When to Visit the Top of the Rock Observatory

I have been to the Top of the Rock Observatory three times now. The first time I went was in February 2014. I don’t remember the day of the week but I know it was about an hour before it closed at 11 PM and it wasn’t too crowded. It was my first time in New York and I thoroughly enjoyed the view of endless lights made only more magical by a sprinkle of snow on the freezing night that I was grossly underdressed for…

I have been to the Top of the Rock Observatory three times now. The first time I went was in February 2014. I don’t remember the day of the week but I know it was about an hour before it closed at 11 PM and it wasn’t too crowded. It was my first time in New York and I thoroughly enjoyed the view of endless lights made only more magical by a sprinkle of snow on the freezing night that I was grossly underdressed for.

My second visit to the Rockefeller‘s famous viewpoint was unfortunately also in the middle of winter, around 8 PM on Friday, December 22nd, 2017. It took an entire hour from me getting in line to buy a ticket using my New York Explorer Pass to stepping out onto the observation deck. It would have taken longer if one of the guards hadn’t taken pity on me.

I must have looked quite pathetic squatting on the cold floor, my feet aching after four consecutive days of non-stop walking. He looked at my ticket, winked and let me in half an hour earlier than my allotted time that stood out on the glossy paper in bold.

Getting in the elevator was the first step of a grueling wait. There was an obnoxiously long line to get through security, picture people taking off all their winter layers and stray scarves getting stuck in the conveyor belt in between overflowing trays. Next came another line to get photos taken that few people would actually end up spending the price of lunch for two on. Then came another elevator before we finally reached the top deck where I had to wait patiently for people to take the perfect selfie before clearing a tiny gap for me to look out at the city through.

Once again, the view was spectacular! I didn’t recognize much except for the Empire State Building, the ball that would be dropped in just nine days in Times Square and of course, the darkness in between the lights that was Central Park. It was beautiful but meaningless unless you know the city… and the journey out of the building was an adventure of it’s own that took another hour.

Less than a week ago on an only slightly too warm Sunday afternoon, I visited Top of the Rock for a third time. This time I could actually see the buildings clearly and I wasn’t overwhelmed by the myriad of neon lights. Maybe it was because I knew the city a little better this time or because I was sharing the experience with Isaac, but it was by far the best my three visits.

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We spent ages looking up the buildings we were looking at, reading up on them (download the official app) and taking photos. There were essentially no lines going up (or down) and there were few tourists to obstruct the views. There was even a couple taking wedding photos because it was just that empty! We walked around leisurely, soaked up the views and sat down on a bench overlooking the Empire State building to eat lunch that we brought along from home. #zerowaste #vegan #newyorkonabudget

If you only have one opportunity to go up to the observation deck, I recommend doing it during the day. Not just because of the crowds, but you really get to appreciate the city if you can recognize the buildings in between green parks and sparkling rivers. You can enjoy the city lit up from the ground – specifically Dumbo in Brooklyn or from atop Manhattan bridge.

We do plan on going up the Empire State building at night and we’ll let you know how the views compare so stay tuned! The reason that so many people go to Top of the Rock at night is to specifically see the Empire State building lit up in all it’s glory. So when you go depends on what you want to see. But personally, I think it’s just as beautiful, if not more, during the day!

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