The observation decks at both the Top of the Rock and at the Empire State Building offer incredible views of the city. If you have the time, we’d recommend going to both of them, but what if you don’t have the time, which one should you choose? No matter which one you choose, you won’t go wrong, but we’d recommend the Top of the Rock if we had to decide. There are several reasons that we would choose the Top of the Rock over the Empire State Building, although in the end it is probably a personal choice.
The observation deck at the Empire State Building is an iconic experience that has provided views of New York City for almost 90 years. Featured in films such as King Kong, the Empire State Building is one of the most famous buildings in the world. If the history of the building wasn’t enough to inspire you to visit, the views from the two observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors definitely should. The observation deck on the 86th floor is an open air deck that will take your breath away as you look out over the city, the bridges, and the Statue of Liberty off in the distance. Going to the indoor deck on the 102nd floor provides even more stunning views as you look out through the thick glass windows.
The Top of the Rock may not have the history that the Empire State Building has, but it has plenty to offer anyone who visits. First of all, the “Rock” in the Top of the Rock refers to Rockefeller Center, which is where you can find Rockefeller Plaza as well as the NBC Studios and store. Regardless of the time of year, there is plenty going on at Rockefeller Plaza, which provides an extra incentive for visiting Rockefeller Center. Go early in the morning and you can watch the filming of the Today show or come later in the day and go to one of the many restaurants in the area. Located in Midtown Manhattan, the Top of the Rock provides amazing views of Central Park as you look north and the Empire State Building down to Lower Manhattan as you look south. There are indoor observation decks on the 67th and 69th floor, but the best views can be found on the outdoor observation deck on the 70th floor.
Clearly it isn’t an easy decision, which is why we would certainly recommend doing both the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building while visiting New York City. The main reason for choosing the Top of the Rock if you have to make a decision is due to everything that Rockefeller Center has to offer. Whichever observation deck you decide to go to, be sure to take your camera with you and leave your fear of heights at home. Seeing the New York City skyline from the top of one of these skyscrapers is something that you will treasure forever.
Whenever we travel to a location that we’ve never been to before or one that has too many attractions to visit in a single trip, we make sure that we prioritize the places we want to see, but leave time for the unexpected. We just got back from a four day trip to New York City and we made the most of our time, but still left room for exploring. We used to live on the east coast, so we’d been to New York City a couple of times, but just for day trips, in and out with a few hours in the city, so we were excited to spend several days and immerse ourselves into what the city has to offer. We had a few priorities while we were there, the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, seeing a Broadway show, and eating a New York style pizza, but we purposely left room for opportunities that might arise. By the time our trip was over, we had an unbelievable time and have tremendous memories of the sites, the food, and the people we met.
We arrived in New York City on Saturday, July the 4th, and obviously the city was abuzz with excitement for the fireworks, but our first destination couldn’t have been more different. Being from Colorado, the heat and humidity of New York was somewhat of an adjustment. As we arrived by taxi, a billboard taunted us with the Minus 5 Ice Bar, a bar where the tables, glasses, seats, and the walls were all made of ice. We dawned fur coats and gloves and a few drinks later we were ready to start exploring the city. We always like to take our first day and try to acclimate ourselves to our surroundings, so we made our way to the streets of midtown Manhattan and worked our way towards Rockefeller Center. After a couple of glasses of wine at the Rock Center Café Summer Garden and Bar, we saw Radio City Music Hall and the theatre for the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, found a little restaurant for some food, and by the time the lights of the city were burning bright, we made our way to Time Square for some pure tourist photo opps.
Day 2, now was the time to start making sure that we hit some of the attractions that were important to us. Our first stop was at the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center with amazing views of the city including a view over the roof of our hotel, which was just two blocks from Central Park. Even if you have a little bit of vertigo, seeing the city from these heights simply can’t be missed. After viewing the city in all of its glory, we went to Central Park to get some lunch. As is our typical practice, we asked several locals where we should go. We knew that Tavern on the Green was quite famous, but everyone we asked said to go to Loeb Boathouse on the lake, we were not disappointed. Gondolas and row boats in the lake, a wonderful bar for wine while we waited with the throngs for a table, and as luck would have it, we met Bill Cower and his wife as they too were waiting. Apparently there is no expecting celebrity status here. Fortified with a good meal, we were off to explore Hell’s Kitchen and find a place to watch the finals of the Women’s World Cup. After sticking our noses in a couple of interesting places, we found the Mercury Bar that was right for us, with a good crowd, good food, and plenty of excitement for the game.
We’d gotten plenty of suggestions on where to get the best slice of pie in town and one place definitely stood out as far as recommendations. So, on our next full day in the city we grabbed a cab and headed towards lower Manhattan. When we arrived at the restaurant, mouths watering, the sign on the door Arturos indicated that they didn’t open until 4:00 pm, our pizza experience was going to have to wait. These are the little surprises that make a trip that more enjoyable. After walking a few blocks heading towards the 9/11 Memorial, we came across a tiny Italian restaurant and stopped to check out the menu. The owner came out to greet us, full Italian accent, ingratiating smile, and we had to stay for lunch. We couldn’t have been more pleased, Peplino Restaurant was one of the most satisfying meals of our entire trip. Once our stomachs and souls were nurtured, we continued on to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Words cannot describe how emotionally overwhelming it is to relive that horrific day through audio, video, and tactile content that truly moves the soul. Someday soon, we’ll talk specifically about that experience, but it is too much for a single post about New York City. Upon leaving the memorial museum, we were emotionally exhausted, but there was more of the city to be seen and we were determined to get our New York slice, so we headed north towards Arturos. Luckily we arrived just in time, this place definitely has a reputation for a reason and the place was packed with locals, always a good sign. We order a full pizza, knowing that it will likely be too much for us, but every bite was as delicious as the next, and for another few moments, we felt like locals sitting in our local watering hole. Our day wasn’t done yet, though. It was a long walk back to the hotel from Arturos (100 blocks), about half way, we were ready for a break and we were fortunate to find the Belgium Beer Café just in time for their happy hour. Oysters and Manhattans while we were in Manhattan seemed a must.
With one full day left in the city, we booked our Broadway show, “Finding Neverland”, and started out for a full day of enjoyment. Today was the day to do the Empire State Building, more incredible views of the city and another stark reminder of the loss of the twin towers. After enjoying such an incredible view of the city, lunch was in order and we lucked out by finding another little restaurant where local’s way outnumbered any tourists. Parker & Quinn was quiet when we arrived, but most of the people in the know knew to make reservations, even for lunch. They wouldn’t be disappointed, featuring a menu of small fares, an English style of tapas, they provided a variety of exquisite nibbles that hit mark. After an afternoon of roaming the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, we found an Irish restaurant with a good happy hour and excellent food called the Malloy’s Irish Pub and from there we were off to Broadway. The show was incredible, we laughed, we cried, we were thoroughly entertained.
All in all, it couldn’t have been a better trip. We were about to jump in a rental car and head to Valley Forge Pennsylvania for our son’s wedding, but everything about the trip was as magical as we had hoped. We weren’t on a schedule, rushing from attraction to attraction, but we saw incredible sights, met amazing people, and actually decompressed from our day to day lives and enjoyed a completely new environment. As we left New York City, we looked at each other and said, “We could live here, we like the energy, all of the variety that the city has to offer, it is our kind of city”. But we have many more adventures ahead of us, maybe we’ll decide to make a bold move and head to New York City or who knows, we’ll have to see what other locations move us to the point of making an adventurous decision.