Empire State Building vs Top of the Rock

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Many of the world’s greatest cities have a way to get up high and see the city from an entirely new perspective and NYC is no exception.  Two popular observation decks in Manhattan are the Empire State Building (of course) and the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center).  It’s worth a visit to one of them during a family trip to NYC. (Been to One World Observatory? We'd love to hear your experience - comment below or send us an email)

 

Here’s our experience with our visit to both of them when we traveled to NYC with our baby.

Travelling with a baby for us means having a list of “must-sees” and a second list of places we’d like to see if our time, schedule and baby’s mood permits.  Prior to our trip, our "must-see"list included the Empire State building, even though we had read that the Top of the Rock was a better option for an observation deck.  You have to visit the Empire State Building, right?

Baby Can Travel: NYC Travel Guide

As luck would have it, on our first day in New York City our daughter woke from a late afternoon nap around 4 pm which didn't give us a lot of time before dinner and bedtime.  Given that we were just a block from Rockefeller Center, we decided to sneak in a quick visit.  She had spent the majority of the morning in her stroller so we quickly strapped her into the Ergo baby carrier and off we went. 

Our experience getting to the Top of the Rock observation deck was a pleasant one.  Given the time of day, we practically walked right in.  There was virtually no line up for tickets.  We were faced with a second line for those obligatory souvenir photos.  We tried to bypass this line, but one security guard tried to stop us while another saw our baby and let us go right through.  Never underestimate the power of a cute baby! 

Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center Observation Deck - Travel with a baby to NYC
New York CityPASS

The Top of the Rock is a three story observation deck on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors of 30 Rockefeller Centre and the elevator ride up to the 67th floor took less than a minute.  Once at the top, incredible views of the iconic NYC skyline are everywhere.  They have thick glass panels from the floor which you can look through to get unobstructed views of New York.  Rockefeller Center's ideal location provides sweeping views of Central Park to the north, the Empire State Building and the new World Trade Centre to the south.

View of Central Park from Top of the Rock Observation Deck in NYC

Perhaps it was the time of day or because there are three floors of observation deck but it never felt crowded throughout our visit.  We easily walked around to get the views from all sides and even gave our daughter some time to play, something we have found is crucial when travelling with a baby.

Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center - Travel to NYC with baby

Tips for Visiting Top of the Rock

  • Though we didn’t bring our stroller, the Top of the Rock is fully stroller accessible, however their rules state the stroller must be collapsible.
  • There is a free iTunes app which contains a free audio tour and a visual guide of the sights from above. 
  • You can skip the line by buying your ticket online and selecting what time you wish to go to the top.  Selecting the exact time may be difficult for most parents travelling with an infant, baby or toddler, but the option is available if you are confident in your arrival time. 

Next was our visit to the Empire State Building.  We had tried to make one previous visit earlier in our trip but had determined the line-up was too long, given we had a baby that was going to need a nap.

As we were walking back to our hotel from The High Line, we decided to give the Empire State Building one last try.  The line-up to buy tickets seemed reasonable this time, but the security was painful.  Similar to an airport security check, we had to remove everything from our stroller.  Some people in line were taking their stroller apart to put it through the security scanner machines, but we were able to get a manual screening of ours.

New York City Pass

Once the security check was over, we went and stood in another line to get our optional souvenir photo taken (although waiting in the line for the optional picture isn't optional).  From there, we stood in line for the elevator to the 80th floor, where we got off to wait in yet another line for the final elevator to the 86th floor.  Why did they make us stop at the 80th floor?  Yup - that's where the gift shop is.

Empire State Building in NYC - Travel with a baby

In case you weren't counting, that was five separate line-ups to get to the top...

 

Once we got to the 86th floor, we were greeted by a set of stairs which takes you outside to the observation deck, so we lifted our stroller up the stairs (no one told us about needing to fold up your stroller at the top).

It was nearly impossible to get a good view through all the people taking selfies, unless you were very patient or pushed your way through to get right up close to the cement wall and metal bars.  Needless to say, we did not stay long. 

 

As we were leaving we realized another line waited for us to exit.  Thankfully, the pain of having a stroller up there paid off and we were able to bypass the line because we got to take a ramp.  Others tried to follow us but were turned back by security to get in line.

Empire State Building Observation Deck - Travel NYC With a Baby
Big Bus Tours New York

Tips for Visiting the Empire State Building

  • The Empire State Building does have a second observation deck, if you are willing to pay more.  Perhaps it would be less crowded?
  • You may bring a stroller to the Empire State Building, but it must be collapsed to go through the airport-style security checks, in the elevators and again on the observation decks.  We recommend leaving the stroller at home for this attraction and bring a wrap or carrier instead.
  • If your schedule permits, visit between 8-11AM to avoid the peak crowds.  You can save time by buying your tickets in advance on their webpage.  For an additional fee, you can buy an Express Ticket which allows you to bypass the lines.

Granted the time of day for our visit and the fact that we were dealing with a stroller played into the frustration during our visit to the Empire State Building, but we found the Top of the Rock to be a noticeably better experience.  Not only are the views just as good (or better) but you actually get to see the Empire State Building! 

View of the Empire State Building from Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center in NYC

If you only plan on doing one observation deck while in NYC, we recommend skipping the Empire State Building and visiting the Top of the Rock instead.

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Still Have Questions?

We'd love to hear about your experience at either of these two observation decks in NYC?