Empire State Building: At as Much as $193.50, Is It Worth Visiting?

The Empire State Building during sunset as its lights reflect the Christmas holiday. Photograph ©istockphoto.com by Stuart Monk.

As I sat in the middle of Herald Square earlier this evening, I stared at one of the most iconic symbols of New York as it was bathed in blue and gold light, commemorating the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. The limestone and granite exterior of the Empire State Building was temporarily awash with the orange-yellow light of the rapidly fading sun, accentuating its majesty while it commands the Manhattan skyline with the cobalt backdrop of the sky at dusk, as tourists and shoppers — filled with the holiday spirit fueled by a refreshing chill in the air — happily scurry on the streets below.

For decades, the world-famous Empire State Building — designated as a National Historic Landmark — has been one of the top destinations in New York, attracting millions of visitors every year. I have visited the top deck on the 102nd floor a number of times, as it was always a good deal.

However, I received “sticker shock” when I contemplated the journey up to the top deck yet again. The costs are as follows:

  • Adult $42.00
  • Senior ages 62 and older $39.00
  • Child ages 6-12 $36.00

Are they serious?!?

Yes, I get the argument that people are paying for tickets to the top deck despite their cost. If they can charge those rates and people are paying them, why not? Supply and demand, right? After all, this is the one and only Empire State Building — there is no other quite like it…

…but if a family of three wants to visit the top deck, they must shell out $120.00 for the privilege of a view from the top deck?

If that family of three would rather not wait in line, the cost skyrockets to $193.50.

One hundred and ninety-three dollars — and fifty cents — for a view from the 102nd floor.

What if the weather is foggy, rainy or humid? Sorry — no discount.

I realize it has been years since I paid fewer than ten dollars to visit the top deck of the Empire State Building, but $42.00? Since when did the Empire State Building become a luxury and not simply a reasonably priced landmark? Is this a result of corporate greed?

In contrast, the Statue of Liberty — just as recognizable as the Empire State Building, and arguably even more iconic and symbolic of New York, to the chagrin of New Jersey — charges the following fees:

  • Adult $17.00
  • Senior ages 62 and older $14.00
  • Child ages 4-12 $9.00

While certainly not inexpensive, those rates are far more reasonable — and full access to Ellis Island and the round-trip ferry ride is included in the ticket cost. Perhaps that is because the Statue of Liberty is operated by the National Park Service of the United States.

There are ways around the high ticket costs of the Empire State Building, such as with packages, city passes and group fares. Visiting the main deck on the 86th floor brings the ticket prices down as follows:

  • Adult $25.00
  • Senior ages 62 and older $22.00
  • Child ages 6-12 $19.00

Those prices are less expensive, but still not reasonable, in my opinion.

You could perhaps visit a different building for the view, such as Top of the Rock which — among other things — offers a view of the Empire State Building. FlyerTalk members compare the Empire State Building to Top of the Rock in this discussion.

There are currently fourteen freestanding structures in the world taller than the Empire State Building, with more on the way — including the new One World Trade Center, to replace the twin towers of the original World Trade Center which were brought down due to terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The Empire State Building once again loses its title as the tallest building in New York.

While I have always enjoyed the view from the Empire State Building, the actual experience has deteriorated with the long lines and the length of time it takes to get to the top deck, among other things. If you have never been to the top deck of the Empire State Building, do it — but be sure you have an absolutely clear day for the money you would spend. Otherwise, I would not recommend the experience, as the ticket prices are way too steep — and you will not get value for your money, in my opinion.

In the meantime, I enjoyed looking up at the Empire State Building — using new light-emitting diode technology from which can shine from different effects and millions of colors — from my ground-level seat as the sky darkened to welcome a cool, crisp evening…

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Comments (Showing 9 of 9)

  • BigRedBears at 3:33pm December 12, 2012

    Visit 30 Rock for comparable, but cheaper view.

    Or you can always send me PM and I’ll treat you to NYC skyline view from my highrise building rooftop for free.

  • CDKing at 7:17pm December 12, 2012

    I think we need a rooftop DO at BigRedBears place :)

  • vortix at 10:01am December 13, 2012

    Come to Cleveland. You can go to the observation deck of the 52-story Terminal Tower for the bargain basement price of just $5. Tickets are available in advance so you don’t need to wait when you arrive. I know it isn’t the almighty Empire State Building. But it has great views, and this tower used to be the tallest between in North America outside of NYC when it was built in the 1920s. The observation deck has been restored to its original grandeur.
    http://www.cleveland.com/goingout/index.ssf/2010/07/terminal_tower_observation_dec.html

    There’s plenty of other things to do in Cleveland as well…Rock Hall of Fame…various sports teams….Cleveland Orchestra…museums….excellent food (check out the historic West Side Market)….and the largest performing arts complex in the US outside of NYC.

  • BigRedBears at 3:13pm December 13, 2012

    Sure, I’d organize it. The code name “Under Approach 22″

  • NYBanker at 5:14pm December 13, 2012

    @Vortix – that is too high of a price for a view of Cleveland.

  • NYBanker at 5:15pm December 13, 2012

    As to the compare between the observation deck and the Statue of Liberty, what is not included in the analysis of the Statue is the government subsidy from tax dollars.

    The ESB is privately owned. Even at that price, there’s still a line. Perhaps people would be willing to pay more?

  • starflyer at 3:28am December 14, 2012

    Strange headline, “Empire State Building: At as Much as $193.50, Is It Worth Visiting?”. I expected that to be the price for one person, but the atricle goes on to describe this as the price for a family of three.

  • psusaver at 4:44am March 26, 2013

    You got a great deal with your visit to the Empire State Building.
    It cost us $ 420 – for a group of ten. So be happy that you got away with a much cheaper price!

    Prices are set based on what the market can bear. plus they have every right now that they are the monopoly. The Rockefeller bldg etc come up to only a certain height. Also, remember that for a long time after the Twin towers came to existence, the Empire State wasnt the tallest in nyc.

  • sethb at 3:03pm March 26, 2013

    I remember when it was free (or extremely cheap) to visit the observation deck; they charged for the elevator ride.

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