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What to Do: Empire State Building

While it may not be the world's tallest building, it once was, and in at least in terms of spirit, maybe still is. Even if you're not into the drama of it all, this is a great place. See the whole city and on a clear day, neighboring states. Look up at the mast, designed originally to be a mooring site for zeppelins, with the observation platform originally intended to be used as a passenger assembly point. Remember the movies set here-King Kong, Sleepless in Seattle, An Affair to Remember, you know them (a complete list is here).

And if none of that matters at all, it is still a darn tall cool building.


The easy stuff is that the observatory is open 8:00am to Midnight. Last elevators go up at 11:15pm, 365 days a year. The top platform is 86 stories high, 320 meters off the ground. There is an inside part that is heated and cooled and an outside deck. You can see 360 degrees, and the fence and railing make falling off impossible.


The lines are long. Disney-like long, with the same snakey things to fool you into thinking the lines are not long. You get to line up a lot of times: once outside to just get in, another time to either pay (longer) or pick up pre-paid tickets (shorter), another time for the first set of elevators (interrupted by the security screening) and another time for the final set of elevators. You get to line up to go back down.

There are no signs to clue you in on where you are in the process and not so much info on how long the various waits will be. When we asked “how long?” all the answers were wrong, way overestimating times. Yeah, that is psychologically designed to make you happy when things happen quicker, but in fact it makes it hard to plan. What if told the wait is two hours like we were told we gave up? It was closer to an hour in the end.

One way to circumvent this good time a bit to buy your tickets online in advance. The Empire State folks sell them directly, or you can get them via many online ticket brokers. Google around for other offers, that combine Empire State tickets with city tours, or tickets that get you into several attractions in New York.

Did I mention the lines are long? Parents, note also that the wait involves some serious hard selling, as they try and upsell you to pay for a goofy flight simulator ride, an audio tour narrated by a bad actor with a cheap TV Brooklyn accent and various crappy souvenirs. Oh yeah, and ice cream, like I want my kids working through a crowded line dripping. I am all in favor of people earning a living but this stretches it.

On Top of the World

All that considered, I have got to say that it was hard to stay grumpy after stepping out on to the windy platform and seeing the whole of New York laid out in front of me. We saved the Empire State for the very end of our tour, and it was really wonderful to look out and locate all the places we had been to over the previous ten days.

New York, a city of neighborhoods, really fit together for us when we saw it all at once. The kids were fascinated by the view, and our older daughter started to make more sense of maps, looking down on NY's grid-like streets with her grid-like map in hand. It is windy and cool even on a hot day and despite the bars and railings, looking down still caused a little sweat in the small of my back. Have a Zen-moment when a bird flies by at eye level, or when you realize you are looking down at a low hanging cloud puff. You can stay out there as long as you like, taking pictures and looking and looking.