The Empire State Building is a cultural icon built during the Race to the Sky at the end of the Roaring Twenties. New York would be a different city without the skyscraper

The Empire State Building is one of the most storied skyscrapers in New York and the world. Its Art-Deco styling, height and fame from its many appearances in movies and TV series have made it a cultural icon. The observation decks on the 80th, 86th, and 102nd floors provide panoramic views across the whole of NYC.

During the Roaring Twenties, New York was in thrall to skyscrapers. Real estate moguls were engaged in a Race into the Sky and competing to build the tallest building in the world. The stunning 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building were under construction, and at least five more were planned when ground was broken for the Empire State Building on the site of the old Waldorf–Astoria in January 1930.

The original plan for the plot of land was a 50-storey building, then 60 and 80. The owners of 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building kept finding new ways to increase the height, and so the planners of the Empire State Building kept adding floors until it was just four feet taller than the Chrysler Building. Just months before construction started, the plans were revised again — a 16-storey crown and 222-foot mast would be built on top.

It was completed 13 and a half months later and held the title of the World’s Tallest Building until the World Trade Center was under construction in 1970. Even today, at 1,454 feet tall, the Empire State Building is currently the seventh-tallest in New York.

The lobby on Fifth Avenue is the Empire State Building’s most famous entrance. This is considered one of the most beautiful and historically significant lobbies ever built. It is full of Art Deco fixtures and fittings, and is covered in marble. Over each door is a bronze motif of the trades that built the skyscraper. The aluminum relief of the building with sun rays glowing from the spire, is installed at the end. The lobby is free to visit during normal working hours.

Visiting the Observation Decks

A woman with red hair looks through the famous binoculars on the observation deck of the Empire State Building
The Empire State Building holds panoramic views of New York’s boroughs, especially when you use the iconic binoculars
The Empire State Building in New York

Visit the Empire State Building and other attractions with the Sightseeing Flex Pass

Tourists visiting the observation decks will enter through the recently renovated entrance on West 34th Street. This will take you through an interactive exhibition that details the construction of the building and its history. It also provides your first opportunities for selfies inside the building — the Empire State Building loves its social media presence and encourages you to snap and share as many as you can.

You will then be whisked up one of the Empire State Building’s 73 elevators to the 80th floor, where there are more interactive exhibits and art inspired by the skyscraper spread across 13,000 square feet. On the redesigned 102nd floor, you will find the first observatory. This allows you to look out across the city through floor-to-ceiling windows and take some epic photographs.

At 1,050 feet high, the observatory on the 86th floor is the main deck and most famous. You will enter the open air to a 360-degree panoramic view of New York and its boroughs. On a clear day, you will be able to see a total of six different states. The walkway has the Empire State Building’s iconic binoculars installed so that you may have an up-close look at some of the sights such as Downtown Manhattan, the Chrysler Building and much more.

The Statue of Liberty against a blue sky in New York

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