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When is the best time to visit the Empire State Building?

To be honest, there’s no single best time to book your Empire State Building tickets. It all depends on what you’re looking to get out of the visit. Here’s our take on how to think about timing for one of New York’s most iconic landmarks.

Taking photos, waiting in line, reading posters, riding the elevator up to the observation deck — the whole experience could take around 1.5 hours, maybe slightly longer with a large group, so make sure to plan accordingly! Here are a few different times that you can experience this feat of engineering and its amazing views. Don’t want to wait in the long line to get the Observation Deck? Book your skip-the-line tickets on PlacePass!

Morning (8 am – 11 am)

A woman looking from the observatory tower at the Empire State Building.
Credit: Freddy Marschall via Unsplash

Con: If you’re not a morning person, maybe this time slot is not the one for you. Secondly, you are missing  out on the night view and seeing the city at its peak.

Pro: The lack of crowds is a huge advantage at this earlier time slot. It normally takes less than ten minutes  to get up to the 80th floor, and fewer than five to continue upwards to the 86th. Additionally, you won’t have to fight for spots at the top. At this time of day, the sun’s position in the sky makes for better photos, free from strange shadows that eclipse half of your face.

Midday or Early Afternoon (11 am – 2 pm)

Credit: Ben White via Unsplash

Pro: This time fits in really nicely with most people’s schedules. Like the morning slot, you get great views of the city, and can pretty much get good photos (although a bit shadowy) from every angle.

Con: The crowds. This is one of the two most popular times to visit the Empire State Building, so be prepared to elbow your way through the observation deck to get a good view.

Late Afternoon or Evening (2 pm – 6 pm)

Pro: The crowds have begun to dwindle. The sun has started to recede, freeing up the space for unshadowed photos.

Con: At least in the summer, afternoon showers or thunderstorms appear a bit more often than they would in the morning, so you risk a rainy visit.

Dusk or Nighttime (6 pm – 10 pm)

Credit: James Hose Jr via Unsplash

Pro: The ultimate draw of this time slot is definitely the sunset. If you’re lucky, on a clear day, you can watch the city’s radiance shift from sun to electricity. Billboards, breaklights, and street lamps soon fill your vision, and buildings become distinct not by their outline against the blue sky, but rather their illuminated offices and apartments within.

Con: The Empire State Building is definitely packed at this time. Right after dinner, this makes for one of the busiest parts of the day, and everyone will be clamoring for that perfect photo of the sunset.

Night, 10 pm – 2 am

Pro: Few realize how late the Empire State Building stays open. While you may miss the expansive city views and blue skies, on a clear day you’re sure to gain proof that New York City never sleeps. No matter what day of the week, the buildings will shine. Crowds at this time vary. However, towards the later hours (1-2 am) things will slow down.

Con: This might be slightly past your bedtime. If you’re not a night person, maybe the 2am Empire State Building tickets will not work as well. Also, you will miss the beautiful daytime views and might have to deal with some later night crowds from 10pm to midnight. Pictures will most certainly require flash, and you may not be able to capture far away attractions like the Freedom Tower or Central Park.

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