top of the Rock, the first thing you notice are the various levels of observation platforms available. Regardless of the viewing platform, you immediately see the awesome overhead view of Central Park. No longer do you have to deal with other skyscrapers obstructing your view, instead you can see the most famous park in the world all the way from the entrance at 59th Street to the furthest point at 110th Street.

empire state vs top of the rock

Of course, Central Park isn’t the only attraction from the Rockefeller Center. If you chose to visit the Empire State observation deck previously, you can now stand and gaze into the distance at this impressive, historic structure.

empire state vs top of the rock

The views beyond Central Park towards the Upper West Side are also pretty cool though one negative aspect has to be if you are interested in taking birds eye views of street level New York City. Compared with the Empire State Building, the views looking down on the city are nowhere as good but the views out and across the city certainly make up for any disappointment you may have.

empire state vs top of the rock

The Verdict – Which Skyscraper Wins?

The million dollar question that you are all waiting for the answer to is, which of these two amazing structures offers the best views. The simple answer is both of them! Honestly I really think it comes down to personal opinion and what you are looking for when viewing the city of New York.

empire state vs top of the rock

I have been fortunate to climb to the top of the Empire State on five different occasions so I am pretty familiar with what to expect there. However, our recent trip to the Big Apple was the first time I climbed to the summit of the Top of the Rock and I have to admit I can’t believe I waited that long. In terms overall experience, I have to give the edge to the Top of the Rock. There are many different viewing points available on the various observation decks and when you reach the very top, you don’t have any security fencing to deal with which makes photography an even better experience.

But don’t get me wrong, I still have a huge soft spot for the Empire State which is appropriately named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. In terms of a night experience, this historic structure offers better views than the Top of the Rock, predominantly because you lose the best view overlooking Central Park as it is for the most part filled with darkness.

Rather than sitting on the fence, I will go all out and give you my final verdict!

DRUM ROLL PLEASE… TOP OF THE ROCK WINS! It has the best views in direct comparison with the Empire State Building and if anyone asked for advice on which they should visit simply for the views of New York City, this is the structure I would recommend.

If you are interested in seeing more of our pictures from the Empire State Building observatory and Top of the Rock, check them out here: New York City 2015.

empire state vs top of the rock

Don’t worry though, with the awesome CityPASS, you can experience these two structures and get the best of both worlds.

Disclaimer – We would like to thank CityPASS for providing us with 2 New York City CityPASS booklets for our trip. These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post. 

Weekend Wanderlust

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Chris Boothmanhttps://abritandasoutherner.com
Chris Boothman is the co-founder of A Brit and A Southerner. Born near Manchester, England, Chris moved to USA in 2006 where he soon after met his wife and travel partner in crime, Heather. They have since embarked on an amazing journey of travel as they challenge others to follow in their paths of working full-time but also being able to travel frequently! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact Chris at [email protected]


  1. Ha! I knew it! Top of the Rock is my favorite too 🙂 Just need to look at your pictures to find out why. You can see so much more from the Rockefeller…and get a beautiful view of Central Park!

  2. Great idea for a post! Love the comparison. I’ve only been to the top of the Empire State, so sounds like I need to get to the top of the Rock when I’m in NY next month.

  3. First of all: AMAZING photos!! Well done!
    When I first visited NYC 5 years ago the choice was obvious: Empire State Building…just because it’s the highest. And back then I didn’t have the One World Trade Center on view. I’m planning to visit again next month and I think this time I’ll go for Top of the Rock, because as my husband said “you also have the ESB on view” and seeing your photos I have to agree that he’s totally right!

  4. I’ve been up the Empire State building and just from your beautiful photos I can tell that the Top of the Rock has a lot to offer. I guess it’s a bit like the Eiffel Tower in a way – it’s a great experience but you can’t see the most iconic building in the city! I definitely know where I’ll be going the next time we go to NYC.

  5. It’s so wonderful to read how much you love our hometown. It’s been a brutal winter, and it’s been tough to get around and really draining to our spirits. So appreciate of the reminders of the beauty of our NYC, which we New Yorkers sometimes take for granted.

  6. It’s always the conundrum isn’t it – go up the iconic building and get the other iconic buildings in your view or go up another iconic building and get the others. Or just do them all! 😀

  7. I totally agree, Top of the Rock wins! We went to Top of the Rock first and then the Empire State Building the day after and I was kinda disappointed when we got to the Empire State Building. We should have done Top of the Rock second 🙂

  8. Wonderful photos that really capture the mood of NYC. We went to the Top of the Rock in November. It was a little closer to all the other attractions we wanted to see that day. Plus, I was able to get a great photo of the Empire State Building at sunset. Obviously, you can’t take a photo of the Empire State Building if you’re actually in it, so that’s the other reason why I chose Top of the Rock over the Empire State Building. I’m glad you think it was a good choice, too.

  9. Amazing photos! I have only been to the top of the ESB which is definitely very cool, but the Top of the Rock is always highly recommended. Next time!

  10. I’m from NYC & I think the best skyline view is actually from the Brooklyn Bridge. Sure you don’t get as many buildings, but it feels more NYC than the commercial shots for tourists. I’m definitely biased though 😉

  11. Great post. I always recommend Top Of The Rock to people who ask me about NYC views – but in all honesty I have never been to the top of the Empire State Building, in my 5 trips to the great city. Your photos from that view make me want to put it top of the list for any future visits!
    The night view is spectacular too!

  12. […] Linking up with A Brit and a Southerner, A Southern Gypsy, Carmen’s Luxury Travel, Justin Plus Lauren, and Outbound Adventurer for the #WeekendWanderlust! […]

  13. I think a lot of people want to visit the top of the Empire State Building because it is so iconic, but like you, I prefer the views from the Top of the Rock. I guess that’s when passes like the City Pass come in handy. They allow you to go to both so you get the both of best worlds.

  14. […] Linking up with A Brit and a Southerner, A Southern Gypsy, Carmen’s Luxury Travel, Justin Plus Lauren, and Outbound Adventurer for the #WeekendWanderlust! […]

  15. I still unfortunately haven’t been to both. But I’m sure I will one day or another. I hear so many good things about Top of the Rock (not to mention that the entrance fee is much lower than for the Empire State)

  16. Great post. I just wanted to say that I’m absolutely agree with the opinion that the best skyline view is from the Brooklyn Bridge. Totally amazing!


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