For many visitors to New York City, the trip is not complete without seeing the city from the top of the Empire State Building. Did you know that you can do the same thing from the top of Rockefeller Center for less money and often with smaller crowds? It's called Top of the Rock.
Top of the Rock was the first thing we did in Manhattan on my family's recent trip to New York City. As first-timers in the city, it was thrilling to get a bird's eye view before exploring its highlights on ground level. I could hardly believe that we were really there at last.
Here is what you can expect from a visit to Top of the Rock.
Bottom of the Rock
The view from the top is what you came for, but there are a lot of interesting things to see on your way to the elevator. You'll see photos and learn about the history of Rockefeller Center. Don't rush past the fun photo opportunities in your enthusiasm to get to the top. The elevator ride itself is an experience. You'll see a light show and pictoral history of NBC through the ceiling as you rocket to the top of the building.
Save time before or after your visit to explore Rockefeller Center. There are lots of familiar New York City landmarks in and around the tower. It's the home of Radio City Music Hall and The Today Show. St. Patrick's Cathedral is across the street. The shops of Fifth Avenue beckon and there is a big Nintendo store nearby. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and Broadway are just a couple of blocks away.
Top of the Rock
There are two big things you can see from Top of the Rock that you won't see from the Empire State Building. The first is the Empire State Building. You can get great views and photos of it from Top of the Rock. The second is Central Park. Top of the Rock is north of the Empire State Building, and closer to the park. The Empire State Building will have better views of the south end of Manhattan, including the Financial District and Ground Zero. Spend as much time as you like on the observation decks. There is no time limit.
There are three observation decks at Top of the Rock. The first is an indoor deck on the 67th floor where you can enjoy panoramic views of New York City regardless of the weather. These windows were crowded during our visit, so we quickly moved up to the middle observation deck on the 69th floor. Like the lower deck, you can look straight down to the street through tall glass panes. The top deck, on the 70th floor, looks down on the middle deck, and has no glass panes for completely unobstructed views. We found that this deck had the smallest crowds.
Tips for Families
I strongly recommend planning your visit for a clear day when the weather won't keep you away from the outdoor observation decks. That's where you'll get the least crowded views and best photos. It's a good idea to purchase tickets online in advance, but not so far in advance that you can't plan around the weather. Avoid weekends, holidays and other peak times if you can. We visited on a Tuesday afternoon in early June and wait times were low during our visit. I doubt that having a timed ticket was much of an advantage at that time.
My 7-year-old son did not love Top of the Rock. He wasn't nervous before we entered the elevator, but this was the tallest building he had ever visited, and the high-speed elevator and impressive views kicked his anxious nature into high gear. Because of this, we toured the observation decks more quickly than we might have otherwise.
My 10-year-old daughter, on the other hand, was delighted by the whole adventure. For these kids, bring quarters to feed the coin-operated binoculars found throughout the upper decks.
You don't have to choose between the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock. Both are included in the New York CityPASS. If you are also considering visits to the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, you can save more than 40% by bundling with CityPASS.
Good to Know
Where: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York. Enter on 50th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
When: Daily, 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
How Much: For a single trip with unlimited time on the observation decks (updated August 2017):
- Adult: $34
- Child (age 6-12): $28
- Child (age 0-5): FREE
Combination passes including Rockefeller Center tours, MoMA and second same-day visits are also available. Top of the Rock is included in the New York CityPASS.
How Long: 1-2 hours, plus wait times
Amenities: You'll find restrooms and gift shops at top and bottom. There are lots of restaurants, shops and other attractions in and around Rockefeller Center.
Disclosure: We only promote products and destinations we have personally experienced and genuinely recommend. My family received complimentary admission to Top of the Rock so that we could experience this attraction and review it for other families.