How to beat the queues at the Empire State Building

I love New York. But I hate queues.

Mr and Mrs Romance - How to beat the queues at the Empire State Building NYC

Like the Brits, Americans seem to really enjoy a queue. It must be the Italian in me that wants to always get around the system.

For many things in New York you should expect to wait, like tourist attractions, restaurants (even with a reservation) and taxis at peak hour.

I’m not that patient. When our friends told us about how good the Express line at the Empire State Building was, we didn’t hesitate to jump the queues.

Normal ticket prices for the Empire State Building are $27 but for $50 you can get behind the velvet ropes and up to the 86th floor in only a couple of minutes.

The best thing about the Express line are the open-mouthed stares from tired tourists waiting in the queue while uniformed guards call a lift just for you.

Especially when you go at sunset like we did. The queues are often the longest just before sunset so the Express ticket is really worth it. You don’t want to miss the sun set over Manhattan because you’re in the queue.

You want to see this view.

Mr and Mrs Romance - How to skip the queues at the Empire State Building NYC

Mr and Mrs Romance - looking east from the Empire State Building

Mr and Mrs Romance - the Empire State Building views

Mr and Mrs Romance - views downtown from the Empire State Building NYC

Mr and Mrs Romance - looking down from the Empire State Building

Mr and Mrs Romance - New York sunset from the Empire State Building

Mr and Mrs Romance - Manhattan views at dusk

Mr and Mrs Romance - Empire State Building at night

Mr and Mrs Romance - The Chrysler building at night

The other best thing about the Express tickets is that they allow you to queue jump on the way down too. You might not mind waiting an hour to get up to the viewing platform, but you will go crazy with the queues to get out of the building.

It’s also worth it if you’re only having a short stay in the city and don’t want to waste any time. If it’s your first trip to New York, you’ll want to check out our first-timer’s guide to NYC for our complete city tips.

If you’re cheap and don’t want to pay the extra for the Express tickets, you’ll have to go outside the peak times to beat the queues. The Empire State Building is open from 8am to 2am daily and arrive first thing or after 11pm for the shortest queues.

But the question remains, do you prefer the views from The Empire State Building or Top of the Rock?

Images by Mrs Romance.


  • Reply January 9, 2014


    I love the view of Central Park from Top of the Rock – but I just had to ‘do’ the Empire State for the history and because every time I see it in a movie now I can remember my trip:)

    There are a couple of multi attraction cards you can buy to jump the queues AND save money. We used the New York Pass. You pay based on the number of days you will use it. We managed to blitz all the majors within a couple of days. With a little planning we saved $$$ and saw Top of the Rock, Empire State, a great boat tour completely around the island, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space museum, MoMA, Madame T’s, Natural History Museum, etc. We bought it before we left Australia, and I would recommend it to first time visitors.

    • Reply January 9, 2014

      Mr Romance

      It’s an amazing view, isn’t it, Julie? We both love Manhattan. 🙂

      That multi ticket sounds great – where did you get it from if I may ask? Is it an online product?


      • Reply January 10, 2014


        The website is
        We purchased ours online, then picked up the Pass and guidebook (includes attraction information, opening hours, maps) when we arrived. Apparently there is also an App available now, too.

        • Reply January 10, 2014


          And you don’t have to book – you pay for a number of days, and the clock starts ticking when you first use it.

          • January 10, 2014

            Mr Romance

            Perfect! That’s brilliant. Thanks again, Julie! 🙂

        • Reply January 10, 2014

          Mr Romance

          Wow, that’s great! Thanks Julie! Really interesting and handy to know. Thank you for sharing! J

  • Reply January 9, 2014


    Yes! Waiting to get out of a building is something most people don’t consider, but it’s an annoying part of tourist attractions.

    • Reply January 9, 2014

      Mr Romance

      It’s surprising, Vanessa! Even with everyone really wanting to get out, the lift can only take so many people. Must have been quite claustrophobic for the poor souls without that express ticket!

  • I hate queues too! When we were in Rome, we paid extra to skip the line at the Colosseum and have a tour guide. It was SO worth it! Not only did we not spend 1.5 hours lining up, we also had the most fabulous, animated, passionate tour guide who brought ancient Rome to life for us. We’d definitely do this in NYC too!

    • Reply January 9, 2014

      Mr Romance

      We did the same, Sonia! The queues at the Colosseum are insane, aren’t they? We found that if you go all the way round the queues to the very first counter – where there are no queues – you pay the 5 Euros extra and you can get straight in. Is that what you did, Sonia?

      From there, you can also book a guided tour (totally agree – it’s well worth it and makes the whole place make more sense). The best part of it is none of this needed to be booked in advance. Mind you I don’t think many things are planned that much in advance in Rome these days. Crazy city!

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  • Reply January 15, 2014


    This was the best tip-off ever guys!!! Fresh back from chilly NYC, and the first thing we did off the plane was hot foot it to the Empire State Building. Express passes in hand, we were definitely the envy of all those other suckers waiting in line!!!!!!!! The night time views of Manhattan were spectacular, but I must say that I did prefer the view from Top of the Rock.

    Daisy xo

    • Reply January 15, 2014

      Mr Romance

      Excellent! So glad we could help, Daisy. Yes, I agree – Top of the Rock’s pretty hard to beat. The view north over the park is great in the day from there too.
      Hope the rest of your trip was as successful and enjoyable!

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  • Reply October 4, 2016


    Absolutely great write-up. I’d recommend the New York Explorer Pass to save money on admission to the Empire State Building and a number of the other most popular attractions in the Big Apple. You can check out the pass here:

    • Reply October 4, 2016

      Mr Romance

      Hi Sean! Thanks for the recommendation. Sounds like a great way to get to see a lot of NYC.
      Cheers – Jim

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