For most people, a visit to New York is not complete without a trip up one of the City’s BIG skyscrapers. The Empire State Building is where most flock to realize this part of their trip. However, from the top of this Iconic Tower, one big feature of Manhattan is Missing! The Building itself! Those reportedly “in the know” advise Visitors to Avoid the Empire State Building deck and instead head up the Rockefeller Center to the Top Of The Rock.
Here you get stunning views South of the Empire State, along with better views of Central Park, Midtown, and the City in general. But are they right? Is the Top of The Rock that much better than the Empire State Building? And should you really skip the Empire State in Favor of the Rock? Find out in our Top Of The Rock Review.
The Rock is now Re-Open after the Covid Shutdown, however extra safety measures are in place and numbers are limited. While Tourism is low this is not a problem but as things pick up this could lead to some pretty long wait times!
- Height: 70 floors high, 850 feet (260 m)
- Cost*: Adults: $42 – Seniors (62+): $39 – Children (6-12): $28 – VIP: $82
- Sunset: + $10
- Location: MAP 30 Rockefeller Plaza
- Prominent Landmarks: Central Park, Empire State Building, Mid-Downtown Manhattan
- Indoor or out: indoor and Outdoor
*all prices including all taxes and booking fees
There are a few different options for your Visit up the rock:
The basic package just provides access to the observation deck via a timed ticket. You get to enjoy all the queues in their full and can only go up during your time window. That said just the vanilla experience is still very good as the Feature presentation, the View is worth any amount of queuing.
- Cost: $10 extra
Sunset is always the best time to go to the top of The Rock, however, they have cottoned on to this now and have added an extra premium to be at the top when the sun goes down. $10 extra is well worth it, but it’s a bit profiteering of the attractions to hike the price up at Sunset. To be fair though, sunset viewers probably spend 2-3x longer at the top than viewers at regular times.
- Cost: $82
This ticket gets you instant access at any time of your choosing and gets you straight through any queues and straight to the top. Removing the need for a timed ticket means you can just arrive whenever you like and be assured that you will be instantly whisked to the top. For a whopping $40 dollars we don’t really see this as great value. Timed tickets mean queues are not too bad going up the Rock even at busy times, and we would rather keep our $40 and just queue up. But the option is there if you just don’t Queue.
- Cost: $56
The Rock Pass gives you standard access to the Top Of the Rock, plus a guided tour of the Rockefeller Center. The Tour is usually $29 so it’s a good value ticket if you are wanting to do the tour as well.
Book Now Via Tiqets.com
What is the Trip to the Top Of The Rock Like?
When you book your experience you are required to submit an entry time and date. Your ticket is then only valid for a short window around that time. This is excellent for planning and also limits the queues as only so many people can visit at any one time. The problem is very few of us are that good at planning, and stuff happens on trips that mean you just can’t make the time! $42 is a lot to lose because you got stuck in a traffic Jam!
Fortunately, this is not how it works. Simply visit the Ticket office with an unused Ticket to get a NEW time slot applied. You can do this before or after your original time. Your ticket doesn’t expire until you use it to go to the top.
If you are late, no problem, just reschedule for the next available time, or another time or day completely. Find yourself at the rock earlier than you planned, just ask at the office if you can get the next available time, as long as it’s not a busy time (Sunset) and you should be able to go up in the next few mins.
Journey to the Top Of The Rock
So you have your timed ticket and made it to the entrance within your timed ticket window. Excellent, now it’s time to head to the top. From the entrance, you follow the route up to the top. It’s a fairly convoluted path winding around upon yourself as you make your way to the lifts. There are multiple displays and presentations with facts and information on the Tower and Rockefeller Center. You will pass through security, complete with airport-style metal detectors, and have your photo taken for the chance to purchase an overpriced souvenir photo. before finally reaching the elevators, well the elevator queue.
The lines at the elevators can be reasonably long but even at very busy times such as sunset, it’s still only 10 -15 mins. Finally, you will be in the elevators. Here you experience one of the little treats that really help make the experience, Glass top Elevators! You can actually see out of the ceiling and watch the shaft whizz by as you ascend up to the top, We find this really cool.
In no time at all, you will be on the 69th Floor with large windows offering great views of the City. Unless the weather is terrible don’t linger and head straight up to the 70th Floor. Here you will be greeted with…
…The BEST View in New York
On the face of it, the Top Of The Rock has little going for it. It’s nowhere near as high as the other observation decks and nearly as expensive and nowhere near as iconic. It’s hard to see why you choose this over either the Empire State, the Freedom Tower, or the Edge. Well put simply: the View is better.
Now a view is an aesthetic thing and can be very objective. It can be hard to be so decisive on such a matter as some people may prefer the other views. In this case, however, the view is just so utterly and resoundingly better it settles all debate!
For one you get an (almost, and seemingly less so by the year) unobstructed view of central park, the Empire State building only allows a very obscured partial view. You also get to see the Empire State, and this provides an incredibly attractive iconic view of the City with downtown and the freedom tower behind it. It is a truly special place. The Freedom Towers enclosed indoor space just doesn’t provide the feel of a true outdoor observation deck and is our least favorite deck.
The New Edge Observation deck has all the bells and whistles but the Empire State is partially obscured from view and this is bitterly disappointing. The Top Of the Rock just has it all really and is by far the best view of all the decks.
The Roof terrace, unlike the others, is actually the top of the Building. You are truly on the TOP of the Rock. The main area is a large outdoor space with large glass panels protecting you from the drop. The panels do obstruct the view slightly and this can make Selfies and couple’s photos problematic. For more serious camera’s it’s not a problem as the Gaps in the panels are almost exactly the size of a DSLR Lens. Although it can compromise angles and composition, you get great shots but they have all been shot a million times before.
Walking around the Terrace gives remarkable views of the entire City. Long-reaching views of the whole of Central Park. Fantastic Vista’s down the Island incorporating the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower. You can even peer down into Time Square and watch it come alive with color as the sunsets!
On top of the Main Terrace is another raised floor. It is smaller than the main deck so it’s not exposed to the same drops. This means the large Glass Panels are removed. Only a small Slightly above waist-high fence/wall is in place. This puts you really on top of Manhattan with 360Degree views of the whole city.
When you have finally had your fill of these staggering views, the lifts will whisk you off down to the ground level where you can spend some time exploring the Centre with loads of shops and dining areas.
How Long to the Top Of The Rock?
Overall the trip to the top can take around 20-30 minutes. That’s from the entrance to the top. At busy times you can add 15-20 mins to that! It is a process however you are not stood queuing for that time but passing through the different elevators, corridors, exhibitions security, and photographers.
This doesn’t take into account the Time to get your timed ticket though. We tend to use Attractions Passes and as such get to use the VIP Line which rarely has more than one person in it. For most people, the queues are still light. We would not expect you to queue for more than about 10 Minutes for your ticket and often less. The problem with this is that having got your slot. You will probably have to wait. The next few slots are usually sold out and you may have to wait up to an hour for the next slot.
Planning ahead is key here. Either book your ticket in advance or go plenty of time before you want to go to the top and spend time exploring or maybe eating in the area. If you plan to go for sunset we advise booking ahead, either online or go in person, preferably the day before at least.
Feel free to spend as long as you like up there. There is no one checking if you have come down or not. So just enjoy the view. We spend quite a bit of time up the top waiting for Sunsets!
It is worth Noting that Due to Coronavirus restrictions all attractions need pre-booking but as the Top of the Rock has always worked this way little has changed.
Tips and Advice for the Top Of The Rock
It’s Cold – If you are going in Winter or any cool day, then it can be horrifically chilly at the top. As you are in New York for Winter we assume you are appropriately dressed but nearly 1000ft up it’s a different story. The wind will be strong and cut right through most clothing. On the main deck, the glass Panels provide some shelter … Some!.
Leave the Tripod in the Hotel – Officially no tripods are allowed up and the security screening is supposed to weed them out. We do find there is a little leeway for small light travel tripods or gorilla pods etc but it’s at your own risk. Security may deny you entry if you risk it. Taking a big camera tripod is asking for it.
Avoid the Photos – We are not big fans of the souvenir photos where you are shopped onto a background. Take your own shots from the top, or better still…
Offer to take A photo – Look for a nice couple struggling to get a selfie and offer to take a shot of them with their camera/phone. They are bound to be very grateful and will almost certainly offer to return the favor! We do this EVERYWHERE and it almost always works.
When To Go?
We are completely torn over whether to recommend night or day. New York is equally spectacular during both. Choosing one would be recommending you MISS the other…and we just can’t choose. So we say do BOTH.
Sunset is the Optimum Time for this as it’s still light as you arrive, however, there is some wonderful color in the sky (The Golden Hour) then watch the City slowly come alive as the light fades. By the time you leave the lights will be on and the city will sparkle in its evening dress. Ask the Assistant at the ticket desk what time you need for sunset, they get this ALL the time and will get you a ticket timed perfectly for sunset.
Early morning, as soon as you can, is always very quiet. There can be almost no one up there. The same can’t be said for sunset. The big downside to it is you aren’t the only people planning on doing this. It can get rammed and queues will be at their largest. But it’s worth it.
Like early mornings as the evening draws on the crowds diminish and late on it can be deserted again, see the video above shot after a night on the down and Steak Dinner!
Is The Top Of The Rock REALLY The Best View in The City?
Nope! There is one better, but it costs quite a lot more and means getting your wings! New York Helicopter Tours!
We also are a bit partial to a tipple when getting our views so we also LOVE New Yorks’s amazing Rooftop bars where you really can drink in the views.
We have already spoken of the Empire State Building and the Freedom towers observation decks. Neither offer views as good as this, But we would still, JUST about, pick the Empire State Building over the others. IF you were only choosing one. The ESB is just too iconic to ignore, and the view is still incredible and the experience amazing.
For a Full guide on which Observation Deck to Choose see our Comparison Guide
Really, seeing just one Observation Deck is not Enough. The Views from the top of these buildings are just out of this world and we can’t get enough of being up high in this magical City. However, we know these are Expensive attractions $42-48 a time, which is why we always use Attractions Passes so we can get up high a few times per trip, morning, evening, and Sunset! Read more below about the New York Attractions Pass Options.
Where to Buy?
We would recommend avoiding most online resellers. We keep an eye out for bargains but most are actually more expensive or the same and offer very few advantages. We currently use Tiqets.com for a lot of our bookings, it’s great to have everything all in one place and they are always at least the same price as booking direct, often cheaper with no additional booking fees.
Book now Via Tiqets.com
However, our preferred option is to use a City Pass or Attraction Pass. We always grab an Attraction pass when visiting New York, or any destination for that matter, as they can save quite a bit of money and help us get the most from a city. They really do help you see more AND pay less!
There are quite a few options for New York and they all include the Top of the Rock observation deck along with all the other Top New York Attractions. See our full New York Passes comparison guide here if you think this might be of interest. Most people visit at least a few of New York’s Paid attractions so a pass really does pay for itself very quickly!
Have Your Say
Leave a comment below if you have any questions about the experience. Have you already been to the top? what did you think? Do you think the View is better than the Empire State like us? Feel free to leave a comment if you have anything you would like to add. We would love to hear from you.