Empire State Building

Top choice observatory in Midtown
Image by Giorgio Fochesato / 500px Images

This limestone classic was built in just 410 days – using seven million hours of labor during the Great Depression – and the views from its 86th-floor outdoor deck and 102nd-floor indoor observatory are sublime. As one of NYC's most popular sights, it can see long queues, though a new entrance redesign has eased some of the bottlenecks. Getting here early or late will help avoid delays, as will buying tickets in advance online (worth the $2 convenience fee).

Your first stop is the Story of an Icon museum on the 2nd floor, which was completely redesigned in 2019 with multimedia exhibits on the building's history and its place in the United States' cultural imagination. The path through the displays leads you to the observatory elevators. As one would expect, the views from both decks are especially spectacular at sunset. For a little of that 'Arthur's Theme' magic, head to the 86th floor between 10pm and 1am Thursday to Saturday, when the twinkling sea of lights is accompanied by a soundtrack of live saxophone (requests are welcome).

Located on the site of the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the 1454ft-high (to the top of the antenna) behemoth opened in 1931 after the laying of 10 million bricks, the installation of 6400 windows and the setting of 328,000 sq ft of marble. The famous antenna was originally meant to be a mooring mast for zeppelins, but the Hindenburg 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.

Since 1976, the building’s top 30 floors have been floodlit in a spectrum of colors each night, reflecting seasonal and holiday hues, or for local sports teams or charitable organizations. Famous combos include orange, white and green for St Patrick’s Day; blue and white for Chanukah; red, white and green for Christmas; and rainbow colors for Gay Pride weekend in June. For a full rundown of color schemes and the schedule, check the website.

A tour app is available in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Japanese and Korean.