Empire State Building With Kids: Five Reasons to Visit the NYC Landmark

2/13/20 - By Jody Mercier

Whether you think it's hopelessly romantic or a complete tourist trap, a visit to the top of the Empire State Building offers stunning views and a rich look at the city's history. Thanks to some recent updates and upgrades, a visit to this Art Deco showpiece is as timeless an outing with New York City kids as ever. Don't wait for out-of-towners to plan a trip. Here are five reasons to visit the Empire State Building with kids.

The Empire State Building, which was constructed in just 410 days, has undergone a massive four-year, $165 million renovation, which brought with it an entirely new 80th Floor exhibit, plus upgrades to the lobby and the introduction of a stunning Second Floor Museum. Read on for details of the project and more reasons this skyscraper is a must-visit for tourists and locals alike.

Take in the view of Hudson Yards from the 80th Floor. Photo by the author

1. Take in Views for Miles

For a New Yorker, you could say I'm a somewhat frequent visitor to the Empire State Building—even going there after my City Hall wedding!— and no matter how many times I've gone, the view from the top is thrilling as ever. Its location, on the precipice of Midtown, offers a varied, awe-inspiring cityscape in any direction. A glance south, and you'll see the modern marvel of the Freedom Tower dwarfing Lady Liberty in the background. Glance to the west and your view of the river is interrupted by the gleaming skyscrapers of Hudson Yards. To the north, you'll find Times Square, Midtown, and Central Park beyond. In the east, spot the outer boroughs, famed bridges, and the busy East River. Whether you go morning, midday, or night, it's a point of view that's hard to beat. There are three different vantage points from which to snap your iconic skyline shot: The new 80th Floor lobby offers your first look. From there, all visitors take another elevator ride to the 86th Floor and its open-air observation deck. This most famous vantage point got an interior facelift during the most recent renovations and, best of all, outdoor heaters to make wintertime visits a little more comfortable. For an up-charge, you go all the way to the top, 1,224 feet above the street, and visit the interior observation deck on the 102nd Floor. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer a compact 360-degree viewing experience.

RELATED: One World Observatory: Breathtaking, Panoramic Views & NYC History for Kids & Families

The new Second Floor museums brings to life the building's history, letting you rub elbows with the construction workers.

2. Pick up Some Historical Facts

The Second Floor Museum, which opened last July, takes visitors on a behind-the-scenes tour of the building from its roots as the original site of the Waldorf Astoria at the turn of the 20th century to its construction in the 1930s and the cutting-edge techniques that have made it a model of efficiency from its earliest days. You'll learn about its role as an "urban campus," home to businesses like LinkedIn, Shutterstock, Citizen, and more. You can step inside a faux (but terrifying) elevator shaft and learn how Otis Elevators worked when the building opened, and how they operate now, lifting more than 10 million tenants and visitors above street level annually.

King Kong's life-like gaze and grasp make for a fun photo opp in another part of the museum.

3. Pose With King Kong

The Empire State Building has played a starring role in movies and pop-culture from its earliest days. Less than two years after its opening, King Kong premiered, with the giant ape climbing the skyscraper and raising its profile to new heights in the process. You can get face-to-face with the larger-than-life beast in a new photo opp at the museum. Constructed to re-create the look of the 1930s office, step inside the grip of the creature, take a seat on his hands or stare him down as his changing, lifelike gaze peers in the faux window. For more pop-culture fun, visit the "Celebrity" exhibition, which showcases 75 screens playing a rotating loop of clips where the Empire State Building has taken a starring role.

RELATED: Get Your Tickets Now for Edge, the New Observation Deck at Hudson Yards

The Tower Lights have taken on a life of their own celebrating holidays, home town teams, and more.

4. See the Tower Lights

Since 1976, the lights atop the Empire State Building have been a beacon in the skyline, but the iconic light show is an invention of the last decade. In 2012, a new computer-driven LED lighting system debuted, giving lighting designers 16 million colors to showcase. Lighting shows have become a regular attraction, with big-name celebrities stopping by to press a button in the lobby to set off the spectacle. Lin Manuel Miranda even filmed his Cheering For Me Now music video there and worked with lighting designer Marc Brickman to design a light show choreographed to the track. To learn more about the Tower Lights, be sure to check out the exhibit dedicated to them on the 86th Floor.

The brand new 80th Floor exhibits offer more fun, interactive ways to take in the view.

5. Marvel in the Art Deco Details

While the entire building was deemed a National Historic Landmark in 1986, the lobby alone was designated a historic landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. A massive restoration project was undertaken in 2009 to restore the lobby to its 1930s grandeur. The ceiling murals, which pay homage to the mechanical age, are crafted in aluminum and gold leaf. Their restoration alone took longer than the construction of the entire building. In an age of skinny, super-tall, glass-enclosed skyscrapers, it's easy to appreciate the craftsmanship of this old-school beauty.

The Empire State Building's recent upgrades include plenty of interactive displays; it now offers plenty of entertainment in addition to world-class skyline views.

Know Before You Go

The Empire State Building Observation Deck is open from 8am-2am daily, 365 days a year. The observation deck entrance is at 20 West 34th Street.

Tickets for the 86th Floor Observation Deck start at $38; the 102nd Floor Observation Deck is $20 more. Children ages 5 and under are FREE. All tickets include the experiences on the newly revamped 80th Floor, plus the Second Floor Museum. To save time, purchase your tickets online in advance.

If you're booking several top attractions in New York City and looking to save money, consider purchasing a Go City Explorer Pass, which includes discounted admission to One World Observatory, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the Statue of Liberty, the American Museum of Natural History, and more.

Strollers are allowed in the lobby and Second Floor Museum but must be folded before you enter the elevators and cannot be used on either observation deck.

Restrooms are located on the Second and 86th Floors. There are no restrooms on the 102nd Floor.

To avoid the lines, visit earlier in the day. The shortest wait times are typically from 8-11am. Plan to spend at least an hour from the time you enter; longer if it's peak time or you're visiting both observation decks. The addition of the Second Floor Museum and exhibits at the 86th Floor mean there is plenty to look at as you pace yourself through the line.

One last word of warning: Like most famous city attractions, your exit route takes you through the gift shop with plenty of themed tchotchkes to tempt little eyes and hands.

Unless noted, photos by Evan Joseph

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