The ultimate New York City view can be found atop the Rockefeller Center. While there’s plenty of debate about which viewpoint is the Big Apple’s best, the one from the Rockefeller Observation Deck, aka Top of the Rock, wins because it includes the Empire State Building in its vista. Here’s our guide to planning your trip to the Top of the Rock.
Few family names are as historically synonymous with wealth and success as the Rockefeller family. They epitomize the American Dream, originally travelling to North America from Germany in the 18th century. True to American melting pot form, by the time brothers John D. and William (Jr.) Rockefeller were founding Standard Oil at the start of the petroleum boom, Irish and Scottish ancestry were added in. The family’s success led them to become among the industrial world’s first true tycoons in America.
As the family largesse and its management passed to the male heirs, such as John D. Rockefeller Jr. in particular, real estate and construction began to diversify the portfolio. Manhattan being the natural magnate magnet, the family built a vast complex, initially of 14 Art Deco buildings, which has now swelled to 19 commercial properties. With 70 levels, 30 Rockefeller Plaza is the tallest building in the Rockefeller Center, as the cluster are collectively known, and its rooftop observation deck Top of the Rock offers arguably the best view in the city.
While many will claim the view from the Empire State Building is a classic, the iconic skyscraper is better when part of the view itself. From the Top of the Rock, the view south over Manhattan as it tapers to a point is particularly special because the Empire State Building is framed, like New York City’s centerpiece. Another popular option is to combine a trip to the Top of the Rock with a tour of the surrounding Midtown Manhattan sights. See below for some of the top tour options that include tickets to the Rockefeller Observation Deck.
Top tip: Try to coincide your visit with sunset when you visit. You’ll see the sky turn from blue to red on clear days, while tens of thousands of lights fill the oncoming darkness with twinkling life.
Hours & Directions
Since the COVID-19 debacle, Top of the Rock operates at reduced hours. The Observation Deck is open to the public daily from 1–9pm. The last entry is roughly one hour before closing time.
Prior to the present restrictions, Top of the Rock was open daily from 8am to just after midnight, with last entry an hour before closing. The schedule may revert back to a similar time in future, but be sure to double check before you visit. Tickets are best bought in advance to ensure that you don’t miss out, particularly at the more popular times like sunset. The number of visitors allowed at any one time is restricted and tickets and allocated a specific time slot in advance. See below for pricing details.
Directions: Theoretically, you can’t really miss one of the tallest buildings in North America. However, at the time of writing, there are at least 26 skyscrapers taller than 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City alone. It’s one of many Art Deco buildings in Midtown Manhattan, but a couple of street-level pointers will help you get your bearings. When heading along 6th Ave, look out for the vertical multi-story red letter sign of Radio City Music Hall. This is part of the Rockefeller Center complex. Sandwiched between 5th and 6th avenues, running south to north, and W 49th and W 50th streets is 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The main entrance for Top of the Rock is here on 50th. The plaza itself is the flag-lined square out front, which hosts an ice rink in the winter. It is roughly a ten-minute walk from Time Square.
By subway: The closest Subway station is the handily-named 47-50 Streets Rockefeller Center Subway. It is served by the B, D, F and M trains. Also only three blocks away is the 5 Avenue–53 Street Station, served by the E and M trains, making it simple to visit from Coney Island and Brooklyn.
Tickets & Tours
There are a number of ways to visit Top of the Rock, but please bear in mind that the Rockefeller runs a timeslot ticketing service, which means the best way to visit is by making an advance booking and arriving on time. It is possible to change your time at a later date if your plans change. There is also a box office, although wait times can occasionally be quite long.
Tickets for general admission cost $38 for adults and teenagers, $36 for senior citizens, and $32 for children aged 6–12. Children under 6 go free. With sunset being the most popular time, and with visitor access restricted to ensure safe numbers, entry during these in-demand hours incurs an additional $10 fee on top of the aforementioned ticket prices.
For a flexible date ticket that allows you to plan your visit to the Top of the Rock around the weather, head on over to Getyourguide.com, here. It allows you to visit one month either side of your chosen date.
If you’d prefer to entrust the organization and guiding to a professional, then there is a small selection of excellent guided tours that incorporate Top of the Rock in the itinerary. The Rockefeller Center is itself a marvelous attraction, with its Art Deco relief carvings and various motifs. A guided tour helps point out some of the building’s best bits, as well as taking in other revered sights in the locale. Here are two of the best options.
Grand Central, Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock – $78 per person – To add a two-hour walking tour onto the start of your trip to the top of the Rockefeller Center, this tour is a great way to explore the hidden gems of Midtown Manhattan. See the famous Grand Central clock, then explore the often-overlooked attractions within the underground section of the station, including the transit museum and even the tennis courts. The walk continues through Bryant Park and past the New York Library to the Rockefeller Center, where you’ll learn all about John D. Rockefeller’s vision when creating this huge complex at the heart of New York City. Finally, head to the Top of the Rock. Tickets are included in the tour price. Book at Getyourguide.com.
Top of the Rock and New York Sights Day Tour – $129 per person – For an even deeper ingratiation into all things Manhattan, this full-day tour poses excellent value for money. Explore the city in a fully guided coach tour, seeing world renowned sights like Times Square, Madison Square Garden, Central Park, the Met and Harlem. Then take to the water for an hour-long harbor cruise past the Statue of Liberty, before heading to the Top of the Rock. Transport and entry fees are covered in the tour price. Book on Getyourguide.com.