Lonely Planet review
Featured prominently in almost a hundred Hollywood films over the years, the Empire State Building – actually a very glorified office building – is the most famous member of the New York skyline. It’s a limestone classic built in just 410 days (using seven million hours of labor) during the Great Depression, at the astounding cost of $41 million. Located on the site of the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the 102-story, 1472ft-high (to the top of the antenna) Empire State Building opened in 1931 after the laying of 10 million bricks, installation of 6400 windows and setting of 328,000 sq ft of marble. The famous antenna was originally meant to be a mooring mast for zeppelins, but the Hindenberg disaster slammed the brakes on that plan. Later an aircraft did (accidentally) meet up with the building: a B-25 bomber crashed into the 79th floor on a foggy day in 1945, killing 14 people.
The view of the vast city from the Empire State Building is just exquisite, but be prepared – the lines to get to the observation decks, found on the 86th and 102nd floors, are notorious. And the basement area where you must buy tickets and queue up for the elevator ride is a shabby, poorly ventilated waiting pen, especially in summer. Getting here very early or very late will help you avoid delays – as will buying your tickets ahead of time, online, where an extra $2 purchase charge is well worth the hassle it will save you. Sunset is one of the most magical times to be up here because you can see the city don its nighttime cloak in dusk’s afterglow. Once up here, you can stay as long as you like. Coin-operated telescopes offer an up-close glimpse of the city, and diagrams map out the major sights. You can even smoke up top, to the great dismay of many non- Europeans.
Since 1976, the building’s top 30 floors have been floodlit in seasonal and holiday colors: green for St Patrick’s Day in March, black for World AIDS Day on December 1, red and green for Christmas, lavender for Gay Pride weekend in June, etc – visit the website for each day’s lighting scheme and meaning. This tradition has now been copied by many other skyscrapers, notably the Metropolitan Life Tower at Madison Square Park and the Con Edison Tower near Union Sq, lending elegance to the night sky.