When anyone travels to big cities, one of the most requested locations is where one can see and photograph the best panorama of the city. For a trip to New York City, that means the Empire State Building, or the Top of the Rock.
While in New York City recently, I decided to have a “skyline faceoff” between two of the most famous skyscrapers in the world, the Empire State Building, and the GE Building, and its Top of the Rock observation decks, to find out which is the best for “Big Apple” visitors to view, enjoy, and photograph the Manhattan skyline.
The Empire State Building, completed in 1931, is a 102 story skyscraper located in Midtown Manhattan. Including its iconic antenna spire it stands a 1,454 ft (443.2 m) tall. For 40 years, it was the world’s tallest building. The Empire State Building is designed in the distinctive Art Deco style. It’s a designated National Historic Landmark.
The GE Building, completed in 1933, is another Art Deco gem and National Historic Landmark. It’s the centerpiece of Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan. Previously known as the RCA Building, it houses the headquarters of the NBC television network. The 70 story building is 850 feet (259 m) tall, and is the 10th tallest building in New York City. The building’s nickname, “30 Rock,” is derived from its address, 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Both buildings have rich histories, but are perhaps most famous, due to the part they’ve played in the world of entertainment, with the Empire State Building having the edge.
I think, without a doubt, the most famous use of the Empire State Building in movies was in the 1933 film, “King Kong,” in which the title character, Kong, a giant ape, climbed to the top of the building to escape his captors, but after being attacked and shot by airplanes, fell to his death.
Of course, a whole generation of romantics remember the 1957 film “An Affair to Remember” and the rendezvous that didn’t happen atop the Empire State Building, between Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant, and more recently the 1993 film “Sleepless in Seattle,” in which the rendezvous between Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks did happen, on the 86th floor observation deck of the building.
The GE Building has seen a great deal of NBC television history, from the national morning television news and entertainment show “The Today Show,” the first of its genre, to the original “Tonight Show,” to the current “Saturday Night Live.”
So, if I could only chose one, which building would I visit to view the panorama of the New York City skyline?
The Empire State Building has two observation decks, an open air terrace on the 86th floor, which also has an indoor area, and the 102nd floor indoor observatory. The open air terrace on the 86th floor is great for both viewing and photographing the New York City skyline. There are plenty of places to poke your lens out through the safety fence surrounding the deck. On the other hand, while the view from the 102nd floor is spectacular, it’s totally enclosed. Reflections alone, from the window glass, make great photographs difficult, especially after dark.
The Top of the Rock observation decks of the GE Building, are located on three floors. Both the 67th and 69th floors include outdoor terraces with fully transparent, safety glass. While these glass fences give the visitor an unobstructed view of the New York City skyline, they are a problem with light reflection, especially at night. The 70th floor observation deck, on the other hand, has a completely open air, unobstructed view of New York City’s skyline. Between the two buildings, the Top of The Rock has the best view of Central Park.
For photographers, both the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock prohibit the use of tripods, making high quality night skyline photos more difficult. At the Top of The Rock, however, it’s easy to use a “bean-bag” on top of the low wall to steady cameras. It’s possible to do the same at the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, but it’s a bit more difficult.
The Empire State Building charges $25 for adults and $19 for children for the 86th floor observation deck only. If you also wish to go up to the 102nd floor observatory it will cost $42 and $36 respectively. You can use the tickets at any time, but at times the line to the elevators to the observation areas are very long, so you might want a combo express ticket for $64.50.
The Top of the Rock charges $25 for adults, and $16 for children. The ticket gives you access to all three observation decks. Tickets for the Top of the Rock have a specific date and time, so once you’re in line, the wait isn’t long.
So what’s my bottom line?
For my money, the skyline faceoff victory goes to the Top of the Rock.
The skyline view is spectacular at the Top of the Rock. It’s easy to get great photographs night and day. Plus, the Top of the Rock has the added benefit that its skyline view includes its more famous counterpart, the Empire State Building.