When Is the Best Time
The Empire State Building is one of the most iconic buildings and attractions in New York City. No trip to the city is complete without seeing this building up close and admiring its views over New York. Originally opened in 1931 and standing 102 stories high, this is an attraction you don’t want to miss on your next visit to the city.
‘The view is just breathtaking! Better than any other viewing point we went to so far in NYC!’
We went to the Empire State Building multiple times in different seasons. Additionally, we talked to dozens of local experts to give you the best advice about visiting times.
Save Time: We have always bought our admission tickets in advance and highly recommend it. Even without the express option, you can skip the purchase line and save a lot of time: Empire State Building Ticket (Voucher). Additionally, grab the best NYC guide: Lonely Planet Best of New York (via Amazon, affiliate link)
When Is the Best Time | Avoiding the Crowds | Hours
The best time to visit the Empire State Building is within the first two hours of its opening, between 8 and 10 AM, or at night after 10 pm. These are the least crowded times on the viewing platform.
Empire State Building usually opens at 10 AM and closes at 12 AM (midnight). However, the opening times can slightly change depending on the month and season:
- January 1 – January 19: 10 AM – 11 PM
- June 20 – October 30: 10 AM – 12 AM
- October 31 – November 23: 10 AM – 10 PM
- November 24 – November 27: 10 AM – 12 AM
- November 28 – December 23: 10 AM – 10 PM
- December 24 – December 30: 10 AM – 1 AM
- December 31: 10 AM – 11 PM
When visiting between Friday and Sunday buy a Skip-the-Line ticket for 11 AM:
Nighttime: If you aren’t bothered about seeing the city during daylight, the night is a great time to visit the Empire State Building. Many visitors want to admire the views during the day, so it’s quite a bit quieter after about 9 or 10 pm at night.
Visiting at night offers you a unique experience of seeing the city all lit up at night from above while also enjoying a more relaxed touring experience.
Check out the opening times before your trip, and try to push your visit as late as possible for the best experience at night.
💡Make sure to check out the most stunning night shots of the building at the end of this article.
Day of the Week: As far as what day to visit the Empire State Building, we always recommend heading there on a weekday. During the week, you’ll avoid domestic travelers and local visitors. Monday and Tuesday are quiet days in the city for tourist attractions. Therefore, it’s worth scheduling your visit to the Empire State Building and other popular attractions on these days.
How Long Is the Wait
The wait time to enter the elevators at the Empire State Building is generally between twenty and forty-five minutes. Buying your ticket online in advance will decrease your wait. With an express admission, you minimize your wait time even further.
We strongly recommend purchasing an express admission ticket (Online Skip-the-Line Tickets via GetYourGuide) in advance, especially during the summer, major holidays, and weekends. By following this advice and arriving within the first two hours, you can significantly reduce your wait time.
Floors: There are a few different types of admission to consider. Your first decision is whether you are happy just going up to the 86th floor, or if you also want to head up to the 102nd floor.
The 102nd floor offers an incredible bird’s eye view of the city. On this floor, we loved the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and vistas that can stretch up to eighty miles if you are lucky enough to visit on a clear day.
Ticket Types: Regardless of which floor you are visiting, you can choose from general admission or upgrade to the express ticket. Naturally, general admission is a little cheaper. However, with the express ticket, you’ll receive expedited admission, saving you time waiting in line for the elevator.
The VIP Express Pass (Skip-the-Lines Ticket) allows you to skip the lines to the decks you are visiting, so you won’t waste your precious time in New York! Reservations are required for this type of ticket.
How Much Time to Spend at the Empire State Building
Most visitors spend an average of two hours at the Empire State Building. When visiting the 86th floor only, it can drop to one hour at the quietest times of the day.
There’s plenty to see to keep you here for a couple of hours between the two observation floors and the exhibits located on the 2nd and 80th floors. There’s also a free audio tour you can download on your phone before visiting.
As with any attraction in the city, it will be up to your touring style how long you spend here. Some visitors love to spend hours taking photos and admiring the views. During our visits, we typically spent between one and three hours there.
The weather and time of year you are visiting will also determine the length of time you spend here. In the cold winter months, you may find it difficult to spend too much time in the open-air viewing area on the 86th floor.
NYC Travel Guide
We tried many New York City travel guides. A lot of them are average and with outdated information, and some are not very helpful. The Lonely Planet Best of New York City Guide (via Amazon, affiliate link) is by far the best one and just brilliant. Quote from a reader: ‘This book is absolutely spot on with every detail you need to know about N.Y.C when visiting’.
Tip: If you have a (rental) car, we strongly recommend driving to the mesmerizing Watkins Glen State Park in New York. It’s a comfortable 4-hour drive (Google Maps Route) to the most intriguing state park we know.
Morning vs. Night | Best Photography Time
While the building offers incredible views at any time of the day, a morning or daytime visit will provide a clearer view of the city. Night-time visits benefit from the city’s lights. However, this will minimize the detail you can witness if you are looking to learn more about the city’s geography.
If the Empire State Building is open late at night during your trip, this is a great time to take a visit here. After about 10:30 pm at night, the crowds die down, which will reduce your wait time for the elevator.
However, if photography is your number one priority and you are not familiar with night photography, you should visit in the daytime. Even if you have to experience slightly higher crowd levels, you’ll get to capture incredible photos that you’ll treasure for years to come.
Recommended Tickets and Passes
Visit in Different Weather Conditions
If photography and the views are your number one concern, check the forecast for weather conditions and visit the Empire State Building on a sunny day. While the lines will be much shorter during bad weather, you won’t get to admire the incredible views over the city for perfect photos.
Additionally, you might find the open-air viewing experience unpleasant.
A sunny and warm day will naturally attract more crowds to the Empire State Building. However, it’s well worth waiting for this type of weather if you get the chance. You’ll get the best photographs during this weather, and you won’t be rushing back inside to get dry and warm. Bad weather directly impacts the visibility from the building, and you will usually be warned by the ticket sellers in advance about this.
The staff do a good job of warning you about cloudy or rainy conditions, and in these conditions, you are best trying to return another day if time affords. It’s not a cheap attraction to visit, so try to use the day of your trip with the best weather for this excursion. New York has plenty of other indoor attractions that you can enjoy instead of on a day with bad weather.
No trip to New York City is complete without witnessing this incredible building from both the inside and the outside. By planning your trip in advance and opting for express tickets, you can minimize your wait times and have a fantastic experience viewing this incredible city from up above.
9 Stunning Empire State Building Night Shots
Entry to the Empire State Building at night is available with a standard ticket. There are no special night tickets available to see the Empire State Building. However, the best photographs of the building are taken from the outside.
These are some of the best nighttime photographs:
The illuminated Empire State building on a cloudy night with fog and the American flag in the foreground.
Photographed from the Rockefeller Center (Top of the Rock). A beautiful night with a blueish sky as a background.
A long exposure photo in the night during the summer of June.
A beautiful night shot. The Empire State Building is only illuminated by its own lights.
Since 2012, the Empire State Building has used a state-of-the-art LED lighting system. It can display more than 16 million colors. Here it’s lit up in the American flag colors at night.
This is our favorite mystery shot. It portrays the building at night in an eerie way with fog and some illumination.
The Empire State Building at night during NYC pride week with rainbow color lighting.
Looking up in front of the building. A gorgeous night shot with some fog visible at the top.
Another wonderful night shot of the building from the distance.