NYC: Empire State, Top of the Rock and a surprising encounter!

Alright, time to move on to the next part of this NYC series (June 2016). Last time out on the blog I was talking about all things Manhattan but there was one noticeable absentee from that particular post: the Empire State building.

“Whatt!!? How can you blog about Manhattan and not include the Empire State Jason? You’re a terrible travel blogger!!”

You’re right! The Empire State is perhaps the most iconic piece of Manhattan’s famous skyline but there was good reason for excluding it last time round so stick with me!


One of the debates people have when visiting NYC is whether to visit the Empire State or the Top of the Rock? Don’t get me wrong, if you can visit both then they’re both great and offer fantastic views of the city but if you’re looking to save some money somewhere and can only do one I’d personally recommend skipping the Empire State and visiting the Top of the Rock. Surprised? Let me tell you why!

The view from the top of the Empire State is fantastic but as we clarified above, it is the iconic standout of Manhattan’s skyline. Whilst you can certainly admire the view of Manhattan from the top of the Empire State, you can’t see the Empire State itself!

Much like my post on Florence (here), the Duomo is the standout piece of architecture in Florence which makes the views from Piazzale Michelangelo the best in the city because you can see the Duomo in all its glory. It’s exactly the same here. One of the reasons that the top of the rock is better is because you can see the Empire State!

The Empire State shining brightly!


By contrast the Rockefeller centre is nothing special, a bog standard skyscraper among many in the city. If you’re at the top of it you’re not missing out by not seeing it.

Additionally the Rockefeller centre is closer to Central Park so you get better views from here of it than you do at the Empire State. Lastly it’s actually cheaper! In my opinion you’re getting a better view at a better price. It’s a no brainer which you should visit if you can only do one!

Nevertheless, myself and Kelly decided to get tickets for both.

View from the Empire State!

The Empire State!
Of the two, we visited the Empire State first. We went quite early in the week too so it was a great first chance to explore the city without Pran (the friend we’d gone to visit). I think we got off at Union Square and decided to walk it from there so we could have a stroll along 5th avenue and do a little window shopping on route.

Soon enough we’d arrived at the impressive empire state building and I was a bit in awe. Say what you like about which view is better, you don’t get the same “pinch me” moment at the Rockefeller centre. Perhaps that is one thing that tips the scale back in favour of the Empire State. Seeing it and experiencing it in the flesh does feel a little more special.

We made our way in, followed the signs as appropriate and a little ahead of us was an escalator. Nothing too unordinary but on the escalator was a familiar looking back of the head – surely not?

My grandparents were spending a month in the USA visiting the likes of Boston, DC, New York City, Dallas, Las Vegas and more. I knew our time in NYC would overlap but as they were only in the city for a couple of days we didn’t make plans to meet up.
They went to the US a few days before we went to New York and they’d gone AWOL and had yet to make contact with anyone back home so I’d been given instructions, jokingly, to “go and find your grandad”.

As we’d walked up 5th avenue I’d been looking out on the unlikely chance that they’d be whizzing by on one of the sightseeing buses, thinking it’d be funny if I actually spotted them but it’s a big city full of millions of people on any given day, what are the odds of actually seeing somebody you know?

So back to the empire state building – “I think I’ve just seen my grandad” I said to Kelly. As we followed up the escalator we then entered the queuing system and as the queue began to zig-zag left and right I confirmed my suspicions! That was my (sunburnt) grandad! Unbelievable! A few moments later we were embracing eachother in disbelief at the situation before sadly going our separate ways.

We’d booked our tickets in advance so skipped to the fast lane, whereas they were booking on the day and had a bit of a longer wait to buy tickets. “Maybe see you up there!”

On our way up I had to make use of the building’s Wi-Fi to message home to my mum. “Guess who I’ve just seen!?” – that’s right, I found your father! All it needed was for me to hop on a plane and I’d found him within 48 hours of being in the “little apple”.

Sadly we didn’t see each-other at the top. We did wait around for a bit, probably longer than we’d originally intended to but either they hadn’t come up yet or we just missed them. It was a little unfortunate as it would have been cool to have got a photo of us there given the opportunity.


Company aside, the Empire State is cool. You can visit the 86th floor and the 102nd floor, I think my grandparents only did the former and might have been where we missed eachother.

I feel like I’ve been overly critical of the Empire State but given the choice again I wouldn’t go to the 102nd floor. The 86th is an outdoor viewing platform and gives you great views over the city. The 102nd is in this tiny cramped, poorly lit room which wasn’t great for photos. The view isn’t really any better, just higher and isn’t worth the extra fee to go that high. It’s worth going up but I’d personally recommend sticking to the 86th if you do.

Central Park views from top of the rock!

The Top of the Rock
A few days later we went to the Rockefeller centre, home to much more than just the viewing platform at the top. You’ll find a host of shops, restaurants and even TV networks broadcasting your chat-show favourites in the Rockefeller Centre. We grabbed dinner at one of the restaurants before making our way up, intentionally timed to coincide with NY’s sunset.

I was interested to see how the view compared to the Empire State and wasn’t disappointed. For the most part you’re outside and have the luxury of 360 degree views of the city.  As I suggested above, the highlights for me are the close vicinity to Central Park and then the luxury of seeing the Empire State in all its glory too.

Sun down, lights on in Manhattan!

The timing perhaps also made this better. We’d visited the Empire State around lunchtime, whereas we visited the top of the rock just before sunset. There’s no limit as to how long you can stay up there (at either attraction) so we got the bonus of seeing NYC before and after dark which was quite nice and we ended up getting plenty of photos before calling it a night.

I have to say I enjoyed both so if you can do both I’d certainly recommend doing so. They were memorable moments of our time in NYC and surprisingly gave me a unique story to tell of “that time I saw my grandad at the Empire State..”

Anyway that truly wraps up Manhattan. Next up on the blog? Exploring Brooklyn!

Stay tuned!


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I'm Jason and from a little place in England. Here to just talk about my various adventures. Hopefully you find some inspiration or just enjoy hearing my stories :)

25 thoughts on “NYC: Empire State, Top of the Rock and a surprising encounter!”

    1. The views are pretty good, I’d definitely recommend giving at least one a visit when you get the chance to go back 🙂


    1. It was great timing, albeit planned that way so intentional timing too I guess. Yes, the same grandparents. They’ve traveled quite a bit and are making the most of retirement too!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’d love to go to New York one day. It always sounds like such an interesting place to visit, and there’s so much to do there! I love your photos! That’s so funny you bumped into your grandad – it’s always amazing how, in big cities, you randomly see people you know. That happened in London. I bumped into someone from where I grew up in NZ. I hadn’t seen them in about 5 years, and then we just happened to go to the same cafe that day! Great post, and really good tips. I might pass this post along to my brother since he’ll be there in a few weeks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you get the chance to visit someday! IT’s a great city. It’s weird how those encounters happen, particularly in another country like your cafe surprise! I’m sure your brother will have an amazing time! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not one to spend much money on tourist attractions but New York has been on my bucket list and the picture you took from the Empire State building (your third one) is great and the view it offers makes me actually want to go there!

    Good tips though, I’ll be sure to come back to this post when I visit New York later on this year

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hopefully you can visit New York at some point. I don’t go crazy on tourist attractions but some can be worth visiting. The views over Manhattan are great so I’d recommend it 🙂


    1. Definitely worth the visit! So much to do over there. The Empire State is still cool but it’s an expensive city and if you want to save money then it’s a good place to start. If you’ve got the resources to do both though then why not? Depends what your priorities are I guess 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely a cool story to tell when instances like that occur. I’m going to give that post a read now too. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You make me want to book a trip to visit Manhattan! The views from the sky looks gorgeous. I know I would also appreciate the Top of the Rock as well. One of my favorite things to do is to check out sky observatories. Thanks for sharing!

    Nancy ♥


    1. Hope you get to visit some time. NYC has some great observatory choices, beyond these two too. It’s a great city. Thanks for the comment 🙂


    1. Yeah, unfortunately. Well, they have restaurants and stuff on the ground floor which is accessible to the public but to actually go up you have to pay. Definitely glad we did it in the order that we did 🙂


  4. This is a really interesting opinion of where to visit that I hadn’t heard before. We’ve been talking about making a NYC trip in the near future, and I will definitely take this into consideration! I feel like the skyline WITH the empire state building in it is definitely something I need to see at least once!
    Britt |

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the top of the rock is a little lesser known but very much worth doing. I’ve got a few more NYC posts to come so hopefully I can offer some other tips for you, I hope you’ll get to visit soon 🙂


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